Missing the Minister’s box

I had the unusual sensation of feeling sorry for Nick Clegg when I caught up with the Sunday Telegraph’s story about his refusal to accept new business via the red box after 3pm.

For the record, this does not mean that he is knocking off early to have a game of frisbee in St James’s Park with Miriam and the kids.  It means that if a civil servant wants him to respond to a query or approve a decision, the paperwork has to be  with Private Office by 3pm – else it will have to wait til the next day. That’s all.  The stuff in the box is  what gets taken home to be ploughed through at night, once the day’s meetings have been done.  Box times are just a signpost for officials, they have nothing to do with how Ministers spend their days.   There are, in any case, very few decisions in Whitehall which absolutely MUST be taken within 24 hours (whatever civil servants think), and I’m sure that if Clegg’s private office felt they had one of those on their hands after the 3pm deadline they’d find a way of getting in touch with him about it.

Oh, and far from it being unprecedented to close the box early, Ruth Kelly did the same when she was at DfES.  Her deadline was 4.30, I seem to remember.  It caused the odd raised eyebrow at the time, but the Department didn’t spin wildly out of control as a result.

Now, presumably the Telegraph knows all this.  So why are they gunning for the Deputy Prime Minister?

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