Last night, Boris Johnson threw his toys out of the pram. According to an anonymous Tory source, his party threatened to review Channel 4’s license after the broadcaster refused to allow Michael Gove to substitute for him in the climate debate. He also bizarrely sent his dad along to argue the case. That’s right, you did read that correctly – he did what any respectable candidate for PM would do and called in his daddy.
Channel 4 rebuffed protests from Johnson’s “two wing men”, Stanley Johnson and best pal Gove who went down to the studio last night, and replaced him with a melting ice sculpture of the planet earth. The Tory leader was busy, probably. He had to wash his hair or… something. Whatever it was, it was more important than debating the climate emergency. Nigel Farage also declined to attend the debate, but other leaders Nicola Sturgeon, Jo Swinson, Adam Price and Sian Berry joined Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour leader performed well, emphasising that this election is “the last chance to tackle our climate emergency”. He was the only candidate to link harmful patterns of behaviour to affordability – reflecting that Labour is the only party which understands that climate change is a class issue – talking about the need to expand railways and improve bus services to cut down on air and car pollution. And he sounded human as he told the audience he only turned the heating on last week, saying: “I’m quite miserable on this basis. I don’t like the waste of energy.”
The Tories were the clear losers last night thanks to Johnson’s failure to show up. The Conservatives must be gambling that the Leave voters they’re chasing don’t care about the climate emergency – which is not something borne out by the polling.
John McDonnell is going to set out plans today which aim to tackle climate change and regional inequality at the same time. He is expected to detail how Labour’s promised one million green jobs will be distributed across the country. The party has also announced that it would plant two billion trees by 2040. The proposal has received some ridicule but, as John McDonnell pointed out on the Today programme: “In Ethiopia they – this sounds fantastic but it’s true – they planted 300 million in one day.”
The Conservatives got into a row with the BBC, too, yesterday after sharing a Facebook ad with edited content from the broadcaster. They were asked to take it down – so it’s only a matter of time before dear old daddy shows up. But will we see a Channel 4-style stand taken by the BBC? Sadly we’re not likely to see a strong response, given the way the broadcaster appears to have meekly rolled over on the Andrew Neil interview.
Johnson has so far ducked his half-hour grilling with Neil, instead offering to appear on The Andrew Marr Show. Commenting this morning, McDonnell said: “This is a matter of honour. He’s playing the BBC. You should be annoyed… You should be as angry as we are.” Rather than empty chair the candidate, the BBC is chasing him to rearrange. Would any other party leader be able to expect the same treatment? No chance.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.