Nick Jones

Trading Information: Leaks, Lies and Tip-offs  Author Nicholas Jones. Published by Politico's Publishing 2006 ISBN 978-1-84275-090-2

Trading Information: Leaks, Lies and Tip-offs reveals the largely unexplored world of the leaker and exposes the hidden trade in confidential documents. Politicians, ministerial aides and spin doctors hope to gain favourable coverage by offering exclusive stories to the news media. They find willing accomplices in journalists, only too eager to exploit the illicitly gained data supplied by leakers and information traders. Deliberate leaking of ministerial decisions in advance of official announcements has become almost institutionalised under Tony Blair's government, and the leading offenders within the government are named and described in detail here.

Trading Information examines the factors which have given risen to the expanding trade in unauthorised disclosures under both Labour and Conservative governments.  A leaker himself, in the "Bastardgate" controversy involving John Major, the author has interviewed a group of serial leakers and gives vivid first-hand accounts of their methods and their motives.  Nicholas jones gives the insight of a BBC insider into the unauthorised briefings given by the late Dr David Kelly. 

Unlike the City of London, where illicit trading in sensitive data for commercial gain is a criminal offence, ministers and their advisers cannot be held to account for leaking official information for political advantage. Nicholas Jones laments the failure of MPs and peers to address an abuse that has weakened the authority of Parliament and allows spin doctors seemingly to rule supreme.

Nicholas Jones gives an incisive assessment of the effectiveness of some of the leading leakers and information traders of the era:

Gordon Brown: "As an up-and-coming frontbencher in the late 1980s, Brown was determined to establish himself as an effective conduit for leaked information...After nine years as Chancellor of the Exchequer he has remained the Labour Party's most prolific and longest serving trader in governments secrets."

Tony Blair: "Unlkike Brown, Blair always kept his distance from the exploitation of leaked documents.  He preferred to say he was drawing attention to previously "unpublished internal documents" so as to avoid being accused by the Conservatives of handling stolen documents."

David Blunkett: "After finding he had become the most leaked-against minister in the government, Blunkett felt so uncomfortable about the suspicions which had been aroused among members of the Cabinet that he had stopped taking notes himself....he made a point of switching off his Braille machine, saying : 'I think we are all a bit wary of people who take notes.'"

Alastair Campbell: "The unseen and unwritten responsibility of the Downing Street director of communications was his control over the flow of confidential information to trusted media outlets. Campbell became an all-powerful information trader and regarded himself in effect as the editor-in-chief of an alternative news service, trying to influence next day's headlines to the advantage of the government.  He helped free civil service information officers from the constraints which previously applied in trailing government decisions; he took advantage of the lack of any sanctions against ministers caught leaking their own policy announcements but in doing so Campbell further undermined the primacy of Parliament and hastened the decline in the standards of political journalism."