Wednesday, 22 February 2012

How to fly a kite, I am told

You're a senior politician. Or you have real power, you're a Whitehall official. There's something you want to say, but you can't be the one to say it. What do you do?

For years, the answer has been simple. Rachel Sylvester. She used to write for the Telegraph. Now it's the Times. The move was interesting – she was insufficiently sycophantic about New Labour, quite sycophantic but not sycophantic enough. But it doesn't matter to you that she moved – wherever she is, she'll fly your kite for you. The following examples from the Times only:
  • 14 February 2012: But I am told by one well-placed source that the budget for his artwork could be “over £1 million” ...
  • 31 January 2012: I am told that Sir Gus O’Donnell, then the Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, was among the senior figures who tried...
  • 15 November 2011: She took the decision to do this, I am told, against the advice of Home Office civil servants ...
  • 28 June 2011: I am told that Stephen Gilbert, the political secretary at No 10, and Andrew Feldman, co-chairman of the Tory party, ...
  • 17 May 2011: I am told that the new joint committee will include 12 members of each House, including crossbenchers and a bishop ...
  • 10 May 2011: I am told that he first raised concerns with Andrew Lansley at the end of last year ...
  • Etc ... The reader is spared the other 28 examples easily found with a single search on the Times website. The Telegraph website yields another 53 examples.
Apparently, somewhere behind the scenes, where people are paid public money to discuss this sort of thing, some conclave of cardinals has been debating the vexed question whether the Home Office isn't perhaps a little too right-wing and the Ministry of Justice a little too left-wing and they've decided to settle the matter by testing the waters in public.

This week's kite, in Ms Sylvester's Tough on crime, tough on namby-pambies, flies as follows:
One proposal discussed in Downing Street is to reconfigure Whitehall to end the good-cop-bad-cop departmental divide. Under the plan the Home Office would be responsible for everything to do with crime, including the police, prisons policy and sentencing. The Ministry of Justice would be scrapped and replaced with a new as-yet-unnamed department handling issues relating to national identity. This would bring together immigration, passport control and citizenship. Damian Green, the junior immigration minister, is mentioned as a contender for the Cabinet job. From the liberal wing of the Tory party, he can talk tough without sounding nasty. It may not happen but a change of emphasis is certainly under way.
If only the cardinals ran a focus group called something like SylvesterRachel.gov.uk, we could all drop by and vote "no".

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