Damien Green and the pressures of leadership

November 29, 2008

Damien Green

The arrest of shadow minister Damien Green over an investigation into information leaks is a story demonstrating the dilemmas of leadership, not just for Mr Green, but for a number of others who have become involved, in and beyond Westminster

Damien Green, Conservative shadow minister was arrested by police, held for nine hours, and subsequently was released on bail. The nub of the story seems to be that The Home Office had involved the police over the matter of a series of leaks of information. A civil servant within the Home Office had been identified and is currently under investigation. Damien Green was interviewed ‘in connection with the leaks’

The political realities

It is highly unusual for MPs to be treated by police in this fashion. Cue for a supply of further stories for the media, supplied by various parties:

Damien Green quickly gave an interview indicating the facts of his arrest, and the subsequent police actions at his home and office premises. You can find more background on the breaking story [Friday Nov 28th 2008] in the BBC analysis in Q&A form

Very quickly, David Cameron expressed his anger
Boris Johnson expressed his anger.
George Osborne expressed his anger.
Later, Nick Clegg expressed his anger

The various expressions of anger indicated suspicion that the Government had been thoroughly involved in stitching up Damien Green. The justification for involvement of terrorist branch police officers was also challenged.

Government denials of all accusations followed. Explanations for involvement of such officers also followed. Boris had seen it as outrageous. The police indicated that the leaks contained information relevant to terrorist investigations.

It seems that David Cameron, and Boris Johnson were among those who learned of the case before members of the Government. Which was something else they found rather fishy.

George Osborne’s intervention is made in the context of a totally different breaking story involving a member of his family. The only newsworthy aspect of this is the family connection with the shadow chancellor.

Quote from a BBC five live radio interview by a former police officer: ‘No one in his right mind would assume that Damien Green would be guilty of offenses justifying the ‘over the top behaviour’ (sic) of the Met Police’.

The dilemmas of leadership

The story seems to capture some of the dilemmas of leadership in reaching decisions in a ‘high velocity’ situation. Both David Cameron and Damien Green had to act swiftly and provide a coherent and defensible account of what was going on. The Home Secretary, and Prime Minister had to be more reactive; Boris Johnson and George Osborne seem to have had more choice of speaking up or maintaining silence. The story indicates how analysis has to take multiple perspectives into account.

It occurred to me that it would make a nice exercise if someone set up a ‘hypotheticals’ debate, with experienced people playing the roles of the various protagonists, each indicating what he or she made of it from their perspective, and what would they do next.

More information emerged

More information emerged in an interview later in the day by Sir David Normington, the top civil servant at the Home Office, who told the BBC that he had involved the police because of

“leaks of sensitive information over an extended period [which] risked undermining the effective operation of my department .. The police investigation led to a junior member of the Home Office being arrested on 19 November and subsequently suspended from duty. Yesterday (Thursday), I was informed by the Metropolitan Police at about 1.45pm that a search was about to be conducted of the home and offices of a member of the Opposition front bench. I was subsequently told that an arrest had been made. Ministers were not involved in the decision to seek police assistance or in the subsequent investigation and were only told of the arrest after it had occurred.”

What’s going on?

A yet-to-be resolved story. That’s what’s going on. The outcome will tell us more about the political skills of some of the main actors when faced with the pressures of taking decisions under pressure. I would be interested to learn more about the way in which David Cameron and Boris learned of the information, who learned what and when on the Government side, and what happened subsequently. What emerges may indicate who has made the wisest political decisions to date.

A touch of irony?

I noticed one additional ironic turn to the story. Damien Green stoutly defends the rights of MPs to reveal information in the public interest. One aspect of his indignation is that MPs are so rarely treated by police in such a public fashion over matters of revealing information. That is so. The reason is an absence of the very transparency of information within the political system which grants MPs rights and privileges.