Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mr Byers Hits Buffers

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mr Byers Hits Buffers

Article excerpt

IT IS customary, on the rare occasions when a Cabinet minister is impelled to resign, for those who have been hounding him to shed a few crocodile tears. The minister in question has fallen on his sword, done the decent thing; in due course he comes to be seen as the victim of media calumnies, a man to be pitied. Mr Stephen Byers does indeed appear to have done the decent thing at last, but he is not to be pitied. He made too many mistakes, and his efforts to exonerate himself, often at the expense of civil servants who could not answer back, contributed to the impression of a man who confused his self-interest with the public interest. By the beginning of this year, he was enveloped in such a fog of suspicion that he could do nothing right - and it should have been evident to him several months ago that he was damaging the government to which he evinced such conspicuous loyalty. Mr Byers must have known that he would never attain the highest offices of state. It was as the embodiment of Blairism, the echo of his master, that he owed his ministerial position. And as he became increasingly discredited he came to typify Blairism at its worst - its arrogance, its insincerity, its inability to apologise or admit wrongdoing, its evasion of the truth.

These characteristics were on display well before Mr Byers took the Transport portfolio. When he denied spinning the idea of Labour breaking its links with the unions after saying as much to four senior political journalists, when he denied all knowledge of BMW's intention to sell off Rover despite the chairman of BMW ringing to tell him that Rover was in serious trouble, and when he suppressed a critical report into Geoffrey Robinson's behaviour while Paymaster General, he committed a series of gaffes which, taken together, diminished his credibility - so that when in October last year, he was seen to fudge the circumstances in which he took Railtrack back into public ownership, there was a real reluctance in the City to invest in the railways except at uneconomical levels of return. His behaviour over his special adviser Jo Moore and his press officer Martin Sixsmith was not that of an honourably straightforward man. …

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