Find that leak or the government will sink

A It is like a leaking tap. Until someone fixes the issue, it continues to leak. Much the same can be said of the leak that has sprung from the coalition government, who only 4 months old have already seen more high profile leaks than most governments see in their lifetimes. The latest, when an MP wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, with a grievance he has about policy and the way cuts are going to affect his department characterise a worrying trend in the new government as leak after leak escape into the grasp of the media and bring more issues for the government. It’s even worse when the letter was one of genuine fear about the actions of his government, and an admirable act from a head of department trying to rescue his budget from the clutches of the cuts the government are planning to make in the coming months.

The department in question was the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the MP in question the Defence Minister, Liam Fox. With the spending review on the verge of being announced in the coming weeks, the MP wrote to the Prime Minister to plea that the alleged cuts that are going to hit every other department of government would be a little more lenient in his department due to the war we continue to fight in Afghanistan and the extreme nature of the work his department funds. The MOD has been told to make 10% cuts, plus a further £38bn over 10 years to plug the gap in spending left by the previous government. Combined with Osborne’s insistence that the MOD pays for the renewal of Trident (despite it being paid for from treasury funds previously) and Fox’s adamant frustration against this, the rift is gradually tearing the cabinet apart with Osborne and Fox at constant logger-heads over spending.

Fox has claimed that the strategic defence and security review was turning into a “super” spending review and outlined to the PM in his letter that “If it [the cuts] continues on its current trajectory, it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war.”

His criticism and this leak has highlighted growing divisions within the government, in particular between the Chancellor George Osborne and those departments who would be most affected by spending cuts. Allegations are amidst that a senior member of the government has leaked the document but police searches of defence department computers and mobile phone records have not thrown up a culprit.

Leaks aren’t anything new. Every government has experienced the embarassment of top documents leaking to the media, and rumours spreading like wildfire of the back of a comment that was never meant to be released. Many too have used them to their own advantage, with purposeful leaks to test the water, such as the recent leaked email regarding the idea to scrap free school milk to see what the media reaction would be, but instantly dismissing the idea when criticism was huge.

It is not the contents of the letter that is most significant but that the leak is not the first for a coalition government not even 6 months old. Earlier in September leaked documents from the government listing 180 quangos to be scrapped in the coming months, including the Audit Commission, caused uproar as thousands feared for their jobs, amid suggestions that this was not a definite list and with the government refusing to clarify which of the quangos were under consideration.

These leaks undermine the work of the government, as society questions the acts of the coalition, especially due to the suggested impact of the cuts that are due in the coming year. The leaks are worrying for the government as they suggest discontent from inside the government but even more so in that they undermine the coalition in society’s eyes. They imply that the government is not in control and with the cuts and austerity measures, these issues are increasing the mistrust people feel towards the government and its plans.

As long as the tap continues to drip and the leaks carry on, the problem won’t go away and the government is undermining itself. These leaks need to be contained and the sources found. The next few years are already going to be difficult enough without the government hitting resistance at every single move they try to make. They need to restore trust and not cause confusion with misleading nuggets of misinformation.


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