Tony Blair’s advisers worried that the government was losing its “moral authority”, just months after he won power in 1997. Newly-released documents reveal that there were a lot of accusations about Blair’s “sleaze”.
The most pressing of concerns were questions over the £650,000 refurbishment of the official flat for the new Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine.
Blair was once a trainee barrister when Lord Irvine was his pupil master.
This paper shows how Labour PM set about a counter-attack against claims.
According to the National Archives, Lord Irvine had already begun planning for the renovation of his official residence just days following the Labour Party’s victory.
He wanted the design to look as authentic as possible. As a result of historical advisors’ guidance, he chose furniture and fittings designed by Augustus Pugin. They had to be printed or made by hand and very expensive.
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After the price was revealed, there were a host of complaints from opposition parties and the media.
Jonathan Powell and Alastair Camp tried to devise a plan to handle the attention in February 1998. The memo titled “Derry’s Bed” was the document they created.
Newspapers had reported Lord Irvine had commissioned two handmade beds for £16,000. The cost was greater – at £23,000. Although No. 10 managed to keep it out of the media so far, it was most likely that this would be published.
Two aides offered various solutions, which included Lord Irvine’s apology. They also put forward “defences”, such as pointing out that Mrs Thatcher’s restoration of 10 Downing Street had cost £1.2m.
It looks as if Mr. Blair wrote a note in handwriting at the top of this file: “We need to be more assertive about these things.”
Anji Hunter had also warned government officials that they were “losing their moral authority by second”, due to “sleaze”.
In addition to the renovations by the Lord Chancellor, questions were raised about Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, taking Robin Cook’s partner on an official visit, as well as concerns about stories about senior Labour figures using blind trusts.
According to one aide, the problem is that former ministers know exactly which questions they should ask and “we are not being honest in answering them”.
According to the newspapers, the prime minister also agreed and wrote: “We must stop it.”
To counter the attack, he launched a counterattack that revealed how much money was spent by the former government on travels as well as their spending at receptions and on refreshments.
The files show that Blair claimed this strategy could be used to counter accusations that his government was “same as” the Tories.
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