Boris Johnson: The day I met the future Prime Minister
The day I interviewed Boris Johnson was back in January 2015. Mr Johnson was Mayor of London and had been invited to speak to Conservative party members at the Alma Inn in Laneshaw Bridge, by the MP for Pendle Andrew Stephenson. Back then, I was a reporter for the commercial radio station 2BR.
The schedule for interviews on that shift was tight, in order to fit as much into the day as possible. I had been speaking to an interviewee in Chorley previously and had to travel the length of the M65 motorway and get through the often congested town centre of Colne in rush hour, in order to get there on time. Not an easy task but, luckily, I arrived before Mr Johnson (I can’t recall if he was late or not) and made my way through the pub to the media area.
Interviewing politicians is all part of the day job, of course. During my career, I’ve had chance to grill other high profile members of parliament in person such as Ed Miliband, William Hague and Jack Straw. There was quite a buzz in the venue for this one though, whether that would have been the case for members of the public rather than just party members – who knows?
Boris Johnson arrived and the interviews began with the various news outlets – TV, print and radio represented. Rather than a pool, we conducted these one by one and each reporter was given a chunk of time to ask questions. For me, this is preferable to the “round robin” style of interview because you can tailor your piece accordingly and it wasn’t limited to a set amount of questions.
There was only one snag; 2BR was last on the list and I could overhear some of my questions being asked by my fellow media colleagues. Before my turn, I figured out ways I could re-word certain relevant topics so the answers wouldn’t seem rehearsed at best and at worse that I was covering old ground. As a former journalist himself, Boris Johnson wasn’t perturbed nor did he start to lag after the long line of questioners. He spoke to me as if I was the first person at the event he’d met.
The perceived “north / south divide” perhaps predictably, but nevertheless importantly, featured in my line of questioning. Something which is still at the forefront of people’s minds. Even now, as we try to decipher what the future of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ may be.
It became clear, very quickly, that Mr Johnson couldn’t be specific with the details. Preferring instead to defer to his Conservative colleagues to relay various bits of information. He did so with aplomb, in keeping with his charismatic character.
Understandable for a Mayor of London on an appearance up north, maybe? But a trend others have noted as his political profile has risen. Here’s a recent example from an interview during the Conservative leadership campaign with the BBC’s Andrew Neil:
Speeches took place after an obligatory photocall. Guess what? Pulling a pint behind the bar! That is where my brief meeting with our future Prime Minister ends. Many others have their experiences: I was interested to read broadcaster Jeremy Vine’s ‘Boris Johnson Story’, as documented in The Spectator blog. (Incidentally, that was the inspiration for this blog post.)
They say a week’s a long time in politics and four and a half years ago the word Brexit hadn’t even entered parlance. The political agenda is very different now. Regardless of all the interviews, jokes and blunders – what happens next in Boris Johnson’s premiership will be the story the British public remember the most.
General election fever
Have you recovered from all the election coverage yet? For journalists, snap election is something we weren’t planning and had no control over but it was actually a fabulous showcase for our work, across all platforms.
I’ve now voted in three general elections but have also covered them for three separate radio stations. All different formats and I’ve had a range of roles each time.
2010 – I was a first time voter and also in the final year of my undergrad degree at the University of Manchester. I was heavily involved in our student radio station Fuse FM as part of the committee who ran the station. Although I presented programmes and had read a few bulletins, news wasn’t really my area at the time. As ironic as that sounds, considering I now live and breathe news! I was Head of Marketing and had responsibility for the ‘Street Team’. We were heavily involved in generating content and vox pops from voters. We were also really excited that BBC 5Live had decided to broadcast from the students’ union during the night.
I’d been invited to take part in local community radio station, North Manchester FM‘s, election coverage as a studio guest. Charlie Walduck was roving reporter at the count at Manchester Town Hall, providing inserts and interviews with candidates. It was an ambitious project for a community station on limited resources. It was the forerunner broadcast for me to apply for my own show and then becoming a presenter on the station.
