The National:

THE latest release of files from the National Archives in Kew have revealed new insights into the important business of government.

But it’s also given a glimpse into what went on behind-the-scenes of Tony Blair’s government.

Of course with New Labour image was everything - and none more so when there were TV cameras around.

A memo on a Cabinet “away day” dated September 1998, from chief of staff Jonathan Powell, contained information on the discussions taking place, specified the provision of a buffet lunch – and gave strict instructions on the appropriate attire.

“TV will film people arriving and going so there can be no woolly jumpers,” Powell warned before the meeting.

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The annual Cabinet “away days” became something of a tradition under Blair’s Labour government – but not one that everyone enjoyed, the files show.

Senior ministers would gather at the prime minister’s official country residence at Chequers in early September to discuss politics and policy ahead of the party conference season.

However by 2000 some were questioning their value, with David Miliband, then a Number 10 special adviser, complaining that no company would run them in such a haphazard fashion.

“The tradition of a TB/GB (Tony Blair/Gordon Brown) introduction and then one disjointed comment from each Cabinet member is pretty ghastly – and not very useful,” he said in a memo.

The files also reveal how culture secretary Chris Smith had to be “airbrushed in” to the 2000 annual cabinet photograph after he was unable to attend in person requiring a change in the seating plan, according to files released to the National Archives.

One Number 10 official wrote: “It follows the customary order of precedence, except Chris Smith (No 9) is swapped with Clare Short (No 11).

“I have done this because Mr Smith won’t be present and we will need to airbrush in his image from the 1999 photo.

“He was on the back row last time and so must be again if the airbrushing is going to work.”

And sometimes, it’s the little things that can trigger the issuing of stern words from the government, the newly released files show.

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A memo from Downing Street official Angus Lapsley in November 1997 raised the important issue of missing chairs. And no, not the kind that take on the important role of overseeing meetings. 

“For at least three weeks in a row now the number of chairs around the Cabinet Table has been wrong, with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport the usual victim (there is a place set, but no chair),” the note fumed.

“Yesterday we only managed on the other side of the table because the Social Security Secretary did not turn up.”

It added: “Could you also note that there should be five seats against the wall dividing the Cabinet Room from the Private Office.

“Sometimes there are only four.”