Politicians feel television and radio grillings are “all risk” with almost “no opportunity”, Nick Robinson has said after Liz Truss cancelled an interview with him at the last minute.
The Conservative leadership frontrunner was to be interrogated by the senior BBC journalist in a face-to-face interview due to be broadcast at 7pm on Tuesday on BBC One. However, she pulled out on Monday because she could “no longer spare the time”.
Asked what events she was taking part in on Tuesday, her campaign said there was “nothing to flag today”.
A source from the foreign secretary’s campaign said she was not taking part in the interview, which she had agreed to, as she was focusing on winning as many votes as possible ahead of the leadership result on Monday and preparing for government.
Writing for the BBC, Robinson said he suspected that Truss had “yet to finalise her plans” on the cost-of-living crisis and was “reluctant to have that demonstrated on TV in front of an audience of millions”.
The BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter added: “The BBC doesn’t believe it is entitled to interview those who govern or want to govern us. I’m all too aware of the huge pressure politicians, and their often very small teams, face.
“However, I do want to say why broadcast interviews matter for the health of our democracy. In this contest, tens of millions of people have had no say in the choice of their own leader. They want to see and hear their leaders questioned, challenged and tested.”
A source in Sunak’s campaign said their tally showed Truss had done just two broadcast interviews of any form during the campaign, whereas the former chancellor had undertaken nine, which included three spots on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and an appearance on ITV’s This Morning.
Robinson said politicians and advisers claimed interviews were no longer about “engaging in a grown-up conversation” and that instead of watching the interviews live, many “view short excerpts on social media, which are usually gaffes or grandstanding questions by preening interviewers”.
The BBC journalist insisted this was “up to a point”, as “about 2 million people watched my BBC One interview with Rishi Sunak” broadcast last month and “some 7 million listen to the big interviews on the Today programme”.
The broadcaster Andrew Neil said Truss refused an interview with him on Channel 4 during the leadership contest. Sunak agreed to be interviewed by the veteran journalist.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, also pulled out of an interview with Neil on the BBC before the December 2019 general election despite all other leaders from the major parties agreeing to do so.
Robinson concluded: “The in-depth political interview is dead, say some. Boris Johnson hated them.
“Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn weren’t much keener. I hope and believe they are wrong.
“That’s why I look forward to an in-depth interview with our next prime minister, whether it’s Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak.”