The decision by the government to refuse to allow any cabinet minister onto BBC Question Time yesterday has generated a fair bit of comment today.
I had a bit of a debate with a couple of people on Twitter earlier but quickly realised that I was not going to be able to easily express my view in 140 characters.
Firstly, I should say that I think whatever the situation, for the government to refuse to allow a cabinet minister onto the show is a mistake. It looks evasive and even in some ways potentially weak. This is compounded by the fact that it is the week of the first Queen's Speech of the coalition. Surely in this of all weeks a high ranking government representative should be on the nations foremost political debating show to promote and defend its policies?
The reasons given for not allowing a minister on were two-fold. Firstly they were not happy about the fact that Alistair Campbell was on (along with Piers Morgan) effectively representing the Labour Party. Although Campbell was very close to both Blair and Brown and wielded significant power in their respective governments, he is not actually an official Labour spokesman and had never been elected to office on that basis either and now is not even an adviser. He has a certain level of removal from the whole process which he can deploy, after all he is just giving his personal opinion. There is something a bit asymmetric about this situation where he can attack the government but not have to defend the Labour party. the second reason was that the BBC has asked John Redwood to be a guest. I guess the suspicion was that they would try to find differences between Redwood and whoever the government minister was. In fact it has been slated to be David Laws. The crazy thing is though that I am certain Laws would have more than held his own even in this situation.
The government are going to have to get used to this new arrangement regarding the media and accept that sometimes backbench coalition MPs might be on the same platform as a minister. And yes, perhaps chinks of light will be exposed but that's just something we will have to learn to cope with, both government and the media. Perhaps it may even, horror of horrors result in a slightly more grown-up discourse where genuinely held differences can be debated more openly.
The bottom line is that the government needs to do better than they did yesterday.