Saturday, April 18, 2009

Christopher Galley MP?

This is an odd thing for me - an old leftist - to say but I think Government ministers must be able to have discussions with civil servants or other ministers without fearing that these will appear in the Daily Mirror or The News of the Screws the following day. Without this expectation of confidentiality there will be much more decision-making by an inner cabal, with no paper trail, and no input from anyone but a core of trusted cronies. Of course, a civil servant ought to be able to offer a "public interest defence" for leaking information; but there is a great deal of difference between "what is in the public interest" and "what the public might be interested in" (a distinction the DPP's statement elides). And there is a big difference between leaking in the public interest, and leaking merely in the interests of the opposition party, and in the expectation that this might help one in a future political career. For example, on September 1 The Daily Mail ran with a leaked letter from Jacqui Smith to Gordon Brown which predicted that the credit crunch would lead to a rise in crime. Now: (i) this is to state the bleeding obvious; (ii) it is ludicrous to pretend that the leaking of such information is a threat to national security, (iii) the civil servant who leaked this cannot plausibly offer a"public interest" defence; this is just the sort of thing ministers ought to be able to discuss in confidence (It's not as if we are talking about the government concealing from the public key facts about the sinking of the Belgrano. Christoper Galley is no Clive Ponting). As I read the DPP's statement, there is a "high threshold" before a criminal prosecution can be justified and in this case "there is insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction". This falls far short of a general commendation for either Christopher Galley or Damien Green. True, the DPP does dismiss the idea that the leaks were a threat to national security; but he does say they damaged the "proper functioning" of the Home Office (why did the government not take this line?). Contrary to what almost everyone else is saying, I do not think Galley or Green come out of this well. Galley in particular is not someone I would trust as far as I could spit. I don't know what assurances Damien may have given you, Chis, old son, and maybe in your dreams you can already see "Christoper Galley M.P."; but I wouldn't bank on it...


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