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Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): I assumed that the hon. Gentleman would say a little more about the arts. Will he reflect on comments on the proposals in the Evening Standard on Friday? It said that they were


Mr. Ainsworth: It was not worth giving way, was it? When those at the Evening Standard consider the Secretary of State's proposals more carefully, they will realise that they are not the salvation that they think.


Those are not my words; they are the words of Ben Elton, who is hardly a well-known Conservative supporter. He went on:


    "The present Government should be very careful: style is no substitute for substance.


    It's no good going on about our great designers if everything they design is made in China. Jobs are cool . . . I didn't vote Labour because they've heard of Oasis."

The departmental Select Committee picked up a similar point. Its report on the Secretary of State's handling of his Department derided his promise that he would promote


    "everything from Beefeaters to Britpop".

It was astonished that tourism, which is


    "far and away the largest industry for which the Department is responsible",

was being


    "subordinated in favour of more glamorous and trivial matters".

That is not surprising, given that the Prime Minister lent his name to an article in the national press that contains, among a heap of other vacuous platitudes, the following immortal line:


    "We are forging a new patriotism focused on the potential we can fulfil in the future."

What on earth does it mean? It is a strange sort of patriotism which halves the British zone of the millennium exhibition and then spends £500,000 on a survey to discover what Britishness is.

The millennium dome stands like a paradigm of the Government's approach to presentation. It is a fine structure--all are agreed about that--but what is inside it? At the moment, we are told that it is a distorted human shape with two heads and a single pair of legs. There is something equally disturbing at the heart of the Government, which stands where their principles should be--a void. In order to clothe it, the Government have created a whole new industry devoted to weaving and spinning. You, Madam Speaker, have had cause in the past to comment

29 Jul 1998 : Column 388

unfavourably on the number of apparatchiks working in Government Departments.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): My hon. Friend appears to be leaving the subject of tourism, but I am sure that he will agree that, if the Prime Minister needed a free holiday, any one of us could have found a wonderful place in our constituencies for him and his family to stay. All he wants to do is advertise that people ought to spend their time overseas in Italy, instead of using the wonderful facilities available in south Dorset--where many Labour Members come on holiday.

Mr. Ainsworth: There are many wonderful opportunities in south Dorset for holidays, as there are in Scarborough, where I am going tomorrow. Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to come with me--on second thoughts, perhaps he might not.

The job of the apparatchiks is quite clear--it is to engage in the cynical manipulation of news, irrespective of truth, to the advantage of the Government. This is not only a Government for journalists, but government by journalists. The press machine of the Government is headed by Alastair Campbell, as we all know, the Prime Minister's press secretary--formerly of The Mirror. It includes a number of other prominent former journalists, including--in a selective list--Lance Price, formerly of the BBC, now at No. 10; David Bradshaw, formerly of The Mirror, now at No. 10; Martin Sixsmith, formerly of the BBC, now at the Department of Social Security; John Williams, formerly of The Mirror, now at the Foreign Office, where he is not doing a good job; Sherrie Dodd, formerly of The Mirror, now at the Northern Ireland Office; and Phil Bassett, formerly of The Financial Times, now running something called the strategic communications unit at No. 10. I imagine that their meetings are rather jolly; it is probably a bit like an El Vino's reunion party. They probably get the Liberal Democrats to come round and pour the claret.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of Alastair Campbell, is he aware that it is not two years since a judge referred to him as a witness in whom one could not have a great deal of confidence? Does my hon. Friend think that he is therefore an appropriate man to have running the press machine from No. 10?

Mr. Ainsworth: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I would have no confidence in a press machine run by Alastair Campbell, or any of the other cronies with whom the Government surround themselves.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I want to be clear--is the hon. Gentleman attacking the role of journalists, or the lack of economy in the use of journalists by the present Government? We all remember Bernard Ingham.

Mr. Ainsworth: Bernard Ingham is going back a bit, but I am certainly not attacking journalists--I am attacking the way in which the Government seek to manipulate journalists in a systematic way.

Around the media men in the Government are a host of other figures--the cronies. These include people such as Roger Liddle of the policy unit, who, together with the

29 Jul 1998 : Column 389

new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, so memorably prefaced their book "The Blair Revolution" with the words:


    "Both of us owe a special debt to Derek Draper, Peter Mandelson's former assistant . . . New Labour is fortunate indeed that it can boast a whole new generation with his quality of organisational energy, political commitment and realistic vision."

O brave new world, that has such people in it.

Ben Lucas, who ran the Prime Minister's political briefing unit during the general election campaign, has now set up his own lobbying firm, where he expects clients to


that is not trivial--


    "in order to get in line with New Labour's vision."

He neatly sums up the quality of that vision:


    "This is a Government that likes to do deals."

The Government have created a political culture that would have done credit to a late mediaeval principality, and it is spreading outwards. Tucked away in a recent edition of The Times Educational Supplement, I came across an article entitled "Councils urged to spin, not whinge". It is a report of the recent Local Government Association conference, covering a speech made by Mr. Greg Wilkinson, who was until recently at the Audit Commission and is now a Labour councillor for Hammersmith and Fulham. To the assembled delegates, he said:


    "Learn the fine art of spin . . . In a world where perception is sometimes more important than reality, it is no longer enough to do well."

The insidious culture of cronyism is discrediting political life. The Secretary of State is already a victim of it, and will become even more of a victim of a political culture that is moving ever further from the reality of life in Britain. No amount of media manipulation or photo calls on magic carpets will help the crisis in regional theatres; help manufacturing industry as it goes into recession--remember: jobs are cool; help people who are worried about their mortgages; or help the sportsmen and sportswomen who are waiting for the Government to fulfil their promises.

No amount of spin will undo the damage to our constitution or offer comfort to thousands of small businesses in tourism and other industries. Fashionable ideas such as cool Britannia and the rebranding of Britain have precious little meaning to the people who live in the real world of Labour's Britain. They do not need to have their own money spent on telling them who they are. They know who they are. The majority of them do not live in Islington as the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister do, along with any number of Cabinet members; it appears almost to be a qualification for getting into the Cabinet to have an address in Islington.

The majority of people do not share the Cabinet's metropolitan values. Their values are deeper; they are not glamorous, but they are strong. We saw people marching to protect the countryside, and we see them every day in suburban streets and city estates. They are increasingly bewildered by a Government who have abandoned their principles and placed style over substance. Nowhere is that more true than in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

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4.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:


The speech of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) demonstrated neither style nor substance. I wanted to take notes as he was speaking, but there were absolutely no points for me to answer. Quite apart from the fact that he could not get his quotations from me right, he could not get his quotations from Shakespeare right.


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