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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 10:27 GMT
A question of trust
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Political Diary

By Mark Mardell
BBC News political correspondent
line

The Sixsmith revelations: it sounds like an apocalyptic Hollywood movie and fire and brimstone could be just round the corner for the government.

Trust flows slowly away from the government but this lot have done nothing to put right evident wrongs.


When the government's central political problem is convincing us that schools are getting better, hospitals are getting better and even that the transport system will improve, it's not wise to cultivate a culture where the obvious response is "yeah, who says so?"

For the Westminster lobby at least this could be the straw that broke the camel's back.

For a long time I have suspected that their contempt for the media is so great that they start with the headlines they want to get and work backwards, marshalling the facts that suit them.

But even this implies some casual, passing, relationship with the truth.

The Sixsmith revelations suggest they do not give tuppence about the facts.

Given that in the past couple of weeks they've been caught fibbing about the e-mail that started this story and a whole host of aspects of the Mittal affair they can never again expect the benefit of doubt.

The distrust of lobby hacks will not strike fear into the heart of government.

Ministers continually point out that none of this "tittle tattle", "processology", "beltway gossip" shows up in opinion polls.

I wonder though.

Just go to talk to people and it is obvious spin is a major concern.

When the government's central political problem is convincing us that schools are getting better, hospitals are getting better and even that the transport system will improve, it's not wise to cultivate a culture where the obvious response is "yeah, who says so?".

Send your comments to Mark Mardell

The transport secretary seems to have changed his first name to "Beleaguered" (at some newspapers it just prints out when you hit F4 on the keyboard).

Still, the details of the flurry at the Department of Transport is a convincing reason why no one there has the time or energy to concentrate on the tedious business of running the railways.

On Friday night, taking the New Statesman for a quick read, I'm surprised to be fingered by Nick Cohen as at least part of "respectable opinion", for failing to denounce the Enron "scandal".

Respectable, eh? Lordy, lordy my mum will be pleased.

The attacks on the BBC, by lefties and righties for not doing enough about these "scandals" is getting a bit tedious.

As far as I can see the Enron allegations were at least unproven and in my view baseless.

But the last three times I've been on the Six O'Clock News about the Mittal business I've made it clear its distinctly fishy, full of unanswered questions that make Downing Street squirm.

So have many of my colleagues with the ever-dynamic World at One breaking a couple of new Mittal angles. Maybe Nick just wasn't tuned in.

You read it here first a couple of weeks ago: Blair's preferred timetable for a euro referendum, next spring.

But just as Peter Hain was blowing the gaffe to a Paris newspaper, a Treasury minister was telling me it seems a bit rum to them.

The autumn is too soon for the economic tests, the gap to the referendum itself too long.

And there's another factor: wouldn't it be better to wait until the Eurosceptic Bank of England boss, Sir Edward (the artist formally known as Eddie) George retires in the summer of 2003?

The BBC's NHS day sees me broadcasting live from the Kensington and Chelsea hospital. Just as the Six O'Clock News is about to take a headline shot an elderly man shuffles into view.

My producer uses her considerable charm to evict him, with lots of "I am so sorry, Sir".

His reply : "F-off, this is a hospital". Yes, they really are angels to put with the likes of him. We resist changing his medical notes to recommend a chilli and tequila enema.

See also:

25 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Byers faces fresh spin woe
24 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Q&A: Whitehall spin row
16 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Pressure grows for spin doctor curbs
24 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Timeline: Labour spin row
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