Friday, June 11, 2021

Boris loves Today

Boris Johnson, a journalist-politician in the mold of Alastair Campbell rather than Tony Blair, is more concerned about control of the daily agenda, and thus 'power', than exercising power wisely. 

He has no mentors as Prime Minister, so uses the ruses of his earlier life, at Eton, Oxford and Fleet Street, to see both what works, and what he can get away with. 

There could be a good Ph D thesis in his attitude to the Today programme. There's still no sign of him submitting himself to live questioning, but barely a day passes now without a Cabinet minister facing a 10 minute interview. This reversal of an almost total ban suggests Boris thinks this is now a winning policy - and I'm very afraid it is. 

In the old days, senior ministers would only come on the Today programme ahead of big policy announcements. Behind the scenes, producers would tentatively ask political minders if the minister would take, perhaps, one final question on some live issue of the day. 

Now ministers are sent out by House Captain Boris, as if to run for house points in the cross-country, ready to take questions on almost every aspect of current Government thinking.  No expectation of a strong performance, but his team are 'taking part', showing loyalty, 'having a go' and other good stuff. 

So this morning, the Vaccines Minister engages with 'taking the knee', what the Prime Minister's media strategy is, easing lockdown, as well as his brief. In this tour d'horizon, there was no room for a question on the surge vaccination requested by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, or blocks to vaccination take-up across the UK. Zahawi has got better at these, channelling something of Peter Sellers as Hercules Grytpype-Thynne; but you sense that Boris doesn't mind poor performers like Gavin Williamson or Therese Coffey getting a little roughed up in this sort of interview. Core Boris supporters now think Today presenters giving these ministers a hard time is either rude or 'woke'. 

These interviews are never really matched by interviews with opposition politicians, and their lack of exposure is reflected in current polls. Some Today editors leap with more enthusiasm on chances to interview dissenting Tory grandees. The political package is now confined to Nick Robinson doing vox pops. I'm missing some of the old Ross Hawkins' packages, setting out a challenge, checking on reality, leading to some more pointed questioning.  (I'm also fed-up with radio versions of tv specials from the night before, but that's another story)

Why has Boris dropped the idea of televised daily briefings ?  His government gets all the space it needs on Today.  

1 comment:

  1. radio versions of tv specials from the night before which have often already been on the R4 1800 earlier.


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