2015 – Five years later, I was working in radio professionally for commercial radio group UKRD’s stations The Bee and 2BR. Lancashire Election Night Live was another big broadcast; the first time the two stations had simulcast together. I was reporting from the town hall on the night. Blackburn is a safe seat with a long Labour legacy. However, this particular year was interesting because, the town was getting a new MP with the retirement of former cabinet minister, Jack Straw. I provided live inserts to the all-night broadcast including scene sets, interviews with candidates and conducted the live victory interview with Kate Hollern MP.
2017 – We were doing it all over again, sooner than anyone thought! This time I’d moved stations a couple of junctions westbound on the M65 for BBC Radio Lancashire. Yet another ambitious project! In the lead up to the election, I was one of the breakfast producers who sourced content for the OB’s on Graham Liver’s ‘Big Election Breakfast Tour’ coming live from constituencies all around the county. Along with the Lancashire pop up living room “double-gussetted long-handled Graham Liver at breakfast” bags were handed out to listeners in every corner of the county.
On results day itself, I felt like I’d drawn a particularly long straw, reading our afternoon news bulletins. I love being part of big news days when listeners have a real thirst for developing information. It’s always a privilege to be able to deliver it to them, I’d broadcast previously the day after the EU referendum and when Theresa May was originally announced as Prime Minister, so was well up for whatever the day would bring…
I compiled and read our two extended 10-minute-long bulletins at 13:00 and 17:00. Keeping us journos on our toes, Theresa May began speaking on the steps of Downing Street at around 12:55! We got a clip of her saying she would form a government in the top story. That’s what I love about bulletin reading; the adrenaline rush you get when news is just coming in or changing. On results day, the breaking news buzz didn’t waiver all day long, with new lines coming in all the time.
Depending on your political views, general elections can mean a lot of different things for different people. There’s just some of my memorable moments. We might be making some more soon. Who knows? As we’ve seen over the last seven years – anything can happen in politics!
Lancashire County Council slash services in budget
Lancashire County Councillors voted through all proposed cuts at their annual budget meeting.
It sees £65 million slashed from services, including funding for five museums across the county, some bus routes in rural areas and other services, such as libraries.
All elected members were present in what would arguably be one of the most important meetings of the year. Labour councillor, David Borrow, began proceedings saying the budget outlined had been some of the “most difficult decisions” they have ever had to make.
Cllr Borrow said, if current spending continued, there would be no reserves left to be used in emergency situations, by the 2018/2019 budget. The Preston North West councillor said in May the cabinet had to make the decisions from working with multi-agencies. He commented that other Conservative controlled councils, such as Surrey, are not facing such financial difficulties: “Lancashire has been one of the hardest hit.”
The government’s ‘transitional fund’ has given the county £2.3 million. In comparison, Surrey has received £24 million. Hampshire gets £18 million and the Prime Minister’s home county of Oxfordshire will receive £9 million.
“There will be cuts for years to come”, Councillor Borrow said. “I know how important it is for all museums to continue.” Views and expressions of int
interest in running the facilities are being sought up until March.
It was noted that the highways budget is being looked at “which should reassure those who are the victims of the floods.” Cllr Borrow went on to say that, at the beginning of the coalition government (in 2010) spending was cut for flood defences.
Continuing to criticise the conservative government, Cllr Borrow said “the public health grant has now been cut by 1.7 million.”
[PHOTO: Councillor David Borrow addresses the chamber from the Cabinet.]
Former leader of the county councillor, Geoff Driver, was next to stand. The Preston North member was presenting an amendment of from the Conservatives to Labour’s budget plans. Cllr Driver said that, when he was in charge, the Tories left more money in the reserves than they inherited. “This administration has not helped itself”, he said. “There is a corporate strategy but no plan.”
Cllr Driver then criticised the council’s handling of turning the listed building of Preston Bus Station into a Youth Zone. Speaking of the competition to fund a new design he said: “there will be insufficient funds… It’s absolute madness!
“It’s alright saving money for a rainy day, but it’s raining now.” The Conservative budget amendment to the proposed budget mainly looked at financing services by borrowing money to fund them, rather than cutting. Councillor Graham Gooch was one of a series of members who spoke in the debate that followed. The South Ribble West representative said: “No consultations had been done before these budget decisions were made. The decisions have not been made properly.”
