JOHN HUMPHRYS; Tim Collins, the government
couldn't have been more open here could it. I mean it's published a twenty-nine
page document, it's cleared it all up - that's what it says.
TIM COLLINS: Well, it published a twenty-nine
page document which in itself contradicts itself, and which itself turns
out within forty-eight hours not to be a complete version of accounts,
because not only do we have Black Rod's story or something very close to
Black Rod's story in the Mail on Sunday this morning, we also find out
that there were further meetings between Black Rod and Claire Sumner to
try to discuss the evidence of the PCC that Downing Street didn't even
mention in their twenty-nine page document.
HUMPHRYS: It's perfectly understandable
surely for somebody from the Prime Minister's office when an allegation
like this is made, from somebody in the Prime Minister's office to go to
Black Rod's office and say: Look let's look at what is happening here?
COLLINS; Well, I think this is
a very unedifying saga and I think the millions of people like me who are
passionate monarchists are very unhappy that the Royal family is being
brought into controversy in this way, but I think what we see through this
particular target, I think what this saga is demonstrating is three very
important truths about this government. The first is that their instinct
is to tell a lie rather than the truth, the second is that their instinct
is to bully and intimidate those that dare to be critical. Some of the
smear stories against Black Rod in this morning's papers I think are simply
shocking, and thirdly, it is that we have a Prime Minister who is more
concerned with building up his self-image than building up the public services,
which is the job he was elected to do.
HUMPHRYS: You say smear stories
against Black Rod, there's not a scintilla of evidence that any of those
have come from anywhere near Number Ten.
COLLINS: Well, the Sunday Times
reports this morning that a number of ministers have said that if Black
Rod had done what he allegedly has done, in the army he would have been
sacked. We have a number of Labour MPs on the record in this morning's
Sunday papers saying they're going to call for Black Rod to be dismissed,
and what is his alleged crime, it is simply that he decides to tell the
truth and not go along with Downing Street's fabrication of the truth.
HUMPHRYS: But if you look at what
Number Ten was doing it was working from guidelines - this is stated in
that document that were drawn up in 1994. Now you were in power in 1994,
presumably John Major's office drew up those documents or those guidelines.
COLLINS: Well, one of the reasons
we're calling for a full disclosure and for a statement to the House of
Commons by the Prime Minister is that even that part of Downing Street's
defence now looks rather undermined by the Mail on Sunday this morning.
According to that newspaper this morning Black Rod pointed out to Claire
Sumner, why didn't you refer to this 1994 document when we spoke originally.
Although Claire Sumner says in her documents that she was relying on the
1994 document apparently according to Black Rod, she didn't mention that
document when she had her initial conversation. The detail is complicated
and convoluted but the bottom line is this; we have on the record quotes
this morning from Black Rod saying he was under sustained and constant
pressure from Downing Street to alter arrangements. We have evidence that
Alistair Campbell was spending a huge amount of time writing reams and
reams of letters to the Press Complaints Commission which are full of a
stack of inaccuracies. This is evidence of government at best pursuing
the wrong agenda, at worst trying to intimidate its critics.
HUMPHRYS: But you see even if,
and as you say it's immensely complex all of this, and it's a pity to inflict
on an unsuspecting and undeserving audience, they don't deserve all these
details, but let's try - the basic, even if the charge is right that Tony
Blair sought a more prominent role for himself, he would have taken Iain
Duncan Smith your leader, along with him. This wasn't just him, this was
leaders of the party as well as him.
COLLINS: Well, we have yet to see
exactly what it was. I mean what certainly is one of the allegations of
course, is that the Prime Minister or somebody on his behalf wanted the
Prime Minister to walk from Downing Street to Westminster Hall, glad-handing
I think is the phrase - the people who were there ... That is not something
that would have involved the leader of the Opposition. And the evidence
for that is actually in Downing Street's twenty-nine page dossier. They
admit that somebody from Downing Street rang up Black Rod and said would
it be alright if the Prime Minister walked from Downing Street to Westminster
Hall. Now very interestingly, very interestingly, they say in their document,
the twenty-nine pages, that it was decided and I quote, it was decided
within Number Ten without feedback from Black Rod, that the Prime Minister
would drive. Now, according to the Mail on Sunday this morning not only
was there feedback from Black Rod, but it was fairly vigorously expressed,
and it was very strongly counselling the Prime Minister against doing that.
HUMPHRYS; But that idea......
COLLINS: So we don't have a consistent
HUMPHRYS: That idea of the walk
was supposed to have come from Jack Straw and a sort of casual comment
about it being a nice sunny day, and he wasn't actually planning to walk
down Whitehall or anything, he was going to walk under the corridor, you
know under those.....
COLLINS: Well, I think it is one
of the most absurd developments that we've had this week that Jack Straw
who was actually in Canada for an international summit is supposed to have
woken up one morning, slapped his forehead, said: Oh, of course it was
all my idea, I'd better get on to Number Ten, and then tell everybody it
was my idea to suggest this walk. Really it is the case where a Downing
Street story as ever, as on so many of these cases, falls apart when you
look in the detail, there are many, many inaccuracies. Just to give you
another example. They said that the Prime Minister was going to walk to
the north door, and there was no problem, and as agreed the Prime Minister
was driven to Westminster Hall. He didn't go through the north door in
front of the cameras, he went through the south door.
HUMPHRYS: What do you want to happen
now. Should Alistair Campbell resign in your view?
COLLINS: I think our view is that
this is indicative of a culture of spin, an obsession with driving out
opposition and building up image rather than the public services. Alistair
Campbell is the figure-head of that particular culture. Certainly he should
be considering his position, but it's not enough for him to pack his bags
and go. That whole culture of spin, deceit and bullying at Downing Street
has got to go.
HUMPHRYS: Isn't the problem from
your point of view though, you may inflict a few flesh wounds on the government
as the result of all this, it might be embarrassing for the government,
but it doesn't do politics any good, and ultimately it doesn't do you any
good either, if you're seen to be in this great mess, this great.....
Now people say there are things that..real issues that we care about, the
NHS, education. crime and all that, and what are you doing, you're whingeing
on about what you describe yourself as some very obscure detailed allegations.
COLLINS: But this of course is
the reason why more than five years into a Labour government the public
services are not getting better. They're getting worse because the Prime
Minister spends all his time thinking about the next photo-opportunity.
He doesn't do the hard grind of improving the public services and until
we get him to change his attitudes and get down, knuckle down to the real
work and stop worrying about what he looks like in next morning's headlines,
we will never get better public services.
HUMPHRYS: Tim Collins, Peter Oborne,
thank you very much indeed.