The PM won’t see you now! Theresa May in stage-managed trip to GP surgery
New Journal told it could have 'exclusive words' in return for not being able to come to PM's visit to our patch
29 November, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Theresa May in Kentish Town, as close as we were allowed to photograph her
THERESA May was protected from any tricky questions at a stage-managed visit to a doctors’ surgery in Kentish Town on Thursday.
Downing Street had advised the New Journal not to cover in person the Prime Minister’s visit to our patch on Thursday morning. Instead, the newspaper would be given “pooled” photos – pre-approved pictures taken by photographers accredited by No 10 – and “exclusive” quotes, provided to us as if we had spoken to Mrs May ourselves.
Eager to cover her appearance at the James Wigg practice, in Bartholomew Road, we waited outside anyway, hoping for the chance of a quick interview or to see how the visit panned out.
On arrival, a New Journal reporter was told by media staff that it would be better if we were not there as we were “not part of the visit”. We could take photos “only on public land” outside the centre, officials said.
Kentish Town Health Centre, filled with patients on a busy morning, is NHS-owned, but Mrs May team’s did not accept that this was public land.
At one point, the reporter was told: “You don’t want to jeopardise your exclusive words.”
The bizarre exchange continued as the New Journal asked what these words would be about, to which an official replied: “I don’t know, but they are just for you.” The reporter who waited on pavement outside was later asked: “Still here?”
Political leaders from all parties are wary of questions from local newspapers, which in some cases do not follow the familiar script used by political reporters, often described as operating within the “Westminster bubble”.]
Mrs May was embarrassed during last year’s elections when she was caught out dodging a question from the Plymouth Herald newspaper about cuts to local military units.
Among Camden politicians, an incident when the Kentish Town surgery was used as a polling station in 2015 is well-remembered; a Conservative election candidate, Will Blair, was heckled on-camera and told to stay off NHS land when he arrived to vote for himself.
On Thursday morning, Mrs May finally arrived through the narrow entrance to Bartholomew Road from Kentish Town Road flanked by black-windowed cars and a police escort.
She was with new health secretary Matt Hancock and Simon Stevens, who was chief executive of UnitedHealth when the American healthcare giant was busy taking over GP surgeries in Camden. Mr Stevens was promoted to top boss of NHS England.
Mrs May got out at a different entrance from the one where the New Journal was told to expect her. As a result we had to take a photograph of her through railings.
Following her into the centre, officials politely instructed the New Journal to leave.
Later that day, photos of Mrs May crouched on the floor talking to a patient’s baby were released to media outlets.