Labour needs to starve out the ill-informed lunch vultures

Channel Four is taking full advantage of Parliament’s summer break.

Channel Four is taking full advantage of Parliament’s summer

break.



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

correspondents.



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

Nicos.



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

Government.



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

themselves.



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.



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