Tom Richmond: Don’t waste chance to give leaders a public grilling

Theresa May during her TV interview with the BBC's Nick Robinson.
Theresa May during her TV interview with the BBC's Nick Robinson.
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THERESA MAY’S Panorama “interview” was nothing of the sort.

Unlike the past when setpiece political inquisitions by interrogators like Sir Robin Day, David Dimbleby or Brian Walden were broadcast live and stopped the nation, the Prime Minister’s Brexit comments had been trailed so much by the BBC over the previous two days that there was nothing new when the programme went on air.

It shouldn’t be like this. Given how Mrs May and, in fairness, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ducked interviews with some of the major TV and radio broadcasters during last year’s election, the BBC – and others – do need to make more of these opportunities when a prominent politician does finally consent to a one-to-one grilling.

And with Prime Minister’s Questions a weekly shouting match where answers bear little relation to the issue supposedly being considered, I fully support the independent leader’s debate commission being proposed by Sky News anchor Adam Boulton to ensure that there’s clarity in advance over election debates.

It shouldn’t be left to the whim of a party leader whether they take place – or not. They work in other countries and they worked here when Gordon Brown, to the surprise of many, accepted the challenge of David Cameron in 2010 and, in doing so, provided an unexpected platform for Nick Clegg to become a national figure and lead his party into coalition government.

And, if Mrs May does not consent to the commission’s creation, it will suggest the Tories only want debates on their terms when it suits them. Why? Saying she takes PMQs is no defence – backbench MPs don’t get the chance to ask follow-up questions – and a turning point in the 2016 election campaign came when the Tory leader snubbed the seven-way leaders’ debate in Cambridge and let Amber Rudd, the then Home Secretary, take her place.

When Mr Corbyn announced his attendance at the 11th hour, a volte-face the Conservatives’ strategists should have foreseen, she was always going to be on the back foot – and so it proved when she lost her majority.

MATT Hancock is clearly a ‘digital first’ Health Secretary – he wants doctors to make greater use of a controversial smartphone app, called GP at Hand, which uses artificial intelligence to assess symptoms and offer video consultations.

A policy which risks discriminating against the less tech-savvy, I don’t think Mr Hancock realises the extent to which some hospitals are still operating in the digital dark ages and, in doing so, squandering vital money and resources.

Take Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Follow-up appointments for continuing treatment still can’t be made electronically.

And when I had two appointments confirmed this week, the necessary details were sent by post – in separate envelopes. I don’t blame the staff concerned, they’re doing their job and following orders from above.

Yet, even if appointments could be sent by text or email to those who prefer this form of communication, it would perhaps enable major hospitals, like those in Leeds, to follow Mr Hancock’s prescription. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

SO Sir Richard Branson tweeted the other day “Very little annoys me in life, but people turning up late really does”.

He’s clearly not travelled on one of his own trains recently, given the amount of time that he spends in the Caribbean.

And he’s obviously not had any dealings with Virgin Media – I’m still waiting for answers, and the courtesy of a call back, after the wi-fi and broadband went down a month ago and took 10 days to fix (of sorts). But they have put the bill up.

THIS is what the North is up against. When Radio 4’s Today programme reported on the Government’s new rail review, the BBC only cited timetable turmoil on a South East franchise while making no mention of the chaos in this part of the country. Perhaps the London-centric broadcaster should be renamed LBC.

TALKING of the railways, one of the adverts posted by under-fire TransPennine Express on Facebook says ‘Next stop Scarborough’. Not if you travel by TPE. Given the firm’s track record, passengers are more than likely to be turfed off the train at York or Malton, a fact that the promotion omits to mention.

ANDY Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, headed a trade mission to China this week to further boost business links between Beijing and the North West. When is Yorkshire going to have an elected mayor in place who can do likewise for this side of the Pennines?

I HAD my first general election leaflet this week from Jane Aitchison, the Labour candidate for the marginal seat of Pudsey. Strangely there was no mention of Jeremy Corbyn. Presumably he’s not left-wing enough for the aspiring MP who has previously described Prince Charles as “benefit scrounging scum”.

AN interesting observation from David Davis, the ex-Brexit Secretary, on the Tory leadership and merits of his Eurosceptic soul-mate Jacob Rees-Mogg. “No, I don’t think Jacob is a potential Prime Minister,” he told the BBC. Interesting. Just a shame the Haltemprice and Howden MP didn’t elaborate further.

SO Charles Powell, Margaret Thatcher’s chief advisor, was kept waiting at Balmoral while he sought the then PM’s permission to sign papers to extricate KGB double agent Oleg Gordievsky from Russia. Why? Royal aides were looking for the Queen Mum’s video so the Queen could watch Dad’s Army. Only in Britain...

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk