Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The logic of David Cameron's cry for optimism is: vote Labour (Guardian)

It's tempting to side with conservative Eeyores, writes Gaby Hinsliff. But from peace in Ulster to US healthcare, the progressive case is clear.

2. The new prisoners of ideology (Financial Times)

The parties of the right have forsaken centrist broad appeal, says Philip Stephens.

3. I blame the English for India’s backwardness (Times) (£)

The country’s terrible problems can be traced back to those who brought in a culture of pettifogging regulation, writes Philip Collins.

4. Greece's only certainty in 2013? Predictions are futile (Guardian)

Forecasts of collapse, 'Grexit' and even civil war proved unfounded but Greek society is under immense pressure, says Nick Malkoutzis.

5. Making welfare simple is fiendishly complex (Daily Telegraph)

It is vital that Iain Duncan Smith's heroic attempt to bring simplicity to the chaos of the welfare system succeeds, says a Telegraph editorial.

6. Where was Willetts's concern for the disadvantaged? (Independent)

The Universities Minister's professed concern for white working class boys is risible, says Joan Smith.

7. The decline of western dominance (Financial Times)

Developing countries now account for about half of total world output, writes Samuel Brittan.

8. An unfair policy that fails on every test (Daily Mail)

The removal of child benefit from higher earners makes a mockery of David Cameron’s promise to stand up for the traditional family, says a Daily Mail editorial.

9. The Falklands: another way forward (Guardian)

The governments of the UK and Argentina would do well to look to the island of Tromelin for a model for their negotiations, says a Guardian editorial.

10. Our robotic revolution is only just beginning to gather steam (Daily Telegraph)

Robots offer the potential for unlimited economic growth - as well as a helping hand about the house, says Jeremy Warner.

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Does it matter that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group?

Well yes, a little.

“#WESTMINSTERBUBBLE JOURNOS CHAT ON #WHATSAPP. NOW THAT’S INTERESTING,” writes the alt-left site Skwawkbox.

Its story refers to the fact that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group chat. The site finds this sinister, suggesting the chat could be used to “swap info, co-ordinate stories and narratives”:

“It’s a technology that worries Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in case terrorists use it – but its use by the Establishment for 1984-style message co-ordination would worry many people just as much.”

Skwawkbox’s shock was mocked by lobby journalists and spinners:


Your mole, who has sniffed around the lobby in its day, also finds the suggestion of journalists using the app for terrorist-style collusion a little hard to swallow. Like every other industry, journos are using WhatsApp because it’s the latest easy technology to have group chats on – and it’s less risky than bitching and whining in a Twitter DM thread, or on email, which your employers can access.

But my fellow moles in the Skwawkbox burrow have hit on something, even if they’ve hyped it up with the language of conspiracy. There is a problem with the way lobby journalists of different publications decide what the top lines of stories are every day, having been to the same briefings, and had the same chats.

It’s not that there’s a secret shady agreement to take a particular line about a certain party or individual – it’s that working together in such an environment fosters groupthink. They ask questions of government and opposition spokespeople as a group, they dismiss their responses as a group, and they decide the real story as a group.

As your mole’s former colleague Rafael Behr wrote in 2012:

“At the end [of a briefing], the assembled hacks feel they have established some underlying truth about what really happened, which, in the arch idiom of the trade, is generally agreed to have been revealed in what wasn’t said.”

Plus, filing a different story to what all your fellow reporters at rival papers have written could get you in trouble with your editor. The columnist David Aaronovitch wrote a piece in 2002, entitled “The lobby system poisons political journalism”, arguing that rather than pursuing new stories, often this ends up with lobby journalists repeating the same line:

“They display a "rush to story", in which they create between them an orthodoxy about a story – which then becomes impossible to dislodge.”

This tendency for stories to become stifled even led to the Independent and others boycotting the lobby in the Eighties, he notes.

Of course, colleagues in all industries have always communicated for work, social and organisational reasons in some way, and using WhatsApp is no different. But while Skwawkbox’s “revelation” might seem laughable to insiders, most people don’t know how political journalism works behind-the-scenes. It touches on a truth about how Westminster journalists operate – even if it’s wrong about their motive.

I'm a mole, innit.