Thursday, June 4, 2009

Public Service Broadcasting

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…

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bonkers Brown Bruising in the Bunker

The financial newswire Bloomberg is not known for sensationalism, it has an in-house rule that unattributable reports have to be double-sourced.  So bunker watchers can be confident that this report from inside the Prime Mentalist’s bunker is more than just hearsay:

The strain shows, say current and former Brown aides: Among other things, it has inflamed a temper that has always been the subject of gallows humor among those who work with him, they say.  The prime minister, 58, has hurled pens and even a stapler at aides, according to one; he says he once saw the leader of Britain’s 61 million people shove a laser printer off a desk in a rage. Another aide was warned to watch out for “flying Nokias” when he joined Brown’s team.

The ‘News Sandwich’
One staffer says a colleague developed a technique called a “news sandwich” – first telling the prime minister about a recent piece of good coverage before delivering bad news, and then moving quickly to tell him about something good coming soon.

Michael Ellam, the PM’s spokesman told Lobby copy-takers on April 14 that the news of Smeargate had made the Prime Mentalist “furious”. Guido wonders if they noticed any signs of bruising on the spokesman?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Trans-Atlantic Refusal to Apologise :
Brown Rants “Let’s Have It Out Now”

It is worth reading the account pieced together from witnesses to the mid-Atlantic back-of-the-plane confrontation between Brown and his press tormentors. The Mail on Sunday gives a pretty full account of Brown’s aggressive refusal to give the Lobby even an off the record acceptance that he is in any way culpable in the tiniest way for the particularly dire economic situation Britain faces.
ITN’s political editor Tom Bradby says that after an interview ‘Off camera, the mike was ripped off and we exchanged a few tart remarks… He has a bad temper.’ So it was mid-air with the off-the-record, no notebooks, no tapes, Lobby briefing turned rant:

Pressed to admit he had made mistakes, he said: ‘No, it was supply. If inflation is low, people are going to borrow money to buy houses. You can’t stop that. You don’t understand it.’

At one point the man from the Labour-supporting Guardian threw him a lifeline saying: ‘Can I just make it clear we aren’t all saying that?’

When another journalist tried to defuse the situation, Mr Brown refused to be diverted. ‘No, let’s sort this out now, let’s have it out now,’ he said, jabbing his finger.

Not exactly the bonhomie of the Blair Force One days on the return flight. The Mail’s report does not identify the cringe-makingly obsequious Guardian hack doing the journalistic equivalent of bringing teacher an apple.

Guido can tell you it was the political editor, Patrick Wintour.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Lobby Pass Dilemma

Paul Linford reflects on the perennial Lobby passes for bloggers issue. This has come up again because Ben Brogan (current Lobby chairman) has described the issue as a “a huge headache.”

“They’ve been very reluctant to start issuing passes to new media outlets. There’s an ongoing conversation whether the House of Commons authorities start issuing media passes to bloggers. That remains unresolved.”

 

Not entirely true, new media in the form of Robert Gibson from the Gallery News email service has a pass and the nascent PoliticsHome.com have a pass. Neither have the kind of circulation enjoyed by the leading Westminster blogs. When some time ago 18 Doughty Street (R.I.P.) applied for a pass they were told by the Serjeant-at-Arms that passes were only available to “substantive organisations”, yet they have now given a pass to the smaller PoliticsHome operation run by the same people. Dale and Tim Montgomerie already have (if Guido recalls correctly) Commons passes, presumably Dale could plausibly now get a Lobby pass via Total Politics.

Adam Boulton when he was chairman of the Lobby* told Guido that he thought he should be entitled to a pass and he had no problem with it. Having now gatecrashed quite a few briefings, it really is questionable whether it is that valuable. If you ask a difficult question you don’t get an answer. Ironically half the Daily Lobby spend their time reading blogs and writing comment pieces for their own blogs rather than actually chasing news stories, Guido now feels that going to press conferences can be safely left to the broadcasters – (it would be better for us all if the all the Lobby briefings were broadcast, ask yourself why fearless Lobby journalists are opposed to that happening).

Given the lack of respect Guido has for many members of the Lobby and the tense relationship that some of them have with Guido, it would be something of a headache for Ben if an application was made by this blog. Remember how upset Sir Michael White was when Guido attended a Lobby lunch in an Irish rugby shirt?

There is also a very real danger that by being assimilated into the Lobby one would become part of the system and compromised. Ask yourself why did the decades old issue of MP’s expense fiddles only really come alive in the last few years? The Lobby (with one or two exceptions) didn’t rock the boat on that issue – bloggers and pressure groups led on that issue.

You gain very little edge from invitations to minister’s drinks parties and you don’t get an exclusive by going to an event attended by half the Lobby. Guido has got his best stories directly from sources, not scripted events. The Lobby gets spoon fed by Downing Street and spun from all directions, would the blog be enhanced by having a seat at the back of the plane on a Prime Ministerial trip to Beijing? Would being cosy with Damian McBride be of service to the co-conspirators? Methinks perhaps not.

