Will changes to lobby rules really mean greater clarity?

When I sent the pound plummeting towards 1:1 parity with the US dollar in January 1985, after briefing the Sunday lobby, everyone soon knew the culprit. The press forgot about the unattributable nature of lobby briefings and blabbed. I had said extremely accurately, if very unwisely, that ’this Government will not throw good money after bad defending the pound’. It didn’t. You can’t buck the market. So interest rates were raised decisively - as they should have been earlier.

When I sent the pound plummeting towards 1:1 parity with the US

dollar in January 1985, after briefing the Sunday lobby, everyone soon

knew the culprit. The press forgot about the unattributable nature of

lobby briefings and blabbed. I had said extremely accurately, if very

unwisely, that ’this Government will not throw good money after bad

defending the pound’. It didn’t. You can’t buck the market. So interest

rates were raised decisively - as they should have been earlier.



Similarly, when I said in 1982 that ’it was being so cheerful that kept

Francis Pym going’, I was fingered. I was also promptly identified in

1986 when I said John Biffen was ’that well-known semi-detached member

of the Cabinet’. I wish I had not acquired a reputation for ’rubbishing’

Ministers in this way, thanks to the media’s economy with the truth.



In each case, I was trying to explain their extraordinary behaviour.



Mr Pym has made an economic speech of inspissated gloom just after the

Chancellor had said, accurately as it turned out, that things were on

the turn. And Mr Biffen had just been on TV to say Mrs Thatcher should

be replaced by a collective leadership. The lobby were baying for their

Ministerial blood. Journalists now accuse me of briefing them out of the

Cabinet, even though each lasted another year.



I mention all this to show that in the days when the media were men, not

terrorised Blairite mice, they used to break their own rules as a point

of honour to inform the nation as to how things had come to pass.



Consequently, I always assumed that, whatever the briefing conventions,

I was effectively on-the-record if I said anything remotely

sensational.



Later, Gus O’Donnell, John Major’s first press secretary, permitted

anything said in lobby briefings to be attributed directly to No 10,

although not to a named individual. It has, however, always been

possible for press secretaries to go on-the-record as necessary. I often

knocked daft stories down with ’bunkum and balderdash’.



All this is essential background to No 10 press secretary, Alastair

Campbell’s now considering, after the Euro-currency briefing cock-up,

holding on-the-record lobby briefings. His bewhiskered idea raises three

questions: is he, as in America, going to allow radio and TV to

broadcast them and, if not , how can he justify excluding them? If he

admits them, does he think Ministers and backbenchers will put up with

an unelected official as the Government’s national mouthpiece. And how

will this stop anyone briefing unattributably? I only ask.



I also suggest that this Government’s real problems are its policy

vacuum and the incredibility which its spokesmen have acquired by their

methods in trying to fill it



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