Civil servants and deception

The situation regarding the Official Secrets Act is much worse than you describe (Leader, 15 October). I was threatened with the OSA when suddenly dismissed from government service in January 2000. It took only weeks to prove that key documents had been withheld during the proceedings. Not until November 2003 did a civil servant admit threatening me. Finally, in response to a written parliamentary question, the government conceded that I had reported corruption and sought a disciplinary investigation prior to my sudden dismissal. The abuse of power continued, preventing me from gaining alternative employment.

The courts have consistently refused to accept jurisdiction over my claim under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. Being threatened under the OSA is judged to be no defence against delaying a legal claim, even when submitting details of the claim would render the claimant liable to criminal prosecution under the Official Secrets Acts. Such Kafkaesque scenarios are embedded in the workings of Whitehall and the courts. The misuse of the OSA must become a criminal offence. Civil servants ought not to be protected when making threats intended to cover up deception and corruption.

Howard Horsley
Much Wenlock, Shropshire

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Who’s afraid of Michael Moore?

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.