Yesterday's letter from Gordon Brown to Gus O'Donnell was indeed a smokescreen, as the Tories have been alleging. Why? Firstly, because there is nothing in the current rules which fails to prevent the sort of mudslinging Damian McBride has been involved in, it's just that the rules haven't been implemented. And secondly, consider this.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life has held at least two inquiries into the role of Special Advisers in recent years. I think one was sparked off by the Jo Moore "burying bad news" episode. They came up with firm proposals to define the role of SPADs which they asked the government to include in a Civil Service Bill. Indeed, Labour, in its 1997 manifesto was committed to doing just that - but never has. I know that a draft Bill is in existence but the government refuses to bring it before Parliament. Why would that be, I wonder? It can't be because there is a heavy legislative programme. There isn't. MPs have the lightest workload in living memory and regularly clock off early because there are no votes.
At the last election the Committee on Standards in Public Life asked all three party leaders to sign up to introducing a Civil Service Bill. They all did. But guess what? Labour has reneged? It is no use saying, oh well. Brown wasn't party leader then because he made a big deal out of reforming our political system when he took over.
So let's not listen to Brown's weasel words on this. He had the chance to reform the system ages ago and funked it.