Charlie Whelan: Politicos are silenced by the World Cup

When the political expert Andrew Marr, who I know hates football, leads his Sunday morning show with an interview from the England team hotel in Baden Baden, you know that most sensible politicians and their media advisers have shut up shop for the duration of the competition.

But even I am astonished at the saturation coverage the World Cup has generated this time around.  It seems that absolutely every story or article must have a World Cup angle – including this one. As a weekly political commentator I was astounded at the general news agenda on the Monday following England’s first game.

The BBC led on the death of a British soldier in Iraq the day before and seemed to struggle to fill the rest of the bulletin. I suspect most political PROs have decided that it’s not worth doing much over the next month, which just goes to show how much the hacks rely on PR-driven output.

Another explanation is that all the journalists are in Germany. I do know at least one political editor who did turn down his offer of an all-expenses-paid trip to Berlin. Patrick Hennessy of The Sunday Telegraph broke the only good political story last weekend, exposing the Home Office’s latest scheme for tackling crime: ‘Stop moaning and take action.’ The catchphrase came from a lengthy Cabinet presentation on crime, but the offending line made a splash in the Telegraph.

Whoever leaked this to Hennessy knew exactly what he or she was doing, and it had no doubt been passed on by one of the growing number of ministers who want to see John Reid fall flat on his face.

Inevitably the Home Office refused to put a minister on the Today programme, instead offering the much more consumer-friendly Louise Casey, the so-called ‘respect tsar’.  The bullish Reid was nowhere to be seen.

It was a smart move to keep my old comrade off the airwaves because he might just have exploded with rage. With no big-guns around the story quickly died a death – and we could all get back to the more important matter of the health of Wayne Rooney’s foot.  

As the World Cup progresses, expect a few more political storms to break out – but few of them will have been created by the politicians themselves. This won’t stop Harriet Harman continuing to traipse around the broadcasting studios selling herself as a deputy leadership candidate.

She is clearly blissfully unaware that the World Cup has started.

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