Winston Churchill would not go to bed until the ﬁrst editions of the daily newspapers were delivered to 10 Downing Street in the early hours of the morning. Today few politicians – from the lowly backbencher at Westminster to the holders of high governmental oﬃce – can aﬀord to ignore the print and broadcast media. In a moment of stark honesty Tony Blair, as he prepared to leave Downing Street in 2007, admitted that, ‘we paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media’ (Blair, 2007). Politicians may argue that they have the ability to set the news agenda but, in truth, they have little direct control over how the issues on that agenda are covered by the media. There is, as such, an interdependency in the relationship between politicians and journalists, and in few arenas is still as evident than at the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. In an era of almost unlimited access to political and parliamentary information
it is worth recalling that reporting of the proceedings at Westminster was subject to legal restriction until 1771. Until near the end of the eighteenth century journalists and printers faced imprisonment for publishing the contents of parliamentary debates while one MP, who published a collection of his own speeches, was actually sent to the Tower as punishment. The relaxation of the secrecy on the reporting of parliamentary debates came after a long campaign for reform and increasing breaches of the publication prohibition. In subsequent decades newspapers such as The Times and the Daily Telegraph reproduced lengthy verbatim accounts of parliamentary debates. Charles Dickens remains one of the best-known gallery reporters. From the mid-1800s onwards the practice of covering parliament changed as a
more commercial orientation in the newspaper business saw political stories having to battle for space alongside other news stories. The arrival of broadcasting brought further change during the twentieth century. The BBC’s public service ethos inﬂuenced its coverage of parliament and politics ﬁrst on radio and subsequently on television. Broadcasters worked to rules of impartiality and balance which the partisan print media did not have to consider. A deferential attitude to politicians existed well into the 1950s but this was challenged with the arrival of commercial
of the airwaves the Houses of Parliament for the ﬁrst time in 1988. In more recent years, alongside the televising of proceedings, the role of the Internet has had a signiﬁcant impact of how journalists cover the workings of parliament and political life. In the corridors of power MPs and political correspondents continue to rub
shoulder to shoulder but as is discussed in this chapter their interactions in the Lobby and at private brieﬁng sessions increasingly have to adapt to the wider changes in the contemporary media world. Section one of this chapter provides background to the Westminster lobby system and the brieﬁng systems between government and a select group of political journalists. Section two discusses the role of the Prime Minister’s Oﬃcial Spokesman and the changing nature of this position in contemporary political life. Section three outlines the challenges faced by those who work at Westminster and the dangers inherent in close working relationships.