ONS weighs into PM jobs gaffe row

Tony Blair was in new political trouble today after the government’s top
statistician complained about him giving away details of a fall in Britain’s
dole queues to the Trades Union Congress yesterday.

National statistician Karen Dunnell is so angry at the prime minister’s
revelation (that the number of unemployed benefit claimants had fallen in
advance of today’s publication of official figures) that she has written to
cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell about the issue.

She has told him that Blair broke his own rules by telling the TUC Conference
in Brighton that the claimant count, officially published today, was down in
August compared with the previous month.

The premature release of this ‘market-sensitive’ information prompted a
flurry of city stocks, shares and bonds trading.

Dunnell’s letter to O’Donnell – who as a former top civil servant at the
Treasury should be fully aware of the rules – demanded to know why Blair
released the figures and broke official protocols in the Code of Practice on the
release of official statistics that his own government brought in.

Blair assigned the foreword to the document, and it was aimed at tightening
the rules to prevent this sort of leak – most famously used by former deputy
prime minister Michael Heseltine during the 1990s on a regional visit.

A spokesman for the Office of National Statistics said of Dunnell’s letter:
‘Obviously if she is writing to the cabinet secretary about this, she takes it

Related reading