The decline and fall of the political interview: A discussion with Rob Burley (Parliament Matters: Episode 22)

27 Feb 2024
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP is interviewed by Andrew Neil on new TV news channel GB News, 16 June 2021. © HM Treasury [Flickr] / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP is interviewed by Andrew Neil on new TV news channel GB News, 16 June 2021. © HM Treasury [Flickr] / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

What happens when a party leader ducks the opportunity to face a long forensic interview on television during a general election campaign? What are the challenges posed to broadcasters when norms are ignored? Boris Johnson famously did that during the last general election: so how will that affect the approach of the parties and the broadcasters when negotiating the terms of future interviews at the next election?

Will party leader debates happen this time, or will the negotiations between the broadcasters and the political strategists run aground amidst arguments about the format and the terms of engagement? And if so, will it really matter? Are long-form interviews a better form of scrutiny than a version of Prime Ministers’ Questions in a studio?

Mark and Ruth discuss these questions and more with Rob Burley, currently of Sky News, but formerly the editor of live political programmes at the BBC where he was responsible for overseeing output such as Daily Politics, Politics Live, the Andrew Marr Show and Brexitcast and the Andrew Neil Show at Channel 4.

They discuss stories from Rob’s recent book, Why is This Lying Bastard Lying to Me, including how the TV companies plan their political packages during an election campaign and how broadcasters like Andrew Marr and Andrew Neil prepare for a major political interview?

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:30:03 You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society Production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn More at Welcome to Parliament Matters The podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy. Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox. And I'm Mark D’Arcy. And in this special edition of the Pod, we're talking to Rob Burley, one of the legends of political television. 00:00:30:08 - 00:01:01:00 In the last few decades in this country, he's worked with all the great interviewers: Andrew Marr, Beth Rigby, Emily Maitlis, Andrew Neil, and he's got some stories to tell in his new book, Why Is This Lying Bastard Lying to me? You might say it's a history of the political interview. You might say it traces the decline and fall of the political interview, and we'll be talking to him about his adventures behind the camera, producing some of the great interviews of our time with our rulers and looking ahead to what might happen at the next general election. 00:01:01:02 - 00:01:29:00 And we started with an account of the famous incident in the last general election where Boris Johnson ducked out of the opportunity to face Andrew Neil for a long forensic interview. It's true that everybody, all the party leaders were engaging with the BBC about taking part in the program. It never worked in such a way that you line everybody up and they're all signed up and then you establish the order which they all the programs will happen and it's all neat and tidy like that in the course of an election campaign. 00:01:29:02 - 00:01:49:13 There are all sorts of considerations, you know, principally logistical ones that you get in the way. But generally speaking, well in fact on every other occasion before that election, despite those challenges, despite even reluctance, there might have been by anybody to do these things, there was a kind of acceptance, a kind of norm that was adhered to that one way or another you would do it, and so they would fall into place. 00:01:49:13 - 00:02:07:09 So we proceeded in the same way. So there were conversations with the parties. You know, the Johnson team, the Corbyn team, etc. And then we would slot them in. So Corbyn, you know, fairly early, came along and said, Yes, I'll do this date, a particular date, and so we said, Right, we'll do that. And that was, that was recorded at that time. 00:02:07:11 - 00:02:24:15 The message coming from number ten was, Or from the Conservative Party, was that Johnson would do what he had indicated he would do, which would be, as everyone else has always done, he would come along and do it because it was the fair thing to do and the right thing to do. But we were dealing with a different sort of beast here than the ones we'd had in the past. 00:02:24:17 - 00:02:44:08 And, you know, people say, well, you should have been you're naive if you thought that Boris Johnson would adhere to democratic norms. I don't think we had much choice but to sort of work on the basis that they would, because, like I said, there'd been reluctance by others in the past. But in the end, you know, honor, duty, you know, fairness, democracy, these were things that mattered something to people. 