Tory minister declines John Humphrys interview over pay comments

Exclusive: Tracey Crouch did not appear on Today programme after leaked Carrie Gracie joke

A Conservative minister refused to be interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after John Humphrys made light of a colleague’s fight for equal pay, it can be revealed.

The Guardian understands that the stand taken by Tracey Crouch has been followed by a number of other female MPs, who are using informal parliamentary networks to encourage a potential boycott.

They are angry that the flagship radio show’s presenter has failed to apologise for a leaked conversation with the BBC’s North American editor, Jon Sopel.

In the recording, Humphrys joked about Carrie Gracie’s warnings over the gender pay gap at the BBC, telling his male colleague: “Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should lose money – you know that don’t you?”

Crouch, who would not comment when contacted by the Guardian, told friends that a similar conversation between two male ministers would have resulted in demands for an apology or the prospect of losing their job.

It is understood that Crouch, a minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, turned down a bid from the Today programme as part of a wider media round on her new role tackling loneliness.

Her decision led the editor of the programme to raise the issue with Downing Street, which blamed logistics, according to insiders.

Another female politician who was asked to appear on Today told producers that she would consider the bid but wanted to express her annoyance about Humphrys’ comments. “When they told me it would be him interviewing me, I just laughed,” said the MP, who refused to go on. She then shared her story with colleagues who decided to follow suit.

One guest who appeared on Today claimed a figure at the radio programme said it was struggling to attract senior women.

Sources at the BBC rejected the claim, pointing to recent interviews with the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, and Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Rosena Allin-Khan. They also said that while they could not comment on individual staff matters the management at the BBC were “deeply unimpressed” by the recording.

However, a number of MPs offered Crouch their backing. Stella Creasy said politicians wanted to “show solidarity” with the women in the BBC, because of Humphrys and the general response to Gracie’s decision to resign.

Creasy, who was furious that the BBC blocked journalists who had tweeted their support for Gracie from presenting on-air segments about the pay row, was one of 72 MPs writing to the culture secretary, Matthew Hancock, to warn of a “chilling effect”.

“We remain concerned about how the BBC is handling equal pay and handling staff speaking out so decided to show solidarity to get them to take it seriously,” she said. “It’s the responsibility of every staff member to take these issues seriously and it doesn’t appear at the moment that John Humphrys is on the same page.”

The Tory former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan said Crouch’s decision would make her “think twice” about being interviewed by Humphrys.

Instead of apologising, Humphrys defended the “jocular exchange”, insisting that he was “totally in support of equal pay for equal work”. He insisted that a female producer thought it was funny, and admitted he was “mildly” annoyed it had been leaked.

The presenter, who was initially revealed to be earning between £600,000 and £649,000, has offered to take three voluntary pay cuts amid the controversy over pay. His salary will now drop to between £250,000 and £300,000.

1. Chris Evans £2.2m - £2.25m

2. Gary Lineker £1.75m - £1.8m

3. Graham Norton £850,0000 - £899,999

4. Jeremy Vine £700,000 - £749,999

5. John Humphrys £600,000 - £649,999

6. Huw Edwards £550,000 - £599,999

7. Steve Wright £500,000 - £549,999

= 8. Claudia Winkleman £450,000 - £499,999

= 8. Matt Baker £450,000 - £499,999

= 9. Nicky Campbell £400,000 - £449,999

= 9. Andrew Marr £400,000 - £449,999

= 9. Stephen Nolan £400,000 - £449,999

= 9. Alan Shearer £400,000 - £449,999

=9. Alex Jones £400,000 - £449,000

10. Fiona Bruce £350,000 - £399,999

But Labour’s Alison McGovern and Jess Phillips stressed that his comments in what he thought was a private conversation were a concern.

“You spend your life in politics as a woman paranoid that the men don’t want you to be there, and when you hear the comments ... it dawns on you that perhaps some of them actually don’t,” said McGovern.

Phillips said: “I think Tracey is right. He should be made to explain himself. His attitude speaks exactly of the kind of stuff we are up against, and that is the idea that we are nagging. The tone is sexist – and that’s what we have to put up with.”

She admitted that if the Today programme asked her on to speak about certain subjects she would ask for an alternative presenter.

“It is not because I can’t stand up to him,” Phillips said. “I just don’t want to get into a row about gender-based violence, rowing belittles the issue.” Regarding the leaked recording, Phillips called for a “bit of mea culpa from an organisation I love”.

Crouch has clashed with the veteran broadcaster before when he asked the sports minister about a “very low-cut” new Manchester United kit for the women’s team. She hit back: “Manchester United have got a new strip for their women supporters, not for their footballers, because unfortunately Manchester United do not have a women’s football team ... ”

A spokeswoman for the culture department admitted that Crouch had not managed to fit in the Today programme in the media round, but said: “Tracey Crouch spoke to a number of broadcasters, including the BBC, on her role leading the government’s new loneliness strategy.”

A BBC statement described Humphrys’ comments as “ill-advised” and said he regretted them. It added: “The BBC is committed to getting its pay structures right and, as we have said, we are conducting a comprehensive analysis of presenter pay.”


Anushka Asthana Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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