Why the BBC’s involvement in politics can be insidious

While the intelligentsia wake up to the Today Programme, I prefer Nicky Campbell and Rachel Burden on 5 live Breakfast. I should say Rachel and Nicky, because she bothers to get up an hour before him!

Why am I a 5 live fan? Love politics. Love sport. Love the presenters (at least most of them), and their banter. But that brings me on to why I am very uneasy about the BBC’s role in politics, this morning after the council elections. I will explain.

Rachel and Nicky have become vicarious friends. The same is true of some other presenters, notably: Peter Allen, Anita Anand, Victoria Derbyshire, Shelagh Fogarty, Aasmah Mir, Mark Pougatch and Phil Williams. The station’s style is friendly and chatty. Conversation is informal and jokey.

Then they start interviewing politicians. It was a bad night for the Lib Dems. Hundreds of lost seats. Punished by their supporters for joining a coalition government, which has inevitably become unpopular. Campbell conducted a very aggressive interview with Tim Farron, President of the party – but not a front line politician. In a blink of an eye, the man was transformed from lovable Nicky into a pastiche of John Humphrys – brutal, waspish, interrupting rudely, putting words into Farron’s mouth.

That was bad enough. A few minutes later Paddy Ashdown was being interviewed by sweet natured, girl next door Rachel, who unwisely set about Paddy a la Nicky, after playing a highly misleading clip from the Farron interview. Ashdown destroyed her, ridiculing her approach, and refusing to play her games.

What worries me about the BBC’s involvement with politics is not so much the combative interviewing style on Radio 4. It is not even the sardonic know-all approach of the editors: Robinson, Peston, Pienaar, and Flanders. It is the “politicians are fair game for me to rubbish and be rude to” approach of chummy presenters who fancy themselves as hot shot journalists. They are like the bloke in the pub sounding off. Except the bloke’s audience is usually a maximum of three people. To judge from the endless phone-ins, thousands of listeners are taken in by the caustic critics in fluffy jumpers.