The Prime Minister’s handling of the ‘Horsegate’ row is further evidence of the need for better regulation of the PR industry.
Dogged questioning from the Telegraph’s senior political correspondent Christopher Hope, in the face of obfuscation from Number 10, eventually brought out an admission from David Cameron that he did ride on the Met police horse loaned to Rebekah Brooks.
Last month Press Gazette revealed how the Lords Communications Committee had condemned the “adverse impact” of public relations on investigative journalism. While journalists are facing the certainty of stricter regulation – the PR industry remains pretty much wholly unregulated.
Judging by Number Ten’s responses to Hope’s inquiries – Number Ten’s PR team in particular might benefit from some guidance on how to answer a straight question with a straight answer.
Tuesday, 28 February
4pm Lobby briefing: According to the Telegraph, Hope asked the Prime Minister’s official spokesman: “The PM was rumoured to go horse riding with Rebekah Brooks. Did he ever ride the police horse loaned by the Met between 2008 and 2010?”
Response: “That is not something that I keep tabs on, which horse the Prime Minister is riding.”
Wednesday, 29 February
4pm Lobby briefing: Hope asks Prime Minister’s official spokesman whether the PM had ever ridden the ex-police horse.
Response: “The only horses I am interested in are the type you can put a bet on.”
Thursday, 1 March
11am Lobby briefing: Hope asks: “When did the PM learn of the arrangement which allowed Rebekah Brooks to borrow a horse from the Met Police?”
Spokesman: “I don’t know.”
Hope: “Does the PM approve of the arrangement?”
Spokesman: “I don’t think he has a particular view on it – I can find you an answer.”
12.30pm: Cameron tells Five News: “It’s a matter of record that I have ridden horses with Rebekah Brooks’ husband in my constituency. Since becoming Prime Minister I may have got on a horse once, but not that one.”
2pm: Aide to Cameron tells Hope PM could have ridden the horse: “It is possible. He used a number of Charlie’s horses.” But adds: “He never rode with Rebekah Brooks. He has no recollection of ever going riding with Rebekah Brooks.”
3pm Telegraph websites reveals new line, later aide calls back to say it is “likely he rode on that horse”.
At a press conference in Brussels, Cameron admits that he did ride Raisa adding: “A confusing picture has emerged over the last few days, I am very sorry about that. I think my staff have had to answer a lot of questions about horses.”
The Mail on Sunday yesterday said: “The stonewalling might have worked had it not been for one dogged newsman who kept interrogating No 10 in the face of derision by colleagues on Left-wing newspapers.”
Hope told Press Gazette: “It may seem quite trivial to some but long term it could prove to be quite symbolic… That’s why it’s important.
“The horse has become symbolic of the coming together of the Met Police, News International executives and the police – rather like the duck house was symbolic of the MPs’ expenses scandal.”