16 Apr 2015

A clubby, chummy, synthetic encounter with Cameron

Partly it is general caution about security. Partly it is specific caution about another Gordon Brown “bigoted woman” moment. But it is all about caution.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at the launch of the Scottish Conservative manifesto at the Emirates Arena ,Glasgow, ScotlandPicture: David Cameron arrives on Thursday at the launch of the Scottish Conservative manifesto at the Emirates Arena.

Voters need to know that what is daily passed off as an election “campaign” at times feels like nothing more than an antiseptic exercise in keeping our party leaders away from real voters and real situations at all costs.

So I will tell you what these events are really like.

This morning the Prime Minister came to “Scotland” to launch the Scottish Tory manifesto.

This is what happened.

First, the warning sent the night before: the PM is coming to the Emirates Stadium in Glasgow’s East End but you cannot say that in advance. That’s in red ink.

The idea may well be rooted in genuine security concerns but the unfortunate by-product is that it all helps keep away any real voter who might try to come into contact with the PM. For that could be catastrophic in an election couldn’t it?

The stadium is cordoned off. It’s well away from any normal human life anyhow.

You are directed to a desk where they give you a plastic wristband to distinguish media from party supporters who don’t look like they’ve necessarily come from Parkhead.

You are escorted to a lift. Another official escorts you to a media room where you are corralled.

Then it is time. You are led to the media section in the hall where a seat says: “Reserved for Media”

I am media. I sit. Big mistake.

I am told I can’t sit. I tell them I am media and I am indeed sitting. I show the media wristband. They say I must move but won’t say why.

I refuse, telling them if they want to sling Channel 4 News out of a general election event then get on with it.

Because here’s the game. These seats are reserved for the known correspondents – the Scottish Tory Leader will call them all by first and surnames and organisation.

It is chummy. It is clubby. I doubt she knows my name. Doubt any party political leaders do and long may that remain so.

Because what is being passed off live and in edited sound bites is a pretend press conference. It is nothing of the sort – just the known names.

I have asked in advance politely to ask a question. The Tory press officers are primed.

Some questions are asked. The microphone never comes my way. Fascinatingly it is never given over to any of the names who do ask questions. The party press officer holds onto that microphone for dear life – not the journo.

This is what they once tried on at a government press conference in Beijing – the difference being in Communist China you can get away with holding the microphone. Not here it seems.

Perhaps they knew I would have grabbed it as any journo should for the follow-up question, given the near certainty that the party leader will not answer the question first time around.

This is standard protocol the world over. Not at this press conference. Not at this election. I checked with a friend and colleague covering this day in, day out. I was told they never actually give you the microphone. Ever – god no!

So I dangle my arm in the air like a numpty sensing what is about to happen. At 15 stone and 6’4″ in the front media row, no one managed to see me there.

Predictable horror and outrage when I try to ask David Cameron a question as he is hustled away from the hall by a combination of officials and close protection police officers.

And here’s the sting – I just wanted to him why he wasn’t doing a walkabout to meet voters in Glasgow outside this synthetic event.

“I’ll talk to you later,” said The Prime Minister as he was hustled away.

A press officer claiming to be from The Prime Minister’s office apologised several times after this nonsense was all over.

As I left the stadium one of the invited Conservative party guests there turned to the security guard:

“Can I get a train or bus from here to the city centre? I’m not from around here.”

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17 reader comments

  1. Noah says:

    Alex, hehe, but why do ‘they’ think ‘we’ (the idiot monkeys who vote) dont know its all spin. They really do live in a different world. P.s. Why would they need to launch a conservative manifesto in Scotland???? ;-)

  2. Marion Robertson says:

    where would we be without honest commentators like Alex Thomson revealing what it feels like inside the political machine, especially when politicians like the PM would rather lock down press conferences than take questions & refuse to meet the (Scottish) people. Damning beyond comprehension. Thanks Thomo & C4

    1. Noah says:

      But sadly those of use who follow the in-depth truth with C4 News (online, live, catchup etc) are in a tiny minority to the Red Tops and dummed down BBC & Sky “headlines.. every 15 mins… the electorate at large doesn’t have a clue…. and these pesky politicians now it :-(

  3. Carntyne Riddrie says:

    …and they wonder why they have only one seat in Scotland…

  4. H Statton says:

    …I would follow Michael Crick in his Cadillac. Maybe in an Aston Martin db5 and stop off along the way for a “club” sandwich.

  5. Philip says:

    The problem isn’t just the election campaign. It’s most of the time they live in a protected bubble where they only meet people like themselves. that’s why so much of what they seems synthetic & out of touch with the lives of most people.
    I think the next government should pass a law requiring every politician to live for at least a month each year in a council or housing association flat at least five miles from parliament on the minimum wage.

  6. John says:

    Excellent reporting and blogging as always from yourself, Alex (and Channel 4 News – the only News Media i trust – and will be doing so through this Election).
    Cameron knows he’s managed to pull off lie after lie after lie for the last 5 years. All he can manage now is stage-managed events, with his millionaire wife gazing at him with a gormless smile.

    Please, please – I pray the Voters aren’t as gormless next month. (And i’m Agnostic!)

    This ‘clubby-chummy’ blog should rightfully be printed and pasted on millions of walls throughout the U.K.

  7. Bob Draper says:

    If this sort of thing carries on I don’t think Cameron will have many more MP’s south of hte border, let alone in Scotland. I have never come across such a diconnected bunch of politicians….

  8. Nick says:

    Watched the piece on Cameron. Cringeworthy attemps by Gove and the man himself trying to appear statesmanlike – note the red box close at hand and the protective hand covering it at the end of the clip.

  9. Graham says:

    Alex, you are endearing yourself to scotland, not because of the questions you ask (or dont get to ask) but simply because you have the integrity to be honest and tell the truth. Much respect to you sir

  10. Dave says:

    Insightful piece, but surely there is a simple solution. These sham press conferences are just publicity stunts, so the news networks should collectively agree not to report them. If they are all stage managed, then they are simply a waste of time, money and resources for all concerned, and should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

    1. Shaqui says:

      Good point Dave, but would the media do it? Some are too chummy with the politicians to even consider it… still!

  11. Danny Ross says:

    So much of it is completely stage managed and false. Cameron and Milliband will never meet real people. Jim Murphy wanders about with a bunch of students wearing T shirts and not even getting the min wage.He has press calls at 7 am when he knows no one will be about.
    And on the other hand we have Nicola Sturgeon who takes 45 minutes just to walk about 50 yards to a podium in Glasgow because she is talking to people.

  12. Shaqui says:

    They say you can measure the integrity of an MP, let alone the actual Prime Minister, by how willing they are to walk unprotected among the public…

    Anyone recall the last time that happened? (Before Gordon Brown, that is…)

  13. marie murray says:

    Thanks Alex Thompson for the honestly in your report, it’s makes a change from biased reporting from another certain chanel

  14. Elano Ross says:

    I appreciate Alex’ Thompson’s honest too and I just wish there were more journalists like him. Time to take back the media from the cosy establishment and power broker puppet masters.

  15. jy mcglynn says:

    An honest and truthful journalist,of the same mould as Nicola Sturgeon,
    I have said for a few years the press calls are stage-managed,
    Thanks mr Thomson ,thankyou

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