Author: By Andrew Grice, Political Editor
The Business Secretary is expected to answer journalists’ questions on camera once a week following a review announced yesterday of the way the Westminster lobby system works. A role as unofficial “Minister for Information” would add to his long list of responsibilities. As well as heading the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, he plays a strategic role in Downing Street as an adviser to Gordon Brown, and sits on 35 Cabinet committees.
Since his surprise return to the Cabinet last year, Lord Mandelson has emerged as one of the Government’s most assured media performers, speaking regularly beyond his departmental brief. Previous attempts by ministers to represent the Government as a whole foundered when they made gaffes in policy areas outside their own fields.
The twice-daily off-camera lobby briefings held by Simon Lewis, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, are unlikely to be televised. As a civil servant, he is not allowed to comment on party political matters such as the policies of opposition parties. Lord Mandelson will not face such restrictions.
In a separate move, Lord Mandelson and the Transport Secretary Lord Adonis are expected to answer questions regularly from MPs in the Commons, following criticism that, as members of the House of Lords, they cannot be held to account by elected representatives. These sessions may take place in the mini-chamber in Westminster Hall rather than the Commons Chamber.
A working party will review Downing Street briefings. It will consider how to “meet the demands and growing importance of television and online media and make recommendations on how to provide a wider range of Government contributions to lobby briefings”.
The group will be chaired jointly by Mr Lewis and Jean Eaglesham, chief political correspondent of the Financial Times, who currently chairs the lobby journalists. Its recommendations will be implemented in the New Year.
Mr Lewis said: “This is an important and timely initiative. I am looking forward to working with colleagues in government and the lobby to propose changes which will enhance the role of lobby whilst reflecting the realities of the modern political and media world.”
Ms Eaglesham said: “We have a shared interest in ensuring that the lobby operates as a cornerstone of political reporting whilst reflecting changes in the media environment.”
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