Thursday, August 21, 2008

No10 Website Breaches Civil Service Code

Brown's Downing Street website has broken a golden rule of Whitehall - you don't mix government information with party politics. Or at least you don't get caught out.

The new-look site, with its Brown makeover, is the most blatant act of party political spin, since Blair used his Royal Prerogative to winkle his unelected, unaccountable pal Campbell into the heart of the government propaganda machine, to sideline the Civil Service.

And it was Brown of course who, in his very early days as PM, promised an end to all the lies and spin and to cut back on the number of special advisors and media spin doctors. 

It has been reported here how the new Downing Street website has had a Brown makeover. The site got into hot water over a 'joke' video about a Clarkson online petition. It now covers Brown's every move from every angle and even introduced a section on the No 10 flower garden to green up his credentials. 

That's fine for a political party - but not for a website which is supposed to follow government guidelines on impartiality, integrity, honesty and objectivity. 

Downing Street is the official residence of the prime minister. At that level, communication  should be a function of the civil service - an arm of the Government Information Service. Clearly it has been highjacked by the party political spin machine. That's bad enough, but now it is being used as a vehicle to promote Brown as a political leader of a political party. And that breaches every guideline in the book.

Back in 2002, and stung by the 'good day to bury bad news' scandal, the then head of the Civil Service, Sir Richard Wilson, recommended a limit on the number of politically-appointed spin doctors, through a new Civil Service Act. Years later that still hasn't happened. 

One of Brown's first announcements as prime minister, in July 2007, was that he intended to introduce a Civil Service Bill. That still hasn't happened.

But the Civil Service does have clear guidelines for anything online, in the Civil Service Code Of Practice, outlined here

If civil servants are putting up political propaganda, then they are in clear breach of these guidelines. If they are not, which elected government minister or Civil Servant authorised it all? If the answer is neither, then who's running the show?

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