Last week's visit to Liverpool by Gordon Brown & his cabinet was dutifully lapped up by the Oldham Echo. No sneers of "political window-dressing", of course, that would have been contrary to the time-honoured ritual whereby regional papers are mere receptacles for Downing Street press releases. Besides, access is the name of the game. You know, the chance to giddily exclaim, "The Prime Minister exclusively told the ECHO...". Fill in the blank space as you wish, "he loves the Beatles", "he likes football", "Liverpool is a great city", you get the picture? Good.
Anyway, it was left to the Guardian to provide an insight into last week's gimmick (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/08/liverpool-tourism ).
Quoth the PM: "Politicians used to come to Liverpool to make speeches.......Now what we want is an exchange of views...This is not just an event for the cameras. We will listen to what you are saying and we will respond."
Ah, yes, politicians did, indeed, come here to make speeches; I remember one made at the Pier Head in 1980 by the then Labour leader, Michael Foot, after 100,000 marched through the city to highlight the burgeoning unemployment figures which were the hallmark of Thatcher's reign. Through his idiosyncratic oratory, Foot said more in a single sentence than Brown did in a pre-planned, clunkily-scripted statement for the local media.
Which reminds me: petty rivalries vied with bruised feelings among the local hacks during the visit. Each local media outlet was allowed just one question of Brown & his entourage, with no opportunity to follow up on responses from ministers.
Allegra Stratton's posting on the Guardian's politics site sketched a vista of disgruntlement & vanity among the press pack (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2009/jan/08/gordonbrown ): "One [TV] reporter, with a viewership of 800,000 ('and that doesn't include the website') followed another senior figure of the government round and found him shocked when she started quizzing him - before he snapped and said: 'I didn't know I was doing interviews.' Later she got a phone call from the ministry. Brave heavy-handling of a woman who will present two packages about the visit on that evening's news.
"Similarly, one reporter from a big regional paper had been forgotten off a list but his rival was enjoying lavish attention. He sulked, and a Downing Street aide jumped. I didn't see him again (good for him)."
Stratton declines to name names, but I can guess the identities of the bruised egos concerned. As for the brusque brush-off from the New Labour minister, it's an open secret that Work & Pensions minister, James Purnell, knows when to turn on & off the charm.