When is a meeting not a meeting?
The supposedly full list of David Cameron's meetings with media figures was published last week.
Today, we've been told that it's going to be 'updated' to include some that were omitted from the original list.
Apparently, the discrepancy arose from the fact that it was felt that the prime minister taking a 'walk' with a media figure wasn't the same as a formal meeting, and thus didn't merit inclusion in the original list.
Amid all the hacking news today, this is likely to get slightly lost. Stephenson has resigned, Yates is likely to be suspended, Brooks will still appear at the select committee despite being on bail... But I felt this was something that needed to be highlighted. Three points:
Firstly, of course the prime minister taking a walk with a senior media figure is worthy of publication. That is, if Downing Street are serious about transparency on their contacts with the media. There's nothing the PM or the media figure couldn't say during a walk that he couldn't say in a formal meeting. Just being outside doesn't place any limits on the range of topics available for discussion.
Secondly, why were these 'walks' instead of 'meetings' in the first place? This smacks horribly of an attempt to dodge the requirement to publish meetings by reclassifying the contact as something else and keep the whole thing off the record. As ever, the attempt to cover it up, once revealed, only compounds the damage.
Thirdly, whose idea were these casual strolls? If it was at the PM's own suggestion, that hints at the fact that he suspected the contents of the meeting wouldn't be something he'd want to be FOI'd years later. We might never find out the answer to that final question, but there is one I feel I can answer without any hestiation. A meeting is a meeting, whether it took place round a table or on foot.
UPDATE 1645 Paul Waugh has tweeted that No 10 are saying they missed off David Cameron's "social engagement" with Brooks last week. This was a purely "administrative error", they're saying.
Pretty big error, no?
Whether this was a deliberate attempt to cover up the meeting or not, there's a much bigger questions that is yet to be answered. What is the prime minister doing having social engagements with the woman at the centre of a major scandal, who then resigned her job and was questioned by police for 12 hours yesterday?