Does yesterday's debacle in Westminster presage the end of the Lobby?

It is no secret that the new Government and Dominic Cummings, in particular, want to introduce new ways of working across the Civil Service and now the Lobby; but, unlike previous governments, this one looks like it is serious.

Does yesterday's debâcle spell the end of the Lobby? asks Stuart Thomson
Does yesterday's debâcle spell the end of the Lobby? asks Stuart Thomson

The symbolic walkout by the select few invited to a briefing was, on the one hand, a sign of solidarity – but was also an implicit recognition that, if the Government is serious, it is a battle they will lose.

While selective lobby briefings are nothing new, the problem this time is what is says about the future.

There are real worries that the Government wants to exert more centralised control.

So out go the ‘cosy’ relationships with the Lobby and in comes a new era where No. 10 can pick and choose the lines, the story, and make every attempt to dodge scrutiny.

While the 'mainstream media' (MSM) may be worried, newer outlets are overjoyed.

The first skirmish between the MSM journalists and the Guido Fawkes blog, when it started to live-tweet the Lobby briefings, came down in Guido’s favour.

This comes on top of the soured relations between Boris Johnson's team and the media – empty chairs, manipulated videos, hiding in fridges, assaults that were not assaults.

No. 10 even recorded its own 'Brexit Day' message to the nation, rather than following precedent and allowing the BBC to do so.

Cummings himself is obviously happy for stories about how he is keeping a total watch on the behaviour of special advisers to be known, having taken action previously against individuals. So again, more hints of central control.

New Labour under Alastair Campbell’s watch was accused of control of the media agenda and of feeding stories to journalists who wrote more favourable stories, but nothing as publicly explicit as the current plans.

We shouldn't forget, though, that for many Corbyn supporters, one of the reasons he did so badly in the election was the bias expressed by the MSM.

Even on election night, they claim that the BBC failed to discuss national vote share until after most people had gone to bed, so skewing the perception of the result. Hint: Labour still lost massively.

For the Corbynistas, the MSM continues to demonstrate clear bias. So this is not a left/right issue.

In the wider context, the future of the BBC and Channel 4 is up for rigorous discussion.

Rumours circulate that a UK version of Fox News is not out of the question, especially on the back of the launch of the News UK station Times Radio.

But the fallout over the Lobby also came on the same day as Boris Johnson’s big speech on the future relationship with Europe.

The question has to be whether this is a classic 'dead cat' strategy to deflect attention and scrutiny away from what was otherwise a 'thin' speech.

Add in whether civil servants will be expected to have a role in such media-facing events as well, and then the changes look even more fundamental.

The Government is setting up a straw man to concentrate its fire on.

It seems intent on making the media and biased reporting the issue. Then it won’t have to mention the word Brexit.

Stuart Thomson is head of public affairs at BDB Pitmans LLP




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