Humphrys and Shapps argue over alleged interview dodge

Awful house building figures sidelined in row over whether minister was booked for an interview

LAST UPDATED AT 12:22 ON Fri 25 Nov 2011

RADIO listeners were treated this morning to a three-minute argument between Today programme presenter John Humphrys and Housing Minister Grant Shapps over whether the Conservative had tried to dodge an interview the previous evening.

The argument over the arcane procedures of booking a government minister to appear on a radio show overshadowed the real issue of a collapse in the number of new affordable homes being built.

Appearing this morning, Shapps was clearly stung by the suggestion the previous day on Radio 4 that he had dodged a booked interview. At the beginning of his interview with Humphrys he insisted he had not dodged the interview, that there was never a booking and that he could not have appeared because he was due to catch a train to Stoke.

After a tortuous back-and-forth, the argument climaxed with Shapps saying:

"The first I heard of this was late mid-evening and I said, 'Well that looks difficult because I'm on the train to Stoke...'"

Humphrys interjected: "Fair enough, that's what you told your staff, but nobody said that to us, so let's just agree to disagree on it."

Shapps: "Let's agree on this: there was never a booking in place, John."

Humphrys: "There was a booking with your staff..."

Shapps: "No there was a request, which is different from a booking... and it gave the wrong impression to your listeners."

At last, the grumpy pair managed to agree on a compromise, calling the episode a "miscommunication", and they finally got around to discussing the fact that only 454 affordable homes were started between April and September 2011 - down from 35,735 between October 2010 and March 2011.

But the argument wasn't over. Shapps objected to Humphrys's suggestion that the government had tried to pre-empt the catastrophic figures by announcing a housebuilding programme the previous day.

"You've given a very misleading report by trying to suggest I avoided an interview and that we knew about these figures," he said. · 

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