Sunday 12 September 2021

In which Nick Robinson avoids answering the question

The Telegraph features a letter from Nick Robinson replying to criticism from Lord Howard
SIR – I’m sorry that Michael Howard is turning off his radio. He will have missed some illuminating and civilised conversations this week on Today – with the head of MI5 and Tony Blair examining the fallout from 9/11; the Archbishop of Canterbury on climate change and the Health Secretary on the crises in the NHS and social care.

The joy of live radio is that it can move us – bringing joy when we hear of Emma Raducanu’s success; tears when we hear the memories of those haunted by 9/11 and, yes, sometimes anger when we shout at the radio at a politician who is being evasive or an interviewer who interrupts too much.

We presenters don’t always get it right but we do our best to balance allowing those we interview to get their message across and holding them to account. 
I hope Lord Howard will be back listening soon and, perhaps, back in the studio too, where he has always robustly answered, rather than ignored, challenging questions.
I had to chuckle at Nick's closing paragraph because he, Nick Robinson, didn't ''robustly answer'' the nub of Lord Howard's criticism of him. Or to put it another way, he, Nick Robinson ''ignored'' the ''challenging'' point at the heart of Michael Howard's piece:
The final straw, for me, was Nick Robinson’s interview with Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine minister, on Tuesday of this week. Tuesday was, of course, the day when the Government announced its proposals for the reform of social care.
But as Mr Robinson well knew, the details had to be announced to Parliament before they could be broadcast. Indeed, had this convention been broken and caused a reprimand from the Speaker, the BBC’s journalists would have been the first, gleefully, to point to the Government’s discomfort.

Yet when Mr Zahawi attempted to explain this and said that he had come on to the programme to discuss the £5.4 billion which had just been announced for the NHS, Mr Robinson said that this was a complete waste of time and threatened to end the interview there and then.

You and I may think that listeners would have been very interested in how this money was going to be spent but not a single question was addressed to that topic. Instead Mr Robinson spent the whole interview berating the minister for not doing what Mr Robinson knew full well he couldn’t do.

So why did Nick Robinson avoid answering that? Was it a little too close to the bone?

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