Political journalism is a tricky business. First, there's the hanging around in the bars and tea-rooms of the House of Commons in the hope of picking up scraps of gossip from malcontents. Then, back at the drawing board, there's the stitching together of hints and whispers, with a bit of freehand connecting of dots, in order to construct a plausible narrative line. And then there's publishing the stuff, in language that is vague enough to preclude immediate contradiction and yet authoritative enough to set the tone for the other papers. 'Mr Brown,' a Telegraph story on 4 June began, 'is considering removing Mr Darling from the Treasury and replacing him with Ed Balls, the schools secretary and his closest political adviser.' You can't argue with 'considering' - he might also be considering having muffins for tea - and the echo of the antique intra-office memo is very compelling. If there's a message here, we're meant plainly to understand, it's that Alistair Darling is on his way out. The 'news' that the prime minister wanted to ditch his chancellor in the next reshuffle was repeated in TV and press reports throughout the week running up to the European and local elections; but, when polling day came, the news changed. Darling kept his job. So what was all that about then?
LRB 25 June 2009 | PDF Download