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Last Updated: Friday, 30 December 2005, 11:22 GMT
Blunkett turns tables on Humphrys
John Humphrys and David Blunkett on Celebrity Mastermind
Mr Humphrys was quizzed by Mr Blunkett

David Blunkett has turned the tables on John Humphrys as guest editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The ex-Cabinet minister quizzed Mr Humphrys on his famously abrasive interview technique, asking if it had eroded trust in the political process.

During a 20-minute interview on Friday, Mr Blunkett said the media should be less confrontational with politicians.

But he later added politicians were too cautious and should answer questions even if it got them into trouble.

'Good argument'

Mr Blunkett began the interview with Mr Humphrys by asking if it was possible to restore trust in the political process.

We can't crack jokes, we can't do anything outside the norm because it is going to be recorded and picked up
David Blunkett

"You are on record quite openly as saying you like a good argument," Mr Blunkett said. "Does the good argument get in the way of getting to the truth, of getting the information out?"

Mr Humphrys replied: "It contributes to it. What do you think politics is, if not arguing about principles?"

The Today presenter said politics had changed in recent years and there was less of an ideological divide between the parties, but he did not think this had "profound implications" for the way the BBC covered the subject.

'Nervous'

He also said attacks on the BBC at the time of the Hutton report were "over the top" and "unjustified" but he did not think they had damaged the corporation, which he said was "at least as respected now than we were before it all happened".

Mr Blunkett, who quit as work and pensions secretary in October after breaking the ministerial code of conduct over paid work he took while out of the Cabinet, asked Mr Humphrys why he gave BBC correspondents an easier ride than politicians in interviews.

Mr Humphrys said this was because journalists were "not trying to sell us something".

Mr Humphrys said politicians were "increasingly nervous of thinking aloud".

"I think that is partly because of the 24-hour news culture where you say something, it is instantly picked up, it is magnified by half a dozen different organisations," he said.

'Cautious'

Mr Blunkett added: "We can't crack jokes, we can't do anything outside the norm because it is going to be recorded and picked up."

Mr Humphrys was himself censured by the BBC earlier this year over comments he made about politicians in an after-dinner speech. He said he was "possibly just a teeny-weeny little bit more cautious now than I was beforehand".

Mr Blunkett later made a plea for greater openness in political debate.

He said all politicians had fallen into the trap of being too cautious when they answered questions from the media.

But journalists were also to blame for being too aggressive and adversarial in their interview technique and he had tried to avoid being too confrontational in his interview with Mr Humphrys.

'Fascinating'

Asked if he thought the media was responsible for destroying trust in politicians, he said: "I think politicians are responsible for eroding trust in politics but I actually do think that it speeds it up. It makes it more difficult to climb out of the abyss."

He said it was "really important" for politicians "to try and answer the question no matter whether it gets you into trouble".

But he said journalists should "pick on people your own size" and not bully junior ministers in interviews.

Mr Blunkett, who said he had found the experience of editing Today "fascinating", also hosted a discussion about manufacturing industry and a debate on Englishness.

"With cultural and political strength in the devolved assemblies in Parliament in Scotland, we really do need to reinforce the Englishness of the English but in a comprehensive and open way as part of Britishness," Mr Blunkett said.

Other Today guest editors over the festive season have included HSBC chairman Sir John Bond, broadcaster Anna Ford and Steve 'Chandrasonic' Savale, from the band Asian Dub Foundation. Queen Noor of Jordan will edit the programme on Saturday.




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