Boris has a right Mair in live BBC interview

It was a masterclass in TV interviewing from Eddie Mair, occupying Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning chair on BBC1. (You can watch an excerpt from the interview here.)

mair johnson -mar 2013With documentary-maker Michael Cockerell’s film, ‘Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise’, to be screened on Monday evening (BBC2, 9pm), Mair took the opportunity to put to the twice-elected Mayor of London the allegations he’s always previously been able to laugh off. There’s a good feature about it in the Daily Mail (sorry) here.

Usually interviewers indulge Boris; I could say complicitly, but perhaps it’s more charitable to say they just don’t know how to deal with his japesome, clowning wit. Yet Mair’s softly-spoken skewering seemed to un-nerve Boris. Asked about his past — those things he’s previously been able to shrug off as little more than Wodehousian scrapes — he floundered unconvincingly. Asked why he wouldn’t give a straight answer to the question, ‘Do you want to be Prime Minister?’ he glanced nervously to the wings, where doubtless his media advisers were watching on with horror.

The interview culminated with Eddie Mair, sotto voce, suggesting Boris’s past showed him to be “a nasty piece of work”. It’s a measure of Mair’s quiet-but-deadly approach that he made it sound eminently reasonable, not a slur. Boris blushed with guilt, not outrage.

For most of the 10 minutes — and perhaps for the first time ever — Boris looked as if he would rather be anywhere else than beneath the glare of the TV lights. This was his reckoning, and he looked winded, lumbering like a past-his-prime former heavyweight champion. Only at the very end did we glimpse again the rambunctious front Boris likes to project, but by then it was too late.

Tory MPs will have looked on and perhaps felt a gratitude for David Cameron they may not have felt in a year or more.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Liberal Neil 24th Mar '13 - 11:38am

    Eddie Mair is by far and away the best interviewer the Beeb has got. He’s calm, clear and polite, he doesn’t hector like Paxman and lets his subject answer unlike Humphries. As a result his subjects often hang themselves. If it was the Mair Show rather than the Marr Show I’d probably get up and watch it on a Sunday morning.

  • “Asked why he wouldn’t give a straight answer to the question, ‘Do you want to be Prime Minister?’”

    Never understood why people make such a hash of this. Ken Clarke has always given a straight “yes – if and when a vacancy occurs” answer to this. I don’t see why it is a bad thing to admit to aspriring to the top job in your profession!

  • This needs to be replayed everywhere. Boris Johnson is like Silvio Berlusconi. Cocky, amusing, and absolutely not the type of person who should be in high public office.

  • Christine Headley 24th Mar '13 - 1:14pm

    I’m not usually one to notice, let alone comment upon, someone’s appearance – but Boris doesn’t have a clue! The blue striped shirt would have been fine on its own or with a subdued jumper (as it’s Sunday), the mauve tie and dark jacket okay with a plain light-coloured shirt which went with the mauve, but the three together send out a very mixed message about the formality or otherwise of the interview.

    I have long thought Eddie Mair wonderful, particularly the way he uses silence to encourage interviewees to spill beans left, right and centre.

  • Never been impressed by Boris and think he would have lost against Oona King, but to be fair politics is a weird game where everyone who is genuinely ambitious has to keep their daggers hidden and make ostentatious shows of loyalty to their current leader.
    You can see a similar thing with Labour. Everyone knows Ed Balls is the weak link, but Darling can’t just stand up and say give me the job.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 24th Mar '13 - 3:57pm

    Seems like a standard Boris interview to me

  • Jonathan Hunt 24th Mar '13 - 4:21pm

    Brilliant interview by Eddie Mair. He should certainly continue in this role until Marr recovers. Then be given his own show.

  • Great interview but still just wobbly jelly off a duck’s back for Mr Blancmange.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '13 - 7:10pm

    It was amusing and interesting how Eddie Mair framed Boris as a “nasty piece of work”, but I don’t think he was being fair. People like Boris may not be perfect but they do give up opportunities for lucrative careers in the name of duty and public service. I believe Andrew Marr conducts fairer interviews, which are more attractive to the regular audience.

