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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
'We've too many spin doctors'
Jo Moore
Ms Moore had to quit her job because of her e-mail
There are too many special advisers in the government, according to Labour Party chairman Charles Clarke.

In evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life - set up in the wake of the so-called 'Spingate' affair and chaired by Sir Nigel Wicks - Mr Clarke said that a limit on such advisers would not help.


I think the picture given of a sleaze-driven, corrupt relationship through the media is inaccurate

Charles Clarke
The committee is looking at the role of special advisers such as Jo Moore who famously sent an e-mail advising colleagues to "bury bad news" on 11 September.

She subsequently had to quit her job as part of a wider clearout in the transport department which eventually claimed the scalp of secretary of state Stephen Byers.

Mr Clarke told the Wicks committee: "For what it's worth, my very personal view is there's too many special advisers at the moment."

Media exaggeration

He added: "I don't think there should be a limit but I'm not in fact myself in favour of increasing it.

"I don't think the numerical limit is the issue - I think the question is what they do and how they do it."

Relations at the transport department overshadowed day-to-day media coverage of politics on and off for months, with the government's use of spin frequently coming under fire.

Mr Clarke, appointed Labour Party chairman by Mr Blair, said that to some degree the media had exaggerated the problems with special advisers.

"I don't think it is purely media-driven but I think the scale of the problem has been portrayed as greater than it is," he said.

Train safety group

He acknowledged that the likes of Ms Moore and fellow special adviser to Stephen Byers, Dan Corry, should expect to be scrutinised.

Mr Corry hit the headlines over reports that members of a rail safety group had their political backgrounds investigated.

Mr Clarke warned: "I think the picture given of a sleaze-driven, corrupt relationship through the media is inaccurate."

He added it would be "very dangerous if devices are found to by-pass the civil service in getting policy driven through".

Charles Clarke
Mr Clarke was giving evidence to the Wicks committee
Senior civil servants, advisers and ministers all had an obligation to see that this did not happen.

Mr Clarke said he felt unconvinced either-way on the issue of a Civil Service Act that many believe could iron out the kind of difficulties the government has faced over a succession of special advisers.

Former permanent secretary to the Treasury, Lord Burns, told the committee that he had faced "a great deal of problems" with Charlie Whelan when he was Chancellor Gordon Brown's adviser.

The former spin doctor had posed "more challenges than most of the people I have had to deal with - in fact any of the people I have had to deal with", he said.

He agreed with committee members that this was because Mr Whelan had been "overtly political".

Sir Richard Wilson, who as Cabinet Secretary is the top civil servant in Whitehall, said he favoured a Civil Service Act.

Ahead of Sir Richard's evidence, it emerged that senior Downing Street advisers have offered to give a private briefing to the Wicks committee.

Turned down

Several senior figures including Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell had been invited before the committee.

In a letter to Sir Nigel Wicks, dated July 5 but released on Tuesday, Sir Richard says: "The government would prefer them to decline the invitation to appear."

This was because primary responsibility for managing relationships and roles lie with ministers and their permanent secretaries, he wrote.

Earlier Education Secretary Estelle Morris said that she would hate to be without her special advisers as much as she would hate to be without civil servants.

"It is how you bring together both their sets of skills."

See also:

30 Jun 02 | UK Politics
23 Jun 02 | UK Politics
04 Jan 99 | UK Politics
07 Jun 02 | UK Politics

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