Welsh Secretary says "Jones the Jag" row no big deal

 

Media monitoring is not usually the most onerous task at the Wales Office. With few executive responsibilities in the age of devolution, the department rarely makes headlines.

But today its boss has made the national newspapers not once, but twice. David Jones was one of only two cabinet ministers to vote against plans to legalise gay marriage, a story that made most of today's front pages.

Mr Jones has also hit the headlines for another reason. The Telegraph, The Times, The Sun, the Mirror and the Daily Mail (online) all feature his 100m journey in a chauffeur-driven Jaguar from the Wales Office in Whitehall to Downing Street. The media monitoring unit may need to buy another pair of scissors.

A phrase involving "PR" and "disaster" springs to mind. Last night, the Wales Office issued a terse statement explaining that Mr Jones wanted to read papers and briefing notes on his way to yesterday's cabinet meeting. The statement didn't explain why the chauffeur was needed to return Mr Jones to the Wales Office afterwards.

Mr Jones has turned down requests for broadcast interviews. He has spoken to his local paper, the Daily Post and is, by their account, unrepentant.

One of the benefits of being driven through the Downing Street gates is apparently that one can avoid the inconvenience of having to remove one's coat at the security checkpoint.

The Daily Post quotes Mr Jones as saying: "The fact is this is my ministerial car. I use it to go to Downing Street regularly because I'm always consulting papers right up to the last minute.

"It (travelling by car) enables me to do so without physically going through security at the gate, having to remove my coat or jacket.

"Plenty of secretaries of state go there by car - I'm not going to name colleagues - probably for exactly the same reasons I do and most secretary of state offices are within walking distance.

"I'm not in any sense troubled by this, it is all part of it. It's not a big deal."

It may not be a big deal but it is the only time during his five months as secretary of state that Mr Jones has made the national papers in his own right. And, as Lord Prescott may recall, things that are not a big deal can help define your ministerial career.

Labour have continued to exploit the story, highlighting Mr Jones's confession: "I've always liked cars, which may perhaps be a dangerous thing for any minister to admit to."

But as Mr Jones points out, he is not the only cabinet minister with an office nearby to use a ministerial car to travel to Downing Street. And he certainly isn't the first secretary of state for Wales to do so - Labour's Paul Murphy faced flak for taking a similar journey (albeit in a more humble Vauxhall Vectra) more than a decade ago.

 
David Cornock, Parliamentary correspondent, Wales Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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