Official records confirm that the Prime Minister is happy to spend time schmoozing sympathetic media outlets, reports Sam Bright

Some 25% of the Prime Minister’s recorded meetings with external organisations from July to September last year were held with right-wing publications, new Government data shows.

Lists of meetings held between ministers and external individuals – such as businesses, charities, campaign groups and media organisations – are logged on a quarterly basis by every government department.

The latest release of Boris Johnson’s meetings cover the period from July to September last year. Of the 32 recorded meetings held by the Prime Minister during this period, eight were with executives and journalists at right-wing publications – while a further two were held with BBC executives.

Johnson met with representatives of the Sun newspaper on three separate occasions during this period, including a “social meeting” with the paper’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, on 3 July. This was followed by a “general discussion” with Victoria Newton, the title’s editor, on 7 September; and a meeting with Newton and her deputy James Slack at the newspaper’s ‘Who Cares Wins’ awards on 14 September.

This ceremony paid tribute to the altruism and bravery of ordinary people, and has been run by the Sun since 2017. The 2021 ceremony placed emphasis on the sacrifices of frontline NHS workers as they battled with the Coronavirus pandemic. The categories included ‘best doctor’, ‘best nurse’, ‘best midwife’, ‘ultimate lifesaver’, ‘best health charity’ and ‘999 hero’.

Jackie Brunton, lead nurse for end-of-life and bereavement at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, won the ‘best nurse’ award for her efforts in ensuring that families could speak to their sick and dying relatives via video calls while the country was faced with lockdown restrictions.

James Slack – whom Johnson met at the ceremony – formerly served as the Prime Minister’s director of communications, leaving in March 2021. In recent weeks, it has been revealed that a leaving party was held for Slack in Downing Street on 16 April 2021 – the night before the Queen was forced to sit alone, due to COVID restrictions, at the funeral of her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip.

Around 30 people reportedly attended this gathering and another that was held on the same night in the Downing Street complex. An eyewitness reported that one partygoer broke the swing belonging to Johnson’s son, Wilfred, while staff used a suitcase to ferry wine into Downing Street.

Eight parties held by Downing Street and across Whitehall during lockdown are currently being investigated by the Metropolitan Police. At least a dozen events have now been reported by the press.


A Government of Journalists, For Journalists

These media meetings indicate the Prime Minister’s co-dependent relationship with the right-wing press – with other summits held during this period with Ted Verity, editor of the Mail on Sunday; Geordie Greig, editor of the Daily Mail; John Witherow, editor of The Times; Chris Evans, editor of the Telegraph; and Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome.

Aside from two meetings with BBC executives, the Prime Minister exclusively met with members of right-wing media outlets during this period.

Johnson, a former journalist for The Times, the Telegraph, and a former editor of the Spectator magazine, has barely disguised his proximity to the right-wing press.

According to his former chief aide Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister has referred to the Telegraph as his “real boss” – and has been keen to follow the newspaper’s laissezfaire approach to lockdown restrictions.

Indeed, Johnson flew back from the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November – a crucial event in deciding the world’s climate change priorities – in order to attend a reunion party of Telegraph journalists at London’s prestigious Garrick Club.

In an interview with New York Magazine this weekend, Cummings accused the Prime Minister of being obsessed with the views of journalists rather than the job of governing. “He sees his job as just to babble to the media every day,” Cummings claimed. “I saw the job as actually thinking about what’s important.”

Johnson has had an acute reliance on right-wing publications – which have slavishly supported Brexit and his leadership of the Conservative Party. As Byline Times has previously revealed, 81% of official Downing Street and Cabinet Office ministerial meetings conducted with journalists from the beginning of 2020 to June 2021 were with members of right-wing newspapers.

The relationship between high-ranking ministers and executives at the Sun is particularly noteworthy, with a spate of meetings held with Johnson and his senior Cabinet team in August and September 2020 – when the Government was considering whether to reimpose Coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

The evidence appears to suggest quite decidedly that Johnson’s Government is of, by and for the right-wing press.

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