‘Maximum openness for maximum trust’ was one of the principles I tried to operate when heading up attempts to co-ordinate communications across government.
There were risks attached to that, of course. But I think I can count on the fingers of one hand, for example, the number of times we suffered from a leak of the weekly note I sent to all ministers and all private offices for a substantial part of my time with Tony Blair.
I am also modestly proud of the fact that though plenty of people have sought to give me a kicking from time to time, they have tended not to include the ones who worked most closely with me, and I think the ‘maximum openness for maximum trust’ may have been one of the reasons.
It was especially important for me, as a special advisor with known political views, affiliation and role, to get on with civil servants, and again I think most will say that I did.
It would appear that education secretary Michael Gove and his special advisors are operating a very different approach. Today’s Financial Times story revealing that Gove’s team are using private email accounts to conceal sensitive political information from colleagues and from the public is but the latest evidence of this.
To be fair to the FT, they put the story on the front page, and there was a little bit of follow up on the broadcast media this morning. I cannot help thinking that if this had been exposed on Labour’s watch, the headlines would have screamed a little more loudly across the airwaves and later editions.
Gove is very popular with many in the media because he is a former journalist, jovial and amiable, and because he spends a lot of his time running down State schools, which fits with the worldview of the mainly privately educated and, even more so, privately educating media elite.
But you do hear very persistent grumbles in Whitehall about the way his special advisors operate. The suggestion that this extends to a potential breach of the law on Freedom of Information is one that Mr Gove himself surely now has to answer.