Le Conte's book is centred around interviews with MPs, peers, former ministers and journalistsYOUTUBE/QMULOFFICIAL

The Palace of Westminster has traditionally been referred to as an ‘old boys club.’ With its colonnade of statues of famous male statesmen, its Gothic Revival architecture and gentlemen’s-club atmosphere, gossip isn’t a word one would immediately associate with such a masculine institution. But it is precisely the topic of gossip that Marie Le Conte argues is of great importance within Westminster in her upcoming book Haven’t You Heard? A Guide To Westminster Gossip And Why Mischief Gets Things Done, which will be published in September 2019.

To the casual spectator, gossip appears to be a fundamentally futile focus of inquiry within the world of Westminster. But it is Le Conte’s interest in the seemingly futile and the mundane which she believes provides not-so-mundane insights into the workings of Westminster. Once gossip is contextualised within a larger web of power and social relations, one can understand how it acts as a vehicle through which things get done. “Politics is, as everything else, about people, and people rarely – if ever – make truly rational decisions, based on facts and nothing else.

“If you want to truly understand politics in this country, it is vital to factor in the friendships, the feuds, the feelings, and all the tittle-tattle that happens behind the scenes.”

“The great hypocrisy of Westminster is that whatever job you do there, in order to do your job properly, you do actually need to be in-tune with gossip”

Le Conte describes the role of gossip in politics as “kind of everything,” as she emphasises that it is important to “look at the slightly bigger picture.”

“It is obviously a book that is about Westminster gossip but I’m taking gossip in its widest possible sense. So, I’m kind of defining it as informal conversations between two or more people where at least one of the parties probably shouldn’t have that information at that point in time.

“It doesn’t necessarily need to be scandalous or salacious or anything. It can be work related, it can be that white paper is actually coming out on Tuesday, I would count that as gossip if the other person was not meant to know.”

From the outside, Le Conte points out that people tend to think of the Civil Service as “grown-ups in the rooms,” where gossip matters much less. “I partly thought that before I started my research, but it turns out, it’s not true at all. They’re kind of a mess as well. In a lot of situations, there’s no guidebook, there’s nothing. If you’re in the private office of a minister, it’s like well congrats you have a job now and they [the civil service] are like what do I do? And that’s partly because you’re a country with no constitution and you kind of do everything by convention.

“The fewer formal structures you have, the more people have to rely on the informal.”

It is surprising that very little has been written about the role of gossip within Westminster. Even though gossip is looked upon unfavourably within society, it is a prominent feature of politics. From rumours on when the next General Election will be called to the whip’s infamous black book, gossip infiltrates every corridor in the Palace of Westminster. The purpose of Haven’t You Heard is to illuminate that politics is based on these informal conversations and social relations.

“You need to be aware of that informal information. But at the same time, the second you get marked as a gossip, that is going to affect you negatively”

However, gossip is often disregarded as a worthless and feminine pursuit within politics because gossip is a very gendered concept. As Le Conte explains, since Westminster is “overwhelmingly male, I think there is this idea of saying ‘oh no, we don’t do gossip!’”

Le Conte raises the important point that the “great hypocrisy of Westminster is that whatever job you do there, in order to do your job properly, you do actually need to be in-tune with gossip.

“For some jobs you need to know everything and for other jobs you need to know bits and bobs in your area. But you do need to be aware of that informal information. But at the same time, the second you get marked as a gossip, that is going to affect you negatively. So, it’s a really fine line to tread on. It’s something I found whilst doing my interviews, which is that a lot of female MPs, and actually just women in general, though especially female MPs, were refusing to speak to me for the book.”

Gossip is often labelled as ‘what women do’ but ironically, Le Conte found that men were more willing to talk to her for her research.

Through interviews with MPs, peers, former ministers, newspaper editors, journalists, lobby correspondents and everyone in between, Le Conte describes the writing process as fun.


Mountain View

Bonnie Wright: “Being a director is about knowing when you have to make the bold decisions”

“A part of me has always been quite resentful that I wasn’t part of the great generations of Hague Street and Kennedy having super boozy lunches every day and then going to these receptions, having not had the time to sober up from lunch. Oh my god, that sounds like so much fun. And that’s basically what I did for two months. So usually I’d interview someone over lunch, and obviously if you want somebody to chat you know you’ll have drinks, and it was during the heat wave as well.”

Francis Wheen, deputy editor of Private Eye was one of the last interviewees Le Conte had lunch with. She describes how he offered to split a bottle and she had realised how all the drinking from interviews had finally caught up on her as she struggled to have another glass.

Marie Le Conte spoke at Trinity Politics Society on Westminster gossip and political journalism