Tuesday, October 19, 2021
HomeKathy GyngellThe BBC man who said: Shut up, Prime Minister

The BBC man who said: Shut up, Prime Minister

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ANYONE who has followed TCW‘s BBC Watch coverage will be aware of our constant references to News-watch, the BBC monitoring site. It has been analysing Radio 4’s Today programmes for 20 years and has transcribed thousands of hours of interviews

Analysis of that material over time shows how presenters have evolved a whole battery of techniques for denigrating ideas which oppose and expose the BBC’s favourite ideological Remainer, climate alarmism and diversity mantras.

The methods they deploy range across a spectrum of bluster, not asking key questions, rudeness, menace, false positivity, damning through faint praise, coyness, squashing every attempted answer by a barrage of interruptions – you name it, the interviewers have tried it to discredit those who oppose the woke agenda. 

Seldom, however, has an interviewee been told to shut up. Indeed in the medium of radio, such an order might be thought to be rather counter-productive. But it happened on Tuesday when Nick Robinson interviewed the Prime Minister. No, I was not listening – I gave up on Radio 4 long ago. But a friend insisted I listen afterwards. Robinson’s exact words were that Boris Johnson should ‘pause’ and ‘stop talking’, followed by a stricture that ‘we are going to have questions and answers, not where you merely talk, if you wouldn’t mind’.

The former Today presenter John Humphrys has claimed that this was something that ‘he never had the nerve or audacity to do’. 

But for once in my life I think I might be about to defend the BBC. Was Robinson really out of order? Was this BBC arrogance and bias against the Conservatives running riot? Did Johnson deserve it?

I decided I had better take a look at the transcript, which you can see below.

Robinson delivered his ‘shut up’ order after an opening in which the Prime Minister had been asked if he had planned sufficiently to deal with the current shortage of labour and the possibility of a ‘70s-style inflationary spiral’.  Examination of the transcript makes it hard to discern what the answer was, to put it politely, though it seems to depend on the fact that the ‘country’s natural ability to sort out its logistics and supply chains is very strong’.   

Was Robinson at least partly justified on this occasion? Yes, is my verdict, but it is a bit late and hypocritical from Robinson and the BBC, who have been at least as guilty as the Prime Minister for the period of monstrous economic disruption we are about to enter.

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Transcript of BBC Radio 4 Today interview with Boris Johnson, October 5, 2021, 8.10am

NICK ROBINSON: Crisis, which crisis? Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister for just over two years. His premiership has been dominated by the Covid crisis. Just as we were beginning to dare to hope that that might be coming to an end, along comes signs of another crisis, with empty pumps and empty shelves and warnings of the return of a wage and prices spiral, leading to 1970s-style inflation. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is here with me in our Manchester conference studio, the first time he’s agreed to talk to us in two years. Good morning to you, Prime Minister.

BORIS JOHNSON: Good morning, Nick. Has it really been two years? Time has, time has flown, but it’s great to . . . great to see you again.

NR:  Do you believe that this is a crisis?

BJ: No, I think that, on the contrary, what you’re seeing with the UK economy and indeed the global economy is very largely in the supply chains, the stresses and strains that you’d expect from a giant waking up. And that’s what’s happening. And so, we’re sucking in huge amounts of energy from . . . the world’s sucking in huge amounts of energy, of gas in particular, which has pushed up the gas prices, there’s the global shortage of lorry drivers. You know, there’s a shortage of lorry drivers, even in . . . in China. Now, erm, there are . . .

NR: (speaking over) Understood, the point that you’re saying . . .

BJ: So, so that, so that . . . that is, those, those . . . those are some of the issues that we’re going to . . . to fix. But I think, don’t be in any doubt that this country has formidably good logistics and supply chains people. I mean, they are absolutely brilliant, our, our supermarkets are, er, you know, there’s . . . we are, we are world-leading in, in, in logistics.

NR: (speaking over) So it’s not a crisis?

BJ: They, they will, they will start to fix it.

NR: Hmm.

BJ: I’m not saying that there won’t be, er, stresses and strains, there are stre- . . . there are clearly stresses and strains, but people, people, people . . .

