‘There’s been a missile attack at Heathrow you’ll have to do the Today Programme!’ – The Press Officer’s Guide Lesson 11 – Be Prepared for anything!

With the IRA attacking Heathrow Paddy's plane was delayed and so I had to do the Today Programme...

Leader’s visits are the highlight of any election campaign. The 1997 General Election was no exception.  Paddy Ashdown was due to fly into Plymouth airport, twenty minutes from his first visit of the day at Saltash Community School in South East Cornwall, where I was the agent.

Colin Breed was to meet the leader at the airport and arrive, by battle bus at the school, to be followed by a 45 minute walkabout of the classes talking to staff and students.

It was an excellent visit designed to engage with the party’s top policy of the time to raise income tax by 1p in the pound to pay for education.

With an early morning press conference in London the leader’s entourage would board a plane from London to Plymouth, arriving at the school in time for the first lesson of the day.

The arrival time was anticipated between 8.30am and 9am.  As such a gaggle of local and national journalists began to assemble outside the school in anticipation.

A gentleman in a nice suit, from Special Branch, took a call and after a few moments of concerned conversation he sidled across to me to tell me some bad news. ‘There’s been a rocket attack by the IRA at Heathrow airport and all flights have been grounded until further notice, he’s going to be late, very late!’

Although this was manageable with the school a number of the journalists, especially those who were hoping for a live comment from Paddy at the gate were about to be disappointed.

One of them, from Radio 4’s Today Programme, had only turned up to make sure he had something for the programme before 9am, when it ended, and with 9am fast approaching guess who was press-ganged into action.

Thankfully I was not expected to comment on the party’s policies nor the reason for Paddy’s visit to the school, he just wanted the much better story of why Paddy was late and whether this was something we normally have to deal with. I told him it was not!

Paddy arrived about three hours later.


Sorry! I was late because SKY+ had me in a timewarp…

Sky+ box sent me into a timewarp!

Sky+ box sent me into a timewarp! I left home at 8.50 am and arrived at 9.30am ten minutes later. It felt very odd, I don't recommend time travel.

Modern technology is a marvellous thing.  In my case Sky+ allowed me to pause Question Time last night because a friend of mine, who is less enthusiastic about politics, called me.

As such, having my pause button, I stopped it about ten minutes from the end, knowing I wanted to watch This Week, and chatted for 30 minutes or so.

When the call was over I continued watching Question Time and then This Week, following which I went to bed.

I woke up to the strains of James Naughtie on the Today Programme and gradually sleep walked my way through my early morning routine.

I sat down and turned on Breakfast on BBC 1 and thought, ‘Oh, good, it’s only 7.55am. I can watch the Scottish news and a bit of the programme before going to work.’

I left promptly at 8.50am as I have quite a short walk to work and I arrived to the chimes of Dunfermline Abbey striking 9.30! It would seem, after 10 minutes of feeling like I had entered a time warp, sitting at my desk, that I had left the Sky+ running all night and had been on a time lag of 30 minutes all morning.

It felt very odd. I don’t recommend time travel!

Why Ben Bradshaw is right to criticise the BBC over bias…

Ben Bradshaw - right to see bias in BBC

Ben Bradshaw - right to see bias in BBC Today Programme

When politicians complain about media bias it is often right for people to take it with a pinch of salt, especially when they tweet it within a few minutes of the end of the Today programme on Radio 4.

I am great lover of both the station and the programme and find both a bulwark against the gradual progression towards flabby journalism and the uncritical fawning that often surrounds modern celebrity.

So, when I received Ben’s tweet I thought it was a case of ‘methinks he doth protest too much,’ but I was surprised, on listening, that the report and interview were quite superficial and in no way delved into the clear holes in the Tory policy of £7 billion worth of cuts. Forgive me for having a memory; I just don’t trust the Tories to make cuts that will be reasoned and fair to those who can least afford any serious cuts in their income, or their benefits.

As Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has a key role in making sure that the media, especially the state owned BBC, maintains a reasoned equilibrium between all the political parties over the next few months.

My concern, on a deeper level, is that journalism, so often these days, is almost entirely interdependent with the political class and the quality of real investigative journalism has diminished. The fact that the Today programme thought the most appropriate commentator on the George Osborne speech was Michael Brown, a former Tory MP,  saying how great he thought it was, appears lazy. Just accepting that the Conservative agenda of cuts should not be challenged, in any way, is presumptuous, and might lead to a Government being elected unchallenged as to its real agenda.

Change is a reaonable agenda for any political party to champion, but we need to know what change would mean, rather than accepting the political and journalistic establishment’s view that the Conservatives can do no wrong at the moment.