Some stories you may have missed

Observations on spin

Jo Moore, the ministerial special adviser who got caught suggest-ing that 11 September 2001 was a "good day to bury bad news", may no longer work in politics, but her idea lives on in Westminster. Since the London bombings of 7 July a number of stories have come out that do not show the government in the best light. But you could be forgiven for missing them.

For example, special advisers themselves were probably happy that the news they cost taxpayers £5.5m a year didn't make it into the headlines, and the Prime Minister's Office will be relieved so little attention was paid to the £800,000 spent on foreign trips by Tony Blair in the past year.

Had the admission not come exactly one week after the bombs, Moore's ex-boss Stephen Byers would have been pilloried on every front page for saying on 14 July that he did not tell the truth about the collapse of Railtrack, and misled parliament. (That story will get another chance after summer when the courts rule on Railtrack shareholders' compensation claims.)

The previous day, in the latest labour-market statistics, the government had admitted that employment had fallen steeply in the past quarter, by 72,000. This was followed by news that the environmental and social cost of transporting food in the UK was £9bn per year.

Also buried was the £350m that will be spent in each of the next three years on upgrading Britain's nuclear weapons facilities at Aldermaston. Not only did this announcement slip out while the country was gripped by the police search for terrorists, but it was delivered in a written statement to MPs, without the opportunity for a debate.

Nor were there many headlines about the government's rejection of recommendations from the committee of MPs and peers which scrutinised its new mental health bill. In its response, the government conspicuously failed to address concerns over the extension of compulsory treatment within the mental health system.

When Gordon Brown juggled the start dates for the economic cycle, accusations that he was cheating received an airing in the press, but Treasury officials must have been relieved when the nation's attention was wrenched away after just two days.

As a judicious burial of bad news, however, none of these can rival the government's responses to the Commons trade and industry select committee reports on fuel prices and energy debt and disconnections. These were condemned by the National Consumer Council as "a missed opportunity . . . to help end the scandal of fuel poverty in this country", but the timing of their release - 5pm on the day of the failed bombing attempts - guaranteed their swift passage into obscurity.

At least there was some coverage of two reports criticising the government's handling of asylum-seekers. Stephen Shaw's report into behaviour at the Oakington "immigration reception centre" found that there is a culture of racism and abuse. At the same time, Sarah Woodhouse, the official who monitors the operation of the deportation of asylum-seekers before appeal, said that the system fails to offer adequate safeguards against errors by the Home Office.

This, of course, was overshadowed by the news that the man shot dead by police at Stockwell Tube was a Brazilian who had nothing to do with terrorism.

This article first appeared in the 01 August 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Why Britain is great