Is it not curious that the former head of the civil service should launch a fierce attack on the Chancellor in an interview that appeared in the Financial Times two days before his budget speech? Might the article illustrate wider leadership issues, as Tony Blair prepares to relinquish the Premiership? To what degree might Lord Turnbull and the FT be seen as engaging in political skirmishes?
An article in the Financial Times yesterday made wider headlines today. The headline seems slightly more strident than those we are accustomed to from the Pink Lady of financial journalism. Former Whitehall chief slams ‘Stalinist’ Brown’it almost shouted.
The Former Whitehall chief is Andrew Lord Turnbull, now a cross-bench peer. His political contributions in that role have recently been confined to three measured speeches, one on proposed reform of Government statistics, and the other two on the Turner report. In one of the Pension speeches he informed the house of his interests, not just as a novice pensioner, but as an advisor to the consulting firm Booze Allen Hamilton, and a wannabe man from the Pru.
In an earlier role he had spent four years as Permanent Secretary to the Treasury working with (to, for, or on behalf of) Gordon Brown. In the FT article, he assessed Gordon as exhibiting
“Stalinist ruthlessness… There has been an absolute ruthlessness with which Gordon has played the denial of information as an instrument of power.”
The interview makes good reading as ammunition in the forthcoming Cameron-Brown battles for the Premiership. These matches are being set up as a two-team tussle between gifted and flexible David, and Powerful but dour Gordon. You might think this resembles another Premiership battle between Manchester United and Chelsea Football clubs. I couldn’t possibly comment.
An unnoticed possibility
The BBC reporting this morning suggested an analysis that had not extended to a close reading of the original FT article. A discussion (on BBC five live) sounded as if it was a little chat, based on the Corporation’s own synoptic news summary of the FT story. It was suggested that the Noble Lord may be so worried about a Gordon Brown Premiership that he had felt compelled to make a calculated statement to the Press at an appropriately damaging moment.
I have been unable to find the answer to an important question. When did the interview take place? The on-line FT version does not tell us. The critical scene-setting sentence ran
‘In an interview with the Financial Times, Lord Turnbull said …’ But was it said ‘In an interview yesterday..’, or was it said ‘In an interview for our post-Budget retrospective on Gordon’s ten years as Chancellor, to appear on Thursday..’
This opens up possibilities beyond the BBC’s suggestion. The FT might have gone for two bites of the cherry, created a pithy and newsworthy story within a background interview for a broader historical analysis of Gordon Brown’s record as Chancellor.
Does this matter?
Only to the extent in which it might help us understand why a vivid description of leadership style appears as a new story. Its novelty lies in the messenger rather than the message, which is pretty much the line being taken by Gordon’s political foes – on both sides of the House.