The Guardian is running with the ‘Labour’s spending spree’ story for all its worth, but no-one seems to be asking some rather obvious questions.
First, the story alleges that an unusually high number of Whitehall ‘accounting officers’ (usually permanent secretaries) lodged formal objections to spending decisions in the last year of the Labour government. So much appears to be the, rather thin, factual basis of the story.
Second, here comes the spin – this was a case of upright civil servants trying to protect the public interest against irresponsible Labour ministers. But is that the only possible explanation? Might it not be conservatively minded Mandarins, expecting a Tory victory, trying to block legitimate spending decisions by Labour ministers? I am not saying it was, or at least not in every case, but surely there is at least a possibility some of this was happening?
Third, how did this story surface? I have no idea, but what I do know is that these things (advice to ministers) are usually sealed after the exit of a government, and not accessible to incoming ministers. The story has it that the Public Accounts Committee – the senior select committee in parliament – has in some way been involved. But this is nonsense. The PAC was dissolved along with the old parliament and won’t be constituted again until the elections for select committees have taken place. And by tradition it will be chaired by the Opposition – i.e. Labour. So it’s not the PAC. Then who is it?
Whoever is leaking this has chosen a very clever way of doing it – going to the left-leaning Guardian rather than a Tory supporting paper lends the story credibility and sows confusion amongst possible opponents of the new Coalition government.
And another interesting story from The Guardian: Andy Coulson follows David Cameron into 10 Downing Street.