Radio Four listeners have been complaining about the John Humphrys ‘interview’ with David Cameron on Today a fortnight or so ago. So they must have been even more irritated to hear the programme’s deputy editor, Gavin Allen, defending the encounter on Feedback last week (Friday, repeated Sunday), even going so far as to describe it as a successful interview in which he thought Humphrys didn’t interrupt too much. The presenter, Roger Bolton, put it to him that according to the head of radio news even Humphrys didn’t think the interview had gone as he intended. Allen doggedly stuck to his line that he wasn’t at all disappointed by it.
Obviously, there’s a need to defend your staff but, really, no one can honestly say the interview was successful. Hearing it at the time and familiar with the Humphrys technique even I thought the interruptions were ridiculous, as indeed did Cameron himself. I’m not against pinning politicians down but sometimes Humphrys doesn’t seem to distinguish between politicians who are lying, as many more of them do these days, and those merely being cautious. Cameron made it clear to us all that he believes in lower taxes but not if the economic circumstances are wrong. This was pretty clear to me and seems to be a sensible policy when there are at least three years to go before the next general election. In truth, it was a lousy interview as Humphrys might even have acknowledged if he’d been allowed to appear. It happens. His next interview might have been excellent.
On the whole, the combative style is necessary when ministers lie so easily on the radio and television. Sometimes, though, politicians are stating the facts as they see them and they should be allowed to explain themselves.