NR: (speaking over) Let me tell you what the stresses and strains might be.

BJ: . . . people experience . . . go on.

NR: Just have to pause a second and then I can put the . . .

BJ: Sorry.

NR: . . . question to you. So Lord Wolfson, who’s the Chief Executive of Next, one of the country’s leading Brexit-supporting businessmen . . .

BJ: Yes.

NR: . . . says it is possible that if the country gets this wrong, there could be a shortage of goods. There could be a lack of carers, there could be, in his words, a 70s-style inflationary crisis, an inflationary spiral. That is reason for government, for a Prime Minister to worry, to take it seriously, not to dismiss it.

BJ: Of course, of course.

NR: Have you a plan to deal with those worries?

BJ: And I . . . of course, and I’ve read, I’ve read what Lord Wolfson has said and I think that, you know, it’s, it’s an extremely interesting moment because, erm, look, I mean, the issue that is often raised is . . . is immigration and how do you deal with the shortages of labour? And it’s primarily a shortage of labour, which is . . . which is, after all, a sign of economic robustness that the market is demanding labour in the way that it is. Erm, well how do you deal with that and what, what steps should you take? Well, you know, Nick, you and I have . . . although it may be, may be a long time since I’ve been on your show, you and I have talked often about immigration. I’m . . . I’ve always been in favour of people who have talent and industry coming to this country. I want to . . . I want to see that, but what I . . .

NR: (speaking over) So shouldn’t you listen to businesses . . .

BJ: (speaking over) Well . . .

NR: . . . business leaders – let me just make this point . . .

BJ: (speaking over) Yes, go on.

NR: . . . who say, ‘Let us decide what we need.’ Now, Lord Wolfson says . . .

BJ: No, I’ll tell you . . .

NR: . . . ‘I know’ . . .

BJ: Yes.

NR: . . . ‘I know,’ he says, ‘who I need. I don’t need some Whitehall bureaucrat’ . . .

BJ: Yeah.

NR: . . . to use my phrase, not his, ‘some Soviet-style central planning under Boris Johnson that says you’re going to have 172 visas for this . . .

BJ: (speaking over) Yes, well . . .

NR: . . . occupation or not. Let business decide.’

BJ: Yes. Well, let me . . . well, let me say why I think that that approach has extreme limitations, to put it mildly. And what you saw in the last 20 years or more, er . . . 20, 20, almost 25 years, has been an approach whereby business, of many kinds, was able to mainline low-wage, low-cost immigration for, for a very long time. And in some ways, of course, that worked well, and the people who came were fantastic, hardworking people who did a wonderful job. But what that resulted in was the suppression, not just of, of, of pay, but also of conditions. So take the roads haulage . . .

NR: (speaking over) So British . . .

BJ: (speaking over) Can I just . . .

NR: (speaking over) No, no, no, no.

BJ: . . . can I just finish this point?

NR: (speaking over) No, prime minister, you’ve made that point, you made it at length in a series of interviews in the run-up to this conference. (words unclear due to speaking over)

BJ: (speaking over) Hang on! I haven’t had a chance to make this point on your show for two years, by your own account!

NR: That was your choice, not ours. Now, you want British workers, that’s clear. What I’m asking you is: do you have a plan to deal with the consequences of your decision not to have that sort of immigration?

BJ: (speaking over) Yes.

NR: Lord Wolfson says there could be a shortage of goods, there could be a lack of carers . . .

BJ: Yeah.

NR: . . . there could be a 70s-style inflationary spiral.

BJ: Yeah.

NR: Is that what you mean by stresses and strains?

BJ: No, no I d- . . .

NR: (speaking over) And have you got a plan to deal with it?

BJ: I, I don’t think that the problem will present itself in that way. And I think, actually, the, the . . . this country’s natural ability to sort out its . . . its logistics and supply chains is, is very strong. But what we can’t do . . . and, of course, erm, I want to stress . . .

NR: Well, what do you mean by ‘stresses and strains’?

