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.