On the appointment of Sue Gray

There have been a number of interesting political revelations this week and I hope to comment on more of them at the weekend, but here is the taken by John Rentoul, Chief political correspondent of the Independent, on Sir Keir Starmer's appointment of the senior civil servant Sue Gray as his Chief of Staff, subject to an approval process.

I think he has a point. There would be a concern, whichever political party had been involved, about the move of a senior civil servant from a role in which he or she was running inquiries which required absolute impartiality and independence, directly to a senior role working for the leader of a political party.

I often get comments on this blog asking questions about how independent people who are conducting inquiries or reviewing things really are. And it's entirely right that people should be able to ask that question.

If Rishi Sunak had offered Sue Gray an equivalent senior position working directly for him, especially if this appeared to be in his capacity as Conservative leader rather than Prime Minister, does anyone doubt that social media would be awash with allegations that this proved her report was a whitewash and this was the payback?

I rather suspect that Sir Keir and other Labour figures would have been leading that charge.


Owen Jones, the left-wing journalist, has made a very similar comment  - not quite the first time I've found myself in agreement with him, it does occasionally happen not very happen often. He wrote on twitter here:


The former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler, has written a letter to the Times on the subject, a masterclass in presenting both sides of the case: If you read the first half of his letter you would think he appeared sympathetic to one side of the case, if you read the second half, to the other.


Paul Holdsworth said…
Sue Gray's "absolute impartiality and independence" were held up as unquestionably unimpeachable while you used her as a figleaf to avoid passing any comment whatever on Johnson's despicable lawbreaking. (Don't forget that Johnson initially wanted the internal inquiry to be handled by Simon Case, who expected to receive fines himself for illegal partying - that's the Tory idea of 'independence').

You weren't alone in that. Tories were desperate to assert her independence - Treasury minister Simon Clarke told Sky News: “By repute she’s one of the most fiercely independent and professional civil servants in the whole of Government."

Her report was widely considered to give Johnson a relatively easy ride. Now, however, you're jumping into the gutter with rent-a-gobs Dorries and Mogg questioning her independence in a lame attempt to discredit her inquiry - despite the fact that the Tory Party and Johnson himself have accepted the inquiry findings!

Johnson was not undone by Sue Gray in some fantastical subterfuge with Labour. He was undone by his own mishandling of the Pincher affair, after a lifetime of disgraceful misbehaviour. Yet you seek to tarnish her reputation instead.

What a disgrace you are, Chris.
Chris Whiteside said…
You have correctly described the opinion I held of her until about 24 hours ago.

I would point out to you that it is not just Conservatives who are concerned about this.

I don't necessarily go all the way with everything said by Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg's today, but I do think that for someone who had been in the post which perhaps of every professional position in the civil service has the strongest requirement for absolute impartiality and independence to then move straight into a job with a political party does and should raise eyebrows.

If that view puts me in the gutter - possibly the silliest thing you have ever written on this blog, and that is really saying something - then I am in good company.

I am absolutely 100% convinced that if she had been offered an equivalent job in the Conservative machine most of the opposition in general and the Labour party in particular would have been up in arms and using it as proof of exactly the opinion you have just expressed about Sue Gray giving Boris Johnson an easy ride.

It is not Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg who have caused the cross-party respect in which Sue Gray was held until this week to evaporate and provided anyone who wants to ignore her report's findings with an instant excuse to do so - it is Sir Keir Starmer and Sue Gray herself.

It is even possible that some of those who are annoyed by this appointment might include those who thought her report was a good one and are disappointed to see the criticisms it made of the government undermined.

If you don't see that, you too are in good company. I am surprised that neither Sue Gray nor Sir Keir Starmer appear to see it either.
Chris Whiteside said…
If anyone has anything new and constructive to say on this subject I will allow it to appear.

Grown men exchanging the sort of angry words you would expect from ten-year-olds is not an edifying spectacle and I am not going let this blog become the place for such an exchange.
Paul Holdsworth said…
Sorry, Chris, but you do make me cross. I'll try again.

Gray is not "moving straight into a job with a political party". It's been made clear the decision on when she can commence, as advised by Acoba to maintain the integrity of the Civil Service, will be adhered to - she could be as much as two years off starting work with Labour!

And the idea that respect for Gray has "evaporated" is simply not true. There, are plenty of commentators identifying this as a confected furore intended to undermine her report on Partygate. (It's not working).

Even some Tory grandees have stepped up to defend her integrity.

Francis Maude wrote to the Times to defend her, writing: "We should be as relaxed about this as we should be about people who have had previous political involvement coming into the civil service. Regardless of any political background or leaning, civil servants must of course comply with the civil service obligation of impartiality while they are in post. Our civil servants should have brains, knowledge, judgment and strength of character to give robust advice to ministers. Gray has all these qualities in abundance; Starmer is fortunate to have secured her services.”

I believe that it's Maude's last comment that really riles - this is a coup for Labour. To think that in just a year or two we could have moved from a PM with the dangerously unhinged Dominic Cummings as chief adviser to a PM with wily Sue Gray as his chief of staff!
Gary Bullivant said…
My take on this is in line with one or two other crossbench commentators. This provisional appointment is really an outcome of, and pointer to, a brief but ruthless civil war within the establishment. Roundheads v Cavaliers, Tories v Whiggs, King and Parliament; it's not the first clash but it's not Lab v Con either.

For some reason between Wallpapergate, Partygate, Geidt's resignation and Pincher's honeytrap in the Carlton Club the then PM lost the confidence of key establishment figures. They made it their aim to spook the herd of Conservative MPs. The Pincher incident was set up and the fall out manipulated to the point that all Lord Simon Macdonald needed to do was fire the single shot into the letters column of a paper of note for the stampede to start. Gray's partygate report had been a masterpiece of balancing restraint without losing credibility; a civil servant from NI doing her best to protect the PM and support the government of the day.

But times change. The UK and European establishments have stepped up to make sure one of their own, Labour or Conservative, is PM after the next election. Perhaps we will never know what finally changed their minds about Boris. Still, we can be sure that the Rt Hon Sir Kier Starmer MP, KC and former DPP now knows, even if he didn't before.

Paul Holdsworth said…
Fascinating watching Sue Gray in action.

Cooperating fully with the ACOBA process, declining to engage with what certainly looks like a dubious cabinet enquiry with no clear formal status (as she is entitled to do).

Meanwhile Dowden feeds leaks and promises to the relevant media outlets in the lead-up to Council elections which evaporate embarrassingly..

No wonder Labour snapped her up!

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