Every Friday for 11 years I used to meet the ’fishing fleet’,
otherwise known as the Sunday Lobby, that splendid body of Sunday
newspaper political correspondents who somewhat desperately cast their
nets for news after their daily brethren have largely exhausted its
stock in six days’ trawling.
Consequently, they bring a certain creativity to their trade.
I do not believe all I read in newspapers, but I tend to be even more
sceptical about the Sundays. I feel I should mention this having just
spent my regulation two hours reading them. Frankly, I am professionally
appalled at the impression they must have formed in the public’s mind
about a Government which came to office pledged ’to renew faith in
politics’ - indeed, ’to clean up politics’.
The Sunday Times alleged that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
committed a political offence punishable by suspension for failing to
declare a donation of nearly pounds 27,000 from the Rowntree Trust. The
Observer claimed that Mr Prescott’s son will benefit from a property
deal approved by his department’s officials. The Sunday Telegraph
asserted that Agriculture Secretary Jack Cunningham chose a site near
his constituency for a new HQ, creating hundreds of jobs, which was more
expensive than other options.
The Observer reported that Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam had
meddled in the appointment of an official and the Sunday Times claimed
that Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had required a Government car to do a
35-mile round trip in order to shuttle him between two Heathrow
terminals. The Sunday Telegraph’s front page claimed that the
’overbearing’ Lord Chancellor Irvine of Lairg, who likens himself to
Cardinal Wolsey and has expensive tastes in wallpaper, ’faces revolt by
his staff’. And the Independent on Sunday took a page to inquire into
’what are we going to do about Peter?’ (Mandelson) which served only to
advertise the personal animosities between ministers.
All this ignores plenty of other Government tittle tattle, the now
routine savaging of Harriet Harman, Social Security Secretary, and the
Scottish Labour Party’s revolt over the attempt to cut lone parent
benefit. In my days at No 10, such a concentrated catalogue of scandal,
whether real or imagined, would have been deeply worrying because of the
perception it would create. It is all the more damaging for a Government
which rode to office on the back of Tory ’sleaze’.
After only ten months, it is clear that Labour’s problem is less one of
policy than people. It is amazing that it should have come to this so
soon in a Government famed in opposition for its presentational
It shows that issues PR is a damned sight easier than people PR.