Sunday, June 08, 2008

Whether she's guilty doesn't matter anymore

I have just read the statement issued by Tina Haynes, the former nanny to Conservative Party Chairman Caroline Spelman about her "work". The statement, presumably distributed to the relevant news agency by CCHQ appears to vindicate Caroline Spelman at first glance.

However, something about it for me doesn't ring entirely true, my first thought upon reading it was "someone has leaned on this woman" to get out a statement and shore up the position of Spelman. That doesn't mean that the statement is untrue of course, but it seems rather clear that it is now fully aligned with the statement of Caroline Spelman.

There is nothing wrong with doing that of course, it's what happens. We like to call it spin because it is spin, but it is also the reality of contemporary political news management. It would be wrong therefore to assume that just because the nanny has now clarified her position to be in line with the "line" that the "line" must therefore be a lie.

The issue now seems to comes down to the recollection of the conversation with Michael Crick, and crucially, the unspoken part of that conversation. It all now hinges on Crick's question of whether the work was "political", and whether the nanny's claim that she said "no" because her "understanding of this was that he was asking was it party political work" is credible.

Deciding upon that comes down to whether one accepts that someone who is alledgely a "constituency secretary" for an MP, would really say "no" to the question of whether their work was political? I personally find this a difficult one to square up because if you're working for an MP how can one not consider that work to be "political"?

The real problem here is that you either take the nanny's assumption about the question at face value, or you don't because you make your own assumption that all politicians are liars anyway, so their must be a lie underneath it and the desire to conceal some sort of truth.

The question does still remain though as to why the arrangement suddenly stopped. There has been no explanation that I am aware for that, and, as someone pointed out in the comments of the other post on this, the suddent stopping of the arrangement could be perceived as an admission of guilt.

Guido, who appears to be coming in for a battering both at Conservative Home and his own blog, made a very pertinent point yesterday. That stories like this risk re-contaminating the Tory brand with the sleaze tag. That is why I also agree with him that the failure to spike the story fast is a strategic error by CCHQ.

Ask yourself this question. What would Alastair Campbell have done? People may despise the man, but he knew how to get control of a story and stop it from spiralling, and that involved acting fast. That is why, in my personal opinion, Cameron should have told Spelman, step down now, go through the Parilamentary watchdog procedures, and then come back when it is shown you have done nothing wrong (assuming you really have).

By clinging on to a defence, and issuing statements to try to bolster Spelman's position, they have ensured that the story will continue to run for more than just the Sunday's and that a question mark will be constantly hovering above the head of both Spelman, and Cameron too by proxy.

This is especially the case if in the coming weeks more expenses stories emerge (and my gut says they will). The genie is out of the bottle, and as I said yesterday, the hacks and bloggers will be searching for scandal amongst the details, that you can guarantee.

So do I believe the 'line' now? I'll be totally honest and say I just don't know. The statement by the nanny is certainly very carefully worded. I do still think though that Spelman should step down from her position whilst the process investigating her takes place, and that Cameron has an opportunity to make himself look decisive.

Letting the story roll for longer than is necessary neutralises the narrative that Brown is a ditherer who cannot make a decision. From a purely Machiavellian standpoint, maintaining the credibility of that narrative is surely a more important thing than the issue surrounding the "Spelman problem". However, it doesn't look like that is being taken into consideration to me.

I could of course be wrong, but Spelman's innocence or guilt is a side issue compared to the damage that the story itself causes. As Cameron himself put it, the widely held view of politicians is that "you lie and you spin, you fiddle your expenses and you break your promises." The way this story has been handled just feeds into that. Cameron needs to be seen to stand by his words.
Picture from Conservative Home

Update: Noted in the comments that the Whips Office apparently told her to stop the arrangement because it could cause problems. Clearly it has. As I say, guilty or not, the damage of letting the story run for longer than necessary is an error, and a missed opportunity to drive home the message that the Tory party will have clean hands and decisive action on these sort of issues.

50 comments:

Howard said...

You and Guido are both right in that Cameron should have acted. But do not assume that he won't. Don't forget that the story broke late on Friday when the main players would have left London. My view is that Cameron will act but on Monday once he has the facts and spoken directly to Spelman. If he acted over the weekend it could have been seen as over reaction. We will see.

