Prime Minister Liz Truss vs BBC Local Radio presenters. And a comment from Emily Maitlis

It made a change from big names interviewing “The Minister for The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4”.

Browse through this thread for highlights. Or alternatively listen to all of them all of the way through.

It was that excruciating.

The lack of public statements in recent days as the financial markets punished the UK for her Chancellor’s ‘mini-budget’ had Rima Ahmed of BBC Leeds not hanging around and going straight for the political jugular.

It seems like Truss’s advisers thought she’d get an easy ride from local media, but they’ve ended up doing a far better job of holding the powerful to account than most of the big house, six figure salary pundits who have failed so spectacularly for the last 12 years.

Knowing the Tories usual reaction on the rare occasions they’re actually held to account (banning @DailyMirror from their election bus, plans to privatise @Channel4, blacklisting @declassifiedUK) we can probably expect a brutal round of cuts to BBC local radio after this.

“It seems like Truss’s advisers thought she’d get an easy ride from local media, but they’ve ended up doing a far better job of holding the powerful to account than most of the big house, six figure salary pundits who have failed so spectacularly for the last 12 years.”

@Angry Voice on Twitter

I concur.

Journalists in Westminster have come under continual criticism (And with good reason) for failing to hold ministers to account. At the same time, the Conservatives have threatened access to journalists whether the botched ban in Feb 2020 to the refusal to have ministers on The Today Programme on Radio 4. You can see how restrictions on access in the face of such competition from other networks can be used to blunt the media coverage.

And it has been successful. (Although it has made it the target of satire – the revamped Spitting Image on the boycott of Good Morning Britain). I’ve lost count of the number of policy announcements made to friendly publications, sometimes behind paywalls, which should have been made to Parliament first.

“How did all of the local radio reporters manage to hit their target one after the other?”

Many BBC local radio stations have phone-ins and are much more interactive than the likes of BBC Radio 4 and BBC national political coverage. Hence they know their audiences. Unlike national reporters that trail senior ministers on visits around the country, local media reporters stay behind in their communities afterwards. There’s only so much you can gain from short, sharp visits and a few vox-pops here and there.

Furthermore, the issue of long term access wasn’t an issue for local radio presenters, most of whom are trained journalists anyway. They knew that this was possibly the only chance in their careers they would get to interview a Prime Minister – and have the ability to ask follow-up questions, something that most MPs never get the chance to do. Awkward pauses, cutting through the waffle of ‘lines to take’.

“How does this compare with previous PMs?”

Emily Maitlis – now having left the BBC, explains:

Her colleague, Jon Sopel – also now Ex-BBC, picked up a different experience with Margaret Thatcher, who could be intimidating at the best of times. He then recalled one member of the public who refused to be intimidated by her in a show where the then Prime Minister was cross-examined over the Falklands War. I went and found the clip (being the historian).

…which got quite a response!

On the same day, former BBC Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon went after the Prime Minister on Question Time.

As an aside, one of the wonderful things about online video is the ability to find and share archive footage from the time. It’s ever such a powerful medium which reminds us of the context that things were happening in. Such as the Cold War where the Soviet Union wasn’t just a military adversary for The West, but also a philosophical adversary that promoted a political ideology that at various different points in the 20th Century had a fair amount of support in the UK to the extent it was dealt with as a national security issue and had a huge impact on one general election in particular. It wasn’t until 1999 that the new Labour Government commissioned the Chief Historian at the Foreign Office to investigate the Zinoviev Letter. Had the Tories lost that 1924 General Election, UK foreign policy would have taken a very, very different turn as their candidates’ speakers handbook of 1923 (digitised here) tells us. A strengthened League of Nations, avoiding the general strike of 1926, greater freedoms and ultimately decolonisation earlier than actually happened…us historians like to speculate about the counter-factuals!

Opinion Polls – the collapse in the Tory preferences

Which is ***Crikey on a sticklebrick!!!*** territory – as Richard Bacon points out.

I remember people thinking similar back in 1996-97 with the Labour landslide. What makes an even bigger landslide possible is explained by Paul Brand of ITN.

While John Major’s integrity remained intact, his government’s credibility (Black Wednesday and the ERM) and his party’s integrity (Cash for Questions, Arms to Iraq/Scott Report, and numerous sex scandals) were shot to pieces. And the tabloids had a field day when the whole ‘back to basics’ campaign was interpreted by some print press publications as a ‘return to family values’ – which made every philandering Tory MP a target. Of which there were ***lots***. BBC News at 9pm (as was in those days) ran with a news bulletin focusing on that issue alone. You can watch it here.

Magnitude of the interest rate hike on people with mortgages

The ‘line to take’ from ministers and their supporters has been to try and break the link between the Chancellor’s ‘mini-budget’ of heavy tax cuts for the rich funded by unfunded borrowing, and the financial markets that got spooked by them leading to the crash in the £Pound and the intervention from the Bank of England. And Victoria Derbyshire on Newsnight went after the only Tory MP willing to appear on telly to defend the line to take.

The problem the Conservatives have is that home owners with mortgages are one of their core voting constituencies. Furthermore, they have a higher propensity to vote compared to people renting in less stable accommodation – which includes younger voters and people in social housing. Combine that with the energy crisis and cost of living crisis – on top of Brexit having dislocated the economy, and then everything Covid-related, and you have an almost perfect political storm. And with independent fact-checkers going after all senior politicians making factual claims, anything the Prime Minister says gets a thorough going over.

On top of that, social reforming organisations with long histories of credible research are going after ministers

…and they have taken on one of the biggest nature organisations in the country which has more members than ***all political parties put together***.

…mindful that a couple of months ago we went though the hottest heatwave on record.

And we haven’t even had the Conservative Party Conference 2022 yet – that’s next week. Some have been doubting whether it will even go ahead. (At the moment it looks like it given the adverts for fringe events are going out, but what the mood will be remains to be seen).

At Labour’s conference, Sir Keir Starmer gave what looked like his most ‘Prime Ministerial’ speech in his life. That’s not to say there aren’t any problems – the pro-Corbyn membership may have dwindled but it hasn’t gone away. At the same time, he made a number of policy concessions on the creation of nationalised companies to take control of various pieces of public infrastructure including for renewables, energy, and public transport – things resisted by both Blair and Brown in government.

Which also makes some of the historical documents I’ve digitised all the more interesting.

Such as these two.


  1. Vote Labour? Why? (1945)
  2. Why not trust the Tories? (1944)
  3. Your MP (1944)

Various old paper copies are available on AbeBooks, but have a browse at the digitised versions. The first examines the cases and questions from different cohorts of society by both occupation and political disposition. The second is by Bevan, the founder of the NHS, and the third is a painstakingly-researched book looking at the voting records on the major votes in the 1930s on appeasement by sitting Tory MPs. I can imagine all three publications in the hands of well-organised and well-briefed candidates would have been put to devastating use as far as their opponents were concerned. Such was the landslide in 1945 that one of the safest Tory constituencies in the country, Cambridgeshire (now much of South Cambs & South East Cambs) plumped for a very left-wing trade unionist councillor in Cambridge called Albert Stubbs, who won it by just 44 votes! Could we see similar things happening in the next general election which must be called within the next 2 years and 3 months? For it’ll take a lot longer for the economy to recover from the current shocks – if it recovers at all.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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