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.