No 10 director of communications understood to have been told by BBC boss that interview ‘could have been better handled’
Downing Street says that BBC bosses have acknowledged that Evan Davis’s argumentative interview with George Osborne on Thursday’s Today programme could have been better conducted – after No 10’s chief spin doctor complained about the on-air confrontation, which saw the two men repeatedly speak over each other.
Craig Oliver, Downing Street’s director of communications, texted several BBC news executives on Thursday morning to express his displeasure at Davis’s repeated interruptions. The interviewer frequently declined to allow the chancellor to develop answers in a dispute over whether it was fair for the government to say that the deficit was falling.
It is understood Oliver was called back by an unnamed BBC executive who acknowledged that the interview “could have been better handled”. The BBC said that it had responded informally to Oliver, that it had “reviewed the interview”, and that there was “no question of any kind of reprimand” for Davis.
Davis, responding to a suggestion from Tom Newton Dunn, the Sun’s political editor, that he had been “told off”, tweeted that was not the case: “There is some confusion around just now, but just to clarify: I have not been told off for the way I interviewed the chancellor today.”
The argument used by Oliver, himself a former BBC news executive, is that while robust questioning of politicians is entirely legitimate, it was unfair of Davis to ask questions and then immediately withdraw them just because the presenter did not like the first half sentence of the answer offered.
Osborne’s post-autumn statement Today interview was notable for its hostility. Davis tried to get Osborne to acknowledge that the budget deficit would have risen had it not been for the decision to include £3.5bn of anticipated fourth generation mobile licence sale receipts, – but the chancellor repeatedly said it was not possible to pull out one item from the budget forecasts in that way, arguing it was a “red herring to do so”.
A clearly unimpressed Davis said he had asked a “simple, simple question” of fact, but when Osborne repeated his answer, Davis said his refusal to do so was “extraordinary”. Osborne insisted he was responding and said that it was a “desparate attempt” by the Labour party to argue that but for one item the deficit would have risen not fallen – to which Davis replied: “Mr Osborne, everyone was surprised.”
The Today presenter carried on with a related question, but when Osborne indicated he would offer a similar answer again, Davis abruptly switched tack, saying “don’t waste our time giving us a non-answer” and tried to move on.
At that point, an exasperated-sounding Osborne said: “I’m sorry. You can’t ask these questions and then before you’ve even allowed me to answer…”, but Davis interrupted again. When Osborne finally responded Davis could be heard apparently sighing in the background.