BJ: Well, the . . . the shortages of, er . . . of low-wage labour that Lord Wolfson and others are talking about.

NR: Shortages on the shelves, in other words.

BJ: But what we, what we won’t do is, is pull the lever, er, mark- . . . which I think is what you’re talking about, marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’.

NR: No, no, nobody’s suggesting that, Prime Min- . . .

BJ: Yes, they are.

NR: What you’re doing is arguing against something nobody wants.

BJ: No, well they are, no hang on, sorry, it’s exactly what . . .

NR: (speaking over, words unclear) visas.

BJ: So what Lord, what Lord, what Lord Wolfson is, is saying, he doesn’t want any kind of control or restraint on the number of people that he can access, from abroad, to run his business, and I under-

NR: (words unclear) says anything of the sort.

BJ: Well I understa- . . . well, I think that’s what you just said.

NR: Yeah.

BJ: And I think, and, and I think the problem . . . that’s exactly what you just said. So, I think the problem . . .

NR: Yeah. Let’s move on.

BJ: (speaking over) I think the problem . . .

NR: (words unclear, speaking over) you’re telling me what someone else thinks and I want to know what you think.

BJ: Well you, well you, well you . . .

NR: (speaking over) No, prime minister, I want to ask you what you think.

BJ: . . . and I, and I don’t think that that is the way forward. I seriously don’t.

NR: Yeah, (fragment of word, or word unclear)

BJ: This country’s at a turning point, Nick . . .

NR: OK.

BJ: And we . . . we can’t go on. If you look at the productivity of the UK, we have, we have under . . . we have undershot all our major competitors for two decades or more. And that is because we have a low-wage, low-cost approach, where business does not invest in skills, does not invest in capital or facilities. Look at the road haulage industry that we’re talking about. The fact is that they haven’t been putting money into . . . into truck stops, into conditions, into pay. So there’s no, there’s no, there’s no, there’s no supply of young people in this country who, frankly, at the moment, are thinking of becoming truck drivers. Now, that is, that is going to . . .

NR: (speaking over) You have made that point very clearly.

BJ: . . . that is going to, that is going to . . .

NR: (speaking over) And I’m going to make another one . . .

BJ: . . . change. That is going to change.

NR: . . . and prime minister, you are going to pause . . .

BJ: (speaking over) That is going to change and, and, it’s going to be a good thing.

NR: Prime minister. Stop . . . talking. We are going to have questions and answers, not where you merely talk, if you wouldn’t mind. Now . . . 

BJ: (speaking under) Well, I’m very happy to stop talking.

NR: . . . the question I now want to ask you is about the cost of living, if you would. Do you accept that that is a crisis? Who will pay, for example, for the biggest hike in business taxation that we’ve seen in years? £12billion, the highest corporate tax levels seen since 1989 under a Conservative government.

BJ: The . . . if you’re talking about the Corporation Tax increases, they’ve been, er, delayed and . . .

NR: (interrupting) I’m asking you who pays it?

BJ: And, er, obviously corporations will eventually pay it. But what we have in the meantime, to get back to the, the, the point I was trying to make before you asked me to stop talking, which you seem . . . a, a, an injunction you seem to have revoked, er, what we are doing in the meantime is giving businesses a super deduction to enable them to invest in capital and equipment and . . . and take their businesses forward.

NR: (speaking over) My question to you was ‘who pays it?’ – isn’t it the consumer that always pays corporate taxes? It will add, in other words, to the cost-of-living crisis.

BJ: No, it’s business that pays it. And I think that if you look at the . . . the potential of business to make investments in their . . . in capital, in equipment, if you look at their . . . their balance sheets they have, they have the ability to do this. And there is . . . there are huge sums that business could invest in making their . . . in making their . . . their business more efficient. And that is, and that is why . . .

NR: (speaking over) So the Tories have always argued, haven’t they . . .

BJ: (speaking over) And that is why . . .

NR: . . . that corporate taxes are paid for by . . .

BJ: And . . .

