Two ice sculptures – what could be more appropriate to demonstrate the effects of global warming?
But the two sculptures shown in Channel 4’s climate debate weren’t just a reminder of rising world temperatures. They also represented two missing leaders: Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.
They were both warned. Channel 4 confirmed ice sculptures would be next to empty podiums before the debate.
As expected, Johnson didn’t arrive. But Michael Gove, former secretary of state for both education and the environment did. He was recorded asking if he could take the PM’s place. The other leaders said no.
Gove claimed preventing him filling Johnson’s shoes during the debate was a ‘denial of democracy’. The Tory voice was being silenced:
“They do not want a Conservative on the platform. They wouldn’t accept a Conservative voice….’
He tweeted to complain: ‘Tonight I went to Channel 4 to talk about climate change but Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon refused to debate a Conservative.’
But it was Johnson’s non-appearance which prevented all leaders, not just the two accused by Gove of duplicity, from debating the issue with a Conservative.
Johnson leads the Tory party. It was his responsibility to take part in a leaders’ debate.
The row over the sculptures overshadows the discussion. A cynic might say that was the purpose. But Gove’s stunt to divert attention hasn’t prevented a meltdown. It has highlighted the PM’s reluctance to face questions while simultaneously revealing the government’s attitude towards press freedom.
The Tories have complained to Ofcom alleging Channel 4 was in breach of the Broadcasting Code for refusing to let Gove take part. The Telegraph adopts a menacing tone: ‘Boris Johnson has threatened a major shake-up of Channel 4 after the Conservatives accused the broadcaster of “conspiring with Jeremy Corbyn” to shut them out of the debate.’
But it was Johnson who shut the Tories out by snubbing the event.
Unethical behaviour is becoming a feature of the Tories’ election campaign. They’ve doctored videos about Labour politicians, Keir Starmer and Jess Philips, barred a Mirror journalist from the Tory bus and temporarily renamed their twitter account to resemble a fact-checking site during the leadership debate (the one Johnson took part in).
Private Eye* reports Conservative anger directed at TV stations daring to mention the dodgy twitter feed. Tory ‘rage’ became apparent when Gove accused Channel 4’s Ciaran Jenkins of ‘left-wing’ bias.
This was followed by more such allegations from Conservative campaign headquarters (CCHQ) towards journalists asking hard questions. One editor said CCHQ compared the paper’s writers to Momentum. This press harassment ‘perfectly chimed with Gove’s Trumpian attempt to deflect from serious questions by accusations of bias’, said the editor.
Private Eye says Damon Poole, the Tories’ young ‘spin doctor’, was responsible for leaning on editors. Poole ‘learned all there is to know about propaganda when he served his political apprenticeship with Messrs Gove, Johnson and Cummings at Vote Leave’.
Now there’s a surprise.
FOOTNOTE: Gove has a long history of making such allegations. As education secretary, he described opponents as ‘Marxists’ peddling the ‘bigoted backward bankrupt ideology of a left wing establishment’.
*Number 1510, 29 November, print edition only