The gentlemen of the Lobby are as thin-skinned and status conscious as a gaggle of gay hairdressers on a night out, so Craig Oliver will need to up his game. The Lobby already have their noses a little out of joint because Downing Street hired a bloke off the telly, BBC TV at that, rather than one of their own. Downing Street implicitly signalling to the ink-stained old hands of the Lobby that telly is more important than they are in the great scheme of things.
When Craig visited the press gallery this week to introduce himself (sans bumbag) there was the usual faux bonhomie on both sides. The inkies and the TV luvvie meet and greet was respectful if not warm. Asked for his mobile number Craig put one political editor in their place thus “you can get me through the switchboard”.
Lord Ashcroft’s “Dirty Politics, Dirty Times” doesn’t hold back on Red Ed’s newly appointed Murdoch fixer. If we turn to page 216 we find a nice anecdote about Tom Baldwin’s cocaine habit:
“…which regrettably seems to have become more serious in recent years. Indeed, during the Conservative Party conference in October 2001, he put Peter Stothard’s suite at the Imperial Hotel to ‘good’ use when his editor was unable to make it to the conference as planned. In the company of two journalist colleagues – Giles Coren and Alice Miles – Baldwin snorted lines of cocaine from the glass coffee table in Stothard’s suite. I certainly have no evidence that his colleagues took the drug, but I am told that Baldwin’s appetite for it was voracious and also that at least one colleague reprimanded him for his stupidity, saying: ‘What the hell do you think you are doing, Tom?’ Such is Baldwin’s craving for the drug that he had taken the not inconsiderable risk of smuggling cocaine through the hotel’s high-level security in order to feed his habit.”
Hacks sniffing coke at Tory conference? Whatever next…
Rumours are circulating that a member of the Lobby will be going to spin for Ed Miliband after the departure of the gaffe prone Katie Myler. Guido hears the Mirror’s tribal James Lyons is out in front in the running. Nigel Nelson is getting on a bit, but then The People were the only newspaper to back Ed so he can’t be ruled out. Although not really one of the Lobby the New Statesman’s Mehdi Hasan is another name in the fray – he backed Ed and the other Ed too. Miliband needs someone respected and punchy if he is going to avoid being Labour’s new IDS / Hague / Kinnock.
The dire performances of the Leader of the Opposition in the last few weeks have hardly prompted an overwhelming response to the feelers put out by his current team…
Please queue on the left…
While 10,000 kids smash up Whitehall outside, Cameron was entertaining the Lobby lunch, the first PM to do so in 31 years. It must have been a good speech for devout Dave-hater Kevin Maguire to announce that “Cameron witty, smooth, confident, clear and direct in answering questions at today’s press gallery lunch. Impressive”.
Guido could hear the laughter from the cellar. Rory Bremner, warming up, declared “Cameron and Clegg have no mandate (for tuition fees) the only one with a man date is Hague”. However it was Dave’s crack about Simon Burns really tickled him. Apparently once when Bercow told Burn “I’m not happy” the Tory Health Minister quipped “Well, which one are you then?”
UPDATE: Paul Waugh has more of the jokes, but comedy aside DC gave the clearest hint yet he wants David Laws back in the Cabinet “soon”. You can bet on just how soon over at Smarkets where prices on Laws to return have jumped…
Some eyebrows were raised when Joey Jones was promoted to Deputy Political Editor of Sky News. Older and wiser Jon Craig was apparently livid, but then again it was Joey that the BBC was trying to poach. News reaches Guido that Craig isn’t happy and has his eye on another job – the new political editor of the Sunday Times.
The PMOS, Simon Lewis, and the chairman of the Lobby, Jean Eaglesham, yesterday announced that the system of Downing Street Lobby briefings is to be reviewed “in light of the changes in the reporting of the work of government in an increasingly fast-moving and on-line media world”. On hearing the news Guido – enjoying a two bottle lunch since PMQs was delayed – paraphrased lyrics from the Buggles hit on Twitter in celebration.
A working group of six lobby hacks and five government spin doctors is going to come up with recommendations to be implemented next year. No one from the fast-moving online media world is on the working group. Guido has made his views about the Westminster embedded client media that constitutes the Lobby system clear over the years (see Newsnight and The Times). The meek acceptance of non-attributable briefings, often of questionable truth, is hardly helpful to the functioning of an open democracy. This method of information distribution is glorified as “on Lobby terms”.
