Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How Not to Protect Your Minister

This has just appeared on PA...

A Government press officer today intervened to try to prevent a minister being questioned on air about Gordon Brown's chances of survival as Prime Minister. Work and Pensions Minister James Plaskitt had been put up to respond to questions on the latest unemployment figures and the Bank of England's quarterly inflation report.

During an interview with BBC Radio 4's The World at One, he was asked by presenter Shaun Ley whether the worsening economic prospects would further destabilise Mr Brown's leadership. Mr Plaskitt replied: "I am not commenting on that issue as I made clear at the outset. It is not about that."

His unnamed woman press officer, who was monitoring the interview, was then heard to cut in sharply, telling the presenter: "We are only talking about today's unemployment figures."

Mr Ley, however, pressed on. Asked again whether Mr Brown's leadership would be affected, Mr Plaskitt replied: "The answer's no".

Extraordinary stuff. Can anyone ever remember a press handler interrupting a live interview before?

Note: The programme has mysteriously not appeared on the BBC's Listen Again facility yet.

UPDATE: It has now HERE. It's at 17.45 mins.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Poor Gordo, "all the king's men could not put his popularity back together again".

eric the fish said...

It reminds me of one of the sketches in Little Britain.

Anonymous said...

it's a vent act and she was working him with her foot

ranter said...

I was actually shocked to hear it and well done to Mr Ley for carrying on regardless. Absolutely amazing. I've never heard (of) anything like thios before.
Is the minister a bit of a tit and need careful managing or Is the government so scared about questions relating to their huge liability - Gordon brown, Amazing stuff.

Anonymous said...

S Club 7 on Liquid News?

Newmania said...

What is PA ? Sounds like someone is due for a mobile phone insertion

Anonymous said...

I heard this and thought it extremely bizarre ... particularly as the minister (for once) was putting in a pretty good performance and sounded like a human being rather than a NewLab robot. His answer to Shaun Ley's question let the cat out of the bag about the preagreed parameters of the interview ... and, as you said Iain, the press officer's shrill intervention was extraordinary. Do all ministers take along a press secretary with them to all interviews to hold their hands and mop their fevered brows? If so, no wonder the public sector bill is so enormous.

Anonymous said...

A bit out of order to say you won't mention it and then press ahead.

Splashitallover said...

press officer out of a job.

Bureausceptic said...

I just (at about 3.15PM) heard it on BBC's Iplayer so it is on Listen Again, complete with the intervention... Obviously obviously it's harder to stealth edit a radio programme than it is a blog!

i spy strangers said...

Here's an extract from another part of the Plaskitt interview:

Mr Plaskitt went on to assert that "the signs are still quite encouraging, in July we helped 2,014 people into work...there are still plenty of opportunities for us to help people losing their jobs back into work."

If that's an accurate quote (I didn't hear the interview) then I don't think it's much to be proud of. 2,014 people gained employment in a 31-day period? Wow, that's all of 66 each and every day! (Probably equivalent to about 0.1 person per JobCentre per day.)

Andrew Efiong said...

Iain, I didn't realise our Ministers were so bad they needed chaperons to save them from the likes of Shaun Ley. Is this normal. How many of these people are protecting our cuckold ministers?

Also, is this "handler" being paid for by the Labour Party? She seemed keen to avoid embarrassing talk of Labour's woes. A civil servant media handler would recognise questions on the PM's leadership are legitimate fare.

verity's lovechild said...

It's here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00cx8w3

Anonymous said...

just who is paying for this press officer ?

Peter Mc said...

Yep, chaperoning is standard. I once interviewed George Young about cycling - prety innocuous stuff and there was a DTP press officer sitting in.

I did almost drop my coffee when I heard the PO shoving her beak in on WATO. I wonder if the calibre of ministers is now so low that they have one sitting next to his bed so he can be told 'socks before shoes, minister'.

Splashitallover said...

when i try, the clip ends before the press officer speaks. i think it's been nobbled.

simon said...

It's pretty standard for press officers to sit in on interviews - and not just in the private sector. In previous companies I've worked for, I've often given radio interviews with a press person sitting at my shoulder, scribbling notes on bits of paper and generally being a distraction rather than a help. They shouldn't butt in on a live interview though: I wonder if she thought it was a pre-record?

simon said...

Sorry.... I should have said "and not just in the public sector"

Beyond New Labour said...

JP is a nice guy and actually a competant minister (intelligent and not a self publicist), I suspect he would be annoyed with the PO for butting in when she really had no business too.

I suspect they agreed not to discuss the leadership challenge, so he cheekily put the question in about this "destabilising" the PM.

It should have been expected and should have dealt with it better (if the answer was no then why not say that to begin with).....maybe its a leadership challenge :@)

Anonymous said...

Appears after 17.45 minutes.

To those of us who have interviewed government ministers, this is nothing new. I interviewed Darling not too long ago and he was protected at all times by a burley press woman and a younger version. They demanded to vet my questions, and wanted to veto several pertinent ones saying "He hasn't been briefed on that issue" the issues in question were a critical government policies").

I agreed to all demands but asked all the questions anyway. Darling answered as though on autopilot, ignoring all questions and just citing old figures.

Afterwards I pointed out to the press flunkies that this is not Zimbabwe. Amusing, the younger one laughed in agreement as if to acknowledge how outrageous this vetting is. These "special advisors" aren't daft. They know exactly how corrupt the practice is - but what can you do when your charges are so dismal?

Encouragingly, I've interviewed Cameron too and he had no such protection.

Yours, anon (don't want to get blacklisted: another problem for journos!).

molesworth 1 said...

