Lobby to give up its secrecy for 'one-off' TV documentary

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It could have the edge-of-seat drama of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and the human interest of docu-soaps such as Airport. The parliamentary lobby, chaired by ITN's political editor John Sergeant, is opening its doors for the first time to television cameras.

Prompted by the desire to avoid being outflanked by Alastair Campbell, the lobby is to allow a documentary team to film one of its briefings at the Commons by the Prime Minister's official spokesman. Although lobby briefings were put on the record by Mr Campbell when Tony Blair came to power, until now, cameras have not been allowed.

The lobby, which began in 1884 when one "gentleman" was given official permission to stand in the MPs' lobby, has jealously guarded the sanctity of its private lobby room in a turret in the House of Commons overlooking the Thames.

The Westminster lobby's liking for secrecy led to comparisons with Freemasonry. But realising the Masons could show them a thing or two about public relations, the journalists are expected to relent and allow "one-off" access to Michael Cockerell's documentary film crew.

Mr Campbell put the lobby on the spot when he agreed to allow the cameras to film behind the scenes inside Downing Street for a fly-on-the-wall documentary about how he operates as the Prime Minister's mouthpiece.

Morning lobby briefings were filmed inside the "briefing bunker" in Downing Street's basement, and the cameras were invited to a recent press reception held by Tony Blair for the lobby and partners at No 10.

Downing Street officials privately warned members of the lobby that unless they too allowed the cameras in, they would be seen as what MrBlair has called the "forces of conservatism". In a compromise move, the lobby is likely to tell Mr Cockerell that his team can film them at one meeting with Mr Campbell in their inner sanctum. But after that, the door will be firmly closed again.

And lobby members will certainly not allow the cameras into their offices at the Commons to watch the spin-doctors doing their spinning with journalists. The spin-doctors might complain about that.