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.

Photo: Getty
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.