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
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