NR: . . . consumers. And I want to ask you about the cost of living in general, if I can. This week you’ve said that it’s right to go ahead with cuts to Universal Credit of £20 a week, that they were temporary and they were required by the pandemic. Isn’t it tough for Conservatives at this conference who are spending £20 on a steak for a main course in a restaurant round here, for one meal, to say to people who are struggling to feed their families, ‘We can’t afford to give you £20 a week’?

BJ: I know it’s tough for people and I understand that people on low incomes are working very, very hard at present to . . . to make ends meet. And we want to do everything that we can to . . . to help them. And that’s why we’ve done what we have with the, er, the increases in benefits that we’ve put through the Local Housing Allowance that I did almost immediately on becoming prime minister. The increases in the living wage, in child care and so on. We’ve also increased . . . we’ve also made sure that we have a . . . a situation in which people’s wages are now, are now going up. But what I think is, is, is wrong is to take money, more money in taxation and use it to . . . to subsidise low pay. We have a, we have a new fund, a £500million fund, to help people through the winter. But you, you say, you know, ‘we give the money’, it’s not we who gives it, it’s not the government. This is, this is, this is money that will be raised in taxation to support low pay. What I think should happen is that, organically, business and . . . and industry should be paying people a little bit more in order to help them. And that is . . .

NR: (speaking over, fragments of words or words unclear)

BJ: . . . that is actually, that is actually what is happening. And I think most people would, would, would rather see it. And that’s . . . and we’ve got the fastest economic growth now in the G7 as we come out of this, out of (fragment of word, or word unclear due to speaking over)

NR: A lot of . . . a lot of why you say this is because the big message at this conference, isn’t it, is to get on with the job and is levelling up. And I know your argument, essentially, is if you get wages up that helps levelling up. But I want to ask you, as I have in all the areas of this interview, whether you really have a plan for levelling up? Let’s take schools, for example. You sacked your Education Secretary, the man you hired to be your Catch-up Tsar quit in protest of what he said was your half-hearted ambition. We had a Tory MP on this programme yesterday saying that young people in the North will leave school with one GCSE grade lower in English and Maths than in London and the South East. What is your plan to level up in schools?

BJ: What we’re doing is making sure that we . . . we’ve got a £3billion catch-up plan already to help kids catch up from the lost hours during the pandemic. But we’re also doing more to support teachers in less advantaged areas, in disadvantaged areas, who . . . who can turn schools round. And, and, and . . .

NR: (speaking over) Will you get a new Catch-up Tsar, because you, you hired one . . .

BJ: (speaking under, fragments of words)

NR: . . . he gave you a plan, you turned it down.

BJ: I think Nadhim Zahawi is, is, is, is an excellent Secretary of State for Education, and our plan is to invest in . . . in schools and, and what you’ve seen . . . if you want to, if you talk about catch up and levelling up in schools, look at what we’ve done with tutoring. And level-  . . . that’s exactly what I mean by levelling up. At the moment, you’ve got a kind of arms race in . . . in education where . . .  whereby some hardworking families are able . . . decide to, to, to get tutors for their kids. Many middle-class families do the same, but not everybody does, not everybody can afford it. Let me complete this point, if I’m allowed to keep . . . continue talking, er, let me complete this point. And what we’re, what we’re able to do is offer families up and down the land tuition that they would not otherwise get. And that’s what I mean by levelling up. So there are six million courses in tuition that we’re now offering. We’re putting tutors out across the country, and . . . and I think that is a fantastic thing. And, and, and . . .

NR: (speaking over) Forgive me, moving you on is because I want . . .

BJ: . . . there are, there’ll be many of things we can do besides.

NR: . . . you to talk about some other subjects that I know that you care passionately about. Of course we want to hear you talk, but we want to hear you to talk on a range of subjects, not just one. Let’s turn to a subject that was dominating the thinking of the country in the lead-up to this conference and you have talked about now, which is the issue of crime against women and young girls. You’ve talked of your passion about this, your anger about this. Do you have a plan to make women and young girls safer though?