00:02:44:08 - 00:03:00:03 But in the case of, you know, the Johnson team, it was really just about stringing us along for as long as they needed to do. Were they sitting there consciously saying, we do not really want to do this interview, There's nothing in it for us. We're going to dodge it if we can. We're just, as you say, going to string you along. 00:03:00:03 - 00:03:16:01 Were they saying that? You don’t have to rely upon my recollection of this. Because it's very clear. The front of the book, I quote, I don't know if this is a sweary or non sweary program. You can get away with a few bad words. Okay, Well, I'm going to go for it then. And so this is this was in 2021 after he left Downing Street. 00:03:16:02 - 00:03:35:18 But Dominic Cummings tweeted, as he does, why the **** would we put a gaffe machine clueless about policy and government up to be grilled for ages? This is not a hard decision. This was in relation specifically to the Andrew Neil question. And the gaffe machine in question was Boris Johnson. So, in other words, there was not a sort of weighing up of shall we or 00:03:35:19 - 00:03:58:22 Shan’t we? It was clear from the very, very outset that Dominic Cummings, who was in charge of this, as you said, is himself, That was never a hard decision. They already decided they would do what they needed, not only to sort of avoid it, string us along to avoid it, but crucially, to make sure that Jeremy Corbyn had been through the process because there was a possibility, as played out, that he would be damaged by the interview that he did with Andrew Neil. 00:03:59:03 - 00:04:19:14 So there's absolutely no question. Andrew Neil did not conduct that interview with Jeremy Corbyn on the basis of knowledge that Johnson wouldn't do it. Absolutely not. If we'd known they wouldn't do it, if they had said that in terms, we would not have been able to proceed with the program. But we were never told that. So you wouldn't have interviewed Jeremy Corbyn if you'd known that Johnson wouldn't do it? 00:04:19:16 - 00:04:41:05 Yes, because Labour were asking what was the status of the Boris Johnson interview? Now you see in the book, and I do get I mean, it's maybe I hope I don't lose the reader because it's a bit becomes a bit detailed inside Westminster or inside media. But it turns out in a way, I was unaware of some conversations that were going on with Labour by some BBC executives that were different. 00:04:41:07 - 00:05:00:07 That wasn't me, which, according to Labour, were unequivocal about Johnson having kind of, I think almost the suggestion he may have set a date was kind of indicated at some point, according to Labour's perception of it, which I was surprised by, because what I said to Labour was that we're talking with the Conservative Party, we're talking to Lee Cain and to Dominic Cummings about this thing happening. 00:05:00:07 - 00:05:15:22 We've been told that they will do it when they can do it. They're still yet to set a date, but that is the status of it. And on that basis, are you happy to go forward? And they felt reassured by, I think, other conversations than the one I just felt like I had. They would say it was a perhaps a more firm thing than it was. 00:05:15:24 - 00:05:44:16 And they went ahead on that basis. Yeah. I mean, that's a very messy example of the kind of things that can go wrong with this process of trying to line up big interviews. But let's rewind a bit, because you've written this book. Why is this lying bastard lying to me, which is essentially a history of the political interview, possibly the decline and fall of the big political interview, the good old days when politicians would sit down for half an hour or 40 minutes with the likes of Brian Waldron or Jeremy Paxman or whomever. 00:05:44:16 - 00:06:15:00 Yeah. And be grilled in vast detail about what they were doing. And those interviews were once a vast part of the kind of political media sphere and hardly exist anymore in anything like the same form. Why are those interviews, in your view, and you've worked for all the greats in this, as I said, why are they important? Well, they're important because they're an opportunity to have a really detailed, significant conversation about the policy of the interviewee. 00:06:15:03 - 00:06:39:21 So that might be a government minister, it may be the opposition. It's an opportunity to really not just get into repeating lines, which is what they like to do now, because you can't do that over the course of a sustained period of time, 30 minutes or 40 minutes, but actually engage with the interviewee so you can test the policy and you don't go in with the sort of attitude I think some presenters have, which is we've got to make an impact with a kind of headline or something, fireworks or pyrotechnics. 