Friends of Mandy have spun the Guardian the idea that the Dark Lord himself should give twice weekly televised briefings* in a new information minister role. The prospect of Comical Mandy batting off questions from the Lobby has some appeal. It will all be a pantomime until the clubby culture of the Lobby changes.
*Guido has long supported televised Lobby briefings, ask yourself why is it that Lobby hacks oppose televising them?
Last night Guido was on a panel chaired by Jeremy Vine when the subject of Gordon Brown’s alleged anti-depressant pill popping came up. Jeremy had read Simon Heffer’s article the night before (on his iPhone in bed) and thought that this blog had ran the story. Guido had not, but on Monday this blog ran a cartoon that referenced the rumour that everyone in the Westminster Village has heard. The Prime Minister is said to be taking powerful mood altering anti-depressants, specifically Mono Amine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) which are very rarely prescribed since the arrival of Prozac derivatives, used only sparingly when dealing with severely depressed patients.
Guido hesitated to run with the story, which was first reported by John Ward, though it was widely discussed in the comments on this blog.
In the broadsheets Simon Heffer, Matthew Parris have touched on the issue and this morning Matthew Norman in the Independent has explicitly referred to the allegation that Gordon Brown is taking “heavy duty antidepressants known as MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors)”. The evidence is first and foremost his behaviour – what some have previously put down to a lack of EQ or emotional intelligence, is now being attributed to drugs to control his dark depressions. We all know the stories of rages, flying Nokias, smashed laser printers, tables kicked over and crying Downing Street secretaries subjected to foul-mouthed tirades. We have seen the deranged YouTube performances, the bizarre facial contortions, the incongruent emotional responses – smiling when offering condolences, frowning when giving best wishes.
The new evidence offered is that a civil service circulated dietary restrictions list is said to be of the kind required for someone on MAOI medication. The side effects include insomnia, dry mouth and jaw clenching (bruxism) – all of which Brown is known to suffer. Psychiatrists warn of MAOIs that ‘Extrapyramidal effects include acute dystonic reactions such as protuding tongue, muscular contractions and clenched jaw’. Gordon’s bruxism may have another explanation, it has been remarked on before. In the context of all this speculation and his manifest physical unease, surely somebody in the Lobby has to publicly ask the question at the PM’s next monthly briefing: “Prime Minister, have you been taking medication that may affect your judgement?”
In an oblique reference to the Damian McBride briefings, he also calls on the media to abandon unattributable briefings, saying all politicians’ spokesmen should be named, or not quoted by media outlets. “The gotcha culture of politics is not in anyone’s interests,” he said.
Sam writes that “at the moment heads of press and special advisers request permanent anonymity in the media, shielded by the catchall, blame-all “spokesman” tag. Naming happens in America. Why can’t it happen here?” Sam, could it be because you go along with it?
So in search of the truth and information as to what is really going on the British public turns to the state broadcaster, the venerable BBC, the broadcaster the people are involuntarily forced to fund. Who, we want to know, is behind the attempt to oust the Prime Minister by email?
John Humphrys : …who’s behind it? Our political editor Nick Robinson, do we know Nick?
Nick Robinson : We do know, I am not entirely sure I am going to tell you on the Today programme…
(Listen online here.) You pay taxes so Nick Robinson can report on politics. Sky News says Charles Clarke is behind it, no taxpayers were harmed in bringing you that information. Incidentally, Clarke was seen chatting to Hazel Blears at Andrew Neil’s sixtieth birthday party on Sunday…
ThinkProgress Controlled: “I Was an Obamabot” | Zaid Jilani
Free People Don’t Care About Politics | Fraser Nelson
Like Guido’s Facebook Page | Facebook
International Moaning Day | Kathy Gyngell
Cameron Alienating Core Voters Without Attracting New | City AM
Andy Burnham Villain of the Week | Sun
London’s Laundry Business | NY Times
The End of HS2? | Seb Payne
Elvis Speaks | Nottingham Post
Dave Mocked | Sun
MPs Want to Decriminalise Dodging Licence Fee | Sun
Alan Rusbridger opines…
“One thing that Snowden has taught us journalists is that it’s essential to be paranoid.”