There was an interesting moment on the Today programme this morning when the leader of the Unite union Len McCluskey was interviewed about potential strikes at the time of the Royal Wedding.
The interview came round to the question of the budget deficit and how to deal with it. Mr. McCluskey appeared to be arguing that the debt was not nearly as large as it had been in previous years and that therefore the government’s austerity programme was not required on the scale proposed.
The problem for Mr. McCluskey was that his interviewer was Evan Davis, who previously was the BBC’s Economics Editor. He immediately challenged Mr. McCluskey over his claims about the size of the deficit. Evan quoted figures for previous years (which it sounded as though he had on the studio table in front of him) showing that debt was nowhere near as high then as it is now.
Mr. McCluskey seemed unable to cite the source of his own information, resorting instead to the phrase: “We seem to be working from different figures.”
One of the golden rules of being interviewed is: never make a claim unless you’ve got the evidence to back it up.
This is particularly the case when you are up against an interviewer like Evan Davis, who knows what he’s talking about.
The interview proved the BBC’s prescience in shifting Evan into the Today slot. Hardly had he taken up the job than the economic crisis broke.
His well-informed interviewing of ministers, opposition spokespeople, bankers, business leaders and the rest has helped make sense of the crisis for listeners. He might be gentler in his interviewing style than some other presenters, but interviewees should be under no illusion that they can expect a surgical exposure of any weaknesses in their arguments.