Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The day I was sort of Nick Robinson for a few minutes

One of the highlights of blogging for me has been the opportunity to appear on the radio. It's not something I've really covered on here much. Most other bloggers seem to take it in their stride and most "normal" (i.e. non-political) people I know are a bit nonplussed as to what it's all about.

But I have really enjoyed the times that I have been asked to go onto various radio stations and debate politics. Sometimes it has been over the phone but often it has been in the studio which has been a particularly fascinating aspect of it for me. I have always been very interested in broadcasting and although I never pursued it academically or career-wise (I always assumed it would be too difficult to break into and I'd be far better off following a safer bet - in my case software development) to have been able to see behind the scenes and be involved in radio shows has been a real privilege. It still happens a little bit nowadays. Only last week I was on with Jacqui Smith on LBC discussing the local election results (down the line). It's more infrequent nowadays though. Partly because I get less offers and partly because I am less able to get to studios these days and have to turn more offers down.

Through this process I have met and debated with some of the most interesting people involved in politics and political commentary including James Forsyth, Mehdi Hasan, Shane Greer (many, many times!), Lance Price, Iain Dale, Tim Montgomerie, Steve Webb, Olly Grender, Alex Hilton, Harry Cole and Kate Hoey (who is one of the nicest people I have ever met in politics) amongst dozens of others.

Some of the highlights for me of this rather unexpected facet of my political commentator life have been:

  • The chance to meet and (slightly) get to know Ken Livingstone. He used to present a show on LBC (sometimes with David Mellor) and I was invited on several times around the time of the 2010 General Election. I got the feeling that both Ken and David quite liked me - indeed David even said as much on air, the old flatterer! Ken Livingstone is a political hero of some in my family who are of a bit more of a socialist bent than me. I told him so after the first time I was on (thinking it might be my last) and he had a big grin on his face. My scariest moment on air with Ken was when I was doing a paper review with him and we were talking about sects. He mentioned how the Scientologists once tried to recruit him and he referred to them as a "cult". I said "They don't like to be called a cult Ken" and for the rest of the show I was paranoid that I had tripped over my words and "done a Naughtie"! I think it was OK though...
  • Being part of 5 Live's coverage following the final leader's debate during the 2010 election. Tony Livesey was the presenter and I was on the panel with Iain Dale and Will Straw. That was tremendous fun, especially the part where we were asked to answer questions as if we were our respective leaders. I mimicked one of the things Clegg had done during the debate (making out I couldn't see the questioner) which got a big laugh from the assembled audience. I also saw the way Will was able to handle a very hostile question with charm and skill which certainly made me think he will be an MP some day and could well go far.
  • Being asked a few months ago to go into BBC TV Centre and be on about 15 different BBC local radio stations over the course of two hours discussing the "Cameron veto" and the Lib Dem response to it. It was fascinating being a part of how so many different local breakfast shows were being made. Some were pre-recorded but many of them were live. They all had the same introductory script for the piece but it was also interesting to see which ones stuck to it, which ones paraphrased and which ones just leapt straight in. It showed me there are all sorts of different ways to cover the same story and certainly kept me on my toes. I pretty much used all the notes I had prepared for that day.

But perhaps my most surreal moment occurred the day after the 2010 General Election. I had been up all night in the National Liberal Club with Mark Valladares and our then party president Ros Scott (which in itself was a turn up for the books) watching the results roll in. I had had no sleep and had been on 5 Live from College Green in the morning. Then at 1:00pm I went over to Bush House (a remarkable building by the way) to be on the BBC World Service Newshour programme. I turned up and was on at first with Mehdi talking to Claire Balderson about the results and what we thought might happen next. Half way through the hour Mehdi had to go and his seat was taken by John Kampfner. Then just as we restarted the debate we suddenly got interrupted by a statement from No 10 Downing Street. Gordon Brown came out and announced to the assembled media that he would also like to make an offer to the Lib Dems. This was following Cameron's "open and generous" offer to the party in the morning. After the short statement Claire came straight back into the studio. She spoke briefly to John and then said something like "Mark Thompson, would you like to interpret what just happened for us?"

I am a software engineer who 18 months earlier had started dabbling with a bit of blogging in my bedroom as and when I could find the time. Now I was being asked to interpret fast-moving political events on one of the most important political days in the UK this century on a live radio show being broadcast to millions of people around the world. Surreal is probably an understatement for the situation I found myself in.

I said something along the lines of "Gordon Brown clearly doesn't want to be left as a political wallflower and is showing a bit of ankle to Nick Clegg and fluttering his eyelashes." and tried to put that into a bit more context regarding Brown's mention of PR.

At least I now know how it feels to be Nick Robinson.

Well, a sort of Z-list Nick Robinson.

From Runcorn.

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