There was a full-blown bust-up on this morning's Today programme between ultra-biased James Naughtie and George Osborne. Naughtie was on fully-biased form again, badgering Mr Osborne over the Conservatives' Co-operative scheme before moving onto the issue of the deficit. http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8515000/8515699.stm
The bust-up was still to come though.
Labour has been bandying about the phrase 'swingeing cuts' in connection with the Conservatives and Naughtie began the section on tackling the deficit by bandying it about too (it's at 3.38 on the clip linked to above). He is what he said: "Just let me turn to what happens to public spending after the election. We've had David Cameron talking about 'swingeing cuts' and then that was slightly watered down. There won't be swingeing cuts, it was said, but there will be very strong efforts to control public spending."
At 5.13 Naughtie pursued the point, saying, "I don't doubt that anyone reading it (the letter from the economists) can doubt that it's an interesting and important letter but surely what it means is that there needs to be, in the view of those economists, 'swingeing cuts', which is precisely what David Cameron, presumably to avoid scaring people, said there wouldn't be. Who's right, the economists or your leader?"
Mr Osborne begin his answer but within 4 seconds (!) Naughtie barged in again with "they want 'swingeing cuts!'
This was too much for Mr Osborne. At last the worm turned! (And not before time!!)
This is how the exchange went from then on:
Osborne: "You keep using this word 'swingeing', which you first attributed to David Cameron and he never used, now attribute it to the economists, and I've got the letter in front on me and..."
Naughtie (interrupting:) "I'm sorry, if I'm wrong about that I apologize, but I thought he said there wouldn't be 'swingeing cuts'?
Osborne: "Exactly. He said there wouldn't be 'swingeing cuts', he...
Naughtie (interrupting angrily): "So he did say used the word 'swingeing'. Sorry, let's be clear about this. You said I said he used the word 'swingeing' and he didn't. He did!"
Osborne: "Jim, er, this is a semantic point but earlier you were saying David Cameron had said there would be 'swingeing cuts', then you said that the economists were saying there will be 'swingeing cuts', let's get to the key..."
Naughtie (interrupting angrily): "No. Let's be clear about this. David Cameron had said there wouldn't be 'swingeing cuts' and I was suggesting to you that the economists' letter and you own approach suggested that there would be such cuts, because they were necessary and because Ken Clarke had said we would have to have a deeper attack on public spending than under Margaret Thatcher, that's the argument..."
Osborne: "Let's move on from the semantic point and concentrate on the central point here..."
As you can very clearly see , every single word of what George Osborne said here was 100% correct:
- Naughtie had kept using the word 'swingeing'
- Naughtie had "first attributed" the word to David Cameron ("We've had David Cameron talking about 'swingeing cuts' and then that was slightly watered down.")
- He had, therefore, not just used it earlier in the interview (as he claimed) in connection with Cameron's 'after' policy (i.e. when "David Cameron had said there wouldn't be 'swingeing cuts'") but with his 'before' policy too.
George Osborne had caught Naughtie out. Naughtie lied and blustered in response. Absolutely shameful behaviour.
The interview lasted 7 minutes, contained 11 interruptions and resulted in an I.C. of 1.7.
Later in the same hour Naughtie interviewed Mr Osborne's opposite number, Alistair Darling. The interview lasted a couple of minutes more than the one with George Osborne but contained significantly fewer interruptions - 6 as compared to the 11 against Mr Osborne. The resultant I.C. was 0.7 compared to 1.7. Naughtie's tone during the interview was odd, as you can hear here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8515000/8515775.stm
Had his producers had a quiet word in the mean time and told him that he's been caught out and might be in trouble? Was that a nervous laugh at 7.04? He seemed to be trying to sound more forceful with Mr Darling that he would usually be but without much success - he merely sounded wimpish and unconvincing! His natural reluctance to make trouble for his party (Labour)triumphed over what seemed to be his desire to make some amends for his earlier transgressions. Have a listen and see what you think.