Veteran Press Association political correspondent Chris Moncrieff has said that a ‘baffled’Fleet Street has so far give the Coalition Government an easy ride.
Writing in the current issue of the British Journalism review, Moncrieff says: ‘Reporters who believed that smear stories would drop into their laps like autumn windfalls are gathering a meagre harvestâ€¦.One reason for this is probably that neither party to the Coalition wants an early general election (nor does the Opposition, for that matter), so now is certainly not the time for any reckless boat-rocking.”
But he adds: ‘Probably the main reason is that the Coalition is handling the press far more astutely than did Labour when in power.”
Moncrieff was a staff political journalist for PA from 1962 to 1994 but has continued to write for the agency since his retirement.
He writes that Labour ‘treated the press with contempt’– with Tony Blair dismissing true stories as ‘media froth’and former spin doctor Charlie Whelan calling political reporters ‘every name under the sun”.
Moncrieff writes: ‘Life under David Cameron is different in almost every respect. If Fleet Street is a wild beast, then the Coalition Government and its advisors know much better how to tame it – to their own advantage – than Labour ever did.
‘In the few motnhs since the Coalition was created , there have been several instances of potentially hugely damaging and, indeed, succulent stories that were swiftly killed off before they ‘got legs’ and started running riot all over newspapers to the detriment of the Government.”
He notes the scandal over Liberal Democrat minister David Laws, who resigned after it was revealed that he had been claiming for rent paid to his male partner.
Moncrieff: ‘The skilful Coalition apparatchiks had managed to close the story down before it could do any lasting damage to the administration.”
He also cites Lib Dem energy secretary Chris Hulme leaving his wife of 26 years for a younger woman who had previously had a civil partnership with a woman. And the case of Anne Milton, the junior health minister who announced she was to cut free milk for the under-fives only for Downing Street to perform ‘the swiftest U-turn in political history”.
There was also the story about William Hague sharing a bedroom with a male aide, which was again ‘swiftly dispatched before it could cause massive political damage to Mr Hague”.
Moncrieff says: ‘The media may not like it – indeed do not like it – but the present administration, even despite the political diversity of its members, is making far more of a success of protecting its own good name than Labour ever did in power.”