Sunday, May 29, 2005

Tessa Jowell's personal civil servant

May readers will be aware that Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell's hubby has been accused of tax evasion in Italy. The full story is here if you haven't heard it before.

Now Tessa is admirably standing by her man, and one can only applaud this sort of loyalty. However our Tess has now apparently got one of the mandarins at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport working on PR relating to the case on behalf of her hubby. As Theresa May has pointed out this contravenes the ministerial code of ethics. My prediction: it will be found to be an oversight and no further action will be taken.

The story is from Media Guardian (registration required) via Abolish the TV licence. It's reproduced in full below.

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell today found herself at the centre of a row over cabinet ethics after one of her civil servants released a press statement on behalf of her husband.

Paddy Feeny, the news and communications chief at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, emailed a statement to the London Evening Standard from Ms Jowell's husband, David Mills, about allegations of corruption he is facing in an Italian court.

Senior Conservatives claimed the email broke the ministerial code, which states that ministers' public duties must not conflict with their private interests, and bans politicians from using civil servants to do their personal work.

"It is clear that Mrs Jowell's head of news has acted on behalf of her husband in putting out this statement," said the shadow culture secretary, Theresa May.

"This statement concerns ongoing legal proceedings, and should certainly not have been handled by the civil service. It is difficult to believe that a powerful and high profile international lawyer would not have had access to a facility to put out such a statement."

Mr Feeny emailed a statement to the Evening Standard after it ran a story about Mr Mills, an international corporate lawyer who is facing charges of tax fraud and money laundering as part of an investigation into the Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr Mills has vigorously denied the allegations, describing them as "unjust", adding, "I know absolutely I've nothing wrong".

Today Mr Feeny said neither Ms Jowell nor her husband had asked him to send the statement and that he had never worked for Mr Mills or briefed anyone on his behalf.

"The Standard ran a story and Mr Mills had a statement he wanted to go out," Mr Feeny told the Daily Mail.

"I rang the Standard and asked whether they would like somebody to dictate it. They said they wanted it by email. This was a personal statement by Mr Mills. I have never acted as his spokesman, his media adviser or in any other capacity."

The ministerial code was at the centre of allegations last year about David Blunkett's relationship with Kimberly Fortier.

Several civil servants were later reprimanded for getting involved in the former home secretary's private dispute.

Ms May said she would be "asking urgent questions in the House in order to obtain a fuller picture over what has actually gone on".

"The rules governing the conduct of ministers' staff are very clear. Civil servants should not act in personal or private matters, and this was reiterated to all ministers and staff following the David Blunkett incident recently," she said in a statement.

"Yet again, it appears that the ministerial code has simply been ignored. I will be writing to the cabinet secretary, and to the permanent secretary for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to demand a full and thorough investigation of events. It is essential that this government does not call in to question the independence and impartiality of the civil service."