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Thursday, February 4, 1999 Published at 17:31 GMT

UK Politics

Freedom takes a back seat again

Mention the words "freedom of information" and ministers immediately freeze like rabbits caught in the oncoming car headlights.

They mutter things like "the legislation is imminent" and then immediately find an excuse to leave the room.

They have been doing it ever since they came to power on a manifesto which claimed "unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in government and defective policy decisions".

"We are pledged to a freedom of information act, leading to more open government."

[ image: Why did they sack David Clark? It's a secret]
Why did they sack David Clark? It's a secret
Former minister David Clark was asked to draw up the legislation. He took his own government at its word, came up with the goods - and was fired for his efforts.

Responsibility for the legislation was then handed over to the Home Secretary Jack Straw and things immediately ran into the sand.

And now they are at it again. If asked when the bill is to be published, spokesmen have been suggesting it could come any time now.

But they are fibbing. There is no intention of publishing the bill in the near future.

The Liberal Democrats, who have been pushing for the legislation in good faith, are getting very hot under the collar about what they believe is another new Labour U-turn.

One declared: "First David Clark had it and did too good a job, then Jack Straw was asked to tear the guts out of it, now it appears the whole package has been handed over to MI5 for their thoughts!"

This is your life

There is much speculation in Westminster about who will tackle the job of writing the biography of Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

For more than a year, biographies by journalist Paul Routledge have dominated the political headlines.

[ image: Hi, I'm the Riviera Gigolo]
Hi, I'm the Riviera Gigolo
His works on Chancellor Gordon Brown and ex-Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson managed to drag political books out of the "worthy but boring" category and onto the best-seller lists.

Others are eager to leap onto this lucrative merry-go-round and, with Brown done and Mandy gone, have started sniffing around Campbell.

Routledge is insistent he is not about to tackle the job (but he would say that wouldn't he) so the latest game in Westminster is to guess "Who will do Ali?"

To put people out of their agony, it can be revealed that Sunday Express columnist Peter Oborne - a right wing Tory with Blairite leanings - fancies tackling the job, as does veteran journalist and union stalwart Eric Jacobs, who worked with Campbell on the defunct Today newspaper.

Needless to say, Ali doesn't want any of it. He has already come clean about his past life as a soft-porn scribbler who went under the name of the Riviera Gigolo and as a reformed alcoholic.

A close friend declared: "There can't be anything more - can there?"

Nuissance call

Apparently on the day Peter Mandelson quit as trade secretary after the "cash for homes" row, one Labour MP kept ringing the DTI asking to be put through to the ex-minister's permanent secretary.

"Can I speak to Peter Mandelson please," he asked.

"I'm sorry, Mr Mandelson has resigned and will not be back in this office for the foreseeable future," came the reply.

Fifteen minutes later, the MP made the same call and got the same answer.

A dozen identical calls later the permanent secretary got so fed up answering what he thought must be a crank call he shouted: "Look, I've already told you a dozen time - Mr Mandelson has quit and he will not be back."

"I know - I just love hearing you say it," came the delighted reply.

Tony's hit man

Mandelson's replacement, the arch-Blairite Stephen Byers, is getting a bit of a reputation for himself.

He recently infuriated Labour left-wingers by stating that wealth creation was more important than wealth redistribution.

"Rubbish," they howled, one of Labour's central beliefs is in the redistribution of wealth - Buyers must have gaffed.

Wrong. It was the same Stephen Buyers who, at a TUC conference before the last election, told selected journalists over dinner that a Labour government would sever its links with the unions.

From Tony's thoughts to Stephen's lips.

[ image: If this is cool, Tony Blair's a socialist]
If this is cool, Tony Blair's a socialist
King of cool

There was much delight amongst regional newspaper political hacks when, during a rare interview with Tony Blair, Sir Paul McCartney blundered into the cabinet room where the meeting was taking place.

The prime minister appeared as shocked as the journalists that one of his "heroes" had accidentally wandered into the wrong room. The story made great headlines.

The truth can now be revealed - it was all a carefully managed stunt aimed at reviving Mr Blair's fading "cool" image.

Paul McCartney, cool?

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