In January 2011, I had a discussion with a SDLP MLA in his office on the Lisburn Road in South Belfast. I do not want to name him because he is now retired from politics. I am the soul of discretion. I said I would make a great Press Officer. Conall was appalled at the thought of me being a Press Officer. He said I was totally the wrong type of person.
I still think I am ideally equipped to be a Press Officer. I dont like journalists. Press Officers make a terrible mistake addressing Mr Reid, Mr Devenport and Mr Mallie by their first names. Journalists should be kept at arms length and Mr Reid, Mr Devenport and Mr Mallie should only be entitled to ask questions if they produce some ID at Press Conferences.
Some might say that I am too hard on a noble profession. I dont think so.
In the Westminster Village and the Stormont Bubble, politicians and journalists are too close. It is not a good thing.
Thus…the whole fuss about Jeremy Corbyn not appearing on the Andrew Marr programme yesterday morning is nonsensical. It is said that Marr’s show is “agenda setting”. Strangely I have heard the same “agenda setting” term used locally to describe the Stephen Nolan show. Seemingly a politician has to be on Nolan’s show even though he is nothing more than a mediocre shock jock.
Journalists have got cheeky recently. Any sense of humility that they should have had over the phone hacking scandal seems to have all gone.
Take….Michael Crick, decent sorta guy as evidenced by his support for Manchester United. He has perfected the tongue in cheek, walking alongside a politician and asking irritating questions. Its always good TV cos Crick gets it right. Remember him being hit around the head with a UKIP manifesto last year. And Grant Shaps being followed around a Conference hotel. And just last week, a Tory Press Officer, Mike Watkinson being discovered at a Corbyn meeting and walking quickly from the hall to his car, with Crick alongside.
All good TV. There are two reactions to being “Cricked”, as the tactic has become known. One is to walk sullenly straight ahead, passing bewildered pedestrians …sayying nothing, while the fixed grin gives way to a resisted urge to punch the tormentor. The second reaction is to “do a Rifkind”….walk more and more quickly, resisting questions and making sarcastic comments and generally looking like the winner of the Monty Python Upper Class Twit of the Year, until reaching sanctuary in a posh appartment block at Westminster…and telling the camera crew they are on private property.
I cant remember who “Cricked” Malcolm Rifkind but he was pretty good.
But the SKY reporter who “Cricked” Jeremy Corbyn last night was a novice. And it showed. This morning, the reporter was on Sky News, gleefully reporting what he had heard while standing outside Jeremy’s office. Ethical? Tacky? Lucky? ….lets keep it Classy eh?
We have of course ….rightly…come a long way from those deferential 1950s interviews ….which look hilarious in 2015.
But the balance has shifted to the point where journalists are little more than cheeky bastards. So it was good to see veteran Dennis Skinner MP put some manners on Emily Maitlis of the BBC today. She got cheeky with the wrong Beast of Bolsover.
This is exactly what Corbyn, Watson, McDonnell and the rest should be doing. Journalists have trivialised Politics and politicians have allowed it.
Andrew Marr and Stephen Nolan…agenda setters? Bollox.