James Forsyth

The dangers of the government’s “mic-strike”

The dangers of the government's "mic-strike"
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Jackie Ashley complains in her column today about Labour misters going on ‘mic-strike’ saying that it will lead to Labour being beaten so badly that it might not be able to come back. Ashley is speaking for a lot of people in the Labour party, one hears frequent complaints these days about Minister who are prepared to pick up the cheque each month but not to put in the hard yards.

The consequences of ‘mic-strike’ were evident this morning. William Hague was on the Today Programme talking about the latest revelations concerning the government’s relations with the Gaddafi regime but no Foreign Office minister was prepared to do a response. So, Ed Balls—who was on to do an interview about academies—had to answer the questions on Libya. Balls, who is obviously less familiar with the detailed line to take on this than his ministerial colleagues at the Foreign Office, put his foot in it by saying that “None of us wanted to see the release of al-Megrahi”; a position that effectively contradicted Miliband’s admission last week that the government “did not want him [Megrahi] to die in prison”. Notably, the PM’s spokesman refused to endorse Balls’s position at the Lobby briefing this morning. So, Labour has had a few more bad headlines today all because no Foreign Office minister was prepared to brave The Today Programme.

It should also be said that ministers staying away from the microphones when there is a tricky story to be dealt with is a sign of Number 10’s diminishing authority. In the old days, it would have been to able to order any minister onto any show.