Magazine article The Spectator

For the Record: I'm Not the New Tory Party Chairman, the New Presenter of Newsnight, or Polly Toynbee

Magazine article The Spectator

For the Record: I'm Not the New Tory Party Chairman, the New Presenter of Newsnight, or Polly Toynbee

Article excerpt

Having narrowly avoided a shock appointment to the Tory chairmanship last Wednesday, I woke up on Thursday to hear I was a front-runner to co-present Newsnight, and already under attack by staff. Next, the nation's media appeared to make a collective decision that I am Polly Toynbee. I am not Polly Toynbee. I don't want Jeremy Vine's job. I couldn't chair a fund-raising meeting for the church organ, let alone the Conservative party. What a blessing it is to have a column in The Spectator to correct the record. One wonders how other folk manage.

First the Tory chairmanship. Always steer clear of College Green at times of Tory unrest: that little lawn across the road from Parliament becomes a semi-permanent encampment for media crews whenever MPs are in the news. It provides the perfect political cliche as background for any television picture: Big Ben and the mock-gothic folly called the Palace of Westminster. Foolishly I was on College Green this week to record a short interview with Meridian Television about the demise of David Davis.

I was gabbling away as required when my interviewer became aware of a Meridian colleague nearby with a separate camera crew, desperately signalling at him. He stopped the interview. `Get Matthew over here quick! Quick,' yelled his colleague.

I sprinted over. It seems this other camera crew were about to broadcast live - but without their interviewee. Meridian viewers had just been told that their news programme was going over now to College Green for an interview with the new chairman of the Conservative party. The new chairman had failed to turn up, and the people on the Green had been unable to deflect the programme's running order in time.

`Quick,' said their presenter to me, `they're expecting the Tory chairman. Stand here and say something.'

`Say what?' I asked, plonking myself in front of the camera.


One can always say something. I braced myself to spout. Cantering wildly towards us down the path in her spike-nosed kitten heels, Theresa May could now be seen, about 100 yards away.

`Quick,' said the presenter, `she's here. Get off.'

I got off. It had been as close as that. Sauntering away, I reflected that it was as well I missed making it into Meridian's slot for the Tory chairman. It never does to create a false impression.

Twelve hours later I fled the field again. The Guardian was reporting that the hunt was on for a hard-hitting television interviewer to take over as co-presenter of Newsnight, now that Jeremy Vine was to be the new Jimmy Young on BBC Radio Two. Three names were in the frame, the first two being Andrew Neil and Rosie Boycott. The third was mine. Newsnight staff were apparently outraged, describing Rosie and me as 'lightweights'. Rebellion was brewing among staffers, who were determined we should not succeed.

While I was puzzling over this, not having been aware of my application for the job, messages started appearing in my mobile telephone's recorded message bank. `Hello, this is a message for Polly Toynbee. I'm Emma from Carlton Television. We're wondering if you could come on our London Programme on Monday to talk about pigeon mess in Trafalgar Square. . . . ' A contact number was left.

Briefly I toyed with the idea of pretending to be Polly's agent and demanding 2,000 to be against pigeon mess and 5,000 to be in favour of it. Or of ringing them to say that Polly was indisposed but I happened to know Matthew Parris had strong views on the subject which, for a fee, he would be happy to share with metropolitan viewers. …

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