Brown's spinners told these papers* that they would only get the story if they agreed not to carry any quotes from David Davis, Nick Clegg or any other opposition spokesman. Not only that, they weren't even allowed to tell the Tories or LibDems about the very existence of the story. Now, have a look a those links in the above para again. It's not difficult to spot that not a single one of the stories contains a quote from David Davis or Nick Clegg? Coincidence? No. At 7.30pm on Saturday night the Press Association got hold of the story from one of the nationals. They hadn't been included in the 'briefings' from McBride and Ellams. They wrote the story complete with an extensive quote from David Davis, yet not a single Sunday paper carried it. Davis pointed out that Brown's intervention threatened to blow apart the cross-party discussions which had been going on between Blair and Cameron, and himself, Reid and Clegg. Newsworthy? I think so. The fact is that Blair and Cameron had reached agreement on a way forward on using phone tap evidence in court, and Davis had negotiated a way forward with Reid in a number of otherPatrick Hennessy was the first to fire a broadside against me, but he was quickly followed by Ian Kirby (News of the World), Nick Watt (Observer) and Marie Woolf (IoS). They all denied that Brown's spin team had leant on them. I explained that I knew that one paper had indeed been leant on and had assumed, because all their stories were more or less identical, that it had happened to the rest of them. But it still left open the question of why none of them had approached the opposition parties for a quote. Patrick Hennesy said...
areas. It was all set to be announced this Thursday by Reid in a Commons
Statement. Brown's intervention cut across all of this. Reid was left fuming
spluttering about Brown playing politics with terrorism and using it for his own
purposes. He could hardly be blamed....
"I didn't think the story needed a Tory or Lib Dem reaction"
That is of course for him to decide, but I have to say that I find it astonishing that on an issue where Blair and Cameron, together with Red, Davis and Clegg were trying to build a cross party consensus (soemthing Hennessy must have known about), he didn't think it worth ringing Davis or Clegg to see what they thought about Brown crashing in on the issue. Of course, PA carried Davis's fairly strong comments from 7.30pm, well before the Sunday Telegraph's deadline.
Ian Kirby from the News of the World took a similar line...
On this story, I knew there was no need for a response because Shadow Home
Affairs spokesmen would be falling over themselves to air their opinions on
Saturday night and Sunday.
Today's Observer carries an article by Nick Watt (one of the journalists who denied being leant on) headlined BLAIR APOLOGY OVER CAMERON TERROR PLAN. The reason I am about to quote it at length is that it makes my point for me about why the journalists should indeed have got a Tory reaction to the Brown story last week.
So all of them missed a real story last week, just because they didn't pick up the phone to David or Clegg. Credit to Nick Watt for getting the story this week, though.
Tony Blair has been forced to issue an unprecedented apology to David Cameron after a Tory anti-terrorism initiative was unveiled by Gordon Brown weeks after the Conservative leader passed on the idea in private to the Prime Minister. An embarrassed Downing Street gave the Prime Minister's apologies to Cameron's office last week after the Tory leader expressed his
anger when he found his idea trailed by Brown as a new tool for tackling terrorism. The extraordinary gesture from the Prime Minister to the leader of the Opposition was made after Brown called last weekend for a privy council review into whether telephone tap evidence should be admitted as evidence in court.
A series of Sunday newspapers, including The Observer, carried Brown's comments as a sign of
how he will adopt a tough approach to tackling terrorism. A furious Cameron instructed his office to contact Downing Street last Monday to find out what had happened, because he had suggested the idea to Blair in a private meeting in No 10 two weeks earlier. Cameron was particularly upset because the meeting with Blair was meant to establish a cross-party
consensus on dealing with the terrorist threat.
The Tory leader's office and Downing Street refused yesterday to comment on their exchanges. But The Observer understands that an embarrassed Blair instructed senior officials to convey his regrets to Cameron after sympathising with Tory complaints that Brown's intervention had at least given the impression that the terms of the Cameron/Blair meeting, held on private
privy council terms, had been breached. Brown emphatically denies doing anything wrong because he knew nothing of Cameron's proposal when he made his comments last weekend. 'Gordon has been thinking through how you build consensus on these issues,' a source said. 'It has been in gestation for some time. We only realised subsequently that this had been proposed by David Cameron to Tony Blair.'
But David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, last night criticised the Chancellor. 'I am strongly in favour of taking a consensual approach to this,' Davis told The Observer. 'If you want to maintain a consensus you do not blow into the public domain half way through the discussions. That will be seen as scoring political points rather than advancing the national interest.' Davis was also surprised to discover one of his ideas - to allow police to question terrorist suspects after they have been charged - floated by Brown. 'I agreed to that at a meeting in the cabinet office with four senior civil servants in 2005 after the 7 July attacks,' he told The Observer.
An irritated John Reid, who has been holding cross-party talks with Davis and Nick Clegg, of the Liberal Democrats, confirmed that the telephone tap idea had come from the Tories. 'On intercept, I can confirm that the idea of looking at the matter in privy council terms arose from a suggestion made by the leader of the Opposition in discussions with the Prime Minister,' the Home Secretary told MPs on Thursday. 'I was happy to accept that and I announced today that, in principle, we will do that.'
Reid's comments and Blair's apology will raise questions about the state of communications between the Prime Minister and Chancellor just weeks before Brown takes over in No 10. Brown's anti-terrorism initiative, which he has been working on for months, was virtually identical to the plan outlined by Reid in the Commons. This suggests that the Home Office and Downing Street
incorporated Brown's ideas on phone taps without telling the him they had been suggested by Cameron. Brown is understood to believe that the Tories may be playing fast and loose. He has been examining the idea of holding a privy council inquiry on telephone tap evidence for some time and has been consulting outside the government. There are fears that some of Brown's thoughts may have been passed to the Tories during this consultation. There will also be questions about whether Cameron's cordial relations with No 10 will be maintained once
Brown takes over.
But let's move on from that because it raises some serious questions about Gordon Brown. Why, for example, did he make a policy speech and then brief newspapers on an issue he clearly wasn't fully briefed on himself? Why did he not pick up the phone to Number Ten or the Home Secretary to check on the latest state of play? Why did he freelance on an issue of national security when he must have known that Reid was about to make firm proposals only a few days later? In short, why did he play politics with terror? His actions have mad e a growing cross-party consensus more difficult to take forward. He should be grateful that the Conservatives and LibDems haven't taken their bats and balls home completely. His new Home Secretary will have quite a job to do in rebuilding relations.
Incidentally, Ian Kirby in the News of the World says that Jack Straw has agreed to be the new Home Secretary. A source told him: "Jack could have had his pick of the top jobs, but this is one he'll be able to slot into straight away." I don't doubt this is true, but it did cross my mind that if he could have his pick of the top jobs, wouldn't he have gone back to the Foreign Office where he could have renewed his friendship with Condi Rice?!