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No One Expects the Political Inquisition

John Rentoul

weekendworld2 300x180 No One Expects the Political InquisitionI don’t want to come over all golden ageist, but I do miss the full-length live political interview. The other day a friend recalled one of Brian Walden’s greats in about 1989, with John Smith, Labour Shadow Chancellor, who accused Nigel Lawson of having a one-club policy of raising interest rates.

Walden asked Smith what he would do instead, and Smith said that he would impose credit controls. Walden asked, Wouldn’t restricting the supply of credit increase its price, namely interest rates? To which Smith had no answer.

Now is surely the time for Ed Miliband to be subjected to a Walden-style examination on his energy freeze policy. What is to stop the energy companies putting the price up before the freeze comes into effect? Or afterwards? Is he saying that the companies’ profits are supernormal and that Ofgem, the regulator, hasn’t noticed? Or that the companies are colluding in concealing their real profit margins? How does he expect the companies to pay for investment in new, lower-carbon generating capacity?

Equally, why have David Cameron and George Osborne not been interviewed at length about their Help to Buy policy? How can it possibly produce more gainers than losers except by pushing house prices up so much that it encourages a little more house building? Should the Government be guaranteeing credit in the housing market? Is it not just a gimmick for recycling money to create a group of grateful beneficiaries and hidden losers?

Instead, since the party conferences, they have all been allowed to get away with short clips or, in Osborne’s case, a slightly longer radio interview. And when they do finally return to Andrew Marr’s sofa, which is usually the longest journalistic engagement they face, it will all be divided up into subject chunks, in which even a central question of economics will be allocated 3 minutes 30 seconds or whatever before moving on to immigration or social security.

Which is a shame for democracy.

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  • Moneycircus

    John, excepting a very slightly older generation of political reporters, the fault has to lie with those reporters now in their 40s and very early 50s who have let this come to pass.

    These are the reporters who shaped the television we have, along, of course, with the television executives of the same era.

    Political spin masters have power, but television shapes the context (or lack of context) in which political issues are (not) debated.

  • chrishaines47

    Golden age. Proustian recollections of The Clangers. A time when police did not lie and get away with murder. Thanks Tony.

  • Simon Delancey

    “How does he expect the companies to pay for investment in new, lower-carbon generating capacity?”

    Well, exactly – they’ve been skimping on maintenance and upkeep for years, so its hardly fair to expect them to invest in anything!

  • mightymark

    Brian Walden was brilliant – used to turn on every Sunday to see him. I think it as Peter jay who succeeded him – he was quite good too but basically there’s no one to equal Walden.


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