Almighty “Row” at PM’s Press Call. Peter Oborne. Who else?
Comment at end
UPDATE, 7th July 2010: The below seems to have been taken from this Guardian report. I can’ recall three years on. It’s all somewhat confusing – well it IS about Oborne – but with the Police mention and being that it would have been while the Cash for Honours nonsense was still ongoing, it seems to be referring to that as well as to Mr Blair’s earlier heart problems. The heart reference was meant to prove that Mr Blair was a “liar”, presumably. The offical Number 10 account follows below the top section from the Guardian.
Saturday 3rd February, 2007
The lobby has been reverberating over the row between the PM’s Official Spokesman and Peter Oborne during the last few days; the lobby is reportedly unhappy at some of the answers given by Tom Kelly recently with a feeling that they have been misled. The Guardian helpfully publishes a transcript of a heated exchange on Thursday; we have been looking for this on Downing Street Says but had been unable to locate it before now.
Mr Oborne v the PMOS – anatomy of a Westminster altercation, Saturday February 3, 2007, The Guardian
On Thursday the prime minister’s official spokesman (PMOS), Tom Kelly, crossed swords with Peter Oborne of the Spectator and Daily Mail at the daily lobby briefing. This is the edited official account of the encounter released yesterday:
Put by Peter Oborne that there was a discrepancy between what the PMOS tells the lobby and what the PMOS is actually told and that there is a gap between the truth and what the PMOS says, the PMOS refused to let Oborne continue with the serious allegation he’d made.The PMOS said that the prime minister was asked to proceed in the way he had by the police. Oborne again questioned this and the PMOS suggested that if Oborne was seriously suggesting that the prime minister should ignore or defy the wishes of the police then he should say so.
Oborne continued to attempt to interrupt at which the PMOS pointed out that Oborne was not asking questions but merely presenting innuendo and it was not acceptable. Oborne accepted the point but continued nevertheless. The PMOS stopped him again and refused to continue, telling Oborne he would not respond to innuendo and that he either ask a straight question or he would not answer. Oborne accepted the PMOS’s point and started again.
He said the PMOS had briefed a year or so ago when Tony Blair’s heart murmur was first announced, that the prime minister had no previous heart problems. The press later found out that the Queen and President Clinton already knew he had a heart problem. Oborne asked the PMOS, therefore, whether when he had briefed that the prime minister had no previous heart problem, was that based on knowledge or was the PMOS making it up as he went along or had he spoken to the prime minister about it.
The PMOS began his reply but was again interrupted. Put by Oborne that it was the PMOS’s job to answer questions, the PMOS said it was not his job to have innuendo, insinuation or allegations made against him. The PMOS began again and said that whatever was said on the heart issue he stood by. In terms of the innuendo – did the PMOS set out to mislead the lobby – the PMOS said that he worked “bloody hard” not to mislead the lobby and if Oborne wanted to say that the PMOS set out to mislead the lobby then he should do so, and the PMOS would see him in court.
BELOW IS THE RELEVANT EXCERPT AT THE OFFICIAL NUMBER 10 REPORT ON THIS ALTERCATION on 1st February 2007 BETWEEEN THE PRIME MINISTER’S PRESS SPOKESMAN AND THE ODIOUS PETER OBORNE
Clearly although it started by centring around Blair’s questioning by the Police on the cash/loans for honours nonsense (which in the end came to nothing, and no-one was charged) Oborne went off at a tangent re not knowing about Blair’s heart condition. (highlighted red)
The man’s a copper-bottomed idiot, with a personal grudge against Mr Blair, clearly.
Asked about the decision not to reveal the fact that the Prime Minister had been interviewed by the police last Friday, at the request of the police and was this acceptable, the PMOS asked the reporters to imagine what the headline would be if the Prime Minister had not fully complied with the police request, and the reason why he had answered questions the way he did in Lobby last week was not to avoid the truth but simply because he could only know what he’d been told. The substantial point that people should recognise is that once the police made a request of this kind, either you fully comply with the police investigation or you do not. There is no half way. Therefore the reasoning was nothing to do with any consequences of people knowing such a meeting took place but because the police requested, as they said in their statement, for operational reasons.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to anyone else in Downing Street about the blackout request, the PMOS said that the clear request was that this information should be held very tight and it had been as was made clear this morning. Asked what the PMOS meant by very tight, was it just those in the room with the Prime Minister, the PMOS said there were a very tight number of people who knew of this information and the PMOS added he would not get into the processology of No.10.
