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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Damaging impression of dirty tricks
Jo Moore with Stephen Byers
Jo Moore resigned as Mr Byers' aide earlier this year

Well fancy that. Just when you thought you might never read any more stories about Stephen Byers and embarrassing e-mails, another lands on a newspaper front page.

This time it seems that aides of the former transport secretary had tried to find out whether any of the leading lights from the Paddington rail crash survivors group had political links.


The risk of words written in haste coming back to haunt the author has been ignored time and time again

It may have been an innocent inquiry. It may have been more calculated. It certainly doesn't look good, whatever the motives.

Either way, someone should have thought twice before pressing the 'send' button.

Particularly while working in a department that has become more leaky than a Saudi Arabian back four at the World Cup.

There are those who don't like e-mail as a form of communication. At the transport department under Stephen Byers it seems they positively thrived on it.

And it seems the risk of words written in haste coming back to haunt the author has been ignored time and time again.

Saga

An e-mail, of course, played a big part in the downfall of Mr Byers and his former aide Jo Moore, not to mention the departure of press chief Martin Sixsmith.

It was the handling of the long-running saga which ultimately did for Mr Byers.

And whatever the rights and wrongs of all those stories, they suggested that, at best, the transport department was in a total mess. The current row does nothing to dispel that impression.

And if the intention in the e-mail was to smear members of the Paddington crash survivors supporters' group, it failed spectacularly.

The new transport secretary, Alistair Darling, has been quick to distance himself from the affair.

Problems

And he will naturally hope that the quick apologies all round on Thursday will draw a line under the matter.

He has quite enough on his plate with the problems on the UK railways than worrying about the emergence of more embarrassing e-mails.

As so often under Tony Blair's government, the crux of this row is the image it creates.

Innocent or not, the latest story provides more easy ammunition for those who portray the government as obsessed with spin over content.

And it once again suggests that all too often there is an unhealthy obsession with simply beating down critics with dirty tricks rather than through straightforward argument.


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06 Jun 02 | UK Politics
22 May 02 | UK Politics
28 May 02 | UK Politics
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