*Guido called Brogan to ask him his view and he promises to get back shortly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Shanghai Surprise Just Chinese Takeaway

The spin from Downing Street is that an unnamed aide was the “victim of honeytrap operation by Chinese agents.” The incident occurred in Shanghai on the second day of the China tour. That night a crowd of Downing Street staffers and Lobby hacks went to a packed hotel disco, Michael Jacobs was approached by an attractive Chinese woman. The couple fooled around on the dance-floor and later disappeared together back to his hotel room to further Anglo-Sino relations.

Anyone who has spent time in Asia will laugh at the honey-trap-spy media spin, far more likely that it was just a good time girl who pinched his Blackberry and wallet. Why on earth would Chinese intelligence agents care what Michael Jacobs, the right-on former secretary-general of the Fabians, hero of Hampstead, fully paid-up Guardianista and now Gordon’s environmental adviser, had on his Blackberry? Laughable.

Why are the newspapers being so coy about reporting the name? After all, Guido understands that the political editors of the Sun (George Pascoe-Watson), Mail (Ben Brogan) and Telegraph (Andrew Porter) were at the same disco. “What goes on tour, stays on tour”, eh boys?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

So the Answer is "No"

The official report of yesterday morning’s Lobby briefing is the usual waste of time and evasive non-answers from the PMS. However this bit of obsfucation amused Guido:
Asked if the Prime Minister was happy, the PMS said that the Prime Minister, as he had said himself before, believed that he had the best job in the world and he was focusing on meeting the priorities of the British people; that’s what we were doing today and what we would be doing for the days and weeks ahead.

“No” in other words…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

U-Turn : Dithered to the Death

At PMQs Dave called Gordon “a loser not a leader”. The hastily cobbled together deal placated Frank Field this morning and he withdrew his amendment. Apparently the sticking plaster for the lower paid will be backdated and will include “changes to the winter fuel payment system, tax credits and the minimum wage in order to compensate those losing out from the ending of the 10p rate.”

Nice and simple. Not.

Cast your mind back to last week’s U.S. trip. On the flight to Washington Gordon personally briefed the Lobby on the usual off-the-record basis that “No one will lose out.”

He dismissed Lobby hacks claims that dozens of Labour MPs were set to rebel over the issue, saying: “It is just one or two MPs asking questions.” The Mail on Sunday was not on the trip, so was not bound by Lobby terms, it accurately reported Gordon claiming
“You’re wrong. No one will lose out. Come on . . . you guys have exaggerated it all.”

When BBC political editor Nick Robinson insisted there was a sizeable Labour revolt, Mr Brown fired back*: “No it isn’t. There are just one or two MPs asking questions.”

When a journalist from a Labour-supporting paper insisted that the rebellion was far bigger, Mr Brown scowled: “Really? Really? That’s what you say.”

He was equally abrupt with ITN political editor Tom Bradby, who had asked him at the White House about the resignation threat by ministerial aide Angela Smith.

Mr Brown was forced to break off from his White House talks to beg Ms Smith not to resign. “You said a Minister was going to resign, but she didn’t,” Mr Brown told Mr Bradby.

Asked “What did Angela Smith say to you?” Mr Brown replied: “She just phoned me to say she wasn’t resigning.”

BBC Newsnight political editor Michael Crick asked sarcastically: “She phoned you up at the White House to tell you she wasn’t resigning? Do all your Ministers do that?”

Another journalist put Mr Brown on the spot: “Do you acknowledge that there will be some losers from this tax change?”

The Prime Minister replied: “No. It’s not as simple as that.”

Such was the extraordinary nature of the exchanges with the assembled Lobby that the papers, even though bound by Lobby terms, were full of phrases hinting along the lines of “PM Privately Furious” the next day. Downing Street spin officials were horrified by the disastrous briefing. The PM appeared to be either in complete denial or out of touch with reality. He was also close to losing self-control and on the edge of throwing yet another tantrum. Gordon was convinced by officials he should give another personal briefing during the trip in an attempt to repair the damage done.

Clearly if you start talking transparent bollocks to the Lobby when you are off-the-record, you will inevitably get a bad press. The whole point of the Lobby and off-the-record briefings is that they are supposed to allow candid honesty in return for non-attribution. Gordon’s psychological flaws and unwillingness to accept criticism make it impossible for him to accept that when he has made a mistake, and this was a huge mistake, he has to openly make amends. His usual bullying didn’t work in this case – he has now made a humiliating U-turn – not an act of leadership.

*Nick Robinson has obliquely confirmed the Mail on Sunday’s version of events. He blogs that “Gordon Brown had shouted down those who told him there were many many losers from his last Budget as Chancellor and those who told him he faced a real political crisis as a result.” Guido suspects that Nick himself was, as reported, one of “those” shouted down.

