21 February 2012

Rachel Sylvester Reports

From the online Oxford English Dictionary:
report, n.
I. Information provided or conveyed, and related senses.
1. a. An account of a situation, event, etc., brought by one person to another, esp. as the result of an investigation; a piece of information or intelligence provided by an emissary, official investigator, etc.; a notification of something observed.
III. Repetitive sound, and related senses.
7. a. A resounding noise, esp. that caused by the discharge of a firearm or explosive.

An article by Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) on 7 February about the Health Bill, Is Lansley the exception to the no-sacking policy?, reverberated for days. In it she reported that:
There is deep frustration in No 10 about the Health Secretary’s handling of the “pause” in the passage of the Bill — which was announced last April in an attempt to show that the Government was listening. Strategists have watched in dismay as, far from attempting to win over his critics, the Health Secretary has used the time to further annoy NHS staff and alienate voters. …
He seems emotionally incapable of showing any understanding of other people’s concerns and intellectually unwilling to consider alternative ideas. …
“Andrew Lansley should be taken out and shot,” says a Downing Street source. “He’s messed up both the communication and the substance of the policy.”
The next day at PMQs David Cameron was goaded with this by Ed Miliband:
… In his heart of hearts, the Prime Minister knows that the Bill is a complete disaster. That is why his aides are saying that the Health Secretary should be taken out and shot, because they know it is a disaster. …
giving Cameron the chance to respond with:
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that the career prospects of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary are a lot better than his. …
which remains to be seen.

Until reading the first volume of Chris Mullins’ diaries a couple of years ago, Rachel Sylvester meant little more to me than an image which seemed to match the adjacent sharply-written opinion piece. But in A View from the Foothills, Mullins, who on the whole takes a tolerant view of his fellow men and women, has this entry for Wednesday 18 July 2001:
… A call from Rachel Sylvester wanting an interview for Saturday's Telegraph. I declined on the grounds that many of her interviews with Labour politicians tend to become the subject of front page news stories based on a sentence twisted out of all recognition.
‘Not always,’ she said.
So I wasn’t altogether surprised recently when, in David Blunkett’s monumental The Blunkett Tapes – My Life in the Bear Pit, I came across something recorded in October 2000:
Thursday’s article in the Daily Telegraph by Rachel Sylvester has an unnamed colleague who apparently ‘would rather blow themselves up’ than allow me to become Home Secretary. (page 125)
- a post which Tony Blair gave Blunkett in June 2001, but without it leading to resounding noises in Westminster.

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