No 10 complains over Osborne's bruising bout with Evan Davis
'It could have been better handled,' BBC executive admits – but Davis is off the hook for tough interview
SO, is the Radio 4 Today programme presenter Evan Davis in the doghouse for his interview with Chancellor George Osborne or not? Short answer: Yes, as far as Number 10 is concerned; No, as far as his bosses at the BBC are concerned.
Davis was the subject of complaint from Downing Street yesterday after repeatedly talking over the Chancellor during a post-Autumn Statement interview. He was also accused of asking questions which he then immediately withdrew if he didn't like the answer.
Craig Oliver, director of communications at Number Ten (and a former BBC man himself), apparently texted several news executives at Broadcasting House to "express his displeasure".
According to The Guardian, Oliver was called back by an unnamed BBC executive who acknowledged that the interview "could have been better handled". However, there was "no question" of any kind of reprimand for the presenter.
Davis is the BBC's former economics editor and because of his expertise is invariably chosen to interview Osborne when he agrees to come on. Some say he knows rather more about the economy than Osborne. He later tweeted: "... Just to clarify: I have not been told off for the way I interviewed the chancellor today."
Davis's bone of contention was whether Osborne had been accurate when he claimed in the Commons that the national deficit was falling. As The Mole has reported, there is an argument that government borrowing would have gone up if Osborne hadn't included in his sums the as-yet-unreceived income from selling the rights to operate 4G mobile phone services.
"Just to be absolutely clear," Evans asked the Chancellor, according to a Daily Mail transcript, "if you strip out all of the accounting changes, the Royal Mail, post, the different treatment of banks, the asset purchase facility, all those things, if you take those out and you take out the 4G licence, borrowing would actually go up this year? It's a simple, simple question, and I am asking you if that's the case or not."
Osborne responded: "Well, I just don't think you can strip out..."
Davis: "It's extraordinary you can't answer."
Osborne: "I am sorry, I am answering your question, it's not that I am not answering it, it's like saying if we went ahead with the fuel duty rise in January, which is the same month that the 4G receipts are scored, well what would happen then?"
Davis: "Well that would be a perfectly reasonable question but I didn't choose to ask it."
Osborne: "Or, indeed, what happens if we do or don't go ahead with the big increase in investment allowances."
Davis: "Another interesting question which I didn't choose to ask."
It didn't get any friendlier. At one point, Osborne, who was getting increasingly frustrated, said: "I'm sorry. You can't ask these questions and then before you've even allowed me to answer" - and, sure enough, Davis interrupted him again.
Did Davis go too far? Did he show a lack of respect? Debatable. What will encourage BBC watchers is that after the slew of problems at the corporation in the aftermath of the Savile revelations, Davis's performance - coupled with colleague John Humphrys's recent grilling of the hapless George Entwistle - at least shows the Today team haven't lost their bottle.