Gordon MacMillan,  UK Politics

New politics takes a fall

Who would have guessed the own goal season would start so early? And just what were the Con-Dems thinking exactly in refusing to go on Question Time last night because of the presence of Alastair Campbell in such an important week? You might think they would have something to say.

When introducing the programme, presenter David Dimbleby said he would have “expected” to have had a government minister on the panel in the week that it unveiled its legislative agenda for the year ahead in the Queen’s Speech.

The coalition should have been on BBC One last night arguing its case and pressing “the new politics”, but instead it was to all extents and purposes in hiding (behind the couch, maybe?) and left looking weak.

No 10 had asked for Campbell to be removed from the Question Time panel because he’s not an MP or a member of the shadow cabinet, which was a request rightly denied by the BBC.  That’s true, but not even close to a reason to refuse to appear. Apparently at one stage the David Laws, chief secretary to the treasury,  had been lined up, but instead we got Tory backbencher John Redwood.

So what happened to the new politics as last night made it look distinctly like the old politics were still in play within the Tory party. On his blog Campbell called the decision idiotic. It is hard to argue with that.

“Their idiotic decision to try to get me kicked off the panel by refusing to field a minister if I was ‘the Labour voice’ was stupid on so many levels it is hard to know where to start.

“It suggests they’re a bit frit, and unsure about defending the shifting sands of coalition politics.”

Looks like it is all down to David Cameron’s director of communications, Andy Coulson, who must be the No 10 spokesman Gavin Allen, the executive editor of Question Times refers to in a BBC  blog post.

“We were told by Downing Street that a cabinet minister would only appear on the programme if another member of the panel was replaced. According to No 10, a senior member of the cabinet was available to do Question Time but only if Alastair Campbell was replaced by a member of the shadow cabinet.

“Very obviously, we refused and as a result no minister appeared, meaning that the government was not represented on the country’s most-watched political programme in Queen’s Speech week – one of the most important moments in the Parliamentary calendar.”

Coulson has tried this trck before back in March with ITV. That time amazingly it worked and he was given preview tapes of Trevor McDonald’s interview with David Cameron.  Second time around not so lucky.