Ben Shephard shows empty chair as Tory MP dodges interview
The Tories are running scared of the media again, the poppets.
Last week, The Mirror reported that ministers' appearances will be reduced to three mornings a week and that they will only appear when there is an “announcement” or new government policy to cover. Normally, someone from the government appears on channels like Sky News everyday.
Rishi Sunak is being criticised for the reported decision but it is by no means the first time a Tory has been scared of journalism.
Indeed, if we take a little trip down memory lane we find quite a few instances when they've shuddered at the thought of a negative write-up and some difficult questions.
2. Failed to show up when the energy price cap increased
Meanwhile, as a tiny proportion of the country was deciding who the next PM should be, the country was still running (kind of) but no minister was put forward to do the media rounds on the same August morning when the energy regulator Ofgem confirmed the price cap for dual fuel for an average household will surge to £3,549 per year.
Journalists and politicians alike were quick to condemn the government.
\u201cCan it be really true that no government minister is prepared (or more accurately asked by no10) to do any broadcast this morning on the price cap? Despite the leadership contest we still have a government, we always have a government, so where are they?\u201d
The Tories have form for going missing during crisis points. When Johnson didn't turn up for a leader's debate on climate change in 2019, and tried to ask the then environment secretary Michael Gove to go instead, he was empty-chaired with an ice sculpture by Channel 4.
\u201cBoris Johnson admitted he "doesn't really understand" climate change, according to the President of COP26, who he sacked last week.\n\n\ud83e\udd14 Perhaps Downing Street needs an ice sculpture of its own.\nhttps://t.co/FfcuuXFs5c\u201d
The Tories complained to regulator Ofcom but Ofcom said the channel had "editorial freedom" to do so.
4. Liz Truss dodged an Andrew Neil interview
Back to the leadership contest though and in July, Sunak sat down and had a chat with Andrew Neil who put his policies to the test. Truss, on the other hand, declined to be interviewed by the political journalist.
People thought it was thoroughly bad form.
\u201cLiz Truss bottled it. Didn\u2019t stop Johnson becoming PM when he refused to be grilled by Andrew Neil. #andrewneilshow\u201d
This wouldn't be the only time Truss avoided an interview during the leadership campaign.
5. So did Boris Johnson
Perhaps she was taking a leaf out of the incumbent prime minister's book. Famously, Johnson also turned down a chance to chat with Neil in 2019.
Neil said during one of his shows: "We have been asking him for weeks now to give us a date, a time, a venue. As of now, none has been forthcoming."
He added: "It is not too late. We have an interview prepared. Oven-ready, as Mr Johnson likes to say.
"The theme running through our questions is trust - and why at so many times in his career, in politics and journalism, critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy. It is, of course, relevant to what he is promising us all now."
"Leaders' interviews have been a key part of the BBC's prime-time election coverage for decades," he added.
"We do them, on your behalf, to scrutinise and hold to account those who would govern us. That is democracy."
It didn't stop Johnson from winning the general election, unfortunately, and the rest, as they say, is history.
6. Johnson hides in a fridge
Also during the 2019 election, Johnson did his best to try and avoid a grilling from Piers Morgan, while the journalist was still a host on Good Morning Britain. Johnson found himself cornered by cameras while visiting a farm in Leeds but rather than talk to Morgan or Susanna Reid he instead hid in a fridge, thus creating a truly iconic moment in the early days of his premiership.
\u201cBoris Johnson hides in fridge on live TV while dodging interview on eve of election\u201d
Back again to the present and Tories dodging questions about the energy crisis was preceded by them dodging questions about the wider state of the economy.
A Tory MP was empty chaired on Good Morning Britain in August after skipping an interview, despite the Bank Of England’s warning the country is headed towards a recession, with inflation climbing to 13.3 per cent.
Presenter Ben Shephard said: “We did invite a minister onto the show. Despite what we’ve just heard… they didn’t want to turn up. They haven’t got time for us in their busy schedule.”