A lively discussion broke out with councillor John Fillis, from Skelmersdale East. It left Burnley chairperson Margaret Brindle reminding members to show respect: “This is not a bear pit”, she said.
Sitting near the back of the chamber, alongside Independent members, Lancashire’s only Green Party councillor, Gina Dowding from Lancaster, said: “The government’s financial settlement did not give us any more money.” Cllr Dowding gave an example of the Public Health cuts earlier announced. “[Chancellor] George Osbourne plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Here in Lancashire, he’s only focusing on Northern workhouses.”
Liberal Democrat, David Whipp, of West Craven spoke next. He said his party propose a “cushion” to allow the “cuts to library services to evolve.” He said he has “issues with axing the parish bus initiative” and the Lib Dems approach the budget with ‘compassion and compromise’.”
“I haven’t met with any conservatives [about the budget] then they trot this out at the last minute. Well, we won’t be supporting it”, Cllr Whipp said. The chamber voted on the Conservative amendment and the motion was lost on an eight vote margin.
The Liberal Democrats then proposed their amendment and councillors voted against that also. However, all Conservative councillors abstained. Tory Councillor Paul White, of Pendle East, commented on how his party should “commend [the Lib Dems] for having the same aims [as them]”, even though they chose to propose it differently.”
Independents and the one Green member were next to propose their amendment. They suggested a further £3 million contingency to be made available from the reserves to facilitate the transition of services. As well as cross party cabinet groups be set up to explore and support the transition of services and arrangements. This motion was passed, despite 34 members abstaining.
Next up was a proposal on bus subsidies by the Conservatives, focusing on reinstating transport to day-centres. They planned to do this again by borrowing, rather than using budget reserves or charging. Their proposals included green energy plans and under-spending on concessionary travel. This was the motion that had the most support from the public gallery, with protesters from Chipping and Ribchester staying on to find out the result.
Tory councillor, Michael Green, representing Leyland, said: “Cutting bus services attack the most vulnerable people in society; those who can’t afford to run a car, unlike most of us who will drive our cars home tonight. It is an attack on the elderly, who can no longer drive. It’s an attack on young people, who catch the bus to get to college or an apprenticeship. It’s also an attack on town centres that will lose out on business because of these cuts.”
Labour’s David Borrow said: “We have barely enough funds to deliver statutory services. Can we afford the 4.5 million of this service? We are pretending to ourselves and those in the public gallery. Some of things we have to cut [in this budget] are horrendous. We need to give the council a fighting chance.”
A tight vote on bus subsidies followed. 40 councillors voted for the motion, 42 were against and one person abstained. Therefore, the motion was lost on a slim margin of two votes. That means some bus routes will now no longer operate. Residents of the Ribble Valley, could see a reduction in services by next week.
[PHOTO: Bus campaigners protest before the meeting.]
Councillor Michael Green gave the next Conservative amendment. He mentioned he thought the previous bus subsidy would be passed, which explains the focus of their next proposal. He wanted to see £500,000 for waste services that are not needed in East Lancashire be invested back into highways. Cllr Green said: “in the grand scheme of the budget, £500,000 is not actually a lot of money.”
Labour’s Councillor Borrow said he: “can’t see any reason to oppose this amendment.” He spoke about when he goes back home in Yorkshire he can see the roads get worse and that Lancashire should be proud of the state of the highways. The motion was voted for unanimously, although Labour’s Cllr John Filis did shout: “Why not give it to the bus people?” during the discussion.
Entering the seventh hour of the meeting, the last vote of the night was whether the budget cuts would happen. The chamber broke out into passionate debate from members. Leader of Lancashire County Council, Jennifer Mein of Preston, stood to tell members she understands it’s late in the day but she was “ashamed and appalled” by members’ behaviour when discussions got heated.
The budget was agreed and passed by councillors, meaning all proposed cuts to services now intend to be carried out.
(My article was first published on The Bee and 2BR‘s websites and is kindly re-blogged here with permission.)