Anonymous said...

We really need to see a transcript of Crick and the Nanny interview. As this may put Crick in a bad light I do not think we will.

I did get the inpression when I first read the story that Crick was trying to catch her out by trying to make her say she did political work for Spelman and that is why she said she only took one or two phone messages a week for work of that nature.

Mostly the reasons I have had for contacting my MP have been personal and what I consider confidential, I never once considered that a nanny would have access to that information.

enjoying the show said...

Extremely well said. This only confirms for me what I already assumed: MP's are fiddling, cheating, spinning, greedy liars. They smell the coffee and can't wait to delve in. In the past the veil of deceit has been fairly impenetrable by the basic, spoon-fed, faithful public.
You would, however, think that the Conservatives would not wish to emulate the contemptuous behavior of Gordon Brown, by deploying such overtly condescending tactics, where the stench of desperation just chokes everyone.

Adam McNestrie said...

This pedants' hunt for the errant politician, driven by the media's love of expose, is destroying what little faith in our political class remains and, in doing so, poisoning the political realm. The disjuncture that now exists between the public perception of politicians as peculators, crooks, Soviet apparatchiks almost, and the banal reality of the cross-section of men and women in Parliament undermines very seriously the smooth functioning of the political system.

Undiscriminating cynicism and mistrust will be the result, and that can only hurt our political culture and do real harm to any ideology which relies on a positive conception of the state.

To read my ideas at greater length, link to my blog at:
http://adammcnestrie.wordpress.com/

Anonymous said...

'The question does still remain though as to why the arrangement suddenly stopped'

ex the BBC website - The arrangement came to an end when the Conservative Party's chief whip told Ms Spelman it could be "open to misinterpretation", and she appointed a separate constituency secretary.

Can't remember who was first saying it, but that (or equivalent wording) has been the consistent explanation given on this since the story first surfaced

Anonymous said...

Changing the arrangement was hardly an admission of guilt. It could simply have been an acknowledgement that such an arrangement might be open to misinterpretation and provide ammunition to political opponents, as it has done.

An MP represents al their constituents, so I can see why a secretary paid from government funds might be inclined to answering “no” to a question along the lines of “did you do any political work?”

The fact is that the BBC look crap. They have launched a big political story on the back of a few snatched words and haven’t broadcast a recording. There is every chance that the “spin” was first applied by the BBC, rather than by the Tories.

Praguetory said...

Didn't the arrangement stop when the Whips Office told her that it might be within the rules but it would be better for her to alter the arrangements. Being as the nanny/PA seems far more suited to nannying I don't think this would have been a painful request to comply with.

Benedict White said...

Dizzy, you ask the same question as Guido which is why the arrangement ended if there was nothing wrong with it. The answer is both obvious and in the public domain. Spelman was told to do so by the chief whip because he was not happy with it. He said the arrangement could be open to "misinterpretation" and he was definitely right about that.

Chief Constable of Hurlingham said...

Having just watched Jacqui Smith on the Andrew Marr show I cannot get excited about this Spelman business.

The spectacle of the Home Secretary running emotion on 42 days as though she was the leader of the local Mothers Union waxing hysterical about the threat of paedophiles at the playground was deeply depressing. Boris trounced her.

Her citing of popular "mob rule" support in her constituency for the surveillance state, including the DNA database and ID cards was appalling. She seems incapable of making the intellectual jump from being a Labour MP to being a government Cabinet Minister. Who the hell appointed her? Oh, hang on, it was Brown wasn't it.

Her memorable phrase that the government has to listen seriously to the needs of the police force was crass given the pay dispute and the increasing political posturing of senior police officers (who ought to know better.)

If you want to investigate, investigate the role this shallow and mediocre woman's husband plays as her political assistant, with a nice fat taxpayer paid salary.

tapestry said...

This is a grey area. Spelman does have some kind of reasonable defence. A half story from long ago, not worthy of long examination.

Yes. Cameron should have made her stand down to neutralise the media.

The significance of the Spelman story is that it was launched by the BBC to protect MEPs and Brussels, which is a far greater offender.

The lesson from the Capital of Europe is 'don't you dare threaten Brussels'.

We can bring Cameron down if we want by using Brussels' media power. Reporting and commenting on EU corruption is not permissible.

