The Lobby’s existential search for meaning

19 May 2012

11:00 AM

19 May 2012

11:00 AM

There was a small but important piece in the Independent this week by my former boss
John Kampfner. He’s not my boss any more, so I don’t have to be nice to him. But it really was rather good.

John simply pointed out that political journalism goes in cycles of hype and condemnation. Thus, just after his election as Labour leader, Gordon Brown could do no wrong — until he failed to
call a snap election, after which everything he did turned to dust.

So where once sat Teflon-coated David Cameron, we now find a man presiding over an omnishambles, and it is very difficult to find anyone saying ‘I agree with Nick’ these days.
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband has been transformed from a clown to a man who has ‘found his mojo’.

There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon. One, of course, is the nature of the Lobby. John shies clear of passing judgement on his fellow political hacks and modestly includes himself in
those who bought into the idea that Gordon Brown could walk on water during his early months as Prime Minister.


But the Lobby drives opinion within the political class and beyond, and shouldn’t get off so lightly. (When will Leveson get to examine this peculiar institution and its effect on public

Working as a political reporter in Westminster is one of the toughest jobs in journalism beyond being a foreign correspondent in a war zone. I can say this because I have never really done it
— wafting in and out as the political editor of a weekly magazine is not the same. The pressure to deliver stories is immense and the pack is an understandable collective response.

The present situation makes the process particularly difficult. With three unelectable parties, there is a desperate wish to talk up Ed Miliband now it is impossible to sustain the narrative that
Cameron is unassailable.

The fickle ‘who up and who’s down’ approach stems, I believe, from an existential search for meaning in this essentially absurd situation.

Political journalists spend more time with these people than they do with their families. They want to believe this isn’t a complete waste of time. At times, they kid themselves that certain
politicians are superhuman, at others they feel immense resentment that they are not.

Like disappointed lovers, when the sheen wears off, ardour can quickly turn to hatred.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice view.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Where has Labour, who stoutly refused it for thirteen years, asked for a referendum on EU membership. In the Cruddas thing I haven’t read? And is that now official policy? And I ask again, do you REALLY think the Eds can hack it? They couldn’t before.

  • David Lindsay

    Jon Cruddas’s Policy Review is on its way.

    “Left”? Only as far left as not wanting to privatise the roads or the Post Office, not wanting to turn Sunday into an ordinary shopping day, not wanting to flog off the NHS in pieces to American healthcare companies in which Andrew Lansley has pecuniary interests, and not wanting to bankrupt the dear old C of E with VAT bills. But wanting an In/Out referendum on the EU, the only party that does.

    All of which makes the Left merely normal opinion in this country. Your stated view, Fergus. Your stated view. And fully confirmed by opinion polls and actual election results alike.

  • Fergus Pickering

    My, how you love words, Mr Lindsay and the longer the better. Words, words, words – how like the left. What is your darling going to DO?

  • David Lindsay

    Hardly, Fergus! He is everything agaisnt which it defines itself: economically neoliberal, socially ultraliberal, internationally neoconservative.

    The silly floating of the idea that Blair might make some sort of political comeback is an indication of just how fixated the media remain on that has-been.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Would the mainstream, moderate voice be that of Mr Blair? It could hardly be Brown and Balls who are both mad.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    David Lindsay : 10.14pm

    I can see that the answer to my enquiry is that the supposition in the third sentence is correct.

  • David Lindsay

    Simon Stephenson, that last part is rich beyond Croesus coming from anyone who imagines that either the colossal Labour poll lead or the floor-wiping Labour performance in terms of actual votes now being cast does not exist.

    Or, indeed, from anyone who believed that it was psephologically possible for the Conservative Party to win the 2010 General Election. It simply never was. Yet there are now so few Conservative supporters in this country that even the new boundaries have only shaved the edge off the Labour advantage, so that the Conservatives would now require an eight-point swing rather than an 11-point swing in order to secure an overall majority. From an equal start, that is.

    But we are not talking about an equal start. We are talking, on present figures, about a 14-point Labour lead. Bringing us to “lefties”. According to the Fabian Society, those responsible for that lead are well to the left of the population at large. Apart from how that is arithmetically possible, it depends on what you mean by “left-wing”.

