Here’s some advice for anyone flattered by an invitation to be interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live. Don’t drink alcohol, have a good night’s sleep, make sure you know what you’re talking about, and be prepared for an ambush.
Oh, and if you’d like to know how badly even an old hand can screw up click on this link to read the full transcript of Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s interview yesterday with Victoria Derbyshire.
Actually the advice holds good for anyone agreeing to a BBC interview, even a harmless sounding local station, where interviewers are bred to ask challenging questions.
As Mr Clarke blundered into a chaotic attempt to defend a possible change in sentencing policy he seemed to have forgotten that reporters can bite.
By concentrating on sentences for rape, Ms Derbyshire caught him unawares with a verbal shoulder charge. The genial minister’s muddled response confused listeners, enraged feminists and made him sound like a blithering idiot.
Poor Mr C was having a very bad day. In the ensuing media firestorm, as he repeatedly tried to clarify his intentions, he still failed to give a clear explanation of his ideas.
He might have said that prosecutors secure convictions in a pathetically small percentage of rape cases, and most victims who brave the torment of giving evidence in court fail to get justice. Why not at least think about giving an incentive to accused rapists by reducing their sentence if they plead guilty at an early stage? That way more rapists might be convicted and jailed and fewer victims might be dragged through the courts.
Instead, he blundered into an argument and gave the impression that some types of rape were not serious. And how did the hapless minister attempt to get out of this hole? He carried on digging, accusing the media of using rape as “an example mainly to add a bit of sexual excitement to the headline.”
Vivienne Hayes, of the Women’s Resource Centre, said: “Kenneth Clarke’s appalling comments smack not only of ignorance but of outright misogyny.” I found this a ludicrous overreaction. Mr Clarke, surely a decent man, spoke carelessly but not maliciously.
It just goes to show that you are never too old to learn a lesson – or to be given a good hiding by the media. As his 71st birthday approaches he will have to work harder to stay in tune with young voters – and tread much more carefully in radio studios.