Some had not been into Congress House for three decades, others had been more recently. Many had spent hours and days hanging around the TUC in the good old days when Britain had a labour movement and labour correspondents to report it.
Now they were gathered to perform the last rites for the Labour and Industrial Correspondents Group.They called it a reunion. In reality it was a wake. Ninety came to the debate “Labour Correspondents RIP – who cares” put on by the Media Society (and produced by me) last Wednesday.
The familiar faces were there but much much older. John Lloyd, formerly Labour editor of the Financial Times now of Oxford University; Geoffrey Goodman, the doyen from the Daily Mirror; Peter Mchugh from the Daily Mail and latterly GMTV; Paul Routledge from the Times, now on the Mirror; Nick Jones, Martin Adeney and John Fryer from the BBC. Plus those who had ‘gone across’: Sir Bernard Ingham who went from The Guardian to spinning for Margaret Thatcher, Peter Hitchens who moved from Trotskyism through the Daily Express to become the voice of the libertarian right on the Mail on Sunday. Ageing union general secretaries were present too like Rodney Bickerstaffe of NUPE and Fred Jarvis of the NUT. Very few women too, just like the old days.
It was a time to renew old friendships and old enmities. The slideshow on the plasma screens harked back to the days when the Labour corrs were the aristocrats of the newsroom. Front page news on many days as industrial action (or strife, you take your pick) gripped Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. At its zenith the LICG had 70 members, enough to have cricket matches at the TUC each year. Now it was down to history and the bowls green.
Reminiscences galore and speculation as to whether the reunion might be a renaissance. Might they come back from the dead? Paul Routledge thought definitely not. Martin Adeney said that “unions will never regain their power”. Peter Hitchens thought that “we are now a nation which sells cappuccinos and mobile phones to each other” so no need for industrial action or industrial corrs either. Lloyd called for new global labour corrs to cover the global affairs of multinational companies.
It was a time for laughter too. Lloyd confessed to being a party to a completely fabricated story of Royal Navy subs patrolling off the Brighton seashore to protect the brothers from IRA attack. It was printed and the Sun decided to follow up with a photo of the undersea protectors. They ended up using file photos.
As so often in the past with the corps of labour corrs, the night ended in the pub – this time with free drink courtesy of the FT and Thomsons the union solicitors. No requests for books of receipts here tonight. This group of experienced hacks are now out on their ears like so many of those in the industries they so closely reported in the past. Dinosaurs maybe, a lost tribe definitely.
Nicholas Jones has edited The Lost Tribe of Fleet Street;Whatever Happened to the Industrial Correspondents? Published by Biteback 2011 £5.00