Magazine article The Spectator

The Mole in the Guacamole

Magazine article The Spectator

The Mole in the Guacamole

Article excerpt

WHAT's the traditional mark of a top civil-service molehunt? Easy: failure to find the culprit. What are the prospects for that tradition in the age of the fiber-spin doctors? Robust, you might think. We shall see.

The media chattocracy will arrive at a consensus more quickly. And a good thing too. Moles at the centre of government are insidious beasts. And if they cannot be blasted to bits by the judicious intervention of a shotgun, they can at least be made to feel such heat on them that they desist from their moleish endeavours. At the risk of neglecting my journalistic duty of schadenfreude, democracy is not well served by stoking the atmosphere of paranoia, suspicion and fear in Downing Street. There is enough of that at the best of times.

The guiding principle in hunting moles is clear: cui bono? As Abbe Faria (the Frank Johnson of 19th-century penal servitude) explained to Edmond Dantes with respect to his own sad stitching-up: `If you wish to find the guilty party, first find whose interest the crime serves.' (I make no apology for quoting from The Count of Monte Cristo twice in a week: there is more pithy wisdom in this one potboiler by the hack Dumas [pere, naturellement] than in a dozen finely crafted doorstops of his reviled and resented rival, Balzac.)

Most obvious are those quibus the bonum plainly ain't. That is, Messrs Campbell, Gould, Blair and the latter's personal staff. I have nothing but respect for those Don Quixotes of conspiracy theory (pronounced, by the way, in the 16th-century Castilian in which it was conceived, as `key-shot', without the throat-clearing faun-Spanish noises of the modem affectation), who argue either that Gould is leaking as an attempt to bring an out-of-touch Blair down to earth, or that Campbell is the culprit, driven by a kind of megalomaniacal sibling rivalry to destroy and humiliate the man whose success is his own raison d etre.

Both of these rationales fail the cui bono test as surely as does that growling Testarossa of conspiracy theories - that Blair himself is responsible for the leaks because he wants us all to feel sorry for him. For while it is not certain which of the blessed Trinity is made to look the most foolish by the leaks (Blair is well ahead on points), it is quite clear that they all - collectively and individually - look considerably worse than if their privacy had been respected.

The next most extravagant canard is the `teenage cybermole lurking in the Downing Street mainframe'. It seems to be lent credence by the last but one leak having been an email - from Blair's `special assistant', Anji Hunter, instructing everyone to be on best behaviour in front of Michael Cockerell's television crew. But it is conclusively undermined by the `TB' and Gould memos. The Prime Minister is unlikely to have emailed, because he does not use email (this is a polite way of saying that he does not know how to use email). He faxes. The cybermole may thus consider a malevolent tube of metal to have spewed forth shot from the top of his hole, exterminating him.

The next postulate, popular in certain Labour circles, is a better one. But it is probably mistaken. Some naughty cynics have been suggesting that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (shocking though I know it must seem to the general reader) might have been leaking in order to undermine and destabilise the Prime Minister. …

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