00:06:39:21 - 00:06:55:05 It's more of a Look we've got time, we’ll grant you these points. You know, this policy you’re pursuing is working here. But let's look at this other bit here, which suggests that the evidence is that it isn't working. So how can you explain that? It's just a better way of doing it. And I'm afraid at a time when we need it more than ever. 00:06:55:05 - 00:07:17:17 It's almost disappeared altogether. Or we have now on a Sunday, as I said no criticism of the people that are doing it. We have a sort of a culture whereby they’re shorter interviews, the sort of maybe 6 minutes or 7 minutes, some of them are longer on Laura Kuenssberg and on Sky, but essentially it's a more trivial exercise now because the participants don't want to do very much at all. 00:07:17:19 - 00:07:42:04 This is, in your view and you say it in the book much better than what you get in Parliament. But most of the time in Parliament when MPs quiz ministers about their policies, you don't get anything like the level of depth and detail that you get in some of these long form interviews. Absolutely. I mean, the key to that is supplementaries, and it's very easy to come up with a list of questions that are challenging to whoever the interview is. 00:07:42:06 - 00:08:00:10 The key is where do you then go to if it's just that top line and then and you can't really engage with it, then it's not really a valuable exercise. I mean, I think obviously the select committee is a different question. And I think, you know, there's been some moments we've seen a select committee has delivered that. And actually that would be for me, a much more productive way for the parliament to kind of proceed. 00:08:00:10 - 00:08:19:07 And those are the things that we should we should emphasize rather than the sort of essential pantomime and pointlessness of what goes on in the main chamber. Of the three of us. I'm not part of the media sphere and I don't sort of see the, you know, these inside sort of discussions and the technicalities that are involved in putting these kinds of programs together. 00:08:19:09 - 00:08:44:05 But just talk me through what the mechanics of this are. If you are somebody like you prepping Andrew Marr or you're prepping Andrew Neil, I mean, how much time and effort and resources involved in preparing Andrew Neil to interview Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson? If you could get him, get him in front of him a considerable amount of time and person hours, as it were, obviously depends to some extent on the interview. 00:08:44:11 - 00:09:02:13 Andrew Neil does not need briefing by you because he's already briefed. There'll be nothing you can tell him he didn't already know. He's he's already done his own research, but he just he will be consuming data, he'll be consuming everything all the time. So then it becomes in a really much more of a process about the questions, how the interview itself will be constructed. 00:09:02:15 - 00:09:33:04 I like I say, you know, you can tell you difficult questions, but how you then work out how you cope with their answers. So if they say this, yes, then ask that. Indeed so. So just to give a bit of history on this, but it's I, I, I go back to Brian Walden again. So on the weekend television kind of tradition that came out of weekend world led to this extra and I've seen these documents the genuine I now use my hands they are this thick so you can imagine I'm saying that very thick set of documents an interview plan which would say something like if you know, the first question be asked, if they 00:09:33:04 - 00:09:52:02 answer, I go to page 16, see, you know, that kind of thing. So that would allow him to walk down every alleyway. That can potentially be part of what happens on in reality. And he did actually, apparently, according to his editors and people who work with him, he they felt he probably had some kind of photographic memory if something exists. 00:09:52:02 - 00:10:04:05 And he did have that. So he was able to reconstruct it in his head. Yeah. May have had an aide memoir of some kind, but it was essentially inside his head about where he was going to go. So that's that's extreme. And that would take a lot of work. It was constructive with the team and a lot of work. 00:10:04:05 - 00:10:21:22 Over the course of the week, I did the successor show that The Dimbleby show on ITV, and it was it was similar in the sense that we had a week preparing, maybe more. You'll have a research, we might say two weeks time. We've got the education secretary. So, you know, he or she has got themselves and all those civil servants and advisers who all do this every day. 00:10:21:24 - 00:10:37:20 They live and breathe this. You know, you got to get to a position where when you sit down with Jonathan, you know as much about it as they might, which is quite tall order. But that was kind of what you were aiming to do. So that would take a long time. But like I say with Andrew Neil, it might be very much about just about the strategy of the interview more with others, it might be more about the briefing. 00:10:37:20 - 00:11:00:22 But you said it's horses for courses. Really is the issue here of the big broadcasters don't really have the resources to do this anymore. The research level involved in creating those interviews is just too much for them to easily afford, especially when the viewing figures are often quite derisory. The programs may be influential, but not all that many people are actually watching them. 00:11:00:24 - 00:11:19:15 Well, I mean, I think the last point necessarily, I mean, the last time the BBC did this was the Andrew Neil Show in the evening. The reason it happened was because this is how you know, this to suggest is might be not so much a kind of well, we've weighed up the resourcing and we've thought about the the figures you might have been more that they have to think about these things. 