I, too, heard the howler live & was quite shocked at the ineptitude of the minder.
I suspect that whichever 'Malcolm Tucker' (was there ever a better piece of satirical rhyming slang?) this dip-shit reports to will reduce her to a whimpering mess of snot & tears.
Only goes to show how close to reality 'The Thick Of It' is.

Unsworth said...

If a Press Officer had interrupted the likes of Alan Clark he would have told him/her to Eff Off whilst still on air.

These 'Ministers' are completely cowed apparatchiks, totally subservient to their 'advisors'. Gutless morons.

molesworth 1 said...

btw, newmania @3:08pm.

PA - Press Association

mirtha tidville said...

All part of Broon`s micro managing everything.....Really no one should be suprised..

Anonymous said...

Things must really be collapsing if rising unemployment is preferable to the other topic.

The government would rather admit more people are jobless than that the Prime Minister is under pressure.

It's a good day to bury bad news?

Except it's a good day to release the bad news to bury the worse news.

Anonymous said...

Under Freedom of info, can we the tax payer be told what these minders are costing, salary , NIC, pension i.e. total cost.How many are there...is it just government or is it local authority. I dont mind paying taxes for doctors, nurses,teacers, policeman,street cleaners and refuse collectors.i.e. contributors to quality of life, but these people are worse than useless if they prohibit our elected politicians telling it the way it is.
Can you astound the taxpayer Iain, with the total real cost of these over egoed and unnecessary drains on the nation's resources.

bergen said...

Clearly,as they are no longer capable of governing,news management is their only apparent means of survival.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful moment. So New Labour it made me realised why I can't wait to see these odious people get their come-uppance at the next Election! They are horible, but they've been like it since Blair became leader and hired that nice Mr Campbell.

Anonymous said...

All Women. More made-up jobs for the 'middle-class' dollies that pour, every year, out of the 121-odd universities.

Non-jobs for dollies include PR, HR and general party planning. They increasingly dominate my industry and are no more use than booking flights and issuing press releases (usually written by someone else).

They also demonstrate the fundamental dolly conservatism - and get upset if pre-made plans change or they need to show a little bit of innovation.

Prince Charles's set-up has two full time thumb-twiddling HR dollies (the head dolly said she needed an assistant) - useful when there are no more than 120-or so people working there....

And head HR dolly is certified useless, but nobody dares sack her because she's a Dolly that knows the rules and won't hesitate to drag everybody through the courts if her little dolly day and dolly routine is disrupted.

Ed said...

Equally telling is where James Plaskitt actually responds and says 'the answer is no ...' and then lets off a snide laugh, in the vein that is what he is meant to say to stay 'on message', but in no way believes. That is what James would really wants to say is '.. absolutly, Gordon Brown will be negatively impacted by this, but as a Nulabour drone you can't expect me to confirm THAT ...'

BTW, Iain, was that a S8 I see you driving when visiting Simon Jones? If so, v nice ...

David said...

Who pays her salary? If it is us, the taxpayer, she must be sacked immediately.

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

Can you imagine Margaret Thatcher, even when she was the most junior of ministers, having a political commissar sitting alongside her?

Gman said...

I do remember Bernard Ingham...

David Boothroyd said...

Surprisingly this was a pre-recorded interview and not live, so the World at One has made a deliberate decision to broadcast it. It is quite legitimate for an interviewee to agree bounds for the interview beforehand in order that they are briefed on the issues that may come up, and then object if the broadcaster goes back on their word and raises other subjects.

The phrase "press officer" is an imprecise one, but even so it is within the bounds of civil service neutrality to set up an interview between a Minister and a broadcaster on one subject and then protest if other subjects are mentioned.

A regular poster under another name to preserve anonymity said...

fuck me, david (boothroyd) - you're right it is "within the bounds" to agree areas beforehand, but it is totally extraordinary for a press officer or special adviser to butt in on an interview in this way. i've interviewed (for pre-records) ministers, shadow ministers, MPs, union leaders and other political bigwigs for a decade and it has never happened. it's also never happened on live shows i've worked on. and i've never heard of a single interview in which a press aide has done this before.

i've also been a press aide, and there i no way on god's earth that i'd have ever butted in on an interview like that.

if it was a pre-rec, the minister should have asked for a quick break and told his press officer to bugger off - s/he is an aide, and to do that shows that s/he has no faith in the minister. if i was plaskitt, i'd take it as a huge insult. the fact that the BBC decided to use it is actually a jab at plaskitt for not reminding his press officer of the rules of the game.

as ever, the new labour blind spot - just because something is permissible doesn't mean it won't go down appallingly. opposition beckons.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't think it's a new labour thing - it's a civil service thing. When the Tories get in, they'll inherit and for the most part use the same press officers, who are mostly civil servants. Even in Number 10 there's a balance of civil servants and special advisers doing the press work, with Brown relying less on political apparatchiks than Blair did.

Bad press officer-ing here though, obviously.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"All Women. More made-up jobs for the 'middle-class' dollies that pour, every year, out of the 121-odd universities.

Non-jobs for dollies include PR, HR and general party planning. They increasingly dominate my industry and are no more use than booking flights and issuing press releases (usually written by someone else)."

Worse than that. Filling the non jogs of HR they make up ever more ludicrous excuses for not employing people. Churning out all that HR femnazi garbage is intended to show how vitally important the HR dollies are. Actually, they just make a fairly easy process time-consuming and expensive. And end up employing useless twats as like themselves as possible.

john miller said...

Oh dear. Crammed into a small niche between the monolith that is Europe and hordes of twittering advisers, MPs and ministers are seemingly ever more irrelevant to the business of government.