Asked to clarify when the PMOS knew, how many people knew and was it known in time for Cabinet this morning, the PMOS said he knew late yesterday and yes it was in time for Cabinet. In terms of number of people who did know the PMOs said he would not get into that processology.
Asked about language, when the Leader of the House of Commons had referred to the police asking the Prime Minister not to divulge anything ‘about the arrest’ rather than ‘that the arrest’ took place, the PMOS pointed out that the Prime Minister had not been arrested and reminded the reporter about the importance of language! The reporter reiterated the questions correctly the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had not been asked to speak of the interview, at all.
Asked what was being said about suggestions that there was a deal between the Prime Minister and the police, that the interview would not be revealed until after the Davos World Economic Summit, the PMOS said that those present had to accept the fact, which had now been confirmed by the Metropolitan Police (Met), that for operational reasons they had requested that the fact of the interview should not be made known. That is what the Met had confirmed.
Asked if the police had told the Prime Minister or anyone else how long Downing Street had to keep the secret, and if they didn’t, how were they going to get a message to No.10 that it wasn’t a secret anymore, the PMOS said that the police did not give an indication on timing but that there is such a thing called a telephone.
Asked if the Prime Minister was aware of the operational reasons and have there been any restrictions about further meetings being made public, the PMOS said that when there is a police investigation you are faced with a very simple choice, you either comply or you don’t. You are not in a negotiating position therefore you simply have to choose; do you comply or do you not. Put that that decision could only be made if you knew why the request was being made, the PMOS replied no, it was on the basis that there is a police investigation going on, the police have the right to ask questions and therefore they have the right to request you to do things.
Asked that just doing what the police wanted sounded a bit pious in light of the fact of the police arresting people for perverting the course of justice, the PMOS reminded everyone that No10 has that we have said and it is the Prime Minister’s view that we should fully comply with the police inquiry. That is not pious; it is simply doing what the Prime Minister has said we should do.
Asked at what point did the police say that this is how they wanted to do things, was that arranged in advance, the PMOS said yes it had been arranged in advance.
Asked if the police had explained precisely why as the Leader of the House had said, that divulgement might risk the investigation, the PMOS said that if they ask you for operational reasons, part of an inquiry is that you cannot ask them to justify x, y and z and then make a judgement. You either comply or you don’t. Asked if the police had said it was because of x, y and z, the PMOS said no.
Asked to clarify that the police did not explain in detail what the operational reasons were to the Prime Minister or had they just said it was for operational purposes, the PMOS said it was not our right to ask. Asked if the police offered the information, the PMOS said no.
Asked about the timing of the interview, was there any explanation, the PMOS said no.
Asked if the Prime Minister, when he was asked not to discuss the meeting with anyone, if Lord Levy and Ruth Turner had been mentioned specifically, the PMOS said, as he had said this morning, he would not get into the processology and advised others not to do so as it was wild speculation.
Asked if the Prime Minister had been impressed upon by the police as what they were asking him to do in not revealing information was a very serious matter, the PMOS said that one assumed that the police were fully aware of the implications of what they are asking.
Asked if there was any consideration given whereby the PMOS could have been protected, i.e. issuing a D Notice whereby editors would have been made aware but heavily restricted in what they could report, the PMOS said that if the tables had been reversed and the reporter was in the PMOS’s place it would be precisely how he would write the story, ‘The Evening Standard calls for D Notice system’, he added, in short no.
Asked whether the PMOS had decided to develop a formula of words to protect himself after the Prime Minister was first interviewed, bearing in mind that on that occasion he had only been told after the event, the PMOS said no because you always operate only the basis of your knowledge and in very sensitive areas such as this it is only commonsense.
Asked who had told the PMOS yesterday about the interview, the PMOS said again he would stay away from the processology.
Put by Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail that there was a discrepancy between what the PMOS tells the lobby and what the PMOS is actually told and that there is gap between the truth and what the PMOS says, the PMOS refused to let Mr Oborne continue with the serious allegation he’d made, he was not going to let him get away with it. The PMOS said that the Prime Minister was asked to proceed in the way he had by the police. Mr Oborne again questioned this and the PMOS suggested that if Mr Oborne was seriously suggesting that the Prime Minister should ignore or defy the wishes of the police then he should say so. Mr Oborne continued to attempt to interrupt at which the PMOS pointed out that Mr Oborne was not asking questions but merely presenting innuendo and it was not acceptable. Mr. Oborne accepted the PMOS’s point but continued to nevertheless.