00:11:19:17 - 00:11:46:18 But when we did an interview famously with and with Andrew Neil and Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership contest in 2019, where he came unstuck on the GATT treaty because he had gone in very much like someone in a seminar who'd mastered five B, but five C was a different world to him. That moment delivered sort of such a powerful example of how this kind of thing works that the Director-General at the time, Tony Hall, contacted Andrew then and said, We must have a show. 00:11:46:20 - 00:12:02:09 Well, we're like, you're axing our shows, but you know, okay, let's do a show, right? So we launched a show the year before COVID hit, which was the evening show on a Wednesday, committing itself to doing interviews for decent that time with politicians and you know Keir Starmer was on there when he was running for the leadership. 00:12:02:13 - 00:12:19:16 It's sort of there, it's a bit of set text on what he was saying then under of pressure, which is quite relevant how you may judge him now in terms of where he is. So these are the important things. But here's the other thing. It was getting 700,000 viewers. So even on his own terms compared to Channel four News side, it was winning its slot most of the time. 00:12:19:18 - 00:12:40:11 And sorry, the BBC. If the BBC are worried about the viewing figures at 7:00 on a Wednesday and that they might be to get a few hundred thousand more or something by having a final and saving program up against ITV or whatever, if that's the priority. And it was as it turns out, because the program was axed at the first opportunity, that's wrong because they're a public service broadcaster. 00:12:40:11 - 00:13:01:18 They should provide things the market doesn't provide necessarily is also incredibly strategically stupid because the people coming through that door are the people who in the end decide about your future. If you demonstrate your impartiality by committing to a program as serious as that with a person like Andrew Neil presenting it, then you make your case without having to do any public affairs. 00:13:01:20 - 00:13:22:07 You do it through the work and that was squandered. So that's for others to sort of answer for. But that's where we ended up. My sense from the book and from what I see in watching this sort of the current affairs programs, it's even more difficult to get them, as you say, to come on these programs, do the set piece interviews, or at least do them for any great length of time if they do appear on some of these shows. 00:13:22:09 - 00:13:43:15 Is it the the media landscape has changed so much? They've got they've got other options. You know, they can do their sort of direct social media, direct tik-tok video. They can do their interviews on YouTube and they don't have to go through you guys anymore. Very soft, friendly podcast. Yeah. I'd like to think we're not that soft. 00:13:43:17 - 00:14:12:03 They're the worst podcast. Or is it the actually, the politicians have also changed because, you know, my sense is the sort of old politicians today, they sort of come out with these big bold statements about who they are and what they believe in. But when you start to chip away, there's not. That level of detail was not the level of engagement on the issues and the sort of the principles and their ability to apply those to public policy in the way that you had with people like Margaret Thatcher. 00:14:12:03 - 00:14:43:06 Now, I'm not one of those who he's a sort of golden age. Yes. Do you think it was all better 40 years ago? Absolutely not. But it does feel a bit like the politicians are not quite of the same caliber that they used to be. Those suggest that the lobbying of the same caliber would prevent them from doing programs, but I think that would suggest a level of self-awareness that might not be here, because I think that actually in reality, politicians do want to be on television now, and I know that they can do their social media thing, which is, you know, largely preaching to the converted people who are following them is not that's 00:14:43:06 - 00:15:02:12 useful to them. I suppose it's an unmediated opportunity to get a message across, but it's still the case that TV and radio reach a lot of people in terms of numbers. They reach influential people and if you are a politician who maybe not of a great high caliber that believes they should be in the Cabinet still, despite that, then I think they'd be attracted to doing doing these programs. 