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Analysis

Andrew Neil should be allowed to interrogate an empty chair

by Hugo Dixon | 02.12.2019

The BBC should give the Prime Minister an ultimatum to agree to a grilling. If he refuses, it should let Andrew Neil fact-check him in his absence.

Our public broadcaster’s cowardly decision to let Boris Johnson pick his interviewer is a disgrace. Though Andrew Marr is one of the country’s top interviewers, he couldn’t stand up to the Johnson bulldozer yesterday. Time and again, the Prime Minister just ploughed on ignoring his questions.

Jeremy Corbyn faced merciless interrogation by Neil, who is a hornet compared to Marr’s wasp. By not insisting on comparable treatment, the BBC has let Johnson off the hook. 

But it’s not too late for the BBC to redeem itself. The BBC should set a tight deadline – say tomorrow close of play – for the Prime Minister to agree to be interviewed by Neil. If he still says no, their top interrogator should be unleashed on an empty chair.

Neil should be allowed to take apart Johnson’s many lies and obfuscations. He could be aided by the BBC’s Reality Check fact-checking service. If they’re looking for tough questions, here’s our top 16 – starting with: “You say it’s ‘absolutely vital’ for politicians to tell the truth. So why do you tell so many lies?”

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People will say the BBC will never have the guts to empty-chair the Prime Minister. But Channel 4 News did exactly that last week, although leaving a symbolic block of ice to melt is not the same as giving Johnson the grilling he deserves and the voters should see. 

This is the most important election of our lives. Johnson’s Brexit policy – which will determine our country’s future for generations – is not being adequately scrutinised. If the BBC is really so weak that it can’t hold politicians to account, we are heading for bad times indeed.

Edited by Michael Prest

Categories: UK Politics

7 Responses to “Andrew Neil should be allowed to interrogate an empty chair”

  • The BBC have allowed themselves to be played on this. If they won’t allow Andrew Neil to empty chair Johnson (which seems unlikely, alas), and since there are so few days left, it would behove the opposition parties to quick print and weaponize your 16 excellent suggested questions, especially if they could be edited and narrowed down to, say, just 10. Canvassers in Labour/ and Lib Dem/Tory marginal seats could use another tool, and doubtless Labour and Lib Dem party HQs could come up with other ways to use them. The 16 or 10 questions could be edited, laid out and digitally sent out overnight.

  • “not being adequately scrutinised”
    That is what this is all about – not allowing the Withdrawal Deal to be properly scrutinised; not allowing himself or others (Raab, Mogg, Javid etc) to be interviewed in any depth; trying to get the court jester to appear on C4 instead of appearing himself, suppressing the report on Russian meddling; and the constant lies, lies, lies.

    I went to a hustings last night and heard our new Tory candidate speak. Presentable, intelligent, articulate and very believable until you notice that what was being said seemed to be coming more from some sort of robot than from a real independently minded human being.

    So we may be getting an unaccountable government made up of brainwashed clones. I think there are a few names for governments like that. None of them good,

  • More evidence that many Labour leave voters are deserting the party. It comes from a Ch4 report in a outer Birmingham constituency. 17 Labour voters in a Focus Group said that were voting Tory this time. Reasons ranged from ‘couldn’t stand Corbyn’ to ‘couldn’t trust Labour’, ‘where was all the money coming from?’, didn’t know what Labour stood for’, ‘Corbyn was on the fence about Brexit’. Johnson was a lovable buffoon who would take ‘us’ out of the EU. Brexit hadn’t been done because the wealthy would lose by it and were blocking it, but the working people were going to benefit from being out of the EU. One woman said the country paid too much money into the EU and it could be used for the NHS! One woman thought it would put the great back into Great Britain etc.
    They all intended to vote Tory because they thought Johnson would get it done. They appeared genuine in their views. In other words, they have swallowed all the simple soundbites repeated by the lying Tories. All the (complicated) messages coming from this side have made no impression at all.
    They all thought the country would be booming after Brexit. It was very depressing to hear such misguided views. Corbyn has been ambivalent over Brexit when clearly these people think he should be supporting working people who voted Leave- these guys true believed that leaving the EU would solve all their problems.

  • Good grief – that isn’t just depressing, it is terrifying, William! I too would blame Corbyn for a lot of that – he has sat on the fence for far too long and refused to point out the lies told by the Right and Far Right about Brexit – and he has been by far too tyrannical to his own party (against whom he rebelled over 400 times but doesn’t allow anyone else to do so)…. the list goes on.

  • William and Jenny,
    The problem is more to do with the outright lies and distortions that are told about Corbyn. I am surprised the Tories haven’t accused him of eating babies yet, looking at some of the bile they are pouring out about him. If people’s main means of receiving news is from the likes of the Daily Mail and to a great extent the BBC, Corbyn has the odds stacked against him.
    Let’s consider the Andrew Neil interview; by some amazing coincidence the Chief Rabbi decides to launch an attack on Corbyn in the morning of the same day. The beeb makes plenty of focus on this throughout the day, with one exception, they fail to point out that the Chief Rabbi is a personal friend of Boris Johnson. Has the Labour Party got a problem with anti-Semitism? Almost certainly yes, but surveys outside the limelight show that the percentage of Labour voters who hold anti-Semitic viewpoints have halved since 2015 when Corbyn was elected, compared to only a slight reduction for Conservative Voters. Johnson’s racist rhetoric is not scrutinised anywhere near as much. Johnson is no doubt running scared of Andrew Neil, in case he finds that on the morning of his interview maybe a whole list of his misdemeanours will be the news focus. It is to the shame of the BBC that they allowed him to be interviewed by Andrew Marr to cause hurt to the families of the tragic events on Friday with his insistence it was everybody else’s fault. When this is all over we need to take a good hard look at the role of the media and improve it to the extent that lies and propaganda become something we are no longer willing to accept.

  • On the issue of Johnson’s refusal to be interviewed by Andrew Neil, it was quite pathetic listening to Johnson trying to put the ball in the court of his ‘handlers’.
    He’s supposed to be the PM!
    What does it tell you about how he would stand up to Trump and Putin, if he can’t face up to Andrew Neil?