Westminster’s political journalists are quietly seething on hearing that an MP’s misdemeanour has cost them the privilege of being allowed to dispense with their jackets and report debates in their shirt sleeves during the summer months.
Speaker Michael Martin has ordered them to put their jackets back on after Tory MP Cheryl Gillan created a spectacular diversion at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Unable to silence her bleeper, she attempted to exit the chamber but tripped up.
Political hacks popped their heads over the barrier of the Press Gallery to observe the drama with professional interest, and in some cases undisguised enthusiasm.
But the sight of so many shirt sleeves was too much for some of the suited politicians below.
Notices have been put up instructing reporters that “Jackets must be worn at all times when working in the gallery,” by “order of the Speaker”.
The new restriction comes when political reporters are still barred from taking visiting journalists into the press gallery following the purple powder attack on Tony Blair by a protester who gained admission with a ticket issued to Labour peer Baroness Golding.
Press Gallery chairman Brian Shallcross and secretary Greg Hurst have made representations to the Serjeant at Arms, Sir Michael Cummins, but have failed to move the authorities. Shallcross said the Speaker’s decision had caused “disappointment and confusion”.
“This is the second occasion within a month that press gallery journalists have had restrictions imposed on them arising from the behaviour of a member or ex-member.
“Press Gallery journalists are scrupulous at turning off pagers and mobile phones while reporting the proceedings of the chamber and we cannot recall an incident of misbehaviour involving a guest or journalist in the Reporters’ Gallery.”
Reporters are still barred from the Commons terrace following a decision taken 11 years ago by a Commons committee then chaired by Martin.
By David Rose