NEWS: Why are lobby reformers so ignorant, pious and hypocritical?

They are at it again. They are trying to kill the 112 year-old Parliamentary lobby, that fine body of creative thinkers formed by British political correspondents.

They are at it again. They are trying to kill the 112 year-old

Parliamentary lobby, that fine body of creative thinkers formed by

British political correspondents.



This time the knife is wielded by Joy Johnson, ex-BBC news editor who

did not survive a year as Labour’s campaigns director. Her role would be

funny, since she was frozen out by Peter Mandelson MP and Alastair

Campbell, Tony Blair’s press secretary, if it were not pathetic. Like

most of those who have tried to bust the system, she simply doesn’t know

what’s what. So, having been No 10 press secretary during the last anti-

lobby assault in 1986, I feel an irresistible urge to explain. First,

the lobby is not the Government’s creature as former Guardian editor

Peter Preston seemed to assume when he wrote to me ten years ago

announcing his intention to ‘withdraw’. I had to refer him to the

lobby’s officers.



Rather, the lobby is part of the machinery for regulating access to the

Palace of Westminster. And the real lobby perk is to reach parts other

Parliamentary journalists can’t - namely the members’ lobby where they

can buttonhole ministers and MPs. This made nonsense of Mr Preston’s

‘withdrawal’. The Guardian had no more intention of foregoing that

privilege than had the original anti-lobby campaigner, the Independent’s

conspiracy-addled political editor Anthony Bevins.



So why the fuss? Well, like Messrs Preston and Bevins, Ms Johnson

objects to the No 10 press secretary briefing journalists on lobby

terms, ie. unattributably. She believes that when the briefer can hide

his identity, he can, and does, manipulate the poor innocents that are

lobby journalists. Worse, he can, as I was accused of doing, undermine

defenceless ministers. Bunkum.



According to Ms Johnson, the No 10 press secretary must be on the record

and, she says, on camera. Since my day, he can be identified, if not

personally, as No 10 spokesman. In any case, they never hesitated to

quote or identify me when it helped their story.



Ms Johnson also seems blissfully unaware that the press secretary isn’t

on the record because our system has adapted to its peculiar

constitutional environment. Our politicians are the front men, officials

are the backroom boys, better neither seen nor heard. Why has Mr

Campbell never broadcast since his first week with Mr Blair? Because

Labour MPs revolted against a high profile press secretary, even in

Opposition.



And let us not forget that in America, where press secretaries are on

the record and on camera, journalists want them on lobby terms for

deeper background when it suits their purpose.



What I can’t stand in these monstrous regiments of would-be lobby

reformers is their unique blend of self-serving ignorance, piety and

hypocrisy.



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