We should ban politicians from the Today programme: I prefer not to wake up to their desperate pleading

The moment has come to think the unthinkable. Well, actually, the moment came when I was lying in bed this week listening to the Today programme. I was keeping a bedside tally of the number of government ministers who had been "empty chaired" (the BBC's polite way of pointing out that a minister was too frit to appear on their show) and was surprised to see it reach double figures in just three days.

What was going on? Why were ministers, even the junior ones no one has ever heard of and who could do with a bit of exposure, refusing to square up to John Humphrys or James Naughtie?

I saw a pattern emerging. The only thing the government wanted to talk about was the war. It was a case of do mention the war, but don't mention anything else. The domestic agenda seemed to be strictly off-limits. Actually, I preferred it that way. Waking up to the whining of Stephen "Bury It" Byers or the desperate pleading of Alan "Gimme More Money" Milburn was enough to make me go commercial.

So I started to think the unthinkable - why not ban politicians from the Today programme? Or at the very least, ban all boring politicians from the show, which amounts to almost the same thing.

The bitter irony is that this is a government that deliberately moved debate away from the House of Commons and into the media. Now it is trying to stifle debate in the media and rewrite the rules of engagement.

Unlike television, where audience figures are steadily declining, radio has seen something of a rebirth in the last year. The proliferation of radio stations, rather than leading simply to a realignment of listeners, has increased the overall audience in Britain. Indeed, the breakfast spots on BBC Radios 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 reach a combined audience of 22 million; the Today programme alone now has almost six million listeners. It is time for a complete rethink of the BBC's flagship current affairs show, time to end the boring and the bland. New rules and stiff penalties should be introduced. I suggest they include the following:

Refusing to answer a direct question - interview immediately ended, politician thrown off air and given a three-month ban.

Boring policy announcement that has already been leaked to the newspapers - three-month ban.

Boring policy announcement - straight on to the website.

Refusing to answer any question relating to the government's performance in any area - six-month ban.


Liz Hurley is redefining the expression "staying mum". The woman who made diaper pins famous is about to find a proper use for them at last. Yes, Liz is pregnant.

And without her speaking a word, we have heard all about her "baby joy" and her "baby heartbreak" through the scribblings of Liz's close friend and confidant, William Cash-back. He wrote first in the Mail on Saturday, then the Sunday Telegraph, and then the sorry tale was repeated in the Sunday Mirror.

The man who has made a career out of revealing all about Liz told us that her multimillionaire lover, Steve Bing, was in fact a cad who wanted nothing to do with the happy event and had even suggested that Liz have an abortion.

Together with the blow-by-blow description of the lunch Cash shared with his cash cow, we were fed such exciting details as that Steve's nickname is "Bing Laden" (although we don't know whether this is because he is a merciless swine or particularly well-endowed in the fathering stakes).

Now we all know that in the world of high society and low behaviour, one does not stay "a close friend of . . ." for long if one blabs to the newspapers, so it is possible that Cash's revelations were authorised by Hurley. But why? She is rich (earning almost £4m last year), beautiful and what she lacks in acting talent she more than makes up for in her talent for self-promotion.

Whether it was her intention or not, Cash's revelations have doubled the value of Liz's first interview with Hello!. From around £500,000 for "baby joy" to upwards of £1m for "baby heartbreak" - now that's what I call friendship.


Bad news from the front line for our backbench generals. Almost all newspaper sales gained during September have been lost in October, leaving total sales lower than they were in the month of August, which is traditionally a low circulation point anyway.

As predicted, readers are getting battle fatigue. The broadsheets are holding on to their gains, but taken together sell only slightly more copies than the Daily Mail. The only tabloid to increase sales was the Mail, one of the first papers to take the war off the front page and consistently keep it off. Its strategy is that people are more concerned about those who are dying in our third world National Health Service than in Afghanistan.


Isn't Sir Paul McCartney having a good war? There's nothing quite like a spot of charity to breathe new life into a flagging career. Will the ageing rock star mount another concert following the crash of American Airlines Flight 587? And is he ready to perform in Kabul and Jalalabad?

Amanda Platell is former press adviser to William Hague

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, And now the trouble really begins