Bill Carmichael: How Theresa May is dancing away from any real scrutiny

MODERN politics moves at such a bewilderingly fast pace sometimes it is hard to keep up.

Was Theresa May rightn to shun Channel 4 News during the Tory conference?

For example a year ago Theresa May was at the lowest ebb of her premiership after a conference speech that can only be described as a catalogue of disasters.

You may recall that first of all a prankster managed to evade security to hand the Prime Minister a P45 while she was speaking at the podium, and then she suffered a prolonged coughing fit that wrecked her address.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Then, to put a tin hat on the whole fiasco, the set started collapsing around her. It was, at times, too painful to watch.

Fast forward to this week and I expected a return to steady-as-she-goes pragmatism by the normally over-cautious Mrs May.

Instead she bounced to the podium to the music of Abba’s Dancing Queen, reprising some of her ‘Maybot’ dance moves as she went, and delivered an optimistic speech full of brio and vim.

I particularly admired the section where she called for a return of civility in our politics and an end to the bitterness and bile that characterises debate in the social media age.

Mrs May had warm words for Labour’s Diane Abbott, a trailblazer and role model as Britain’s first black female MP who sadly comes in for a sack load of racist and misogynist abuse, much of it online.

Criticise her for her policies – that’s fair enough and there is plenty to aim at there – but leave her weight, gender and the colour of her skin out of it.

And incidentally, could you ever imagine any senior Labour figures offering praise for a political opponent in this way? Not likely! “Tory Scum” is about as good as it gets. So much for the “kinder, gentler politics” that Jeremy Corbyn promised.

The Prime Minister condemned Labour for the fear it has planted amidst the UK’s Jewish community with its rampant anti-Semitism, and contrasted Corbyn’s knee-jerk Russophilia with the solid patriotism of past Labour leaders from Clem Attlee to Neil Kinnock by way of Jim Callaghan.

There was also some indication that austerity may be coming to an end and encouraging news on increased house building, the freeze on fuel duty and earlier cancer diagnosis.

And there was a withering putdown for Boris Johnson over his apparently cavalier attitude towards British business in the Brexit negotiations, although curiously Mrs May never uttered the ‘c’ word – Chequers. Maybe she is preparing for another shift in position?

So a good speech, apparently penned by a young speechwriter called Keelan Carr, a former comprehensive schoolboy from Wakefield.

But before we offer three cheers 
there were also some worrying developments at this year’s conference – in particular Mrs May’s reported reluctance to subject herself to examination from journalists.

To be fair she did a grindingly tough sit-down interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr during which she was repeatedly pressed on Brexit and her culpability for the Windrush scandal.

But, as the week progressed, it quickly become clear she was turning down interview requests from all the major broadcasters.

First Channel 4 anchor Jon Snow said she had refused him a one-on-one and then Piers Morgan of ITV’s Good Morning Britain accused her of being “scared” of an interview.

Andy Bell, political editor at Channel 5 News, said he was “very disappointed that for the first time in too many years 
to count” he had been refused an interview.

Eventually editors at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky sent a joint letter to Number 10 complaining of lack of access to the Prime Minister.

I don’t suppose there will be much sympathy among the public for my journalist colleagues, but let’s put aside the inflated egos of the big television anchors for a moment and dwell on the substance of the editors’ joint letter.

They pointed to the worrying developments in the US where President Donald Trump has tried to exclude questions from broadcasters he disapproves of.

The letter goes on: “For a functioning democracy it is vital that politicians and in particular the leaders and even prime ministers are also questioned and held to account in one-to-one interviews.”

Three cheers for that!