As the time before the election melts away, (pun intentional) the Conservative party has again been empty chaired by the media. At the start of the campaign, it was Sky’s Kay Burley who highlighted Party Chairman James Cleverley’s refusal to speak about Jacob Rees-Mogg’s horrendous comments about Grenfell (which have caused him to go into hiding) and Andrew Bridgen, who conducted what was the worst damage control for some time. This was followed last night by both the Prime Minister and Nigel Farage being replaced by ice sculptures at Channel 4’s climate change debate. Why do parties not attend these occasions, and why do the media leave empty lecterns?
To not attend a debate or interview is a calculated decision. Nigel Farage has given no attention to climate change in his campaigning, his party name says all you need to know about his strategy: It’s all about Brexit. Climate change doesn’t even receive a passing mention in his “contract to the people.” Nigel Farage doesn’t care about climate change – and neither do his supporters, for him there was no issue in missing the debate, and that’s why he’s not across the press complaining about Channel 4 this morning. But Boris was.
The Tories too make calculated decisions when deciding what to attend, Boris has seen how difficult Andrew Neil’s interviews have been and it looks like he won’t attend at all. He didn’t attend last night. Why? Boris Johnson does not perform well on climate change. His policies on climate change are hidden at the back (see Callum’s write up on the manifesto) and lack any sort of meaningful ambition. And being empty chaired doesn’t scare Boris – he has framed this election as him standing alone, struggling against the weight of the establishment and the mainstream media trying to stop him implementing what the people want and deserve. The media fighting against him plays into his narrative.
The media, however, are supposed to hold politicians in account and when they refuse to go on air, this stops that process, and by leaving empty chairs they attempt to hold them to account. This does very little. They simply accrue criticism – despite it being ruled by OfCom as fair. With the conservatives now launching major threats at Channel 4, the empty chair, while an interesting stunt, is nothing more than that.