Labour aides speak out about advisers being wined and dined by journalists

Coalition special advisers have been warned not to waste their time trying to win over hostile media outlets, as new records shed light on meetings between special advisers and journalists for the first time.

Table talk: records reveal media lunches and dinners
Table talk: records reveal media lunches and dinners

The records, published last week, show hospitality received by special advisers in the three months after the coalition was formed.

Top Downing Street special advisers feature prominently, but PRWeek also obtained the records for special advisers in the various departments.

Although many aides did not register a single lunch or dinner with the media, the overall picture of 96 such meetings indicates that many special advisers across Whitehall are not averse to dining with journalists.

Paul Richards, a former adviser to two Labour cabinet minsters, told PRWeek that such lunches had a number of purposes: 'Sometimes stories do emerge from a lunch.

Sometimes the special adviser goes to lunch with a story to give a journalist, sometimes a journalist gets a story from chatting the issues through.'

But Richards, who advised both Patricia Hewitt and Hazel Blears, said special advisers should not expect too much payback from journalists: 'If there's one thing we've learned, even if you can win over a tabloid paper or whatever it is, it's only a temporary arrangement. You can spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to woo your enemy when you could be spending time doing other kinds of media relations.'

Jim Godfrey, another former adviser to Patricia Hewitt, also urged caution when dealing with the press. He said: 'I spent about 80 per cent of my time on media relations, but in retrospect it was an inefficient way to work that didn't make the best use of me or the press office. Spads are better focused on political and comms strategy, leaving day-to-day press work to the press office.'

However, Ed Owen, a former special adviser to Jack Straw, noted that both parties can benefit from regular contact. He said: 'The journalist gets a greater understanding of government activity and the political thinking behind it - something they would never get from departmental press officers. The adviser gets a willing ear for stories that he or she wants aired publicly in a friendly way.'


15 - Number of special advisers working for David Cameron

 9 - Number of special advisers working for Nick Clegg

 69 - Number of special advisers working accross government

 £4.9m - Bill for special advisers in government this year

 £140k - Annual salary paid to Andy Coulson

*Source: Downing Street



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