Yesterday evening, the woman widely expected to become the UK’s 56th prime minister was supposed to have been interviewed by the BBC’s Nick Robinson. But on Monday, Liz Truss (pictured, on right) pulled out, denying the public what would have been her only set-piece broadcast interview of the Conservative leadership campaign. Her team claims that she was too busy but the truth is surely that public figures now see a serious media grilling as something they can – and should – avoid.
Indeed, those politicians who agree to a proper interview often only do so when they’re lagging behind in the polls and need to do something (anything) to be noticed. During the current campaign, the winner of which will become prime minister, Truss’s opponent, Rishi Sunak, has faced two heavyweight interviewers: Robinson and Andrew Neil. This tactic appears to have been in vain, as it was when opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed to an interview with Neil during the 2019 general election campaign that eventual winner Boris Johnson had declined. Johnson’s aversion to scrutiny included a notorious incident when he hid in a fridge to avoid a live interview on the TV programme Good Morning Britain.
It is voters who are left in the cold when their campaigning leaders refuse to answer big questions. The reasons for politicians only agreeing to positive interviews are the same as why most magazines are now filled with insipid celebrity Q&As. In the era of PR gatekeepers and a fear of causing offence, journalists are vetted for their sympathies and denied access if they are found to be wanting. This kills meaningful debate and forces voters to the extremes in search of information that isn’t just PR puff. Politicians and celebrities should get back in the hot seat; after all, a world without interrogation is one of half-baked ideas and bad art.
Alexis Self is Monocle’s associate editor.