The most appealing thing about Eric Pickles is the marvellous way he stands up for his department in the face of criticism. Oh, hang on, that's not right, he shoves it off onto a reliable Tory attack dog, who skilfully turns it into a woofing waffle fest of accusation upon smear upon accusation straight out of Cold War propagandist central casting:
The Local Government Chronicle is rapidly deteriorating into a Labour Party propaganda sheet. Their "Chief Reporter" Allister Hayman writes as if he was a Labour press officer rather than a journalist.
How wonderful, a new dawn for accountability indeed. I particularly enjoyed the quotes round 'Chief Reporter', as if to suggest that the journalist in question is in some way not the 'Chief Reporter' of the LGC, and presumably scribbled the words 'Chief Reporter' onto his profile without anyone noticing. Classy stuff, Hazza.
Now, one thing immediately noticeable about the LGC is that it's mostly paywalled - the original story that Harry got sicked onto certainly is - I'd have thought this a rather inefficient way for a partisan propaganda outfit working at the behest of Comrade Miliband to behave - propaganda after all requiring something functional in the way of distribution. Furthermore, the LGC is presumably of interest to and bought by people mainly working in local government whom one suspects don't actually need propagandising to about the nature of Pickles, since they are in the habit of breaking cover in really quite large numbers to tell us exactly what they think of the bastard. Indeed, one Harry Phibbs has wondered just today whether the waves of Lib Dem Councillors who've been woken up by the approaching sound of May knives will be joined by his own party. He's not alone:
But what should concern Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles – and his attacker (or defender) in chief, Grant Shapps – is the simmering revolt among senior Tories in local government. Bluntly, they’re outraged by Pickles’ (and Shapps’) continued manipulation of statistics to justify the indefensible.
It's unclear if Phibbs actually believes this cross-party rebellion stems from the power of Hayman's Leninist propaganda or if he's merely making the kneejerk assumption that anyone criticising the mad axeman wing of the Conservatives is automatically party-political and of the Left - personally Occam's Razor would suggest that being pissed off with Pickles is a nearly instant consequence of exposure to Pickles, but there you go, I'm not a fuck ugly yapping libertorian 80s throwback who, back in the day, was considered something of a whackjob by Norman Tebbit.
So, given that there's a massive over-reaction on one of the country's top political blogs that's succeeded only in drawing public attention to a paywalled article in a limited circulation professional journal whose author has fewer than half my Twitter following, what was the fuss about? Well, the problem seems to be that Hayman made an elementary mistake; he took the DCLG at their word and analysed some of that lovely spend data they put out as part of the openness and transparency agenda, before drawing conclusions based on the evidence. The fundamental reason Phibbs was getting worked up appears to be because the data the article relied on, released by Pickles' own department, appears to have been bollocks.
As the Editor, Emma Maier, has responded:
The department’s press release later acknowledged that its original data contained errors. The release stated that “incorrect coding” was responsible for inaccuracies in spending data on financial consultancy and IT consultancy. The release also claims that other items of expenditure – on legal costs and office furniture – are attributed, at least in part, to expenditure that originated under the previous administration. This was acknowledged in LGC’s report. It also disputes that “excess fares” were for travel without a valid ticket. It has so far been unable to clarify what cost this does constitute.
DCLG had the opportunity to alert us to the inaccuracies in its data and raise the other concerns prior to publication of the LGC story. No such concerns were raised and the response that DCLG provided was included in the story.
So, to recap, a professional journal publishes a partly erroneous analysis of partly erroneous figures published by the DCLG that the DCLG had the opportunity to check first and comment on, and the response of our open and transparent masters is not to correct the errors via official channels but to set a highly competent take-no-prisoners attack dog onto the journalist for having the temerity to believe figures issued by a department that spends its time lecturing local authorities on how simple it is to release more public spending data.
P.S. Harry Phibbs, apart from being a Councillor at Eric Pickles favourites Hammersmith and Fulham is, according to his July 2010 Declaration of Interests a Director of Associated Newspapers. How fortunate indeed that a Department that apparently relies on the Daily Mail to do its research can call on such a staunch ally in times of need. Mind you, I'm not sure I necessarily trust the veracity of Harry's Declaration of Interests now. That kind of naivety could get a chap in trouble, so can anyone confirm this independently?
P.P.S. As of 10pm today, Allister Hayman's last tweet is an RT of a Conservative Home article praising Tory Brighton and Hove Council. They're subtle, these Trotskyists.