As Britain prepared to go to the polls this week, it must have been frustrating for Labour to find that the media coverage on the eve of the election was dominated by Ed Miliband’s car crash interview on local radio. In a live interview with BBC Radio Wiltshire Miliband was forced to admit that he didn’t know the name of the Leader of the Labour group on Swindon Borough Council. He also seemed to be under the mistaken impression that Labour ran the council.
In the modern era I find it astonishing that the Leader of the Opposition went into an interview so obviously ill prepared. It is possible that the Labour press office didn’t bother briefing their Leader on local political issues, although this strikes me as unlikely. Which leave the possibility that the man who could well be our Prime Minister in 12 months time was simply unable to take on board the information contained in the briefing.
I have a personal interest in this story since my first public sector job was as a press officer with Swindon Council (or Thamesdown as it was called in those days) in the late 1980s. Back then it was a Labour run council, although the local MP was a very Thatcherite Conservative.
I suppose that the Miliband interview shows that there is only so much that press officer can do to prepare politicians. Many years ago I was working at a local authority in the South of England (not Swindon!) and was preparing a Councillor for a live interview on the local radio station’s drive time slot. I had made sure that he was fully briefed on the issue and had run through possible questions and answers with him. Unfortunately he decided, without telling me, to spend the afternoon in the pub with his mates, so that when he came to do the interview he simply answered each question with a series of drunken giggles.
So, the next time you come across a politician making a mess of a live broadcast interview, spare a thought for the poor press officer who has just seen all his or her hard work go up in smoke.