THESE days I have to be told that Bernard Ingham (Ingham’s Eye View, January 6) has made some kind of disparaging reference to me in his monthly ruminations.
Having now read what he had to say about our thankfully brief encounter, I feel obliged to put him right what was said and why. It is certainly true that he was being filmed that day outside the post office. The sight of a man I abhorred, being filmed posing outside our post office brought about an instant rise in my blood pressure. “What’s this then,” I said, “an exercise in open government?” “No”, said he, plainly rather taken aback. “No, I should think not, if you’ve got something to do with it,” I replied, and continued on my way,
All these years later a more or less forgotten man has the effrontery to claim that his ten years in the limelight were devoted to trying to ensure that the Thatcher government was a model of luminous transparency. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Subservient press secretaries, which is what he was, exist to put a favourable gloss on current government policies, however pernicious these frequently are, and particularly so in the case of that enormously socially divisive administration. Bernard became the brutal template for every subsequent government spin doctor whose task is to disguise the facts.
Let me take just one example of the art of spinning during the Thatcher years. One of the defining events of that period was the Falklands war. Mrs Thatcher had been keen to make savings in her role as the thrifty housewife, so she took away the ships guarding the Falkland Islands, leaving some nine marines and the governor to safeguard our interests.
The Argentinian regime was headed by one General Galteiri. He saw an opportunity to restore his popularity by capturing the islands, which the Argentinians have always regarded as their by right. Mrs T - both were very unpopular at the time - saw an opportunity to retrieve her position by becoming the dauntless national heroine who regained control of that desolate little island far away from our shores.
So the task force was despatched amidst much flag waving. The difficulty was that simultaneously international negotiations were going on to resolve the problem peacefully with give and take on both sides.
Something had to be done to ensure that there would be a glorious military victory, not an inglorious turning back by the much trumpeted task force. To that end the Belgrano, an elderly Argentinian battleship, now generally acknowledged to have been making its way back to its home port and not posing any threat whatsoever to the task force, as claimed, was sunk with great loss of life.
A fighting war then became inevitable during which many soldiers on both sides lost their lives, but eventually the Malvinas once again became the Falklands. The whole sorry episode was turned by a masterpiece of sustained spinning (no doubt with Bernard’s enthusiastic assistance) into an example of Britannia’s unconquerable spirit in the face of Johnny Foreigner’s well-known dastardly behaviour.
Mrs T’s unpopularity melted away and she was duly re-elected with a massive majority. Truth, however, suffered a crushing defeat. So much for open government, Bernard.