TV journalist Richard Madeley wants all interviewers to adopt a “three strikes and you’re out” rule to improve the quality of political debate.
Madeley abruptly ended a live interview with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson on Tuesday after the cabinet politician dodged his questions.
Writing in the Guardian, Madeley said he had received an “overwhelmingly positive” response in the news media, on social media and on the street since his decision to cut off Williamson on Good Morning Britain.
Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman tweeted: “So tempted to do this with other politicians on so many occasions…”
Williamson appeared on the ITV show via satellite from a safari park to announce that British Army personnel were travelling to Malawi to protect elephants and rhinos from poachers.
Madeley took the opportunity to ask the MP if he regretted telling Russia to “shut up and go away” after the Salisbury nerve agent attack in which Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious.
However, Williamson began answering the question by paying tribute to the health personnel who treated the Skripals, who have since left hospital.
Madeley interrupted by saying: “No, no, no. I asked you a straight question … do you regret using that kind of casual language? That’s the question. Could you answer it, please?”
When Williamson began explaining the UK’s response to the “atrocious attack”, Madeley cut him off a second time and gave the Defence Secretary a final chance.
“The question is – I’ll try it one more time – do you regret using very casual Trump-esque language like ‘shut up and go away’?”
Describing his reaction to Williamson’s final response and his decision to terminate the interview, Madeley wrote in the Guardian: “More unabashed talking around the topic. The shamelessness was breathtaking. Enough of this crap, I decided.”
Madeley has hosted live network news and discussion programmes for 30 years but said he had never pulled the plug on an interview before, blaming the current quality of political discourse.
He said: “It tells you how bad things have got; how well drilled today’s politicians have become at evasion, obfuscation and manipulation during interviews.
“Fundamentally, it’s a control issue. By contumaciously refusing to answer my questions, Williamson was sending out the subtle but crystal-clear message: ‘You’re not running this interview, Madeley. I am. I’ll decide what we do and don’t talk about, not you. Trust me, I can stall you until the credits roll.’”
Madeley said he thought the interview was the most popular thing he had ever done on TV, adding: “So I’ve got a new rule when conducting interviews with politicians who won’t answer the question. Three strikes, and you’re out.
“If all of us interviewers adopt that principle, the quality of political debate on television will immediately and dramatically improve. And viewers will love us for it.”