Sunday, 12 October 2008

Could blogging be blamed for another scalp?

I've always enjoyed reading the blog of former Labour Minister Tom Harris MP. Mainly because not many ministers blog, and certainly not in a down to earth way. Tom speculates that his recent sacking, with partial dignity, may have been partly down to the fact that he blogs - something of a common occurrence here in Wales.

Tom has decided to post the original version of an article he wrote for the Mail on Sunday 'From ministerial Mondeo to back bench' on his blog. It was commissioned from him on the subject of how a minister is sacked and adjusts to his new life, a subject he feels eminently qualified to discuss after the recent Cabinet reshuffle. Usually we have to wait for a book or newspaper gossip to read about such events and it makes interesting reading.

Here's two small sections:

“This is the Number 10 switchboard. Can you hold for the prime minister?”

Well, there aren’t too many answers to that question, are there? I walked downstairs clutching the phone to my ear and went into the kitchen where my wife, Carolyn, was making a late dinner. “Number 10,” I mouthed silently at her, and she immediately switched off the blaring radio.

The received wisdom about reshuffles is that if you’re going to get sacked, it’s done early on in the day. Having heard nothing so far, I was pretty confident that a call this late in the day would surely mean promotion. I knew I had done a good job at transport. I also knew that Minister of State in that department was now vacant. Or immigration, perhaps? Europe even?

And with such optimistic expectancy did I take the call from the prime minister. The conversation was brief: he was bringing new people into the government, and that meant some people would have to leave. My heart sank, my stomach lurched and I made a “thumbs-down” gesture to Carolyn, who mouthed a word that ladies shouldn’t really utter.

The most common theory put forward for my sacking is, inevitably, my blog, And another thing... In some ways, this is comforting: no-one really believes I was bad at my job so there must be another reason, and the blog is a prime suspect, especially after the whole “Why is everyone so bloody miserable?” debacle.

I started it in March this year because I was concerned that right wing blogs like Iain Dale’s and Guido Fawkes’s were dominating the market, and I felt there weren’t enough Labour voices out there.

Few people were even aware I wrote a blog until “Why is everyone so bloody miserable” [146 comments] was published in June. What started off as a fairly thoughtful piece about the difficulty of achieving happiness in a material world was twisted by a Conservative front bencher to try to make it look like I was belittling people’s real difficulties in coping with the current economic climate. I found myself having to defend and explain what I had written to hostile journalists and broadcasters. It was a sharp reminder that, even if the public aren’t reading what ministers blog, journalists and political opponents are.

Even then, I received no criticism from No. 10; my boss at the time, Ruth Kelly, simply asked how I was coping with the media scrum.

And you can go over my posts with a fine tooth comb and you won’t find anything there that’s off-message or critical of government policy.


William Evans 13 October 2008 at 10:39  

His blog is well worth a read. I'm pleased that he doesn't want to give up blogging.

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