Guido Fawkes said...

Adam McNestrie says "Undiscriminating cynicism and mistrust will be the result, and that can only hurt our political culture and do real harm to any ideology which relies on a positive conception of the state."

That is my motivating purpose.

Scary Biscuits said...

Tapestry, Good point.

This is quite a test for Cameron as the Tory MEPs being accused and protected are all ultra-left wing virtual communists from the Old Guard.

This mess is of Cameron's own making because he acquiesced in the process that prevented the party from putting proper democratic scrutiny on sitting MEPs by refusing to allow the membership the power to deselect them. The Eurosceptic right has now retaliated by revealing how these people have abused their positions.

Cameron's response will tell us what sort of a person he is: (a) a front man, a mere puppet, for the Francis Maude, Euro-fanatic wing of the party who hold the real power or (b) a true leader who is using the talents or people like Maude for the greater good without being beholden to them and is instead seeking to represent the party and the nation as a whole.

If it is (a) the Spellman is safe and the Euro-MEPs caught stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds will not be deselected. If it is (b) then we are in for a white knuckle ride.

mckenzie said...

Ian Dale will not let me say this so I will try it here.
With regards to the Spelman case. It is only natural now that people are very suspicious of everything that MP's say in their defence of dodgy expenses claims. We have been force fed lies and spin from the Labour Party for too long. The nature of the excuses has been exasperating, overtly condescending and utterly contemptuous. Much harm has been done and there is very little respect and faith in British politics today. The Spelman response seems to be following the classic Labour contempt for the electorate.
If David C. wishes to have any effect on restoring the faith and respect which has been damaged in such a short space of time, the solution is simple. I only hope he makes the right choice.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but it's not like she simply ended the arrangement. After the nanny was dropped she went on to hire a full time personal constituency secretary. Clearly there was more than enough work to justify a full time role.

Anonymous said...

tapestry said...
"This is a grey area. ..... A half story from long ago, not worthy of long examination."

Like Cameron's drug taking.

jd said...

"Undiscriminating cynicism and mistrust will be the result, and that can only.....do real harm to any ideology which relies on a positive conception of the state."

Good.

Anonymous said...

Off topic.
Fraudsters hack into Home Office website
"Cunning computer hackers have hijacked the Home Office crime reduction website and used it to carry out an elaborate online scam."

Isn't this rather serious?

jailhouselawyer said...

I agree with Bob Piper. You have pulled out all the stops on this post.

It is crazy for the Tories to claim that integrity and dishonesty are one and the same thing. This is as bad as "whoops-a-daisy" in response to being caught with one's snout in the trough.

Spelman must stand down until it is cleared up one way or another.

tory boys never grow up said...

"Spelman is not one of those closest to Cameron, and she has not enjoyed an easy relationship with the businessman Lord Ashcroft, who is her deputy chairman: there have been rumours that the powerful millionaire has pushed for her to be replaced in recent months."

She's toast - one wonders how Crick got the story in the first place. My guess is that there is something else going on here.

judith said...

I'm not a big fan of Spelman's, but let's get something clear:

She was a new MP, she was advised after some time that what she was doing WAS NOT WRONG but could be misinterpreted, so she stopped doing it.

She is way down the back end of the expenses list, so she certainly isn't hogging public money now.

Of more importance would be checking out the number of MPs of all Parties who are happy to take free trips abroad 'discussing' issues not related to their constituencies or Select Committees.

Sorry Dizzy, the Spelman saga is a silly story.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy,

The answer that the secretary's role was not political is entirely plausible. In my experience, any political work is undertaken by secretaries in Westminster (which is where the MP carries out his politics). The role of the scretary in the MP's constituency is one of receiving mail and calls and managing diaries (for local constituency work). Local campaigning/political work is undertaken by the Association and their staff, not by the MP's constituency secretary. To keep the MP's position clear on etheir expenses, the constituency secretary will have no business in Association or local political matters. FWIW, but that is my experience as an Association Executive Member and Deputy Chairman.

dizzy said...

I didn't say that the defence wasn't 'plausible'. I asked if it was 'credible' that someone who freely admitted to taking phone calls from Hague when he was Leader of the Opposition and passing on messages was not 'political'.

dizzy said...

