The Morning Briefing is a Westminster institution for the smartphone age. Photo: Getty
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My year as Benedict Brogan’s “little slave”

Now that Benedict Brogan has departed the Telegraph, Tim Wigmore – who used to help write his Morning Briefing email – remembers how it used to come together.

Few places do tradition like Westminster. For the past three years, politicos had a new ritual. Just before 8.30am – and it had to be just before, to arrive in time for the first Downing Street meeting of the day – Benedict Brogan’s Morning Briefing would land in in-boxes.

When the email began, it was circulated to 500 of Benedict’s political contacts. By the time he left the Daily Telegraph on 18 June, the number of subscribers had grown to 25,000. Yet the email’s importance lay in who read it: there were 50 subscribers in No 10 alone.

If the impression was of a well-oiled machine, the truth was very different. For a year from last May, I worked with Benedict on his briefing. To the BBC’s Daily Politics show, which did a feature on the email, I was his “little slave”. Every morning presented a battle against capricious alarm clocks, sleep deprivation, dodgy phone signal and lousy IT software.

My day would begin at 5am, as I stumbled out of bed, and seven minutes later – I learned to savour every possible minute of sleep – into a cab bound for the Telegraph’s offices in Victoria. I was met by a bundle of morning papers, which passed for company in an otherwise deserted office.

A little after 6am came my first human contact when Benedict and I discussed, usually by email, the most important stories of the day. While waiting for him to punch out the top items on his BlackBerry as he took his daughter to school on the number 344 bus, I wrote the smaller news items, in between wrestling with the software’s infuriating penchant for making all the text bold.

As my stint on the briefing progressed, I honed my ability to mimic Benedict’s style, coming to treasure his idiosyncrasies – Tony Blair was always “Mr Tony”, Ed Miliband was “Mili E” – as my own. We even had the same taste in holidays: we both went to Hvar in August, though, mercifully, not at the same time.

Above all, I learned never to be surprised when something went wrong. Simply waking up was the first obstacle. On several occasions when my alarm clock failed, there might never have been a briefing had it not been for the cab driver ringing the doorbell. (My mum was less grateful for his persistence.)

Even Benedict was not immune to finding the hours a challenge. One morning during the Liberal Democrat conference, I didn’t hear from him until almost 8am; he confessed to having had a whisky too many. But because he had written a column for the day’s paper I was well briefed on his thoughts.

Unreliable phone signal, in places from Afghanistan to the south of France, was another challenge posed by Benedict’s onerous schedule. Particularly problematic was his trip to China with George Osborne, when he feared (correctly, it turned out) that his computer had been bugged. Not that this stopped him filing despatches by BlackBerry.

It was gratifying to learn that our efforts were noticed. Ed Miliband’s leading adviser, Stewart Wood, was among those most inclined to take issue with the email’s wording, frequently voicing his displeasure within minutes of receiving the briefing. Mili E may claim that he doesn’t follow the day-to-day news but his team does. The daily emails and tweets from politicians looking to influence the briefing affirmed its clout.

Yet it was more than just a respected email. As the outpouring of thanks to Benedict on Twitter from across the political spectrum showed, his Morning Briefing (now ably produced by Stephen Bush) was a Westminster institution for the smartphone age.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation