I’m not a particular admirer of Dr John Reid, the so-called Minister for the Today programme. But it’s easy to see why he got the gig. To label as combative this epic standoff from this morning’s show would be to understate the man’s pugilistic expertise. Like Dennis Wise, Reid is a man who could start a fight in an empty room.
This morning’s display was a classic. Reid was brought on nominally to talk about the government’s increased funding for trainee dentists. He knew as well as we did that this would mean one minute on dentists and ten minutes on Butler, faulty intelligence and the JIC.
The two by elections last night where Labour suffered a 20+ point swing were quickly dismissed by both interviewer and interviewee as being low on the card. Everyone was jumpy for the main bout.
Suddenly, we were off, Reid repeatedly landing body-blows with jibes about the BBC’s supposed bias and willingness to lie (compared with the Hutton-stamped probity and even-handedness of the government).
In fact, in these circumstances he’s more like a judo wrestler than a boxer, letting the questions come onto him, then using the attack to unbalance his opponent with (frankly paranoid, were he truly to believe them) claims of prejudice and misleading reporting, aiming relentlessly at the areas where the Beeb carries a recent injury.
Reid’s finest minute or three was the way in which he was able to talk repeatedly about the Butler Report essentially vindicating the government’s judgement on Iraq, while simultaneously complaining that the BBC had failed to ‘cover’ this in its reporting (as though, post-Hutton, they could do anything but cover it carefully). This is not so much having your cake and eating it as punching someone, nicking their cake, eating it, then blaming them for being so careless.
Reid memorably summed up the by election results as a “score draw”. This interview was a 4-0 drubbing in which he not only avoided answering the key question (about why intelligence apparently withdrawn by the SIS in July 2003 was not declared as such either by Hutton or the government), but made political capital out of even being asked.
I can’t imagine Dr Reid will be the next prime minister, even in times of such fevered speculation, but I can quite see him as deputy prime minister. I can even imagine him asking John Prescott outside to settle it once and for all.