UPDATE : U-turn letter (pdf) here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lobby Hacks Show Professionalism

At the end of last night’s meeting of the PLP Ian Austin, Gordon’s PPS, came out to give the official word to the thirsty gentlemen of the Lobby. Last time he did this his cunning plan was to say that everyone loved Gordon and everything was fine.
This had only one tiny flaw: it relied on 350 unhappy Labour MPs keeping their mouths shut. They of course did not, and we all now know that there was a mutiny over doubling the tax rate on low earners. So what did Ian do last night? He explained again that everything is fine and everyone loves Gordon! “That’s what you told us last time,” said Newsnight’s Crick. “I stand by every word of what I said last time,” Austin replied, “I tell the truth. I stake my reputation on the accuracy of my briefing.”

Guido has previously implied that Lobby hacks are unskilled. On reflection they did show professionalism last night. Not one of them laughed until after Ian Austin was out of sight.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

You Won’t Read This in the British Press

Andrew Gilligan deservedly won the Journalist of the Year award last night at the self-congratulatory British Press Awards. Who else in the political reporting world deserved an award for actual investigative work? Maybe Johnathan Oliver for the Scoop of the Year, unearthing the David Abrahams proxy funding scandal.

As for the rest of the Lobby – Guido is distinctly unimpressed with most of them. Why do thirsty Lobby hacks have an annual taxpayer subsidy of £210,000 for their bar? Where is the public interest in this subsidy? What other profession needs a bar at their place of work? The only other business that Guido can think of that gets leads in bars is the oldest profession.

Why can’t News International and Associated Press pay for their own office space and telephone lines instead of sponging subsidies* off the taxpayer? They are hugely profitable businesses.

The lossmaking Indy, Guardian and Telegraph collectively make less profits than Guido does, so perhaps they need their offices subsidised by the people who refuse to buy their papers. Or perhaps there are just too many newspapers and not enough readers willing to pay for them? The Lobby is full of drunken hypocrites recycling spin from the party machines. A cull of their numbers would hardly be a loss to the world.

Peter Oborne in his Triumph of the Political Class characterises the Lobby system as having produced a tame “client media”. He is absolutely right, the Lobby is far too cosily embedded in the politico-media system, far too close to their subjects, with the likes of Nick Robinson flashing his taxpayer-financed credit card to pour the better vintages down the throats of ministers who have their lunch on the BBC telly-taxpayers. The same ministers have their groceries sent to their mortgage subsidised home paid for out of the costs allowance fiddle by low income taxpayers who have just had their tax rate doubled. The system stinks, those who are supposed to be watching over politicians benefit from the system staying the same.

Too much public money is sloshing around Westminster effectively keeping them cosy together. No wonder Nick Robinson and Michael Martin don’t want us to see their expenses – they are the biggest beneficiaries of keeping taxpayers in the dark. At the British Press Awards last night Cameron began with “I haven’t come here to try and suck up to you” then went on to paraphrase H. L. Mencken saying that the relationship between newspapers and politicians should be “fractious, edgy and confrontational”. H. L. Mencken actually said that the relationship between a journalist and a politician should be like that between “a dog and a lampost”, journalists should be pissing on politicians not getting pissed with ‘em…

*No taxpayers are harmed in the making of this blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

F o I Me? No Hypocrisy Says Robinson

Nick Robinson has acknowledged Guido’s FoI request for his expenses on his own blog. He doesn’t get drawn on the whys and wherefores of the issue instead he just gives a politician’s answer referring readers to the BBC’s official reason for refusing. He doesn’t say why he thinks he shouldn’t tell his paymasters his expenses yet MPs should.

Your request falls outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act because the BBC and the other public service broadcasters are covered by the Act only in respect of information held for purposes “other than those of journalism, art or literature”

Well that argument seems flawed on two counts. Firstly the cost of a bottle of wine ordered by Nick at the telly taxpayer’s expense is not information held for the purposes of journalism. It is information held, by law, for the purposes of accounting. Guido has not FoI’d Nick’s notes of the lunch, he simply wants to know how many pound notes a bottle of wine poured down the throat of a politician costs the licence payers. Guido has not requested the names of his dining partners either. There is therefore no journalistic reason to keep the cost of a bottle of wine secret is there? It is public money after all.

Secondly the BBC has given dozens of FoI responses to requests about expense claim requests in the past. So why is this one different? There is a clear public interest in the voters and licence payers discovering how lavish are the contents of the trough that the politico-media nexus dines at – the public pays for the “trebles all round”. Guido revealed a few weeks ago that the Lobby’s journalists have their own bar subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £1,000 every working day. Is it any wonder that for so long they have gone easy on MPs when they are guilty of sharing the same trough?


Seen Elsewhere

Bercow ‘Wounded’ | Speccie
This Goes Further Than Rotherham | Simon Danczuk
Bercow Mocked | Times
Indy Deletes ‘Jewish Lobby’ Headline | MediaGuido
Cracknell v Boris | Sun
British Muslims are Failing to Integrate | Dan Hodges
Dear Sarah Wollaston… | ASI
Treatment of Ashya King’s Family Authoritarian | Brendan O'Neill
Stop the War Should Disband | Rob Marchant
State Should Not Act as Parent | Kathy Gyngell
Guido’s Column | Sun


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