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Floodgates for Boris Johnson? No, Mair is the exception

If you’re on Twitter, Facebook or any outlet of the internet, you’ll no doubt have heard all about the occasion yesterday when Boris Johnson was given a standard BBC grilling.

I put it like that because Eddie Mair’s interview was not unusual – it was simply unusual for Johnson. It was still not near the level of accusatory interview that Ken Livingstone would be subjected to, for instance. Almost every other politician has to roll with it as their record is savaged, but so far, Johnson has escaped through his media connections, tact and charm.

As Sunny Hundal put it in the Guardian last year:

Johnson has been given a free pass for so long, he’s used to it. He has the media eating out of his hands; he makes false claims about knife crimes without challenge; he promised more access as mayor but drastically cut the number of open press conferences. He even wastes money at city hall and gets away with it.

Last year, Keith Wright revealed here on Left Futures that the London Evening Standard seemed intent on promoting Johnson in spite of the line its correspondents wished to take.

Sunny is optimistic today on Liberal Conspiracy, arguing:

But the Eddie Mair interview yesterday set a precedent, and may make journalists realise it makes for better viewing to make Boris squirm and fall apart.

I’m less so. A colleague pointed out how different the visual spectacle of the Mair show was to the standard Johnson interview. Johnson’s tactic is to crouch over in his chair, his hair messy and his blazer crumpled. To the standard television interviewer, this is a hard image to win against – the loveable buffoon who can call everything piffle and balderdash soup rather than answering the questions.

But Mair is a radio presenter, who will cut to the chase – he looked astonishingly laid back as he muttered his softly-spoken words from the Marr seat. He did not seem bothered at all by the prospect of visual sympathy for his interview subject.

Yet I’m sceptical that the floodgates will open. Johnson is a master tactician – he chooses his interviewers carefully. He obviously didn’t realise what he would get from Mair, but the two will probably never meet again. It wouldn’t surprise if the vetting process gets stepped up even further now.

Will his friends on the Standard – and their new TV station – be spurred on by the PM programme presenter?

Unlikely. I too was once bowled over by Johnson’s charm, when I bumped into him at random at Westminster station some years ago. The only difference was I was at school at the time, rather than being employed to hold him to account.

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