Labour activists are furious. It was widely assumed that the difficult interview of Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC’s Andrew Neil would be followed up with one featuring Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister could then finally be confronted with robust criticism, as Neil – although a Tory himself – is known to give every politician a tough time. Nicola Sturgeon has already had her turn, and there was no reason to think that the BBC would broadcast two interviews with party leaders before getting all of them signed up.
We were wrong to make that reasonable assumption, it turns out. The BBC has said: “For those asking when Boris Johnson’s interview will take place, we’re in ongoing discussions with his team but we haven’t yet been able to fix a date”. Johnson could well decide that being called a chicken is less damaging to Tory electoral prospects than an interrogation that would surely be seen and shared more widely than the Andrew Neil interview of any other party leader. Johnson has been careful, after all, to take limited questions from journalists throughout this campaign period.
Labour was assured that Johnson’s own interview was going ahead next week, a party source has told LBC’s Theo Usherwood. LabourList has been told the same. This saga raises serious questions about the BBC’s judgment. The other interviews should not have been broadcast without dates being fixed for every party leader. If Johnson does refuse to go ahead with an interview, a substitute such as Rishi Sunak cannot be accepted. Andrew Neil should empty chair the Prime Minister, and read out a long list of typically cutting questions. Stick a tub of lard in Johnson’s place. Nothing less dramatic would do.