Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Quickfire
29 September

Underestimate local radio at your peril, Liz Truss

It was a mistake to absent herself from the Today programme, believing she’d have an easier time elsewhere.

By James Ball

If you want to know what’s most troubling the British public, any local radio DJ that hosts a phone-in will be at least as good as the best of focus groups.

The issues on which people call into radio shows might not tally exactly with polling, but they do tell you what is worrying people enough to make them pick up a phone to a stranger. The people who spend several hours a day, four or five times a week, talking to the public are going to be well in touch with what is bothering the people in their area.

It is, then, a foolish mistake to underestimate local radio. Paul Mason – uncharitably and uncharacteristically – did exactly that, suggesting that this morning Liz Truss would get an easy ride from “a bunch of sleep-deprived non-expert presenters [who] will throw her soft questions”. The miscalculation seems to have been shared by the Prime Minister and her communications team.

Once upon a time, local radio would only be heard by the people in that area, meaning that repeating the same soundbites in several interviews over the course of an hour would be a safe thing to do. We no longer live in that era. This morning people could easily hop from local station to local station on BBC Sounds.

What they heard was a cavalcade of disastrous interviews. Truss repeatedly misled the public on the energy price cap, saying “nobody” would pay more than “a typical £2,500”, whereas about half of households will pay more than the “typical” amount. Truss refused to guarantee that pensions were safe, doubled down on her tax-cutting mini-Budget, would not promise to get the roof of the hospital in her own constituency fixed, and had nothing coherent to say on fracking.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Local radio hosts know their audiences, but more than that they know that they will not often get the chance to interview a major political figure. National journalists that give the prime minister too hard a time risk losing future interviews to their rivals. Local hosts know they might get one prime ministerial interview each parliament, so they have no reason to pull their punches.

Content from our partners
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets
Why public health policy needs to refocus
The five key tech areas for the public sector in 2023

Truss has more ministerial experience than any prime minister of the modern era, and yet this morning she made a rookie mistake that showed up many of her weaknesses. It was clear that she was reading from prepared responses in each interview, the long pauses after simple and blunt questions proving far more telling than her actual answers.

She also left a relatively junior colleague, Chris Philp, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to flounder and waffle his way through the flagship 8:10am interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today – the news show with the biggest audience of any in the UK. Both Philp and his interviewer knew full well that the Prime Minister was available and on-air, but was deliberately absenting herself in the mistaken belief she’d have an easier time elsewhere.

The conservative commentator and LBC radio host Iain Dale said at a Labour Party conference fringe event this week that hosting phone-in radio had softened his politics, because you can only hear people in tears so many times at the cost of living before it gets through to you. His vote was now up for grabs, he said.

Dale understands the power of phone-in radio. The Prime Minister has had one hell of a learning experience this morning.

[See also: The first stirrings of rebellion against Liz Truss]

Topics in this article: , , ,