Eddie Mair's powerful and forensic scrutiny of the business secretary's press conference

20 April 2020, 19:42 | Updated: 20 April 2020, 20:01

By Fiona Jones

This is Eddie Mair's powerful and eye-opening scrutiny of Alok Sharma's performance in Friday's press conference.

As consumers of media, we are often accustomed to questions being vaguely answered by politicians or avoided altogether, which can make us cross with MPs, said Eddie Mair.

Including himself in the failing, he also acknowledged journalists don't always ask the right questions or do not follow up in a satisfying way.

He reflected in normal times we may "shout at the radio" and then move on - however these are not normal times.

"These nightly Downing Street question and answer sessions are the only guaranteed regular occasion in the whole day when the UK gets to hear what the government is thinking," Eddie said, having talked to listeners who find these conferences "really crucial" while self-isolating.

"When questions are not answered, it's no longer about shouting at the radio, it's much more important. It is about our health, our fears, our anxieties, it's important those are taken seriously by the people who are answering the question.

"Last Friday that did not happen," he said.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma was leading Friday's Number 10 press conference - a performance that Eddie thought, when it came to answering explicit and clearly laid out questions, was extremely lacking.

Eddie Mair criticised Alok Sharma's performance in Friday's press conference
Eddie Mair criticised Alok Sharma's performance in Friday's press conference. Picture: Number 10

He played a sequence of examples.

Eddie accused the business secretary of sounding like a "drunk Oscar winner" who kept thanking frontline workers and the public, as opposed to answering questions directly.

Referring to one question Alok Sharma answered on low-skilled workers, Eddie stated, "Clearly if heartfelt tributes were hard cash, the low skilled workers of the NHS would be millionaires."

In another question on HS2, Eddie observed Alok Sharma did not even mention the high speed rail in his response.

"Time and again, faced with questions about pay for NHS staff and workers, questions about government spending, about the collapse of tourism, about explaining his own definition of new normal, Alok Sharma chose to fall back on thanking people, paying tribute and repeating the government's advice."

Eddie agreed that we should thank and pay tribute to all frontline workers who are working hard to keep the country going, but "thanks and tributes should not be trotted out as a substitute for answering reasonable questions."

"Otherwise people might think ministers' main concern is stay on message, protect your backside, save your job."