Magazine article The Spectator

In 15 Months Mr Blair Has Achieved Something That Took the Tories 15 Years

Magazine article The Spectator

In 15 Months Mr Blair Has Achieved Something That Took the Tories 15 Years

Article excerpt

Derek Draper is an amusing rascal. When he admits to being brash, cocky and boastful, none of his many friends will contradict him; this is a New Labour version of Mr Toad. But before we accept his claim that he was guilty solely of letting his tongue run away with him, one point still needs to be cleared up: a small matter of a quarter of one per cent.

The Observer did tape the conversations with Mr Draper. It records his excitement, because Gordon Brown had announced that public spending would increase, not by 2.5 per cent a year as others had forecast, but by 2.75 per cent, as his firm had told Salomon Smith Barney. How had he managed to get it right? `I'm afraid it's inside information . . . if they [Salomon] acted on it, they'd have made a fortune.' They might also have been breaking the law.

I am certain that Salomon's was not guilty of misusing any information which Mr Draper might have given them, but two questions remain. Was his boast to the Observer merely a self-puffing fabrication, or did he do what he claimed to have done? If so, who gave him the information?

Derek Draper is no economic forecaster; he has neither the training nor the temperament. He is a superb guide to the socialisings, rivalries and bitcheries of New Labour; whom Peter is smiling on, whom Gordon is scowling at, who is sleeping with whom, where they like drinking, what they are wearing. On all those topics, whose importance grows daily as this government consolidates its moral base, Mr Draper's expertise is unrivalled; Mr Toad is also the Jennifer's Diarist of New Labour. But percentages of public spending? Hardly.

It is easy to imagine him swanking around Soho announcing that he had been right and everyone else wrong; Mandy was going to buy his next two suits not from Vermini, but from Bulimiani, as he alone had predicted. No, it wasn't intelligent guesswork: he did not have to guess, he knew, because he had overhead Peter chatting on the phone to Carla Powell. If Derek Draper had said all that, we would believe him, but an economic forecast? Dolly Draper would probably think that was a good name for a new restaurant. No one would be interested in Derek Draper's views on the economy, unless he could convince them that he had a hot tip from the Treasury stables.

Over to the Treasury, for this is not the first time that the present regime has been accused of a casual attitude to market-sensitive information. In the past, Treasury junior ministers and political advisers and the chancellor himself - were quickly made aware of the need to avoid leaks which could move the markets. Political advisers knew that they had to be especially careful. If there were a leak, the system's first instinct would be to blame them, if only because it is easier for officials to get heavy with a young pup than with a privy counsellor. Not under Mr Brown, however. His young pups are also among his closest friends. As soon as Ed Miliband and Ed Balls arrived at the Treasury, it was made clear to officialdom that those young men already knew everything there was to be knowed. Secure in the Chancellor's favour, they had no need to listen to civil servants.

There was an early controversy about the money markets and the house of Goldman Sachs - though no suggestion that the firm had acted improperly. But as another minister said wearily at the time, the new Treasury team `think they are above markets'.

So if a Labour-supporting lobbyist had wanted information to encourage a potential client, as Mr Draper put it, `to stuff my bank account at 250 an hour' is it inconceivable that an old friend at the Treasury might have helped? …

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