The last time David Walter worked for the Liberal Party he was paid
pounds 15 a week to help out at party headquarters during his university
Last week, with an extra 29 years’ worth of broadcasting experience
under his belt, he returned to what is now the Liberal Democrat party as
its director of media communications.
Walter has devoted his working life to broadcast journalism and his CV
reads like a catalogue of the best of British political TV and
He has hopped from the BBC, where he learnt his trade as a reporter for
Radio London in the early 1970s and then produced BBC1’s flagship early
evening news programme Nationwide, to ITN, where he was a political
correspondent for eight years until 1988.
Since then, he has moved between BBC TV’s On The Record, Talking
Politics, Newsnight, Correspondent, as well as Eurofile on Radio 4. He
also fitted in a year as BBC Paris correspondent, a job which he
relished. Most recently, he presented Education Matters on Radio 4, the
last edition of which he tied up the day before starting his new job
with the Lib Dems.
He admits to being a PR novice: ’Obviously, it’s a different game and
there’s a steep learning curve. The strength which I can bring to the
party is that I know all the political journalists well and I know how
they work, what their deadlines and demands are and the kinds of stories
they go for. So hopefully I know how to give them stories and how to
stop them from getting ones I don’t want them to get.’
Sallie Davies, who was chief producer on Eurofile when Walter presented
the programme, is gushing about his aptitude for the new post: ’The most
striking thing about him is the fantastic amount of enthusiasm, energy
and commitment he devotes to whatever he does’.
The step from journalism to PR was a big one for Walter, because
declaring a political affiliation meant kissing goodbye to his career in
political reporting and the objectivity it required. He admits to having
considered the move at earlier stages in his career. ’When I’ve felt
stale in a particular job, I’ve thought of PR as an option but I
wouldn’t want to be a PR for a company making some boring product,’ he
says. ’This is different because it’s a cause I believe in.’
Because of this, Walter seems refreshingly clear of the usual hack’s
qualms about delivering a message which might conflict with personal
At Oxford University he chaired the Liberal group and, although his work
as a reporter prevented him from engaging actively in politics, he
admits to always having privately supported the Liberal cause.
His responsibilities as director of media communications are three-fold:
getting the party’s message across to the media, managing the
five-strong press team and having an input into party strategy. While
the Lib Dems more than doubled their number in the House of Commons last
May to 46 from the 20 elected in 1992, they remain the third party in a
two-party system. Walter recognises that the most challenging task of
all will be ’to get people out of the idea that we’re also-rans and to
see the Liberal Democrats as a major player on the political stage’.
While on paper his role is similar to that which Tony Blair’s press
secretary Alastair Campbell performs for the Labour party, Walter does
not identify with the Campbell style of communicating. ’I think it’s
counter-productive to go around complaining about every story that’s
written and broadcast.
It’s more effective to go on pushing the message and most of all to have
a message to sell; there’s no God-given right for you to have your story
printed so you’ve got to make it interesting,’ he says.
Making a message interesting does not, in Walter’s book, mean spinning,
and he shies away from this term, seeing himself less as a spin doctor
and more of a ’straight fast bowler’.
’If you tell it reasonably straight, even warts and all sometimes, it
can be more productive,’ he says.
1975: Producer, BBC1’s Nationwide
1980: ITN Political correspondent
1988: Presenter, On the Record and Talking Politics
1990: BBC Paris correspondent
1994: Presenter, Eurofile
1994: Director of communications, Liberal Democrat party