The plan to screen daily press briefings in Number 10 has been scrapped, it was confirmed last night. Allegra Stratton, prime ministerial spinner, was due to present the briefings.
Ever since the scheme was announced, Westminster journalists have been predicting that it would never happen.
They knew it was a terrible idea from the government’s perspective, although the hacks would have had great fun. The government, the hacks knew, would eventually work out that it merely created a televised forum for the media to ask about the Prime Minister’s private life or assorted government scandals.
Even so, Whitehall went through the farce of spending £2.6m on building a backdrop and media facility for daily use. It will now be used less regularly for ministerial press conferences.
So, how did it get so far?
The farce is the latest example of an old problem with Boris and his need to be loved.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
“He hates to say no, so he says yes to all sorts of ideas and then other people have to sort it out later,” says a friend.
This has been a consistent feature of the way he takes decisions. He wants to appear up-beat and can do, and is frequently enthusiastic about things that then never transpire, but still cost money and waste other people’s time.
An appalled Rory Stewart as a minister was particularly amusing on his experience of this. He and his officials presented to the then Foreign Secretary with a bold scheme for a new Africa policy, deploying aid and intelligence resources differently to make Britain more friends in the region. Boris loved it. There was a lot of arm-waving. He told Rory that the FCO was going to implement every word of the Stewart plan. The next morning, Rory turned up for work, full of beans and ready to implement the plan. Minister, officials explained, when Boris says something is going to happen it doesn’t always mean that it will. It didn’t happen.
When the televised briefing scheme was first mooted months ago Boris was enthusiastic, waving his arms about. His partner, Carrie Symonds, agreed that the Number 10 comms needed a reset. Stratton is a former TV presenter and was deemed just the person to do it, to become the face of Number 10. Negative thoughts, bad vibes, about how a daily stonewalling would provide endless viral clips, were ignored.
And so, £2.6m was spent on the daily briefing centre. Boris didn’t want to let down Allegra having initially said yes. For months Number 10 denied the daily briefing plan was for the chop; it was merely delayed by the winter wave of Covid. Now the plan has been chopped. Well done everyone.