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At the press conference in the Downing Street garden called to herald the new era of coalition government, David Cameron promised a "seismic shift" in British politics to take Britain in "a historic new direction". He and his deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, then paused to take questions from Channel 4's Gary Gibbon, the BBC's Nick Robinson, Sky's Adam Boulton, Channel 4's Jon Snow, ITV's Tom Bradby and Five's Andy Bell. 

There may be a new politics, but Cameron and Clegg had quickly learned the rules of the old lobby. There is a convention at Prime Ministerial press conferences that the political editors of the big broadcasters sit across the front row like class goodie-goodies and get to ask the first questions. The exchanges that follow are usually a pretty gentle affair, with the main function of providing the necessary clips for the evening news. In terms of newsgathering they are a largely pointless exercise that rarely produce a story, do little to hold the PM to account and rather amplify the idea that the lobby, a rather cosy private gentleman's club, still has a stranglehold on the political class.

Cameron will quickly learn that such interventions from the big boys (and they are all boys) can be extremely useful. They use up valuable time that might be found for more uncomfortable questions, at the same time as giving an impression that the executive is being held to account. In reality, there is nothing more symbolic of the sterile and incestuous nature of modern political discourse than this parody of democratic openness.

On the first day of the bright new Liberal-Conservative dawn, despite the gravity of the economic situation and the sensitivity of the constitutional position, the most difficult question was whether Cameron had once described Clegg as his favourite joke. The subjects from my esteemed colleagues ranged from the details of the office arrangements in Downing Street under a coalition to the choreography of future Clegg-Cameron public appearances.

As the overhead camera panned back across a sea of suits, it did not feel like an historic watershed. As we waited for the two public school chums to address us, it was hard to believe we had reached the 21st century. (And this was before the full Cabinet had been revealed.)

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