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?

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Want to send a positive Brexit message to Europe? Back Arsene Wenger for England manager

Boris Johnson could make a gesture of goodwill. 

It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Sam Allardyce, who coveted the England job for so many years, before losing it after playing just a single match. Yet Allardyce has only himself to blame and the Football Association were right to move quickly to end his tenure.

There are many candidates for the job. The experience of Alan Pardew and the potential of Eddie Howe make them strong contenders. The FA's reported interest in Ralf Rangner sent most of us scurrying to Google to find out who the little known Leipzig manager is. But the standout contender is Arsenal's French boss Arsene Wenger, 

Would England fans accept a foreign manager? The experience of Sven Goran-Eriksson suggests so, especially when the results are good. Nobody complained about having a Swede in charge the night that England won 5-1 in Munich, though Sven's sides never won the glittering prizes, the Swede proving perhaps too rigidly English in his commitment to the 4-4-2 formation.

Fabio Capello's brief stint was less successful. He never seemed happy in the English game, preferring to give interviews in Italian. That perhaps contributed to his abrupt departure, falling out with his FA bosses after he seemed unable to understand why allegations of racial abuse by the England captain had to be taken seriously by the governing body.

Arsene Wenger could not be more different. Almost unknown when he arrived to "Arsene Who?" headlines two decades ago, he became as much part of North London folklore as all-time great Arsenal and Spurs bosses, Herbert Chapman or Bill Nicholson, his own Invicibles once dominating the premier league without losing a game all season. There has been more frustration since the move from Highbury to the Emirates, but Wenger's track record means he ranks among the greatest managers of the last hundred years - and he could surely do a job for England.

Arsene is a European Anglophile. While the media debate whether or not the FA Cup has lost its place in our hearts, Wenger has no doubt that its magic still matters, which may be why his Arsenal sides have kept on winning it so often. Wenger manages a multinational team but England's football traditions have certainly got under his skin. The Arsenal boss has changed his mind about emulating the continental innovation of a winter break. "I would cry if you changed that", he has said, citing his love of Boxing Day football as part of the popular tradition of English football.

Obviously, the FA must make this decision on football grounds. It is an important one to get right. Fifty years of hurt still haven't stopped us dreaming, but losing to Iceland this summer while watching Wales march to the semi-finals certainly tested any lingering optimism. Wenger was as gutted as anybody. "This is my second country. I was absolutely on my knees when we lost to Iceland. I couldn't believe it" he said.

The man to turn things around must clearly be chosen on merit. But I wonder if our new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - albeit more of a rugger man himself - might be tempted to quietly  suggest in the corridors of footballing power that the appointment could play an unlikely role in helping to get the mood music in place which would help to secure the best Brexit deal for Britain, and for Europe too.

Johnson does have one serious bit of unfinished business from the referendum campaign: to persuade his new boss Theresa May that the commitments made to European nationals in Britain must be honoured in full.  The government should speed up its response and put that guarantee in place. 

Nor should that commitment to 3m of our neighbours and friends be made grudgingly.

So Boris should also come out and back Arsene for the England job, as a very good symbolic way to show that we will continue to celebrate the Europeans here who contribute so much to our society.

British negotiators will be watching the twists and turns of the battle for the Elysee Palace, to see whether Alain Juppe, Nicolas Sarkozy end up as President. It is a reminder that other countries face domestic pressures over the negotiations to come too. So the political negotiations will be tough - but we should make sure our social and cultural relations with Europe remain warm.

More than half of Britons voted to leave the political structures of the European Union in June. Most voters on both sides of the referendum had little love of the Brussels institutions, or indeed any understanding of what they do.

But how can we ensure that our European neighbours and friends understand and hear that this was no rejection of them - and that so many of the ways that we engage with our fellow Europeans rom family ties to foreign holidays, the European contributions to making our society that bit better - the baguettes and cappuccinos, cultural links and sporting heroes remain as much loved as ever.

We will see that this weekend when nobody in the golf clubs will be asking who voted Remain and who voted Leave as we cheer on our European team - seven Brits playing in the twelve-strong side, alongside their Spanish, Belgian, German, Irish and Swedish team-mates.

And now another important opportunity to get that message across suddenly presents itself.

Wenger for England. What better post-Brexit commitment to a new Entente Cordiale could we possibly make?

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.