    The turn to the Labour Party of Ed Miliband, with him of Jon Cruddas, and with him of Maurice Glasman, is the turn by those opposed to the crippling of provincial economies through the slashing of the spending power of public employees far from London, to the breaking up of the National Health Service with a view to its piecemeal privatisation, to the deregulation of Sunday trading, to the devastation of rural communities through the sale of our Post Office and of our roads, to the abolition of Gift Aid, and to the imposition of VAT on listed building repairs. Among other attacks on the things most valued by conservative Britain, which rightly looks to the State to safeguard those values.

    It is no wonder that the local elections have proved a triumph for a de facto alternative Coalition embracing all parts of the United Kingdom, all of their respective internal regions, all ethnic groups and social classes, all living generations of voting age, town and country, conventionally left-wing and conventionally right-wing, Labour and Independent.

    The purpose is now two-fold. To give intellectually rigorous and persuasive voice to the intuitive basis of that alternative Coalition. And to give organisational expression to it, so as to replace, not only one Coalition party, but both of them. We need a body of MPs to keep the Miliband Government faithful to the mainstream, moderate British politics of those who will have put it in. Economically social democratic. Sanely conservative socially and culturally. Patriotic against all comers: the EU or the US, Israel or the Gulf monarchs, China or the Russian oligarchs, money markets or media moguls, separatists or communalists.

    “Left-wing”, say the Fabians. “Lefties”, says Simon Stephenson. But mainstream by definition, numerically speaking. And moderate, say I.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    David Lindsay

    As you seem to be well entrenched in the Labour movement, perhaps you could tell me why no leftie ever has the courtesy to accept when he is wrong, or to concede that his critic is right, or to endeavour not to make the same mistake again? Why is it that you all seem intent solely on trumpeting questionable assertions as though they are as certain as that day follows night? Do you all have something missing from your brains – the part that with normal people warns them that the truth of something is independent of how much they, personally, want it to be true?

  • David Lindsay

    Everyone, Fergus Pickering. Everyone.

    Political journalism has become a twilight zone of people who are really just Conservative Party hacks, at least while there is a posh enough Leader, and embittered old Blairites exemplified by Dan Hodges, desperate for Labour to lose rather than for Britain to get the government that we would have got in 1997 if John Smith had lived, thereby invalidating the entire New Labour “argument from electability” over 20 years.

    The party for those opposed to the crippling of provincial economies through the slashing of the spending power of public employees far from London, to the breaking up of the National Health Service with a view to its piecemeal privatisation, to the deregulation of Sunday trading, to the devastation of rural communities through the sale of our Post Office and of our roads, to the abolition of Gift Aid, and to the imposition of VAT on listed building repairs, is also the only party that is not going to whip its MPs on the redefinition of marriage, and is about to declare for an In/Out referendum on the EU.

    Home and dry.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    David Lindsay : 5.34pm

    “Simon Stephenson, you are obviously too young to remember it.”

    Yes, obviously. This is something else that you “know”, I presume. I’m fifty-nine – does that tie in with your knowledge?

  • Fergus Pickering

    The man everybody knows will be the next prime minister? Everybody? You mean everybody who thinks as you do. But who thinks as you do?

  • paulg

    you cant just be loved because you have a pulse, and even with miliband thats debateable, unless its the one in this throat.

    Cameron is presiding over the worse economy in thirty years and nothing we know or have read fits this situation.

    If we were to go to the markets for more money the interest rate would hit Spanish proportions,Spanish practices indeed.

    Money only flows into the pound because of all the uncertainty. Balls and Miliband know this,they might be liars but their not fools.
    Do you think they would preside over an economy with a 7% bond rate, and i would be suprised if Tony Blair could even work out the APR on his credit card

  • David Lindsay

    Simon Stephenson, you are obviously too young to remember it.

