Downing Street comms chief calls truce with the media

Lee Cain, the prime minister’s director of communications, has called for a fresh start with journalists after weeks of tensions.

Lee Cain, the Prime Minister's director of communications (Pic credit: Paul Grover/Shutterstock)
Lee Cain, the Prime Minister's director of communications (Pic credit: Paul Grover/Shutterstock)

Relations reached a low point last month, when there was a dramatic walkout by the Westminster Lobby journalists in response to Cain’s attempts to dictate which of them would be allowed to attend a Brexit briefing.

However, Cain told Lobby journalists on Monday: “The slate is wiped clean. It doesn’t matter what political spectrum any of us are on or who you write or work for – whatever, we will deal with everybody the same with an entirely transparent position.”

His remarks were made on the day that the government changed its comms strategy for coronavirus, moving to daily press conferences after criticism that it had been briefing selected media outlets.

Boris Johnson’s comms chief admitted that there had been “a few turbulent periods” when Downing Street had clashed with the media, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Cain went on to praise reporters for their “responsible and sensible” coverage of the coronavirus crisis coverage, and pledged to put “transparency at the heart of everything we do”, according to Sebastian Payne, the FT’s Whitehall correspondent.

In a Tweet yesterday, Payne added: “In return, Cain requested journalists with concerns to approach No10 before posting criticisms on social media.”

He claimed that Cain had told journalists: “We’re going to make mistakes as we go along with this, it’s moving incredibly quickly and we won’t get everything right.”

The remarks made by Cain were “on background” and he made it clear that they were “not for quoting”, according to Kevin Schofield, editor of PoliticsHome.

But Alex Spence, senior UK political correspondent at Buzzfeed, commented: “If the FT has just unilaterally decided to make the daily Downing Street briefings fully on the record, I'm fine with that. Especially now.”

Cain’s attempts to repair relations with journalists have not gone down well with some. Russell Myers, chief investigative reporter at the Daily Mirror, simply tweeted: “How big of him.”

While Francis Harris, deputy editor of Standpoint magazine, said: “Well gee wizz, thanks. Government agrees to speak to the population. What an innovation. Can’t think why we didn’t do this before.”

A former Downing Street insider warned this month that Cain's previous policy of restricting access and trying to control the media could have dangerous consequences in the long term.

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