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HomeNewsGrilling politicians? Etchingham is hardly touching ’em

Grilling politicians? Etchingham is hardly touching ’em


LIKE many, I watch the Conservative leadership debates despite having no vote – I have managed to resist the temptations of joining the Tory Party, despite a slew of emails inviting me to. (I suspect I’m not alone in that, either). 

What has struck me most is the bone-headedness of the presenters’ questions. On ITV, Julie Etchingham asked if any of the candidates would include Boris in their Cabinets if he wished to serve. They all said no.  

Julie thought this significant, but it’s hardly surprising. I can’t think of any former Prime Minister of any party who has served in a subsequent Cabinet in the past half-century – whether they wanted to or not. 

Etchingham also seems to be in league with the Met Office. She opened by describing the backdrop to the election as including ‘a post-Covid cost of living crisis, war in Europe and now a deadly heatwave, yet another national emergency’.  

Really? The Office for National Statistics data for the last heatwave in 2020 showed some 2,500 excess deaths, of which almost 90 per cent were in the over-65s. Fifty per cent were aged over 85. So, as with Covid, it would appear that excess heat kills some old people who probably have multiple other health issues.  

That’s hardly a national emergency and even if it was, there’s little a government can do about it. (That’s not quite true. It could get a grip of health and ambulance services – but no government in living memory has achieved that). 

Tellingly, Etchingham didn’t mention the rising energy price as being one of the key drivers of inflation (energy is in everything we do). Nor did she mention the inevitable inflationary effect of intermittent renewables – wind and solar – on energy costs, as I explained here.  

And there was not a peep about the correlation between peak solar generation and the (as she and the Met Office see it) national health emergency it creates. Also not much on the impact of low wind speed. As I write, solar is providing nine per cent of our power, wind four per cent and  gas turbines 50 per cent. 

Net Zero did come up in the leadership debate; in a somewhat loaded question, the candidates were asked if they could confirm there would be no backing down on the commitment to this mythical target by 2050 – the blithe assumption being that it is possible and affordable. For what it’s worth, Kemi Badenoch was the only candidate who made the point that bankrupting the country was not a solution. 

At no time did Etchingham probe; Rishi Sunak was smooth, urbane and quick-witted – but she never challenged him on detail. Liz Truss was wooden, simply spouting slogans and yet unchallenged. Penny Mordaunt was vague and all over the place – pinning her down would have been as easy as nailing jelly to a wall, but Etchingham didn’t try.  

Tom Tugendhat was lucid and reasonable, but his core assumption that a decade in the Territorials makes him a shoo-in for Prime Minister was questioned only by Badenoch, who also escaped probing – possibly because she made full and coherent statements (a real breath of fresh air). 

It is, of course, the case that these broadcasts are more politics as entertainment than a serious probe, since very few of the TV audience have any input into the process. The dumbest question of the lot was whether any of the candidates would call a general election – does Etchingham not understand how Parliament works? 

Politics is not entertainment; it’s about the future of the country. Those who would lead it need to be subjected to detailed, forensic examination by an interviewer who knows what he or she is talking about.  

It used to happen – Brian Walden being the exemplar; 45 minutes to an hour, filmed live, two people and no glitzy sets. If mainstream media wants to be taken seriously, it needs to go back into its archive and rediscover what political journalism is about. Until, that changes it’s hard to see much getting better in government. Unless TCW gets into broadcasting … 

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here. He is the Reform Parliamentary Candidate for Swansea West.

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