David Cameron could hardly have done more to highlight the role of the Journalists’ Charity when he made a guest appearance at the annual reception: it was, said the Prime Minister, a brilliant example of the Big Society at work. He delivered his tribute after being welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland, Mr Bobby McDonagh, who was the generous host once again for the charity’s most popular get together held in London on Wednesday 3 November.
An era of unprecedented co-operation between the British government and the Republic of Ireland ensured that the annual reception became a night to remember in Anglo-Irish relations as Mr Cameron, determined to enter the spirit of the occasion, was only too keen to point out to both the Ambassador and the assembled journalists: ‘It is a great pleasure to be the first serving Prime Minister to come to the Embassy of Ireland...and I am enjoying my glass of Guinness”.Welcoming the Prime Minister, Mr McDonagh, said relations between the two governments had never been better, not just close friendship but partners in the European Union and a peace process in Northern Ireland which was the envy of the world. Mr McDonagh, who was with his wife Mary, said he feared Mr Cameron might have been invited to the reception under false pretences; the aim of the event was to raise awareness for an organisation which showed charity towards journalists, rather than journalists showing charity to politicians. But Mr Cameron took the joke in good part. It had been one of those days: he took Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons, had an audience with the Queen, met the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was now ‘genuinely on the fourth estate’. The Prime Minister said he wanted to be the first to pay tribute to the Journalists’ Charity because it was a perfect illustration of his belief that the country should not look just to the government but to all sort of organisations, charities and churches to create a better country and a stronger society. ‘The Journalists’ Charity started with a few hacks in a pub. You wanted to provide for journalists who fell on hard times. You didn’t wait for the government. You got on and did it. That is the Big Society and that is why we are here to celebrate the charity’s work’. Mr Cameron coupled his tribute with a plea for a new era of responsibility between politicians and the press. ‘I am at an early stage of my Premiership when you can just about open a newspaper without foaming at the mouth and falling over backwards. ‘But I do hope that between the politicians and the press we can find a new sense of responsibility. As a government we are trying to be more open, more frank and transparent. I hope in return we can have a reasonable debate. ‘We are at a time of great national stringency and whoever was in government would have to make cuts. I sometimes listen to Radio 4 in the morning and think there won’t be a school or hospital left standing’. The Prime Minister had come armed with an exclusive, to prove his point that the government was releasing more detail: he said that the Chancellor would be announcing the date of the Budget in the morning. What Mr Cameron was hoping for was that the politicians and the press would enter into a tango: ‘not a tango with Ann Widdecombe, which was justification for the BBC’s licence fee in one go, but a tango of solid, mutual respect. We should respect the press for its vigour and independence and I hope the press will recognise that most people who go into politics are not crooks, criminals or sleaze bags but want to do a good job for their constituents and the country’. Mr Cameron’s parting shot was an expression of congratulations to all involved in the Journalists’ Charity: ‘You are part of the Big Society, part of what makes this country great’. It was a sentiment that was immediately picked up by the charity’s chairman Chris Boffey in his thanks to the Prime Minister and the Ambassador. ‘We have been doing it for 150 years. We are a very small part of the Big Society; trustees unpaid, who very rarely claim expenses, who work to make life better for those who are worse off’. He hoped the Prime Minister’s praise would raise awareness across the news media to the Charity’s work. Only five per cent of those working in the industry were members of the charity and he appealed for greater support.(Nicholas Jones, 4.11.2010)END