Q&A with Isabel Oakeshott

This week political journalist Isabel Oakeshott joined us for a Q&A on her early career, ghostwriting and journalistic breakthroughs. Starting off the conversation, Oakeshott talked about her early career, describing her lack of formal training, and citing the best way to learn was from the bottom up at student newspapers, as they’re ‘an amazing place to make mistakes’. President Freya Jones went on to ask the questions we all came for, such as how the ‘Pandemic Diaries’ came about. Oakeshott discussed how she built her career at the same time as many politicians, alluding to a network of contacts essential to her work. Thus, when she heard Hancock was writing a book, she offered to work on something together, as she had a keen interest in lockdown policy. With a true journalistic grilling from Jones, Oakeshott explained how her views as a lockdown sceptic were useful in this project as she pushed Hancock to reveal what things were really like: ‘I wanted to get as close as I could to the person who knew why decisions were made… I think he appreciated being challenged by me from a lockdown-sceptic perspective’. Oakeshott also told members how her politics in this scenario were useful as she did not let him misrepresent anything. Expanding on this Oakeshott said, ‘If I’ve got a brilliant story that doesn’t fit my politics I would still want it. I am more passionate about breaking stories than about my politics’. 

With an eager audience, members asked whether she felt comfortable breaking a confidentiality agreement, which she adamantly defended in the name of public interest. Oakeshott criticised the lack of a deadline on the Covid Inquiry, and explained that even Hancock had now said he was going to use some of the evidence in the book for the Inquiry — she proudly declared the WhatsApp messages to be a ‘historic source’. Believing ‘the only way to not cause controversy is to never do anything interesting,’ Oakeshott gave our attendees an insight into the politics of journalism, and explained that she would have been ‘castigated’ for protecting politicians. She touched on media law as she explained how if anyone in government got wind of The Telegraph having this intelligence there may have been an injunction. Wrapping up the Q&A, Oakeshott touched on how she believes the media won’t be as credulous next pandemic giving us a look into how the journalists and politicians dynamic has changed since the pandemic.

Captivating the roomwith an intensity that only a veteran in political journalism could obtain, Oakeshott answered the questions people around the country have wondered about for years and shared valuable insights into starting a career in journalism. Her tips included not being a ‘snob’ over where you start working, to learning how to find stories — in her words: ‘many people can write beautifully, but not many can find stories’. She admitted her motive for coming, as she announced she was looking for a new researcher (magic to the ears of our members), who are welcome to contact her.