Judith - I would argue that this isn't a non-story at all. Whilst you think it's value should not be as high as it is, it doesn't change the fact it is up there, and it is especially important given that a) Spelman is in charge of enforcing honesty on these issues and b) Cameron has made a big deal of the need to restore trust.

D Evershed said...

Answering taking a few phone messages and posting a few letters does not justify paying Spelman's nanny out of taxpayer money.

Also it is claimed the children were at school so the nanny had time to be a secretary - but it seems two of the children were below school age in 1997.

john trenchard said...

dizzy -> isnt it notable how this case has pushed the MEP expense scandal off the headlines, considering that the Irish referendum is due anytime now?

dont turn yourself into a violin to be played by the people that "set the media agenda". and theres nothing better to distract people than a titallating bit of "tory sleaze".

Daily Referendum said...

Dizzy,

You've over reacted.

If I had been Spelman's nanny when Caroline's home was being used as her constituency office, and she asked me to answer the phone, pass on messages, sort out the mail, give directions to constituency meetings and do the filing - I would have said to her "Who do you think I am? Your bloody secretary?" If you want me to do all that you better bloody well pay me for it"

Wouldn't you Dizzy?

tapestry said...

This is getting close to McCarthyism.

The vogue for total and rigorous compliance with expense-claiming criteria is new. It is one thing to say to politicians who believed the system they were working was permissive of marginal claims, that they must in future work to a different standard.

It is another to say the following -

'Have you ever filled out an expenses claim which was close to being outside the rules, ever in your life?'

The wholesale and blatant milking of expenses by making totally false statements such as by Conway is clearly totally wrong, and is seen to be the case, as it is with the MEPs.

Spellman however has a plausible explanation for her claim, and did have a nanny who did carry out tasks normally associated with office support. Her position is defensible, while Conway's and that of the MEPs is not.

Guido is claiming to be setting standards for politicians which he may be doing very successfully, but he should keep an eye out to that what he is doing is not creating a new McCarthyism, when his campaign goes too far and does no good except to create a fear and a silence and cover-up.

There has been a mass shredding of evidence at Westminster already. Guido should ensure that he doesn't guillotine the innocent along with the guilty. It undermines his campaign, and does not achieve the honesty he claims to desire.

There has to be a line which when crossed brings down retribution on the head of offenders, but hanging unproven minor cases of petty larceny along with convicted murderers never seemed too bright even in the eighteenth century.

If Guido wants to become a power in the land, he should accept some limitations on that power. Maybe he doesn't realise how powerful he has become.

ITIL Man said...

Dizzy,

I could of course be wrong, but Spelman's innocence or guilt is a side issue compared to the damage that the story itself causes.

I am shocked that someone of a seemingly Conservative mind-set could come to your conclusions.

Have you lost your mind?

You suggest what is effectively punishment before any guilt has been proven.

Do you believe in 'Guilty until proved innocent' then?

Do you want our political system to be run by the mob-rule of 3rd rate journos throwing speculative accusations around?

Caroline Spelman's innocence is at the very core of the matter. To punish her (even temporarily)without substantive evidence as you suggest is tantamount to an admission of guilt (in the eyes of many) and to do so because 'it could damage the party' is reprehensible.

If she is guilty then a proportional punishment should be applied but if she is innocent then to do as you suggest would send a dreadful message from David Cameron.

Firstly, it gives 'carte-blanche' to those opposed to the party to go on a witch-hunt against anyone in the party they like.

In such an atmosphere, how could other current or future members of Cameron's team trust that Cameron would not throw them to the wolves as well?

It would send a message a tremendous weakness on his part.

The fact is it is up to Spelman to stand down if she has done anything wrong. Until then Conservatives must trust her word.

If she lets the party down in this then woe betide her but either way Cameron must not act against her before there is justification to do so and 'bad press' is only justification for cowards.

The risks of doing as you suggest would likely cause far more damage to the party than not doing it.

Certainly, I would not want to work for you given your expressed views on this. I would always wonder whether I could trust that you would not stab me in the back for no substantive reason.

Quite frankly your argument is little more than appeasement of the worst kind of politics and journalism.

Furthermore, you clearly do not understand the concepts of loyalty or justice.

Shame on you Dizzy!

dizzy said...