00:15:02:14 - 00:15:25:07 But in the end, you know, there's a million reasons why we can argue ourselves out of saying that we should be doing something that's really vital to the democratic debate. But I'm I suppose I'm just not doing that because I think I think there is a place for it. It's really important. And I think, you know, the way politics has been in recent years and the way people feel about it, the frustrations people feel, it's an element that's gone for reasons I don't understand that don't make any sense to me. 00:15:25:09 - 00:15:42:00 And it should be something that the, you know, Sky News do it. I work at Sky with Beth Rigby. We do long interviews when we can get them. I think it's nothing, by the way, about is we're not in an age anymore where we have to think about slots in quite the same way as we used to, you know, has to go out on a particular day at a particular time. 00:15:42:06 - 00:16:00:11 It can be that if if a significant is landed, it can be recorded and disseminated in all of its different ways. Incidentally, by the way, people talk about social media almost as if there's an argument against long form because social media demand, short form. In fact, what happens is that long form delivers better short form because the nature of the conversation is so much deeper. 00:16:00:13 - 00:16:16:06 You may get to a point which is not just a sort of moment of, like I say, of pyrotechnics, but it's actually a moment of either revelation, like Boris Johnson doesn't know what five C is or just is something more interesting about, you know, policy. And so, you know, I think there's opportunity to that, which is sort of in opposition with each other. 00:16:16:11 - 00:16:29:08 But yeah, I mean, you might well be right. The people might somewhat be reluctant. I mean, I talk about Sunday politics. We did for a joke kind of thing. I call the chapter. If you build it, they won't come because, you know, to some extent it was a struggle. But we did get people and we did an important job. 00:16:29:13 - 00:16:55:06 Now we may need that kind of scrutiny more than ever in the coming months because we're in the run up to a general election. Give us a picture from your experience of what you think is probably going on here. The broadcasters will try to get debates between the potential prime ministers, the broadcasters trying perhaps to line up individual in-depth interviews with their crack interviewers, with all the key players in the next election. 00:16:55:08 - 00:17:22:21 How do you think that's going at the moment? Do you think the parties are trying very hard to game the system so that they don't do the awkward bits, that they just get the glory moments? Well, it's a good question. I mean, I don't know. But I do think we have to see. The unfortunate truth is we have to see that conversation in the context of the Andrew Neil into that didn't happen in 2019 because as I say, a sort of norm was broken then because previously, see, what happens is there's a whole package that comes together at the beginning of the campaign. 00:17:22:22 - 00:17:39:14 So so the BBC might say, So we want debates and there's different configurations of that in terms of you might have head to head with the two main parties. We don't have the the logic cast. The BBC might say we only do a question time special, which is a hybrid idea of the interview in the on the panel. 00:17:39:16 - 00:17:56:19 And then as part of the package, we want to do an interview with a Nick Robinson or Mishal Husain, whoever it might be on television, to run in prime time. So there should be agreement about that package. But I'd be out like we had a situation last time where that was broken on the part of the politician. They didn't honor that commitment. 00:17:56:21 - 00:18:23:05 I say on the assumption that they gave that commitment. So in other words, it's a whole package. And the question will be whether they seek to avoid signing up to a package at the outset and just try and pick and choose the bits and pieces that they want. And I don't know how that plays out because the thing is, you know, the BBC, for example, or Sky or ITV, they always used to connect the things, So you do this and you do this because then we'll get the broad range of, you know, audience show debates, forensic interview, whatever. 00:18:23:07 - 00:18:43:03 So if the parties go in with a different approach, then it's it's hard to see how they kind of how that can be resolved without a return to that norm, which is that in the end we will do something reasonable. Do the broadcasters put their heads together and try and coordinate their efforts, or do you have several different broadcasters all engaged in separate negotiations with several different parties? 00:18:43:05 - 00:19:03:01 My understanding is that because I didn't wasn't involved in the debates debates, there would be more of that kind of collaboration, I don't think, on the precise nature of the other things they would necessarily do that this competition, the BBC or Sky TV, would want to have that the best possible package of things they can offer. So my conversations tend to be directly with the parties as we were under way after that agreement had been reached rather than me. 00:19:03:03 - 00:19:24:23 I wasn't actually brokering the agreements, but I just wonder whether we are possibly heading towards a situation in the 2024 general election, which we assume is going to happen, that maybe the parties don't play that game anymore. Yeah, don't actually submit to forensic interviews, maybe don't have leaders debates either. And it's all been managing their own media and talking directly to the public. 