Brown and Marr
There's been some talk - and criticism - this week of our role in the PM's announcement that there would be no election this year. And I'll admit that the way the news emerged was a bit odd. And no, if I had been orchestrating events it wouldn’t have been done it that way.
But that’s simply a matter of sequence and timing. If the interview had been live (as requested by us) we wouldn’t have had the slightly bizarre spectacle of the media pack - including the Beeb’s own political editor – waiting outside Downing Street while the PM unburdened himself inside, and then let Marr relay what had been recorded a few minutes earlier.
First charge: The BBC allowed itself to be used in a dodgy-Brown-spin operation. It was improper for a single journalist to agree to an interview, knowing that some really important news was likely to come out of it. Nonsense! Print and broadcast journalists do interviews week in week out hoping to get a scoop. It rarely happens. On Saturday it did.
Was the Marr team explicitly told in advance that the PM was ducking out of an election, but this news should be held till Sunday morning? Absolutely not. Was there a clandestine agreement that key information that came out of the interview should be held till later? No – a couple of key clips were aired on BBC news within minutes of the interview being concluded, and Marr gave a summary of Brown's most important answers live on News 24.
Second charge: That Marr was selected because he was 'a patsy' and duly gave the PM a pathetically-soft ride. Well I’m not going to cough to that one am I? But then look at the facts. And more importantly the transcript (or watch the interview).
Presumably the PM’s people wanted a vehicle where there would be time for him try and explain himself - and where this would be done to a mass audience. The Andrew Marr Show specialises in long interviews with top politicians. It’s what we do, week in week out. And around 1.5m people are viewing at any point in the hour. On an average Sunday, that’s more than the other four weekend current affairs TV shows put together.
Brown was charged by Marr with bottling out, dithering, changing his mind because of the polls, responding to a very strong Tory party conference, having dreadfully mishandled the whole episode and having gone back to the old ways of spin when he had promised a fresh new open and honest way of doing politics. Brown didn’t run up the white flag, but when the whole lobby pack were let loose on him on Monday morning the very same points were put to him and he didn’t run up the white flag up then either.
Third charge: That Marr gives Brown a soft ride and then accords Cameron a hard time. Again, look at the transcripts. Not so. In fact you could argue that by giving one politician ten minutes to respond to a lengthy recorded interview, the advantage is naturally with the politician who has the last word. The Mail On Sunday reported that the PM... "was hesitant and struggled to give coherent replies to Andrew Marr who went out of his way to be blunt". The Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts: "Andrew Marr... got stuck in. He biffed the PM about the spin and cynicism of his election teasing and his trip to Iraq. Marr even used that old word 'frit' - Mrs Thatcher’s Lincolnshire expression for cowardice."
Fourth charge: That the Brown team was trying to spin their way to the last. Briefing selected print journalists. Giving the story to one broadcaster they felt comfortable with. Declining to give individual interviews with the political editors of each main TV channel before doing one long interview for a current affairs show. And trying - perhaps ineptly - to manipulate the timing to achieve the best outcome in what was always going to be a sticky situation. In effect behaving as spin doctors have done from Bernard Ingham onwards. Quite possibly – but then that’s not a charge levelled at the Beeb, or the producer of The Andrew Marr Show. And some might respond: it was ever thus.