Norfolk born journalist's inside story on four decades of politics
PUBLISHED: 14:36 17 October 2016 | UPDATED: 14:36 17 October 2016
David Bebber - The Times
From being caught in the bush with Neil Kinnock to an eve of election phone call with Tony Blair, former Times political editor Phil Webster, has chronicled the inside story of his illustrious career in a new book out this week.
Former political editor Phil Webster retired from The Times in January after 43 years in post just months before one of the biggest political moments for a generation.
The 67-year-old, who started his career at the Eastern Daily Press, had already embarked on a book recounting the stories behind countless agenda-leading and even market-moving exclusives during his tenure covering Westminster.
With a bulging political contacts book his new book Inside Story, launched last night, does not just cover the downfall of Margaret Thatcher and the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years, it also includes an insight into the Brexit vote which ended David Cameron’s political career.
The Rockland St Mary-born journalist started writing the book last October, but he decided to publish the book this autumn following the European Union referendum, with the first chapter chronicling the seismic vote.
“The book was an absolute godsend. It meant that I didn’t miss one of the two biggest stories of my political life. One was the fall of Thatcher and the other was Brexit. I hadn’t missed the job until it became pretty clear to me that Brexit was going to be close. And in those days afterwards I was so pleased that I had the book because I had to act as a reporter. The fact I was writing a book was a big help because people like to see their places in history secured. I didn’t find any trouble talking to people after the event which meant that I was able to pick up some nice stories.”
His book hit headlines with his recent scoop that Downing Street had vetoed pro-Remain posters attacking Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson in the lead up to the EU referendum as they were “too personal”.
Religiously kept cuttings which were the basis for the book, but also notes of key conversations, including a conversation with former prime minister Tony Blair on the eve of the 1997 election, and the conversations which gave him one of the biggest exclusives of his career – Gordon Brown’s decision not to join the euro.
“It started in a restaurant in Brighton, after that restaurant meal with Ed Balls and Charlie Wheelen. I just picked up enough from the conversation to think it was doubtful. I had this meal with Charlie and Ed and it put me on the opposite track.”
Mr Webster, who has a house in Surlingham and is a lifelong Norwich City Football Club supporter, worked for the EDP in the early 1970s before moving to London in 1973 to join the gallery team at The Times.