Jon Trickett writes to cabinet sec for answers on Stunell

Jon Trickett MP

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

Sir Gus O’Donnell

Cabinet Secretary

Cabinet Office

70 Whitehall



13 January 2011

Dear Sir Gus,

RE: Andrew Stunell MP

Thank you for your email dated 12 January in response to my query about Andrew Stunell MP’s conduct during the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election campaign.

You outline in your response that you “understand that he (Andrew Stunell) did not refer to the planned funding announcement during the visit”.

In the middle of a key by-election prompted by a Liberal Democrat court action and pursuant to a Liberal Democrat writ, this statement defies credulity.

Are you seriously suggesting that Andrew Stunell visited an empty property in Oldham on 8 January and made no reference to a planned funding announcement two days later about bringing empty homes back into use during his visit?

Please tell me who has given you an assurance that Mr Stunell did not make reference to the planned funding announcement?

Has Mr Stunell himself given you this assurance, or someone else?

Are you absolutely confident that he made no reference to the planned funding announcement on Saturday 8 January?

You also state in your response that the Department for Communities and Local Government issued the press release on Friday 7 January, embargoed until Monday 10 January. This is categorically not true. I enclose a copy of an email sent to The Local Government Chronicle that clearly shows the press release from DCLG was sent on Monday 10 January at 10.55am – after the Liberal Democrats had already issued their own press release.

As you are aware from our previous correspondence, the Liberal Democrats issued their own press release on the 9 January, embargoed for use until 10 January, in which the Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins stated:

“I strongly welcome the government’s plans and additional funding. I would strongly urge local residents to contact the council to identify empty homes so that we can begin to tackle this problem that is blighting our local communities.”

The Liberal Democrat candidate clearly knew about this announcement before Parliament or the press.

Paragraph 9.1 of the Ministerial Code clearly states: “When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, to Parliament”.

The announcement made by the Department for Communities and Local Government on bringing back empty homes into use was clearly a major announcement.

Why was a statement not made to Parliament first?

Why was the Liberal Democrat candidate informed about a major government policy announcement ahead of Parliament?

Why was the Liberal Democrat candidate informed about a major government policy announcement, and allowed to make comment on it, before DCLG released its official press release on Monday 10 January (as opposed to your email in which it is stated this press release was sent out on Friday 7 January).

The Ministerial Code also states, in paragraph 8.2, that:

“In order to ensure the effective coordination of Cabinet business, the policy content and timing of all major announcements, speeches, press releases and new policy initiatives should, where possible, be cleared in draft with the No 10 Press and Private Offices 24 hours in advance. All major interviews and media appearances, both in print and broadcast, should also be agreed with the No 10 Press Office”.

Please tell me when, and on what date, the Number 10 Press and Private Offices cleared this major policy announcement?

I also noted with interest your response in which you said:

“The Minister recognises with hindsight that his visit could have been associated in the minds of the public with a government announcement of additional funding, and has apologised for this”.

The Minister’s apology, in itself, is surely a clear indication that he knows he has done wrong. He has breached the Ministerial Code and he knows it. But you did not say so in your letter to me. Why?

To whom has Mr Stunell apologised?

I await your earliest response.

Yours sincerely

Jon Trickett MP

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