Friday, 28 November 2008

Broad consensus on Green arrest

Leaks have always been part of politics. Daniel Finkelstein has a selection of Gordon Brown's greatest hits, as a rising star on the opposition benches.

Those examples make a powerful case as to why the government of the day was wrong to oppose freedom of information, which has seen the FoI information request compete with the brown paper envelope as a source of embarrasing information in the newspapers.

As regular Whitehall digger David Hencke writes of Damian Green's arrest, "the action is also very chilling to the normal terms of trade".

Michael White of The Guardian has a well judged column about why this seems an "ill-judged and hack-handed" police operation. He also writes illuminatingly about the background issues of secrecy and whistle-blowing, and

White is surely right that there must be a distinction between civil servants who leak and politicians who receive and use information.

Either way it's hard to understand why Green, a wholesome moderate Tory demoted by Michael Howard (surely worth a campaign medal in itself?), should have the old bill piling into his home and office at all, let alone in offensively large numbers.

It's different for the civil servant, whose duty is clear: one of confidentiality to his/her employer unless issues of conscience are so paramount that they amount to a public-interest defence.

On what we know now, there should be cross-party concern about this issue as appears to be the case. This is the sort of issue where Kevin Maguire will defend a Conservative.

There was some eager anticipation on LabourHome at an (unknown) story which might embarrass the Tories, this quickly turned into a discussion sympathetic to Green, asking questions about the actions of the police, and scrutinising the government. There is a similar mood among most centre-left blogs I have seen - for example, Conor Ryan, Hopi Sen, Tom Harris and myself - though there is legitimate annoyance at the offensively loose use of words like 'Stalinesque' and 'Mugabe' aimed at the government by elected politicans and not just anonymous blog astroturfers.

I am reminded of another case, which has tangentially resurfaced today.

To their credit, Tory and LibDem frontbenchers David Davis and David Heath produced a robust statement when there were concerns about the police authorising the bugging of conversations between Sadiq Khan MP and a constituent in prison, despite the Wilson doctrine.

I was especially unimpressed when, at the same time, Dean Godson, the Research Director of Policy Exchange using a column in the Times - "Don't be so eager to bash the Met" - to offer the thoughts that Mr Khan was "no shrinking violet" and "the most Islamist-friendly of MPs".

This was a highly inaccurate as well as offensive piece of innuendo, which could be easily rebutted, as I pointed out in a letter to The Times and a commentary at the time.

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