On becoming a political journalist decades ago, I was handed a plum-coloured booklet explaining that the Lobby, a select group of correspondents with access to the Members’ Lobby in the Palace of Westminster, frequently invited ministers to give information and answer questions. ‘Members are under an obligation to keep secret the fact that such meetings are held and to avoid revealing the sources of their information,’ it said. And then, in capitals, it ordered, ‘DON’T TALK ABOUT LOBBY MEETINGS BEFORE OR AFTER THEY ARE HELD’. It told us not to run after ministers or MPs and not to ‘see’ anything in the Members’ Lobby for reporting purposes. It was this sort of nonsense, encouraging the more pompous correspondents to pepper their stories with attributions to ‘sources close to the prime minister’, that led critics to dismiss the Lobby as a cosy conspiracy engendering lazy journalism.
In fact, specialist journalists in many fields, from education to angling, will occasionally meet regular sources for background briefings. No self-respecting political journalist would ever use a Lobby briefing as the only component of a story. Nowadays, No 10 spokespeople are recorded and quoted. The crucial capacity a Lobby