Three weeks ago I provisionally booked Emily Thornberry to do one of our 8pm hour long interviews. It was supposed to take place at 8pm yesterday evening. On Sunday afternoon I was told that Emily wouldn't be coming. Reading between the lines it seemed apparent that she had been pulled by Labour HQ. I was then told they would be providing a replacement. At 4.15pm yesterday afternoon the Labour Press Office told us they wouldn't, after all, be providing anyone. I was less than gruntled, as you can imagine. I don't blame Emily at all for this. I've always got on very well with her and she's always game, even when she knows she's likely to get a very tough time.
What I do blame is this culture which has infected Labour and to an extent the Conservatives which thinks they can go through an election campaign without putting their leading lights under scrutiny.
Think about it. Have you seen the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, at all during this campaign? Emily Thornberry, in contrast to 2017, has hardly been seen in a TV studio. On the Conservative side Jacob Rees-Mogg has clearly been taken hostage in the same way that Oliver Letwin was in 2001. I could go down the whole list of the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet and ask where most of them have disappeared to. Both parties seem to have adopted a 'golden ticket' system whereby around 7 or 8 of their teams are deputed to do all media interviews, and if they aren't available, well, that's tough. No one else will be called upon.
For the Tories it's Brandon Lewis, Rishi Sunak, Rob Jenrick, James Cleverly, Robert Buckland, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Nicky Morgan.
For Labour it's Barry Gardiner, John McDonnell, Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jonathan Ashworth, Rochard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Andrew Gwynne, Laura Pidock and Andy McDonald.
I accept that no broadcaster has a divine right to demand an appearance by any politician. But when one has been booked and then is pulled just common manners ought to dictate that a replacement is provided.
On Sunday, when Emily Thornberry was pulled I sent the following email to two people at the Labour press office, as well as the generic broadcasting email address at Labour HQ. Nobody even bothered to reply.
Dear [names redacted]
It is with some degree of frustration that I have just heard that Emily Thornberry has pulled out of a long planned phone-in on Tuesday, 8-9pm. Reading between the lines it appears that HQ won’t sanction it. That is of course your prerogative, but I hope you will understand that from our point of view, we are not only obliged by Ofcom to provide balance, but we actively wish to. It is a constant complaint of your front bench that you don’t get equal time on the media, yet we constantly offer it but it’s very difficult if you don’t let your front bench come on!
We appreciate you have given us Laura Pidcock today, and she gave a good account of herself, but we do need people for these hour long interview/phone-ins too.
Between now and polling day we have three spaces allocated to the Labour Party, which all need to be filled if balance is to be achieved.
Tue 26 November 8-9pm
Sun Dec 1 11am-noon
Thur 5 Dec 8-9pm
The Conservatives will be providing [names redacted] and one other between now and polling day. I hope you will be able to provide us with politicians of an equivalent standing for those three dates. May I suggest Keir Starmer, Barry Gardiner, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry, Jon Ashworth or Dawn Butler. I mention those because they are London based (apart from Jon).
I know Henry and Sandra are grateful for your day to day help, and I hope you will understand why I am intervening here. I think both John McDonnell and Len McCluskey have enjoyed their experience of coming on with me for an hour and feel they were treated fairly. I hope we can move to filling these three slots above!
All the best
Wouldn't you have thought that email at least merited an acknowledgement?
I'm making this public because our listeners and the public more generally deserve to know that we - along with all other broadcasters - are doing our level best to bring them the best coverage possible. Yet day after day it's like getting blood out of a stone to get good guests.
I called out the Conservatives last Thursday for failing to provide a guest on our show on the day Labour launched its manifesto, so I am not just having a go at Labour. For the record, the LibDems, Greens and the Brexit Party have been very easy to deal with and have always provided guests when we have asked them to.
We are all part of the democratic process. I try to do my best to bring my listeners programmes which carry all viewpoints. But this is proving increasingly difficult when political parties think they don't need to play the game.
I leave you with this thought. Surely an political party, especially the Opposition, should want to come on any broadcast programme at every available opportunity. Because if they aren't going to argue for their policies, who else is going to do it? They can't expect to win votes if they won't engage with the very voters they want to propel them into office. And at LBC we have 2.7 million of them. At Global Radio as a whole, we have 25 million every week. Perhaps the political parties, and especially Labour, should think on that.