Oliver Letwin and the strange case of the dumped papers

Cabinet Office minister caught disposing of government papers in St James's Park bin.

After the week the government has had (the Liam Fox imbroglio, terrible unemployment figures), "cabinet minister caught throwing away secret papers in public bins" is not the sort of headline David Cameron wants to wake up to. The culprit is the gaffe-prone Oliver Letwin, who was seen disposing of private documents in a St James's Park bin. The Daily Mirror has the full story and the glorious pictures.

The paper reports that Cameron's Gandalf "was seen on five separate days throwing away sensitive correspondence on terrorism, national security and constituents' private details." In total, the Cabinet Office Minister disposed of more than 100 papers, including one said to describe how intelligence chiefs "failed to get the truth" on UK involvement in terrorist interrogations. A spokesman for Letwin has responded by insisting that the papers did not contain any sensitive material.

"Oliver Letwin does some of his parliamentary and constituency correspondence in the park before going to work, and sometimes disposes of copies of letters there. They are not documents of a sensitive nature," he said.

But Labour has already gone on the attack. In a letter to the outgoing cabinet secretary, Gus O'Donnell, Michael Dugher, Letwin's shadow, wrote:

Can you ensure that the Cabinet Office will begin an investigation, as a matter of urgency, to ascertain the classification of the discarded documents, how many have been discarded in this manner and whether the strict procedures for the disposal of Government documents has been breached.

I am sure you will agree that Ministers have a duty to follow proper procedures and lead by example. This has clearly not happened in the case of Mr Letwin. As you are aware, Civil Servants are subject to disciplinary procedures if the proper processes are not adhered to. It cannot be that there is one rule for Ministers and another for everyone else.

I would be grateful if you could investigate these matters as soon as possible and I look forward to hearing from you.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.