The rhythm of the big party conference leader interviews is a strange one. First come days of slow, repetitive, detailed preparation, much of which we know will be junked on the day. My brilliant team play Keir Starmer or Boris Johnson, being as cheerily obstructive, long-winded and deflecting as possible, until all of us could repeat the key facts and graphs and quotes in our sleep. Next, a frantic early Sunday morning (up well before five) to fillet the latest news, discarding what had been favourite questions and lines of attack, and boil everything down to a manageable size. By now my heart rate is rising and I’m eating more pastry then anyone really needs. Finally I am in the chair, wired up and facing the guest. Time accelerates and the interview itself passes in a blurred hurtle. This year, with Johnson, when I reckoned I was about halfway through, my editor John Neal muttered in my ear ‘two minutes left’. There’s never enough time. Folk often think these encounters are gladiatorial and that the politician is the enemy. Not true: there is one enemy in live television and it’s always the same one — the clock.
That said, these annual encounters should be tough. If the Prime Minister or the opposition leader is simply able to repeat vaguely uplifting pre-prepared conference lines, they might as well be making a speech. So, what you don’t want is the politician looking too congenial immediately afterwards. I got a sigh and an eye-roll from Sir Keir, and an abruptly ungenial ‘well done’ from Mr Johnson. In both cases, their aides seemed unhappy. In my topsy-turvy world, that’s a result.
And yet I hope I’m reasonably modest about my place at party conferences.