We on "Today" are not so arrogant that we expect Government ministers to step to the wicket and defend every contentious policy decision they’re involved in. They’re busy people, conferring with civil servants, attending cabinet meetings, and meeting constituents and voters: even, no doubt, making policies. And - to be absolutely frank - if they said yes to every one of our requests for an interview, we’d be a little dismayed: politics, both the issues and the personalities, is a key part of our programme, but you can get too much of a good thing.
But... there are occasions when there is an overwhelming need to hear an in-depth, forensically-constructed interview with the relevant minister at the heart of the main story of the day. And we on "Today" feel - without being arrogant, of course - that we’re as well-equipped as anyone to carry it out.
Never mind the briefings by No 10, or the relevant department, or even a written statement by the minister concerned, or even (on Day 12 of the "crisis") a sit-down pooled interview done by a correspondent for all outlets. None of this is satisfactory for us. Our listeners demand it, we’ve posed all the questions we think need answering in innumerable morning meetings, and we’re champing at the bit to get the answers.
The "empty chair" is a last resort. It’s not a weapon - if that’s what it is - that we use lightly. But when we believe there’s a clear case for a minister to come out and address a matter of policy for which he has been - contentiously - responsible, then we’ll do it. It’s a statement of frustration, but less of a wish to embarrass, and more of a last-ditch attempt to lure the minister on to the programme.
When I started out on Today 15 years ago, my memory is that ministers would reluctantly troop into studio 4A in Broadcasting House to face the music far more often than their successors do in 2007. An exception was Europe: John Major’s cabinet confined themselves to fighting amongst themselves in private, rather than commit political suicide on the airwaves.
But way back then – apart from Newsnight – we were the only credible news and current affairs programme. In today’s 24/7 media climate, it is easier to slip a doorstep interview, or a statement, into the political ether, and it’ll swiftly make headlines on multiple TV, radio and online outlets, and the minister will appear TO HAVE ANSWERED the questions.
But he hasn’t. Not really, not properly. So the chair in S1 still awaits him...