“If there [are] any ministers out there that would be willing to answer some of those questions… it would be nice to have a minister come in to join us and answer some of those questions. Maybe put our minds at rest or maybe offer us some sort of hope,” he continued.
“If they don’t come in, we can’t see that, can we?”
\u201cAs the govt faces criticism for being absent at a time of crisis, we did invite a govt minister on the show this morning but were told they didn't have time for us in their busy schedule.\n\nIf any ministers are watching, our chair in Westminster is ready and waiting for you.\u201d
— Good Morning Britain (@Good Morning Britain)
10. Avoided Partygate questions...
As well as the economy, the Tories were loathed to entertain concerns about government staffers breaking Covid rules during the pandemic.
Yes, get your candles ready and make a wish because we are talking about Partygate again.
In January 2022, GMB empty chaired Brandon Lewis, after the prime minister was forced to apologise for attending a 'bring your own booze' party at Downing Street in May 2020.
Shephard told viewers: "Unfortunately Brandon Lewis is doing the rounds on a number of other TV shows this morning, but he won't come on Good Morning Britain for some reason.
"We did invite him.
Kate Garraway added: "He's on Sky News, BBC Breakfast, Radio 4, LBC and did an interview with ITV News, and we just have an empty chair in Westminster."
11. ... Twice...
Later in the month, Truss was empty-chaired by the same show for not turning up, and they went one step further by bringing out a cake, referencing the infamous moment MP Conor Burns, claimed Johnson was “ambushed with a cake” when he broke lockdown rules by celebrating his birthday during lockdown.
Presenter Adil Ray said: “As often happens when there's a big news story around for the Government, when they’ve got their backs to the wall and they need to answer questions, is that they disappear.”
He said: “We do have cake. Maybe they’d like to come in. We’ve got some cake – we can offer you cake, cheese, wine.”
Co-host Susanna Reid replied: “Don’t tell me you’re planning to ambush them with cake, Adil."
He replied: “Well… you call it an ambush, I call it a party. If ministers are around, we’d love you to speak to the UK.
“There is a police investigation going on and the least you could do is answer some questions.”
\u201c'As often happens when there's a big news story around for the Government, they disappear.'\n\nCurrently, a Government Minister will not be appearing on GMB this morning. We invite any Minister to come on and answer your questions.\n\n@susannareid100 | @adilray\u201d
— Good Morning Britain (@Good Morning Britain)
Then, having clearly not learnt their lesson, the Tories dodged Partygate questions again in May, following the publication of the damning Sue Gray report into dodgy lockdown behaviour.
Once again, the government snubbed GMB and they didn't take it lying down.
Garraway said: "Coming up, we’re going to be joined by Labour’s Lisa Nandy.
"We would love to speak to Stephen Barclay, Downing Street chief of staff. He is the man – the government minister – we normally speak to them around 8.30.
"He’s too busy this morning, we don’t know why. The chair is there for you Mr Barclay if you want to go and sit in it, we’d love to talk to you and hear all your points."
Shephard added: "We’ll squeeze you in because of course, undoubtedly, our viewers and everyone at home will want to hear your points, especially today of all days."
13. Truss says no to the BBC
To the summer now, and former prime minister Truss faced criticism after pulling out of an interview with the BBC's Nick Robinson. Sunak was interviewed by the programme in August, but Truss said she could no longer spare the time.
\u201cLiz Truss is pulling a Boris Johnson & hiding in the fridge\n\nShe's pulled out of the Nick Robinson interview because "she couldn't spare the time."\u201d
\u201cSusanna Reid: Rishi Sunak has told ministers not to appear every day on #GMB\n\nRobert Jenrick: The PM wants ministers to be fully accountable to the media\n\nSR: By doing fewer interviews.. arguing for full accountability & reducing the number of interviews doesn't fulfil that remit\u201d
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