Confrontation: Richard Madeley “terminated” an interview after defence secretary Gavin Williamson failed to answer a question.

It probably isn’t, but I can’t think of any moment as memorable as Richard Madeley’s confrontation with Gavin Williamson.

Mr Madeley is to be congratulated for refusing to put up with the Tory gibberish that – for example – BBC TV presenters now accept without question.

The moment 21 years ago was on the BBC, of course – it was Jeremy Paxman’s dismissal of Michael Portillo after the #SadManOnATrain lost his Parliamentary seat in the 1997 general election.

The termination of that interview was prompted by Mr Portillo’s refusal to discuss his party’s future policy on the European Union’s single currency and, in hindsight, happened in a good-humoured way:

Perhaps it was because Mr Portillo was out of Parliament and his future influence would be limited to sofa-sitting on Andrew Neil’s This Week.

The Madeley moment happened on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on the morning of May 29 and is much more ill-tempered, at least on the party of the interviewer.

Perhaps this is because interviewee Gavin Williamson, the current defence secretary, was not only failing to answer a straightforward question but was doing it with a smug grin on his face:

Williamson knew what he was doing.

He was deliberately withholding, not only his opinion on his ill-chosen words about the Russian government, but information on whether the Conservative government acted prematurely in blaming Russia for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

The Tory narrative that the Russian government was responsible has collapsed beneath a barrage of factual information suggesting otherwise, with no facts to support it.

If Mr Williamson had admitted his words were ill-advised, he would have been accepting that the anti-Russia stance was a mistake – and opening the UK government to an investigation into its own activities. So he was between a rock and a hard place.

And he thought he could brazen it out on TV because mainstream media interviewers are now notoriously soft on Tories.

Well, the Madeley moment has changed all that.

But will it lead other interviewers to do the same?

The BBC will be reluctant to toughen its stance because too many of its top news team are Tories themselves.

But public opinion is turning against ‘soft’ interviewers like Andrew Marr and Evan Davis, and viewers are turning off. That, more than anything else, may trigger a change.

If so, it will be 21 years overdue.


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