The PMOS stopped him again and refused to continue, he told Mr Oborne he would not respond to innuendo and that he either asked a straight questions or he would not answer. Mr Oborne accepted the PMOS’s point and started again. He said that the PMOS had briefed a year or so ago when the Prime Minister’s heart murmur was first announced, that the Prime Minister had no previous heart problems. The press later found out that the Queen knew and said that the Prime Minister had a heart problem, President Clinton said the Prime Minister had a heart problem for many years and it appears that this long standing heart problem turned out to be well known about. He asked the PMOS, therefore whether when we had briefed that the Prime Minister had no previous heart problem, was that briefing based on knowledge or was the PMOS making it up as he went along or had he spoken to the Prime Minister about it. The PMOS began his reply but was again interrupted.
The PMOS said that Mr Oborne had wanted to ask his questions, the PMOS had allowed him to but it was only right that he be allowed to answer. He asked Mr. Oborne if he understood that, if not he would not answer at all. Put by Mr. Oborne that it was the PMOS’s job to answer questions, the PMOS said it was not his job to have innuendo, insinuation or allegations made against him.
The PMOS added that Mr Oborne did not come to the Lobby on a daily basis and you either understand the rules or you don’t. The Chair of the Lobby added in that it was up to him to impose the rules and thought that the PMOS should be able to answer without any further interruption. The PMOS began again and said that whatever was said on the heart issue we stood by. In terms of the innuendo, did the PMOS set out to mislead the lobby, the PMOS said that he worked ‘bloody hard’ not to mislead the Lobby and if Mr Oborne wanted to say that the PMOS set out to mislead the lobby then he should do so, and the PMOS would see him in court.
Lobby resumed and the PMOS was asked if the tight group of people who knew about the Prime Minister’s second interview included those who had been questioned already by the police. The PMOS said that the Prime Minister would have observed the proper procedures in addressing the issue. Asked if that meant he didn’t speak to those already interviewed, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister would have made sure that nothing he did in any way contravened the letter or the spirit of what the police were asking.
Asked if the Prime Minister specified to the police who the tightly knit group were, the PMOS said that was getting into the processology and he would not.
Asked if the formula stood and if the PMOS would be using a similar form of words to answer questions about the police investigation in the future, the PMOS said yes.
Asked if the police named individuals that the Prime Minister should not speak to and if there was any reason why there might be more interviews or not, the PMOS said he could not answer either question.
Asked if, with hindsight, anything had changed since last Friday, the PMOS said that the reporter knew as well as he did that if he used the phrase ‘no comment’, that that would lead to implication that the question might be true and he had no reason to believe that that was the case. There was no reason to think that the formula of words he used before was anything other than true, but he wanted to protect himself from the unknown unknowns.
Asked who the police officer was who spoke to the Prime Minister, the PMOS said he did not know and he would not find out because it was not his job to brief on Met operations. Asked if he was in a position to say if it was Mr Yates, the PMOS said he was not in that position.
Asked if anyone else in Downing Street had been interviewed by the police, the PMOS said that the difficulty he had with answering that question was because Special Advisors (SPADs) are temporary civil servants and so he could not and would not give either a yes or no answer. The only exemptions from this had been the Prime Minister and Ruth Turner as she had been arrested. It would be wrong to give a running commentary on the rest and that should not be taken as either a yes or a no, it is simply territory he did not go into.
Asked if there was a particular distinction the PMOS was trying to make between SPADs and civil servants, the PMOS said no, he was trying to make the opposite point which was that Special Advisors are temporary civil servants therefore they deserve the same anonymity as civil servants.
Asked what the PMOS had meant by nothing had changed since last week, the PMOS said that nothing had changed in terms of his knowledge about the situation.
Asked when the PMOS said it was kept very tight was it correct to assume that a very small number of other people did know or was it just the Prime Minister, the PMOS said that very tight meant that within No10 inevitably if you’re going to arrange anything, whether it is cup of tea or a meeting with a foreign leader, a certain number of people had to know but it had been kept to the bare minimum. Asked by a brave journalist, if the butler knew, the PMOS yelled that there was no butler!