Meet the Editor: Five things we learned from Caroline Wheeler, Deputy Political Editor at the Sunday Times

By Ben Stetson

Thursday 14th May

We were fortunate to be joined by the brilliant Caroline Wheeler, Deputy Political Editor at the Sunday Times, for Pagefield’s first digital Meet the Editor event.

Caroline offered a view from inside the lobby on the Government’s decision-making process in response to coronavirus, and what it might mean for the future of this administration. Here are five things we learnt.

  1. Seeking truth from power

Caroline presented a modest and fair defence of journalism in the time of a crisis. Some critics have been unhappy with the trick questions or voracity in which lobby journalists specifically have tried to catch the Government out. In response, Caroline told us that there is no ulterior motive or ambition to embarrass policymakers but an intent to scrutinise decisions.

Holding the Government to account is their primary responsibility and this often means asking unhelpful questions or making unwieldly comparisons. To that end, Caroline did have some words of praise for those members of the public bravely calling in asking pointed questions.

  1. Going public

We have all noticed the increased utility of public facing interactions by the Government, be it phone-ins to the press conferences or live social media events. Caroline outlined how this was a direct and deliberate attempt to open a dialogue with the British public during the crisis.

A key part of this is the sequenced presentation of information. The Prime Minister began the week with some broad ambitions and possible changes but minimal detail. This was proceeded by a series of Ministerial statements that began to add some colour to Boris’ picture. Caroline cited the tacit recognition amongst many journalists of the Government’s Plan to Rebuild paper.

  1. Sunak continues to soar

There are not many success stories or winners so far from the crisis in Government, but our young Chancellor has emerged as an impressive economic thinker. Rishi Sunak has driven forward ambitious proposals and won plaudits from across the House of Commons as well as the unions.

Caroline alluded to Rishi’s impressive grip on the detail and ability to reassure the nation in his addresses that has given rise to his public stature. Unlike the Health or Communities Secretary, the Chancellor has projected a balanced approach positioning him as the voice of reason amongst the core decision makers in Downing Street.

  1. Boris, this is your legacy

We took a moment to reflect on the impact of events and the Britain Boris now leads compared to the country he was out campaigning in six months ago. After winning such a strong majority in December with the mandate to deliver Brexit, his hopes of that being the crown jewel in his legacy have been irreversibly dashed.

There is no way to circumvent this crisis and the public will mark Government’s response stringently. This, Caroline acknowledged, will be the legacy of this Prime Minister.

  1. Too little care for care homes?

A long road to recovery is ahead of us including a public inquiry and unavoidable economic hardship. Caroline spoke about the economic challenges for the Treasury with some tough decisions to be made in the not so distance future.

Everyone within Government has an eye on how each decision will be scrutinised in the inquiry to follow. The crisis that has unfolded in care homes has those within Government on tenterhooks as a clear consensus has emerged about the early failure to intervene.

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