  • Eddie – Boris is having a lucrative career, politics being an integral part of the strategy. Do you think anyone would hire him to run so much as a bath without his political connections?

  • Christine Headley 24th Mar '13 - 10:11pm

    @Jonathan Hunt

    He has his own show. Daily (or most Mondays to Thursdays) at 5 pm on Radio 4. I would hate to lose him.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Mar '13 - 12:09am

    Alistair, I know he is having a lucrative career – my point was for people not to get carried away and say he’s better than Andrew Marr, Although entitled to their opinion, I much prefer Andrew’s style.

  • I’d be interested to know exactly what Boris fabricated about Piers Gaveston, and why (he did die 700 years ago).

  • Ed Shepherd 25th Mar '13 - 7:43am

    But there is very unlikley to ever be a really “nice” person leading the Tory party again. Whoever leads it is likley to be a viciously ambitious character from an over-privileged background who throws bread rolls at waiters and refuses to discuss whether he has ever snorted coke. They won’t get into the job otherwise. What kind of a person are David Cameron or George Osborne? Caring social workers? The last “nice people” to lead that party were John Major and Ted Heath. They didn’t last long and were dumped out by their own party. If Boris ends up leading the Tory party in 2015, the Lib Dems will still have to shake hands in the Rose Garden with him as they form another coalition. I suppose Tim Farron will just have to wash his hands afterwards.

  • Martin Pierce 25th Mar '13 - 1:27pm

    Hmm – I’m no fan of Boris and having heard he’d had a torrid time with Mair – which I could well believe as he’s good – I went on iplayer and watched it last night. To be honest I couldn’t see this was a car crash. He wasn’t on top form and certainly needs some better answers but at times Mair did seem vindictive and making more of it than the material supported. The thing with the Times seemed a non-event and he flatly denied luring to Howard, something to which Mair made no riposte. Saying building the Olympic Stadium to be athletics only was Ken’s decision is self evidently true and I couldn’t see where Mair was going with it. Certainly a long way from Paxman and Chloe Smith – and no worse than ghastly-as-usual Danny Alexander who was also on

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Mar '13 - 10:00pm

    Stephen Tall

    Asked why he wouldn’t give a straight answer to the question, ‘Do you want to be Prime Minister?’ he glanced nervously to the wings, where doubtless his media advisers were watching on with horror.

    Sorry, much though I dislike Boris Johnson, I really think this is an unpleasant and stupid tactic. It is quite obvious that to many questions there AREN’T straight answers, and it damages politics to suggest there are and that therefore any politician who doesn’t answer any question with a straight yes/no is a bad person.

    What is the point in asking someone a question where ANY answer they give will lead to derision? It is quite obvious that if the real answer to the question would be “yes” (which is probably the case), Johnson couldn’t say it, because the instant headlines would be about a split in the Conservative Party. On the other hand, if he says “no”, he will be accused of being a liar. And if he says neither, he is derided for not giving a straight answer.

    There are plenty of Liberal Democrat MPs who if asked the question “Do you want to be leader of the Liberal Democrats?” would have to answer “yes” if they were being completely honest. But would you seriously expect them to do so in this sort of setting? Isn’t it a bit of silly game to play where they are forced to answer “no” and make gestures of exaggerated support of the current leader to make it sound convincing, otherwise the headline is “LibDems split”?

    I’d FAR rather see Johnson and any other politician challenged about their POLICIES than this sort of thing.

  • Boris has no case to answer over his phone call with Darius Guppy and asking him about a private phone call is not serious journalism. Who cares if he has had affairs, does that affect his ability to manage London? No it does not.
    Boris deserves credit for sticking by his friend after he was convicted for fraud, most people would run for the hills and were never your friend to start with.

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