Read The Prince.

dreamingspire said...

Dizzy, agree that she should stand down while the investigation runs its course, but there seems to have been far too much agonising (including by you). Are you really convinced that this is a smoke screen hiding something else?
PS David Davis was brilliant on the BBC Politics Show about 42 days. It was about time that the superficial John Sopel got put in his place, and it has been very noticeable that the Labour people are not able to handle him.

Sandra said...

Of course Spelman must go - the sooner the better - and she can then put up her defence after.

Had she gone immediately, she would at least have gained some respect for taking immediate action to protect the Party. It would be good for Conseratives to show Labour how it should be done!

Anonymous said...

I think you and Guido are wrong on this one. This wasn't a great story, yet the BBC led with it in a serious way. The intention seemed to be to bump Cameron into dumping her, which would have given it credibility, justified the profile they gave it and made it a big story. As it is, it seems to be fading pretty fast now - none of the Sunday's led with it. Sacking her wouldn't have limited the damage; it just would have given this legs. And there is always the possibility she's innocent...

mckenzie said...

Humble apologies to Dale, he did post my comment. I vote Conservative, but certain things need to be said. There is a lot of house keeping to be done and I hope we can all pull together and get it done.

jd said...

"Until then Conservatives must trust her word."

By her own word she took taxpayers' money to pay her nanny. She stopped as soon as the Whip pointed out it was iffy. She hasn't paid any of that cash back.

All that is fact, undisputed by her. Even if it was done in good faith, ignorance is not a defence.

Is it a 'story'? Of course it is. But only because Cameron has made it one. In the same way that Major made his MPs private sex lives relevant news by introducing 'Back to Basics', so Cameron has made this an issue by going after Labour and pretending to be whiter than white.

Oh, and as for Guido.... keep going for the bastards.

Newmania said...

My suspicion is that following Conway there has been a truce as both sides have numerous skeletons in the cupboard .Cameron will try to get his out early ,and has taken steps to do so ,but Brown cannot afford to. Its a race to be clean for the election and the Conservatives are winning. On Spelman she was doing what she took to be standard practice and at the time it almost certainly was. MP`s have lived a remunerative double life for years because the money is not good enough. In fact there would have been and is some sensitivity to the problems of being a woman with children.

I cannot get too excited about it myself but then the whole cash for peerages thing left me relatively cold as it did the country and that was serious money. As I often think Dizzy good forensic stuff but when the car won’t start and the AA man got his microscope out wouldn’t you think …mmmm problem of scale here.

£2.5 billion Regional Development scam
£5 billion and upwards ID cards


Leave her alone .

PS The Guardian Editorial on 42 days is crushing today as was Boris who claimed they nicked it from Hitch hikers Guide To The Galaxy. I think this may be the truth . In fact Douglas Adams agonised endlessly about which number was the most anonymous ands therefore funny ( it being the BIG answer) , he tried then all and decided on 42.I reckon it was picked for its anonymity

Silent Hunter said...

jd:

'...ignorance is not a defence....'

Unless you happen to be Wendy Alexander! :O(

As we seem to be getting into a Gordian Knot over Spelman's Nanny (I actually believe she should have done the decent thing and stepped down of her own volition to await the verdict) how about we look at something a WHOLE LOT BIGGER!.

The shredding of evidence by the Commons Authorities after an FOI request, relating to Tony Blairs expenses!

That's called.......BLATANTLY BREAKING THE LAW OF THIS COUNTRY!...which kind of puts the Spelman thing into perspective.

I could also add that the discoveries being unearthed by Boris's team relating to Millions of tax payers money going 'missing' under Honest Ken and his 'mate', Lee Grasper (sorry) Jasper, seem to have received very little attention in the press.

Perhaps we're becoming inured to the oceans of 'Labour Sleaze' so that when a glass full of Tory Sleaze arrives...........we all want to 'drink it up'.

lola said...

Exactly. I posted a 'dear dave' letter on Guido's blog which tried to make the same point. But you have put it much better. CS has to go whether or not she is guilty. The whole thing can then be investigated. In my view this would be a very big plus point for Cameron as the investigation would draw out the accusers and their 'evidence' for all to inspect which may demonstrate maliciouness. Which in turn would do them no favours and boost Cameron.

