Senior politicians pay respects to ‘doyen of the lobby’ Chris Moncrieff
Senior political figures from across the spectrum have paid tribute to Chris Moncrieff, one of the most respected lobby journalists of his generation, who has died at the age of 88.
Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and grandees from several generations were among those marking the life of the former political editor of the PA news agency.
Mr Moncrieff, who was once hailed as “the one journalist who mattered” by former prime minister Tony Blair, died in hospital on Friday morning after a short illness, his family said.
The Prime Minister described the veteran reporter as an “absolute landmark of the journalistic profession”, while the Labour leader said he was “a fountain of wisdom”.
Mr Blair remembered him as “the man, the doyen of the lobby” and former defence secretary Lord Heseltine recalled with fondness how Moncrieff broke news of his resignation from the Cabinet to his wife.
Described in Westminster as “the man with the lived-in face and slept-in suit”, Moncrieff’s style was classic news reporting and he roamed Westminster with order papers stuffed under his arm and notebooks in his pockets as he encouraged MPs to call him at any time of day or night.
He joined the national news agency’s parliamentary staff in 1962 before becoming a lobby reporter in 1973 and chief political correspondent (later political editor) in 1980.
Westminster’s The House magazine said he was a “one-man dynamo for whom news is food and drink is Guinness”.
Mr Johnson praised the writer for having “always had the most penetrating question and he always got the story”.
“He was very, very fast: I remember him standing there writing stuff down in his scrumpled up notebook in perfect shorthand and then filing almost immediately,” the PM added.
“He was an absolute landmark of the journalistic profession.”
Mr Corbyn noted that when he first arrived in Parliament Mr Moncrieff “was a legend already”.
“He had several retirement parties but kept returning,” the Labour leader said.
“Chris was a fountain of wisdom and knowledge in a pre-computer, pre-mobile phone era.
“He was an ever-present feature in lobby and will be missed by a great number of people.”
Pete Clifton, PA’s editor-in-chief, said Mr Moncrieff was “a PA legend and a remarkable political reporter”.
“Moncrieff was the ultimate news agency journalist – great contacts, always close to the action, working some epic hours and obsessed by getting stories out before everyone else,” he said.
“He had no interest in any political agenda or viewpoint, just making sure he was first to write about it.
“On the rare occasion he took a holiday, we could expect him to file news stories he had picked up on the promenade, and until very recently he was still filing us the ‘quotes of the day’ feature for the newswire, as well as drawing on his extraordinary memory to file a weekly politics column for our regional newspaper subscribers.”
Lord Heseltine described Moncrieff as “a jack-in-the-box”, saying he “always gave the impression of being sympathetic to what you were saying – and he must have listened to both great statesmen and absolute scoundrels”.
The peer also described how Moncrieff got the scoop which nearly brought down Margaret Thatcher’s government after he furiously resigned as defence secretary in January 1986 following the Westland Helicopters affair.
He said: “When I resigned from the Cabinet, he (Moncrieff) was the one who broke the news to my wife.
“I left the Cabinet meeting halfway through, must have been about 11am. People wouldn’t have been looking for a story.
“But before I got back to the Ministry of Justice offices in Whitehall, my wife got a phone call from Chris Moncrieff asking her for her reaction to my resignation.
“She knew Chris, of course, he had our home telephone number. But, still, I think she was amazed.”
Mr Blair praised Moncrieff’s attitude, describing him as “the last of the extraordinary journalists who would work their socks off getting away the latest copy in the days before the internet and social media took over”.
The former PM said: “When I first became an MP he would phone me for quotes on anything and everything and when I needed to get a story out, I could call him any hour, day or night, and he would be awake and ready to get to work. He was also charming, polite and great fun.”
Former Labour leader Neil – now Lord – Kinnock described Moncrieff as a “prodigious reporter, an unforgettable character and his instinct for news was unerring”.
He said: “With scruffy shorthand notebook and pencil in hand, Chris buzzed like a comment-hunting hornet around every corridor, lobby and bar in the Commons at all hours and on the phone at weekends.”
Moncrieff retired after 32 years at Westminster in 1994, but returned to work the next day and continued to contribute to the agency until his death.
The press bar of the House of Commons was named after him in 2007 and he trended on Twitter as politicians and journalists shared their memories following the announcement of his death.
He had four children with his late wife Margaret, and lived in London.