BJ: Yes. And there are several parts to it. The . . . you’ve got to make the streets safer. We’re putting more police out on the streets and we’re at . . . we’ve recruited about 10,000 of the 20,000 that I promised at the election. We’re putting more CCTV, more street light- . . . better street lighting. But what you’ve got to do is address the underlying frustration of millions of women and millions of people across the country at the slowness of the criminal justice system and the inadequacy of the criminal justice system in dealing with crimes of rape and domestic violence and sexual violence and all that, all that, all that . . .

NR: (speaking over, words unclear) isn’t it, Prime Minister, because . . .

BJ: (speaking over) All that nexus of issues.

NR: . . . the Tories have been in power for 11 years and cut the budgets of the courts. And so we’ve now got 500 violent crime or sexual abuse victims that have been waiting two or more years before their case gets to court. You’ve got a new Justice Secretary. You’ve got a new sense of urgency about this issue. Is it time to put some money in justice?

BJ: We’re putting money into every part of the UK public services. And . . .

NR: (speaking over) Well, the budget has been cut by a quarter over a decade when the Conservatives have been in power.

BJ: And what I, and what I, and what I . . . the problem is not just a question of money, but we’re putting money in, and we’ve hired many more prosecutors. But the problem is not just to do with . . . with money, it’s to do with the way we handle the evidence. And, as you know, the difficulties that are presented by mobile phones, in particular, when the defence is able to seize upon this or that piece of data and use it in . . . in court. And that’s very complex, and . . . but it is . . .

NR: (speaking over, words unclear)

BJ: . . . no excuse for the delays and the frustration that women are experiencing. And we need to fix it. And I think that the police need to, to, frankly, to . . . I think that the inability of . . . of the system to deliver swifter justice has led to a certain frustration in the police and perhaps a failure to take these complaints and these reports seriously enough. But they need to fix it, and it’s not, it’s not good enough. Now, what we’ve also done is strengthen the . . . the sentences for serious sexual . . .

NR: Hm-hmm.

BJ: . . . and violent offences. And that’s the right thing to do.

NR: (speaking over) You have a Women’s Minister . . .

BJ: (speaking over) But, but, it needs to be accelerated.

NR: . . . but she is also the Foreign Secretary at the min- . . . at the moment. If you really want to take this seriously, if you want to be seen to take this seriously, isn’t it time to create that as a proper job?

BJ: No, I think . . .

NR: Not a tack-on to someone who’s incredibly busy?

BJ: I think, I think, er, Liz Truss does an outstanding job, and, and . . .

NR: (speaking over) That’s not the point I was making, was it? I was asking whether it’s time to be made a proper job.

BJ: (speaking over) Well (fragment of word, or word unclear) I think she does an outstanding job.

NR: OK. Now, let’s move on to the thing that has really dominated your life for so long, since you’ve become Prime Minister, which is, of course, Covid.

BJ: Yes.

NR: What we’ve seen here at this conference was unimaginable a few weeks ago. People mixing late at night in bars, no social distancing, not many masks, no vaccine passports. Is that how you hope, you think, life can now be – at least for those who’ve had their jabs? Are we now looking at a future in which . . . we’ve not put it behind us, but we have finally learnt to live with it?

BJ: I think you have to remain cautious, Nick, you have to be humble in the face of nature and the potential of the disease and the risk of new variants. But there’s nothing I can see in the data, there’s nothing I can see in the . . . the, the rates of infection at the moment that makes me think we need to . . . to drop Plan A. Plan A is, is, is the right one and we’re going to stick with it. And I think it justifies the decision we took on July 19th to . . . to open up and a decision I would just remind you was opposed by the Labour Party at the time. So if Captain Hindsight had been in charge, we’d still be in lockdown. Don’t forget.

NR: Prime Minister, thank you for coming here. Thank you for talking to the Today programme.

BJ: It’s very kind of you to let me talk!

NR: Allowing the occasional question as well.

BJ: (speaking over) Very . . . very kind of you to let me talk. I thought that was the point . . .

NR: (speaking over) Do come again.

BJ: . . . of inviting me on your show? But anyway, lovely to see you.

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Kathy Gyngellhttps://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/the-editors/
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @KathyConWom on Twitter.

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