Denis Staunton’s UK election diary – Johnson dodges debates
Channel 4 replaces absent PM with melting ice sculpture for TV debate
An ice sculpture is put in place for Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the studio before the start of the Channel 4 News election climate debate. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire
It’s 13 days to Election Day.
Protecting a poll lead that puts him on course for a comfortable victory, Boris Johnson has been avoiding scrutiny, dodging debates and teasing the BBC about whether he will agree to be interviewed by Andrew Neil.
Yet the Conservatives have succeeded in dominating the news agenda this morning with their complaint to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom about Channel 4’s decision to replace the prime minister with a melting ice sculpture.
The Tories accuse the broadcaster of a “provocative stunt”, but the party staged a stunt of its own by sending Michael Gove to Channel 4 before the debate asking to take part instead of Johnson. To add to the burlesque, the prime minister’s father, Stanley, showed up too, blustering about the importance of addressing the climate emergency.
Johnson and Gove are due to hold a press conference later today, along with former Labour MP and Vote Leave veteran Gisela Stuart. Overnight, Labour sent out 60 questions for journalists to put to the prime minister.
Some are inspired by a trawl through Johnson’s millions of words as a newspaper columnist and they include:
Do you still think that the way to deal with advice from a female colleague is to “just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way”?
Do you still think that children of single mothers are ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate?
Why won’t you apologise for describing black people as “piccanninies” with “watermelon smiles”?
Do you still call gay people “tank-topped bumboys”?
Will you apologise for calling working class men “drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless and hopeless”?
Others focus on Johnson’s friendship with American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, who went on trade trips with him when he was London mayor and one asks simply “Where is Jacob Rees-Mogg?”.
The dispute about debates is the kind of process issue that benefits Johnson, preventing Labour from getting a hearing for its criticism of the Conservative record in office and Johnson’s plan for a hard Brexit.
But the prime minister’s quiet life will be interrupted next week when Donald Trump flies into London for a Nato summit that will provide rich opportunities for the president to embarrass his host by telling the truth about what he will be looking for in a trade deal.
Jennifer O’Connell encounters Brexit fatigue in the West Midlands.
Freya McClements on the contest in Fermanagh South Tyrone.
My London Letter on what the manifestos say about the Union,
Quote of the day
“For those who were thinking of voting Conservative, I hope this poll gives them great comfort, they sit back they say ‘I don’t need to go out and vote on polling day because it’s wet and it’s windy’” – Labour’s Barry Gardiner on the YouGov MRP poll showing the Tories on course for victory.
What’s on today
11.15am: Boris Johnson and Michael Gove press conference
2.30pm: Jo Swinson meets Muslim and Jewish communities in Cardiff
7.30pm: Leaders’ debate on BBC One