I think the biggest danger is that -- if one accepts that these are important exchanges of information, then you want them to be given by an authoritative person and I heard what Lord O'Donnell said yesterday. When Lord O'Donnell was the Prime Minister's spokesman and a civil servant, he was the most authoritative person in Number 10 dealing with relations with the media, and the same would go for Christopher Meyer or Jonathan Haslam or, before that, for Bernard Ingham.
I think the problem was that with the arrival of special advisers given the responsibilities of Alastair Campbell, that when Alastair Campbell ceased to do briefings because he felt that he was overexposed and handed the role back to civil servants, the civil servants -- and this is basically the situation which pertains to this day -- never really had the authority to convincingly brief on behalf of the government, both in politically and in informational terms.
An early example of that was during the whole question of Cherie Blair and her flats when Godric Smith, I'm sure, absolutely with total integrity, briefed that there had not been contacts with the swindler because that was what he was told to say, and it transpired that it wasn't true, and even if you go to the recent experience with Gordon Brown, you had a very distinguished public servant, Treasury official, in the role of Mark Ellam, who I think would admit that he was uncomfortable in his role because he knew that there were a series of special advisers who spoke with greater authority about Gordon Brown's intentions and about the government to journalists than he did, and I think a particular problem with this is that those spokesmen are unaccountable, and to this day -- I see that Steve Field, the current Prime Minister's spokesman, has announced he's stepping down. To this day, most journalists, if they wanted to know what the Prime Minister was up to or what the Prime Minister was thinking, would go to someone like Gabby or Steve Hilton or whatever, behind the back of the official spokesman.
So my argument is that the official spokesman has really become a bit of a front guy and is actually being put in a very uncomfortable position. I know that Lord O'Donnell suggested that probably we should go back to the position of a civil servant having that responsibility. I take the view that that genie is rather out of the bottle, and what we should go back to is having an authoritative and politically accountable spokesman, more on the model of a White House spokesman, but -- we can disagree about it, but at the moment I think it's a corrupt system, that there's an official spokesman who is not the authoritative figure in terms of communicating the government's intentions to the media.