While Cummings’s blog post last night focussed on the impending shake-up of employment in Whitehall, Guido also learns of big reforms to the way for Lobby-Downing Street relations, including changes to the venue Lobby briefings happen and the ability to bring in advisers to talk to hacks rather than just the official spokespeople. The lobby are claiming this is designed not to work and is tantamount to a declaration of war from Downing Street…
Not only are the Lobby angry at such short notice, but there are big concerns it will make it harder for people to attend, may restrict phone access in the huddles and No. 10 could refuse access to journalists it doesn’t like.
Read the message, and concerns, in full below:
What is happening?
Number 10 has decided that all Lobby meetings will take place in a special room in 9 Downing Street. This will apply to all meetings, including more informal ‘huddles’ that have normally been held in the Lower Reporter’s gallery.
When is it happening?
The changes are immediate and start on Monday 6 January. There is only one Lobby meeting that day at XXam because Parliament is in recess.
Why are lobby meetings moving to 9 Downing Street?
Number 10 says that this will allow Lobby reporters to have more briefings from people other than the Official Spokesman such as advisers and officials with expertise in the area they want to brief about.
When will meetings take place?
Times and frequency will not change. When the House of Commons is sitting – XXam and XXXX Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; after PMQs and XXXX on Wednesday; and XXam Friday. In recess, the meetings will be held weekly at XXam on Monday. The Lobby chairman will chair the afternoon meetings.
Number 10 has agreed to have a press officer stationed on the gate at Downing Street next week to assist colleagues gaining access.
I received verbal agreement last night from Number 10 that colleagues will be allowed to queue jump and get to the front if there is a scrum of people trying to get access to the street at the gate.
Your Lobby pass should be sufficient to gain access to Downing Street at the gate on Whitehall.
I was told about these changes – which have been imposed without consultation – at XXpm on Friday 20th December and held a meeting of the Lobby committee on Thursday this week to discuss them.
The committee agreed that there was no problem with holding the morning Lobby meeting in 9 Downing St, although concern was raised about the way the change had been implemented. Historically these meetings have been either in a Government building or more further back in 10 Downing Street itself.
However there were significant concerns about moving the XXXX meeting as well as all huddles (which can be organised late and at short notice) to 9 Downing Street, namely:
– It will make it harder for all teams to attend them, particularly smaller newspapers, broadcasters and websites who have just one or two accredited political reporters, as they will clash with meetings and hearings in Parliament in the afternoon when the House generally sits;
– We may not be able to take mobile phones into the 9 Downing St Lobby meeting which will mean that it is difficult to file accurately and promptly straight after it. This is particularly an issue for agencies like Bloomberg and Reuters;
– We are concerned that having to gain access through the gate of Number 10 allows the current or any future administration to refuse access to journalists it may not approve of, which would be damaging to the freedom of the Press;
– Reporters trying to attend a lobby meeting might be detained at the Downing Street gate by large crowds of visitors.
The committee agreed to write an urgent letter to Lee Cain, the Director of Communications at 10 Downing Street, setting out these concerns. The letter was sent yesterday by email and signed off by members of the committee.
The committee’s letter made clear that we are very keen the process continues as a collaboration as it has for decades. It suggested moving all huddles to the Lobby room in the House of Commons to provide for a more formal context for the meetings as a compromise, as well as keeping all afternoon meetings there.
The letter asked for an urgent meeting with Number 10 to discuss these changes. I will report back on any response.
I have also asked the committee to attend a meeting at XXam on Tuesday (7 January) next week to review the situation.