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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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.