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Mr. O'Brien: I gather that the individual worked for Conservative central office, advising the party leadership on campaigning matters. The reprehensible advice given in that memo was cause for dismissal, but it resulted instead in the individual's promotion. I might also refer to the embarrassment caused by the previous shadow Chief Secretary during the election campaign, but I will not go into that. The individual concerned appears to have got promotion out of the incident.
I am concerned by the vilification of Jo Moore to which one of my hon. Friends has referred. Jo Moore is an otherwise fairly inconsequential person who sometimes speaks to the press and sometimes gives advice to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Certainly, her memo was very unpleasant, but the blame culture in which Ministers and parliamentarians accept they live is not something to which we should expect civil servants, whether or not they are special advisers, to be subject. In industry, and indeed in the public sector, good managers are desperately trying to move away from a blame culture in which every time someone does something wrong, they must cover it up or risk losing their job.
Good managers in the public sector and in industry seek to move away from the blame culture to ensure that people are more open about what they do, so that they do not feel that they will automatically be dismissed if they do something wrong. Managers want to know what is happening in their business. They want people to know that they should not be afraid to come forward if they have done something wrong, because they will be disciplined sensibly and reasonably and it will not necessarily be the end of their career.
The Secretary of State has decided that the disciplining of this particular special adviser by the permanent secretary is the end of the matter. That was a courageous decision. It may also have been a good management decision. Time alone will judge whether it was good politics. It was certainly a move away from the blame culture that civil servants worry about all too often as they make decisions. Indeed, as we move towards freedom of information it will be especially worrying for civil servants to realise that much of what they do can find its way quickly into the public arena.
Mr. O'Brien: It would certainly have been difficult if an industrial tribunal had been involved, although I doubt that it would have been in these circumstances. It would have been difficult for the Secretary of State to sustain a dismissal over an e-mail of a few words, no matter how reprehensible. As I said earlier, if every MP who made a stupid error of judgment, who said something crass or indeed, to quote my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, horrific, were to lose their job, the numbers sitting in the House would be much fewer.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Does the hon. Gentleman think that it would add to the ability of the House properly to gauge the merits of the action taken by the Government if a full copy of Ms Moore's employment contract, together with any side letters and supplemental agreements, was put in the Library during this debate?
Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman wants the contracts of employment of people employed as civil servants to be placed in the public arena. He should be extremely cautious about doing that. In some parts of the public sector people are employed under contracts with specific responsibilities which are quite proper, and for all sorts of reasons they may not want those details made public. There is already enough concern about working in the public sectorsomething that the Government are trying to address. We should not go in that direction.
Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), who has evidently not done his homework. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Library research paper No. 42 which actually gives details of the model contract of employment for special advisers. He would be well advised to read it.
Mr. O'Brien: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way again as I want to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). She asked about the culture of spin. The history is that during the 1980s, the Labour party was in a mess. The Conservative party was rampant. As Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcheras she was thenwas putting the best light on the party's activities, to use the description given by an Opposition Member. The way in which the Conservatives presented things was to spin to an extraordinarily successful extent.
The Labour party, on the other hand, was disunited during the 1983 election. Discordant messages were coming from Front Benchersa little like the present Conservative party. However, we learned two lessons during that period. The first was that in order to communicate effectively with the public, to get through the barrage of tittle-tattle, speculation and personality politics that sometimes passes for political comment in
By 1997, the Labour party was united, had a clear message and wasindeed, isready for Government. Some people may not agree with the Labour Government. Indeed, some of my constituents did not even vote for me
At least people know that the Labour party has a clear set of policies and a clear agenda. It presents that agenda well, with skill. Okay, there have been excesses and mistakes, but that discipline and that unity are necessary. Those discordant notes are now restricted, with a few exceptions, to the Opposition. That is why the spirit of unity that has enabled Labour to win two important and spectacular victories must be preserved.
It is right that people should follow their conscience from time to time. I have no problem with that; it is an important right for Back Benchers. However, it is also important that the Government should have a clear policy which they set out, and that their Whips should perform the job they have been given to do. Previously, they were elected; they are now appointed by the Prime Minister. They have to ensure that the Government deliver what Labour MPs were elected to do.
The amendment is wide-ranging and I have one question for my Front-Bench colleagues. Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Atherstone in north Warwickshire, where he spoke to Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat local authority leaders and chief executives. He received an enthusiastic response to his comments about the Government's consideration of reform of local authorities, to free up local government and ensure that we make progress on the regional agendapoints covered in the amendment. He mentioned that the Government were looking at the power to borrow against assets, which was met with great delight by chief executives and leaders of all the political parties. Will Ministers confirm that in the next few monthshopefully, before Christmasa White Paper will be published on the issue of local government reform and, specifically, on the power to borrow against assets? That would greatly reassure many councillors of all parties.
The reform of local government finance is close to the heart of everyone in Warwickshire. In the early 1980s, under the Conservatives, we experienced education cuts that resulted in school closures and teachers having to leave the profession. There was a cut in our police force of 11 per cent. Social services were devastated.
Since 1997, there have been substantial improvements. Much more money is flowing into education, although not enough. Some of the policing issues have been addressed, but I shall not be diverted into that. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the problems relating to local government finance faced by the shire counties will be addressed as part of the Government's overall examination of the background to local government?
During the past four years, the Government have not freed local authorities in the way that they and I had hoped. We now have the opportunity to do something radical on finance and by giving councils the freedom to make the decisions that local people want. That is the way in which we shall revitalise politics. That is how people will know that those whom they elect locally can make real decisions about the future of their locality.
Making politics relevant is about talking about the issues that concern people. It is about education, the health service, local government and social services. It is about ensuring that we are effective on law and order. People will not be moved to vote at the next general election on the basis of whether Jo Moore is employed as a special adviser. They want to know that they will be treated properly when they go to hospital and that their kids will get a decent education. They are interested in the simple things that make a difference in their life. The Government need to deliver on those. I believe that they will, and that is why they deserve to be re-elected.