Big Conversation' falls flat with Bristol Evening Post

Evening Post: critical of Blair’s visit

The Labour Party turned a “deaf ear” to journalists when the Big Conversation roadshow dropped in at Bristol.

The nationwide consultation was launched last month and aims to find out what people want to see in Labour’s next election manifesto.

But reporters and many local people found themselves excluded from a meeting held in the deprived Barton Hill area of the city on Friday.

Attendance to the event, which was organised in conjunction with The Guardian, was restricted to 20 Labour Party members, 20 Guardian readers and 20 invited local guests.

Local media did not get the chance to ask the prime minister any questions, with the exception of Bristol Evening Post political editor Ian Onions.

He was the only local journalist, out of a dozen who attended, to be granted an interview with Tony Blair – and was only given one minute and eight seconds.

Onions said: “It was all stage managed and a lot of people were upset about it. Some colleagues from other media outlets were saying that with a stagemanaged thing like this you become part of the propaganda machine because there’s so little room for manoeuvre.”

An Evening Post front page aske: “Why weren’t you invited?”, making the point that no local people from Barton Hill were invited to the meeting.

Onions said: “We thought it was really disappointing – a local newspaper should have been involved in this rather than a national paper parachuting in readers from goodness knows where.”

Downing Street director of communications David Hill responded to the Evening Post’s concerns, saying: “This was a party event, not a public one.

Once we have got through this phase of the national launch, I’m sure we will be looking to work with the local press and media.”

Onions presented the PM with a laminated copy of an Evening Post story detailing concerns about failings in the £50m Government New Deal scheme to regenerate Barton Hill. Blair said he promised to look into the matter and come back with a response.

By Dominic Ponsford

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