Therese Coffey admits she is 'not aware' of ditching targets for affordable …
Sky News

As Deputy Prime Minister, Therese Coffey has one of the most important roles in British politics. And yet, she apparently “isn’t aware” of much that’s going on in her own Government.

The Health Minister stunned viewers during Tuesday’s media round, as she bounced from interview to interview offering little more than diversions and claimed ignorance in response to key questions.

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From her phone going off on BBC Radio 4 (her ring tone is no longer Dr Dre, we’re sorry to report), to clashing with Sky’s Kay Burley, here’s a look at some of the morning’s blunders.

Another day, another phone alarm

We’re starting to wonder whether she’s doing it on purpose, but Coffey’s alarm went off while she was on the airwaves for the second time in just over a month.

Speaking to the BBC’s Justin Webb about benefit rates, the Suffolk MP was interrupted by the sound of her own phone just before 8 am.

This time, it was a generic Samsung tone, unlike when she appeared on LBC in September to the sound of Dr. Dre’s 'Still D.R.E'.

“You have a different ring for every interview,” Webb laughed.

‘People on universal credit have more money than you think’

One thing you might not enjoy hearing when you’re having to choose between feeding your family or heating your home is that, actually, you’re better off than people think.This was the implication levelled at people on Universal Credit when Coffey discussed Jamie Oliver’s calls to offer free school meals to all claimants of the benefit.

“Well I know that this has been suggested in the past, in my previous role as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions I’m aware that people could be earning over £40,000 and still be on Universal Credit,” she said when asked if she backed Oliver’s campaign.

Probed further on whether she thought increasing the availability of free school meals would be a bad idea, she replied that it was a “matter for the Secretary of State for Education”, adding: “I’m just flagging that people on Universal Credit – given it’s a dynamic in-work and out-of-work benefit – can actually be earning a considerable amount of money, which I think other taxpayers may be surprised to learn: that somebody of £35-40,000 would all of a sudden be eligible for free school meals."

As you can imagine, the implication that claimants of free school meals don't always deserve them was hard for many to swallow.

'I didn’t think it was right’ to tell parents not to smoke in cars alongside kids

Surely the Health Secretary would be the first person to promote laws preventing people from smoking in the presence of children, you might think. But you’d be wrong. In fact, Coffey has voted against a number of measures to restrict smoking since becoming an MP in 2010.

Asked by LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “Why did you vote against the outlawing of smoking in cars containing children?”, Coffey (who doesn’t have kids of her own, incidentally), replied after taking a gulp from her mug: “Ah probably because I didn’t think it was the right to be doing telling parents how to handle the situation.”

Quizzed further by Ferrari: “So you think it’s right to smoke in a car if you’ve got children in a car?” she responded: “Well, I think you’ll find that the law… I can’t recall if the law changed or not, I think it probably did…”

Asked again to clarify if she thinks it’s right to smoke in a car in the presence of kids, she said: “Well I don’t know what the law says today.”

She continued: “You’re asking me something from a decade ago, I’m not quite sure why it’s relevant now.”

Umm maybe because the Government has committed to publishing a tobacco control plan “later this year” and it’s rumoured that Coffey intends to U-turn on that pledge? Or maybe simply because she’s a Health Secretary who appears to support smoking – take your pick.

'I'm not aware of any of that'

Kay Burley is known for being a take-no-prisoners interviewer, so you’d think Coffey would have been better prepared when facing her on Sky News.

Burley confronted the Deputy PM on Government plans that could reportedly see developers exempted from having to build affordable homes. Coffey’s response? To say she knew nothing about them.

News of the housing proposals, which would also include plans to scrap some environmental protections and the shelving of a ban on no-fault evictions, was revealed in The Times today. It sparked an instant outcry, with Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy tweeting: “They crashed the economy. It led to soaring mortgage rates, rents, energy bills and food prices. Their answer is less affordable housing.”

In other words, it’s a big deal, so you’d think one of the most senior Cabinet ministers would have been told about it.

However, when Burley said: “Apparently ministers have drawn up plans to exempt developers from having to build affordable homes to scrap environmental protections and to allow people to add extensions without permission, according to Simon Clarke. That’s not right?”

Coffey replied: “I’m not aware of that policy” before trying to fob her interviewer off on the Levelling Up Secretary.

“But you’re the Deputy Prime Minister, with all due respect,” the presenter pointed out.

Coffey was having none of it, retorting: “Well you’re just throwing comments at me Kay [...] I’m not aware of specific things like that, no.”

“OK, how interesting,” Burley replied cooly.

That’s one word for it.

It's not the only time Coffey played the "I'm not aware" card either. Elsewhere during her Sky News grilling she admitted that fresh warnings of financial instability were "news to her" as well, and that Burley should follow up with the Chancellor if she wanted to discuss public finances.

You might wonder why she does the media round if she thinks her colleagues are better placed to discuss the issues facing Britain than she, the Deputy Prime Minister, is.

Similarly, speaking on BBC Breakfast about the small matter of the economic crisis facing the country, Coffey offered little in the way of reassurance.

Asked if people’s pensions were safe in the wake of further intervention by the Bank of England, she replied: “Yes, I’m absolutely confident that pensions are safe,” before conceding that she’s “not aware of the details of exactly what’s happened this morning”.


Naturally, Twitter has plenty to say about Coffey's performance

It will come as little surprise to anyone that Twitter was soon awash with commentary on the minister's input.

Here’s a look at just some of the takeaways:






We always try to provide a balanced picture of any situation, but we're struggling to find commentators backing the Deputy Prime Minister after today's performance.

Perhaps next time she's asked to do the morning interviews she should pull a sickie and stay in bed. Or at least speak to her colleagues first.

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