Politics.co.uk Blog

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Lobby pangs

A twice-daily cycle is deeply embedded within political journalists' body clock. Every morning and every afternoon, at 11:00 and 15:45 to be precise, they feel an urge to ask the prime minister's spokesman questions.

Usually No 10, a sympathetic bunch, ease their suffering by providing them with the outlet they need. Whenever parliament is sitting, so convention goes, Downing Street is obliged to field questions from senior hacks twice daily. Twas ever thus. Or rather, twas ever thus until today.

Parliament is sitting today and tomorrow, before dissolution takes place on Monday. But, to the shock and horror of all those who regularly attend these meetings, there are no lobby briefings taking place.

The prime minister's spokesman broke the news in a kind and gentle, but nevertheless firm tone yesterday afternoon. The government has entered its 'purdah' period, in which major announcements are deferred in order to prevent the incumbent party gaining an unfair advantage during the campaign.

According to the PMS this means Gordon Brown's civil servants are obliged to zip up their mouths. Journalists begged him to stay on a little longer - but, alas, this was not to be. "Even this is me fraying at the edge of what is possible," he explained.

By way of sweetening the bitter pill we were left with the bizarre story of Gordon Brown in romantic mode, which he told in an informal speech to Downing Street staff after calling the general election yesterday.

The prime minister, during his courting days, cooked his wife-to-be Sarah a meal. All went to plan, until he realised that he had mistakenly used a duvet as a table cloth. This was "a slight tactical error, but it didn't stop romance blossoming".

What was meant to have been an endearing little story was soon turned on its head by cynical hacks. This is the man in charge of the country, after all. God knows what he might substitute the nuclear launch codes for.

The PMS, in his last ever lobby briefing, thus concluded with the immortal words: "I wouldn't suggest the prime minister has any difficulty in distinguishing between these two objects."

His successor - whoever that happens to be - may face slightly tougher questions.

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