Be advised I am no Tory. I view them as the least worst option.

Anonymous said...

Don't see why an MP should not employ a Nanny on expenses if that affords her the time to get on with constituency work.

Letters From A Tory said...

Don't you think that would be open warfare from the press if every MP who was accused of anything had to resign, regardless of their innocence or guilt? I think it's sad that people should be forced out of their job when they might be acting perfectly legitimately.

Jingouk said...

This story is a trap. It is an extraordinary frothed-up omelette that seems to me to be designed to get Cameron jumping the wrong way.

How many skeletons (Crickety ones) may there be? On the basis of this story more than a parliamentary majority.

DC would be right in my judgement to tread more warily than usual, looking for the elephant trap and the big story to come.

Jonathan M. Scott said...

I see that the 'Daily Politics' is covering the Spelman "story" too, despite Crick's Gilliganian reporting having been discredited by the nanny's statement.

My view is that the BBC is closing ranks on the dodgy Crick - who is trying to defend himself on the 'Daily Politics' now. Look at the guilt on Crick's face as Tim Montgomerie explains why this 'investigation' has been a repeat of Crick's Betsygate report.

Cameron is right to defend Mrs Spelman. If she were sacrificed for the 'Party' (despite no wrongdoing when she was a new woman MP trying to balance childcare and work) - the current position advocated by you, Dizzy, and Guido - then I for one would delete my blog and never push another Tory leaflet.

Fortunately, Cameron has not made the mistake of ditching Mrs Spelman and has defended her.

Anonymous said...

Bearing in mind BBC bias, I suspect the Spelman story has been carefully planted to distract from other news items - being 'bulked up' so that NuLab can make it 'a good day to bury bad news' - whether that is to do with the allegations (denied) that Jacky Smith & the govt were offering N.I. MPs regeneration money in return for their support on the 42 day vote or yet more deaths of our brave soldiers in Afghanistan (why exactly are they there? Apart from bolstering the egos of Blair & Bush I mean) or even to move the news on from Gordon's latest faux pas - who knows? But I think it is definitely meant as a distraction.

starcourse said...

This is very like the "did you take drugs" attack on Cameron and he is quite right to back CS on this. She acted perfectly reasonably in making this temporary arrangement, she is apparently a person of great integrity, who claims far less in expenses than most MPs, and he should stand by her, unless she is lying in which case of course she has to go. Integrity matters as well as spin.

trevorsden said...

Are you saying Mr Dizzy that if Spellman has been completely blameless for the last 10 years then she should be defenestrated to appease your sense of self righteousness ?

There is an IF there for sure ... but no one is suggesting otherwise. Meantime Brown continues to watch SKY Sports at taxpayers expense.

This is clearly a BBC plant to create some linkage between MEPs and conservative MPs. Clearly there would be no linkage if Spellman had behaved differently - but this was 10 to 11 years ago.

Mr Dizzy - you along with Mr Guido at al are letting the the aroma of bloging go to your head.

dizzy said...

Oh for fuck sake! :rolleyes:
As I have said already, read The Prince. I don't give a fuck about some BBC conspiracy theory thank you.

dizzy said...

Oh, and for self-righteous you have to be on crack frankly if you think I was doing that. The post above is called analysis, objective, non-partisan analysis of the news. If you can;t see that then bugger off elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

MPs should not claim for staff employed to handle the political side of their work, only the Parliamentary side. See the Green Book at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/HofCpsap.pdf

So, assuming that Tina Haynes was properly employed on Parliamentary work, she would naturally have said that she did not do political work. And it would be consistent with that for her to say that, despite this, she had taken a few messages from William Hague because they would be "political".

So I don't think much can be read into the denial of "political" work.

lola said...

Isn't this all getting a bit "Tell me Mr Smith, when did you last beat your wife?" ish?

jd said...

"This is very like the "did you take drugs" attack on Cameron"

Hmm.. not really.. unless I missed the allegation that Cameron paid for his drugs by charging them to MPs' expenses.

Interesting though to see a number of contributors suggesting it doesn't matter because it happened ten years ago. Would love to see how an accused in court would fare with that defence, and how many of your posters would be supporting them.

Ronaldo McDonald said...

Pickles for Chairman