00:19:24:23 - 00:19:43:03 With the broadcasters sidelined? Well, I think there were some of some stories in recent months about the suggestion that Labour and Starmer might not want to do it, which he then denied quite clearly that he was going to do. So I think ultimately, does someone feel they've got too much to lose to do debate? But I feel like the debates are sort of established, but the debates don't deliver very much for me. 00:19:43:03 - 00:20:03:03 I mean, it's a personal taste. I mean, you know, people other people like that format, you know, because of the dynamics of it. I can see when there are moments that are kind of memorable. Although I was at the BBC's last one between Corbyn and Johnson, I can't remember anything about it. The room I was in the room and it was I just for me it was just a repetition of lines that we'd heard a million times. 00:20:03:03 - 00:20:22:00 Well, it's basically Prime Minister's Question time in the studio. Yeah, right. And no more edifying for that. But that doesn't mean I'm not saying they're not a good thing, because I think actually it's good that they exist and that they can deliver. Moments are valuable, but for me, I'll be obsessed by the forensic long form interview is the best way of doing that, and it should be something that's linked to the package, including the debates. 00:20:22:02 - 00:20:42:19 But it seems to me that that's the most the least likely bit to occur. Now, perhaps. I mean, looks say Boris Johnson's broken some norms breaking news. Right. So so those norms were broken in 2019. No longer can that broadcast to say going back decades it always happens. Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, a very different characters to Boris Johnson, but they may not want to do these interviews. 00:20:42:19 - 00:21:00:16 So how do the broadcasters possibly approach it differently this year for the general election? And if you want to try and get them to do that long form interview, accepting that the norm has been broken and they can talk, they can they can speak for precedent and say, well, you know, Boris Johnson didn't do it. We're not going to do it. 00:21:00:18 - 00:21:25:22 But if one of them says yes, how do you ensure that you don't end up in a situation again where the first player says, yes, and that's broadcast and then the second plug is perhaps I won't do that after all. And, you know, the the there's there's an imbalance again in in coverage of Nancy's out the right question because that process was not sort of the light wasn't Charlotte before the Johnson show. 00:21:25:24 - 00:21:44:03 So now there may well be a stipulation that says we need to have the dates laid out and everyone agrees to that before we proceed with anything. But what that does is it hands it to the if anyone does want to do it, one of the two major, the two principal parties, that's their opportunity to not do it and not get the blame because they can say, well, you know, I can't do that, I can't tell you yet. 00:21:44:03 - 00:22:01:05 And you know, this logistics of the campaign we had, it only ever worked because it was fluid. You did it when you could, but in the end, everyone did it because they thought it was the right thing to do. Or you get the first one, you record it, you get it in the can, but you don't broadcast it until the second one's in the can as well. 00:22:01:07 - 00:22:20:17 Yeah, but you know, as you know, I mean, election campaigns are very, very fluid things. So you something you hold something back for seven days. It just becomes, you know, it's old. Stale. Yeah. Is there any merit in trying to do this in a more formal, structured way that there's some kind of a debate commission well in advance, that the parties are all signed up in principle? 00:22:20:17 - 00:22:37:10 We will do this. We will do a major interview. We will know. We will do the package you talked about. Yeah, I mean, I've made that case in the book and Andrew Neil actually signs up to it. Robbie Gibb doesn't think there should be. So we have that interesting dynamic that I asked him because he's a former BBC political program's editor. 00:22:37:10 - 00:22:57:12 He was the same job I did. Yeah. Yeah. And he's now at BBC, is on the board and he's he's on the board at the BBC having in the intervening period worked for Theresa May as her comms director. So I should mention that he, you know, he obviously someone that broadcast and political adviser or senior adviser experience and he would be opposed to all people. 00:22:57:12 - 00:23:15:19 You'd be opposed to this idea there should be any, any kind of stipulations by some kind of body to say what kind of things should happen. He thinks it should be a free market idea. I'm offering this opportunity. Do you want to do it? And they say yes, and the other one says no. And you know, you lose based upon what you're offering others like with them, including Andrew Neil. 00:23:15:21 - 00:23:40:14 So it's not in that writing. You know, I'm more sympathetic to the idea of something a bit like what they have in the States, which would be, here's what we expect as a society on the media side when an election comes, that might be a good idea. I should perhaps declare an interest because the Hansard Society many years ago now, my one of my former colleagues, Stephen Coleman, came up with a sort of first set of ideas for rules for party leaders debates. 