Politicians meet their media match

It’s a scenario familiar to many regional journalists.

On a day when you expected to be live-blogging the traffic, suddenly you’ve got two minutes with the Prime Minister. In an hour’s time.

You go into crowdsourcing overdrive.

What the hell are we going to ask her?

Maybe there’s an argument for having the equivalent of a fire drill for these eventualities, or of having some questions encased in glass that you have to break in such election emergencies.

For my friends at the Plymouth Herald, Somerset Live and The Bath Chronicle, this was their reality yesterday.

And – on the day that she decided not to take up Jeremy Corbyn’s kind invitation to join him at the BBC’s Election Debate – Theresa May found that my friends weren’t in a mood to be taken for granted.

Mrs May was last night accused by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood of running scared because her ‘campaign of soundbites was falling apart.’

Certainly that campaign failed to impress my pal Sam Blackledge, chief reporter and political correspondent of the Herald, who had a morning meeting with Mrs May at the city’s fish market.

It was an appropriate location for an interview in which she was as slippery as a Cornish cod, and showed about as much life as the catches landed around her.

Sam – in a first person piece that has rightly been well aired in the last 24 hours – described his empty encounter with the Premier as ‘three minutes of nothing.’

The sort of speak-your-weight machine responses he got from Mrs May are far from unusual.

But it’s rare for regional reporters to point out the Prime Minister’s New Clothes in such circumstances.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 09.01.50

So, well done to Sam, who has also been bravely fighting off claims of bias in his coverage of the general election in my home city.

The sort of lazy nonsense that Sam has had to put up with – and I’m talking accusations of bias now, not Mrs May’s blandalism – will be familiar to all political journalists, not least those at the BBC.

It was good to see Jeremy Corbyn defending reporters this week, after his bruising encounter with Woman’s Hour – and his colleague Diane Abbott’s dismal performance on LBC.

There’s been a spirited debate on whether being across the numbers in your manifesto really matters.

And sometimes the pub quiz-style questions can jar.

But I was very taken with this piece by Ian Leslie on why journalists are right to expect politicians to know some of the detail of their policies, drawing on the powerful example of rock star David Lee Roth.

He deliberately asked for M&Ms in his band Van Halen’s gig rider – but with the brown sweets taken out, just to test the venue’s attention to detail.

When you add in the contribution of Krishnan Guru-Murthy in challenging Brexit Secretary David Davis on his party’s wilful misrepresentation of Labour’s immigration policies, I think we can agree that it’s been a good week for the media.

I’ve always been keen to see the best in politicians: people doing an often thankless task, usually for unselfish reasons.

But at election time, it’s right that our dealings with the political classes should be laced with a great deal more cynicism.

We should ask the questions that politicians won’t want to answer – and publicly call them out when they don’t.

In the early stages of the election campaign, it was clear the two main parties wanted as little to do with journalists as possible.

Now that they’ve been forced to deal with us, you can understand why.


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