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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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