00:23:40:14 - 00:24:04:08 And we have at the society been periodically approached by broadcasters about possibly playing the role that's taken by the League of Women Voters in the United States in their debates commission about whether we as a recognized, impartial body that works on Parliament might form that role we've seen is fraught, I think it's fair to say, and it's it's never gone anywhere. 00:24:04:08 - 00:24:27:15 But isn't part of the problem that everybody's agreed that the principle of having the long form interviews in the debates is important. It's important for scrutiny. It's important for, you know, our democracy. But in the end, what it all falls down is that the broadcasters end up in a competition with each other and they don't actually always work together to get the outcome. 00:24:27:15 - 00:24:52:23 But I think that I would argue that the only way to make that change would be to establish the kind of body that you mentioned. But without that, I don't think they'll happen. But you'd be saying that everyone's agreed on the value of the long form. I don't think that's the case. I mean, if Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer and all the others would go on the record and say we are all absolutely believe that it's the right thing to do, that would make it more difficult for them to find a way of ducking it because they would have they would've said, We think it's really more about our mix. 00:24:53:00 - 00:25:13:08 The reality is that some of them will want to avoid it, so we've gone backwards in that sense. A final thought and hopefully the next election will be dominated by long form interviews and leaders, debates and more to establish of how much difference do you think they actually make, all these the moments that can make or break election campaigns change the fates of parties changes? 00:25:13:08 - 00:25:31:03 Prime Minister. Well, I think, you know, I think I guess there's a more fundamental question there about why elections are won by whoever won by these things take a long time. That's the deep seated reasons for that. And I wouldn't suggest that the absence or otherwise of a particular format, you know, a particular election would impact the result, because it depends. 00:25:31:09 - 00:25:51:12 But if it's a close election, as you might, it's just a grown up way of doing things. And also, by the way, it's really important. This is in the context of a leadership election rather than a general election. But Liz Truss, what happened in the run up to that election was that she did not submit herself to any long form interviews apart from one which didn't go so well with Nic Robertson on Radio four. 00:25:51:14 - 00:26:10:17 But she was making a big argument, she said, about the future, and she was Akin, she maintained to Margaret Thatcher in that sense, someone who got big ideas, wants to bring change, but she didn't want to go out and actually have it test online. Margaret Thatcher, She wouldn't even want to go into a situation where it was tested under scrutiny and people could then judge whether it was a sensible, risky. 00:26:10:17 - 00:26:28:01 But she might said, you know, this could hurt, it could go wrong for a bit. But it's the only way. If you want to change things fundamentally, come with me. And here's why. Instead, she did the minimum doubts. In other words, if you get to power, having properly explained, having held yourself up to scrutiny, you have a more valuable mandate to do the things you're saying you want to do. 00:26:28:03 - 00:26:43:24 So it's actually important for you. Politicians often ask, What's in it for me? Well, first, when you get to run the country so that there's that. But secondly, it might help you run the country in the way you want to. If you've gone out and made an argument and won an argument, if you don't argue, you don't and you don't debate properly, then that won't happen. 00:26:44:01 - 00:27:14:23 We can only hope the next election works that way properly. Thanks for joining us on the pod. Thank you. Thanks, Rob. Well, that's all from us for this week's episode of Parliament Matters. Please hit the follow or subscribe button in your podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it lands and help us to make the podcast better by leaving a rating or review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback, I'll producer tells us it's important for the algorithm to give the show a boost and tell us more about the algorithm too. 00:27:15:00 - 00:27:38:03 I know about algorithms. You know, I write my scripts with a quill pen on vellum and then send it in by carrier pigeon. Well, before we go, a quick reminder also that you can send us your questions on all things Parliament by visiting We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know about Parliament. 00:27:38:07 - 00:28:13:15 And you can find us across social media @HansardSociety to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit or find us on social media @HansardSociety. Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit or find us on social media @HansardSociety. Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

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