    Rhoda Klapp, the wonder is that you are not above the line either here on some other Establishment blog. The people there all inhabit the same fantasy world as you do, in which the enormous Labour poll lead, now of nearly two years’ standing, and the catastrophic performance of both Coalition parties whenever people actually get to vote, is somehow not happening, while the man whom everyone knows is the next Prime Minister is somehow “an impediment”, somehow “lacks gravitas”, et cetera.

    Even people who purport to be members of the Labour Party (which I am not) are given a platform from which to spout this fact-free gibberish. But the wider electorate is paying as little attention as is being paid to them. The disconnection between political journalism and political reality is now total.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Everybody knew from 90 to 92 that LAbour were going to win the next election. And they would have done if it was not for Saint John Smith, who scuppered Kinnock by promising higher taxes and was rewarded with the leadership. A week is a long time in politics. 27% swing in a mere poll is not all that difficult. Ed Milliband is always going to be an impediment to the party, there is no way he has the gravitas to get through a GE campaign. All the parties remain unelectable, but I suppose one will be elected. Doesn’t matter which, really.

  • aboukit

    And as John Kampfner told Leveson the lobby is corrupt;
    “…the interdependency is most invidious and obvious. Some lobby correspondents have become stenographers to power. When a minister or spokesman telephones, they take it down and reproduce. The more faithful the end product is to the caller’s intent, the more likely the journalist will receive a story in the future. All sides get what they want. The label “exclusive” is fair, technically, in that nobody else has the story, but these are not scoops in the sense that the term was originally intended. This is not intrepid reporting or digging, but services rendered in return for access.”

    But nothing wiil be done – it is far too convenient for the herd instinct and lazinesss that is endemic to our political jounalists. The hatred of Murdoch is the hatred of themselves

    Aaronovitch was explicit years ago;

    ” ‘Lobby terms’ are nothing more than a conspiracy against the citizen, who cannot tell who is speaking and therefore how to evaluate a story – other than to accept it at the journalist’s own evaluation. So the hack gets his or her story, the editor fills the page, the anonymous politician gets the point over (often in exaggerated form) at no cost to him or herself. And only the reader has no idea of what to make of it. This cowardly anonymity, effectively banned by American newspapers, has poisoned our political journalism.”

  • Simon Stephenson.

    David Lindsay : 6.11pm

    “We are in the position that obtained between September 1992 and May 1997, when everyone knew that there was going to be a Labour Government, just as soon as there was a General Election”

    Gosh, if everyone’s able to be so certain about what’s going to happen in the future, it’s amazing that William Hill and Ladbrokes are still able to make so much money.

    Or perhaps by “everyone” you mean “inveterate Labour supporters” and by “knew” you mean “was pretty confident”?

  • David Lindsay

    “If”, anyfool? There is no longer an “if” about it. At 14 points, Labour’s lead would require a 29-point swing to the Conservatives for them to overcome it. We are in the position that obtained between September 1992 and May 1997, when everyone knew that there was going to be a Labour Government, just as soon as there was a General Election. Miliband is home and dry.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    So, Martin, is it in any way possible, do you think, that it’s related to the fact that the most promising route to a cozy and comfortable life is to discard all your individual beliefs and principles in the nearest dustbin, and make sure that your writing is an amalgam of what is least likely to displease your publishers and what is as close as you can possibly manage to a line that’s already being pushed from elsewhere in the herd? As far as I can see, the bulk of journalism’s not about being right or breaking new ground, it’s about showing condescension to one of the contemporary opinions that are floating around in the mainstream.

  • anyfool

    So its the lobby who have decided that the fool Miliband is going to be the next Prime Minister, your judgement of men is very poor if you think that the people will take to this weakling as top dog, he looks like someone who if he was bullied at school you would look the other way, good job Romney never saw him in a school yard.

  • Jeremy

    I thought this piece was a bit light on analysis, actually. I sort of got your point about the Lobby, but I could have done with more detailed description, from your own perspective, of how it actually works and plays itself out. To this end, I thought that your last two, brief, paragraphs were good.

    ‘With three unelectable parties…’

    I agree with you about the three main parties being ‘unelectable’ (if those are the ones to which you are referring). They are certainly not worth my vote. We have been lied to, and betrayed, too often by them all.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    That’s better.