Channel Four is taking full advantage of Parliament’s summer
It is flitting around Westminster’s near-empty restaurants filming a
documentary on political lunches. It will find that political lunching
is a ritual which goes back for centuries. What has changed is how many
such lunches take place and who takes part.
Increasingly it is not Ministers or MPs , but their advisers, or even
researchers being wined and dined by senior political
Five years ago, the researchers would have been lucky to have been let
out of the photocopying room, let alone on to a table at Simply
Demand and supply has driven the change. New graduates turn up in the
Commons already au fait with the media management side of politics.
Indeed, it is a fascination with spin that interests many aspirant
politicos these days. There are also now more lobby hacks than ever
before, and news editors and the diaries have voracious appetites. Thus,
the increased supply of wannabe spinners are a lifeline for political
journalists, but a nightmare for new Labour.
Such lunch partners rarely have any real news to pass on. Ill-informed
gossip is all they have to trade with. Of course some of this reflects
the underlying reality, and occasionally a serious figure dishes the
dirt too - that has always happened and always will, but it is the
cacophony of tittle-tattle from underlings that turns the occasional
split story into the constant drip of ’feud’ stories that so plague the
Silencing the din won’t be easy. After all, it’s much easier to hype up
a piece of gossip than do some hard digging on policy. Indeed, when I
floated certain suggestions to one national paper’s political editor he
went white at the idea of how much more work he’d have to do.
It is the supply that needs to be cut off. The appointment of special
advisers simply to handle the press should be ended. They should give
policy and political advice only. Their contracts should severely
curtail and closely regulate any involvement with journalists.
Labour needs to pass a new standing order, instructing MP’s researchers
not to fraternise with lobby hacks. Journalists will still get access,
but to the people that really matter. Departmental press offices can
handle the day-to-day stuff and when political spin really is essential
they can turn to either to Millbank Tower or the politicians
Jack Cunningham, the Cabinet’s new enforcer, has managed all his
political life without a personal spin doctor. He should preach what he
practises and insist on changes before Parliament returns. For, as we
all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch and, at the moment, the
Government is paying the whole price.
Sir Bernard Ingham will return next week.