With the Eastleigh by-election starting in a few hours I always reflect on a tedious aspect of these things. While it’s good for news stories, every broadcast editor shudders at the thought of a general election or by-election – because of the Representation of the People Act. It imposes obligations on broadcasters which do not apply to newspapers and – certainly in my time – obliged me to have someone whose job was to log the time to the nearest second that each of the main candidates had on air.
I didn’t mind that so much as an odd quirk that a local MP took advantage of: the need for all parliamentary candidates standing in a consituency to agree that all the other candidates could be interviewed and be given air time. Without that agreement, no candidates could be given air time – it just took one to block everyone. The local MP was Robert Adley, a long-time Conservative MP with what was then the safest seat in England – Christchurch. He hated the media, partly because he didn’t need it. I once phoned him on an important local issue and all he could say was “Why don’t you ask me about the Carlisle to Settle railway, a far more interesting subject.” He was a railways nut, chairman of some important Parliamentary railway committee to boot.
So when I rang him to ask if he would permit us to interview and broadcast interviews with him and his opposing candidates I was not surprised when he refused (two general elections running). He knew he was so safe he simply didn’t need to give his opposition any airtime. Many listeners criticised me for not airing the views of local candidates and I had to patiently explain Adley’s opposition.
I think this was and still is a gross abuse of democratic process and we all had a quiet drink to celebrate his eventual demise. The seat fell to the LibDems.Posted on