Monday, 22 February 2010

Bullyhill - Labour guns more accurate

Still hanging around Westminster at the end of the second long day of politics fuelled by allegations of Prime Ministerial bullying. After the phoney war it finally felt like the opening salvos of the dirty election campaign of 2010.

In the chamber Diane Abbot is on her feet in a huge debate about reforming the House of Commons. Sorry Diane, no one is listening tonight.

The whole day, and yesterday, was dominated by the Andrew Rawnsley allegations about Gordon Brown. You'll be familiar with the picture by now - Gordon Brown he throws a strop, he throws things around, he grabs aides by the collar and generally gets shouty. Last week it was tears, this week tantrums - parents will begin to recognise a pattern.

Rawnsley's tale and his take on Brown would have stood as history, and still might, because of his reputation for having impeccable sources.

However, along came Christine Pratt, of the National anti-Bullying Helpline, to claim that Number 10 staff had been in touch with her organisation. At first it looked highly damaging for the Prime Minister but then Labour realised Christine Pratt was the best thing that had happened on the whole weekend.

Her allegations - she quickly emphasised that none of the complaints related to the Prime Minister - were vague betrayed the confidentiality inherent in her anonymous helpline. She mentioned receiving complaints from the Deputy Prime Minister's Office in the last 18 months but the department hasn't existed since John Prescott left the cabinet in 2007. Was she talking about Malcolm Tucker, people wondered openly?

Labour were quick to sprinkle some odour of Tory black ops, which weren't really apparent and there were immediate questions about the commercial arm of her husband's operation. One shouldn't step into the crucible so unarmed and Pratt and her story were quickly shredded.

She and her organisation limped home like a wounded Lancaster last night, all engines on fire, with four of her patrons having bailed out. The counter-spin from the right-wing blogs last night was that Labour was in danger of creating another David Kelly, the ill-fated weapons inspector who put himself at the centre of the WMD controversy when he naively overplayed his hand with the media.

The rebuttal operation was led by the old bruisers - Mandelson with the stiletto knife you wouldn't feel between your ribs and Prescott with the club that splayed everyone from poor old Mrs Pratt to Andy Coulson, Cameron's chief of staff.
(Another chapter in the News of the World phonetapping saga in a Commons report tomorrow which will throw the spotlight onto Coulson again)

Still the allegation that Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, had to give Mr Brown a dressing down over his behaviour hung in the air for nearly 48 hours before it was shot down - by Sir Gus himself. The denial took a long time coming and was carefully crafted to contradict Rawnsley directly but still leave wriggle room in Whitehall.

In contrast to Labour the Tories ran a fairly teenage spin operation, suggesting to journalists what they should write and who they should speak to. Labour put the big guns in front of microphones and fired off salvos that flattened any opposition.

A few lessons there then - don't let civilians wander onto the battlefield and either bring on the heavy armour with accurate shellfire quickly or leave well alone. I reckon Labour won the opening battle of the campaign but it's going to be a long war.

No comments:

Post a Comment