Friday, March 31, 2006
EXCLUSIVE: Alastair Campbell's Diaries May be Banned
The Times reported yesterday that civil servants will in future be banned from writing their memoirs, and if they do manage to publish a book, the government would seize all profits form royalties or newspaper serialisations. But in the same breath as announcing this, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that he fully intended to write his own memoirs. Breathtaking. Speaking before the Public Administration Committee, he said "memoirs serve a very important purpose - as long as they are written by ministers, not unelected officials." He is so wrong. Surely it is just as important for us to understand the inner workings of government from the civil service perspective, as it is from a Minister's? I published a civil service memoir a few years ago called A Mandarin's Tale by Sir Roy Denman. It failed to trouble the bookshop tills very much but I felt it was an important book. Is Jack Straw really saying that Sir Nicholas Henderson's diaries Mandarin should never have appeared? Or that he should never have written his book called The Private Office? This is above all a question of free speech. We do not live in a Soviet State where secrecy is the watchword. At least, I thought we didn't. In my view civil servants should be just as free as Ministers to publish their recollections of their working lives. But I guess we now have to ask ourselves if Jack Straw's ban will apply to Alastair Campbell, who was, of course, a civil servant (technically, anyway). Could he now lose out on his multi-million pound nest-egg under these draconian new rules? The thought is almost too joyful to contemplate. I think my colleagues in Her Majesty's Press Corps should push for a clear answer to this most important question.