THE VERY IDEA OF right-wing breakfast radio presenter Nick Ferrari hounding the Prime Minister on air is as likely as imagining one of the Queen’s loyal lapdog corgis taking lumps out of the Her Majesty. And yet it happened, , ,
In an interview on the award-winning shock jock’s LBC Breakfast Show following publication of the Daily Mirror front-page photo of a four-year-old with suspected pneumonia sleeping on the floor of a Leeds A&E clinic, Ferrari asked a gloomy-looking PM for his comments.
“Fluster-bluster-puffy-wuffy,”stuttered Johnson. “I can only apologise to anyone who has had a bad experience with the NHS. . .” The hospital’s fault not mine, guv, The Greatest PM in Living Memory seemed to be saying. Even Ferrari seemed put out by the lack of empathetic response from the blond haystack. So he pressed on.
“Your Home Secretary, Priti Patel, claims that if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister there will be 52 MORE murders the following year, 150 MORE sexual assaults and 8,596 MORE weapons on the streets. . .where does she get these ‘Project Fear’ figures from, Prime Minister?
More piffle, huff and puff from the Premier, who suddenly looked like a fish on a hook in the LBC remote studio in Grimsby where he had started a final ‘Break the Red Wall’ tour of the North of England with this hoped-for ‘friendly’ interview. Ferrari scented blood in the water.
“Surely the first question you should have asked her was ‘Where did you get your statistics, Home Secretary?’ After all we are both journalists, we know the rules! Unless you think she is Mystic Priti, that is!” An awkward silence fell over the Normally-Unstoppably-Garrulous-One. His mistake had been in forgetting that Ferrari IS a considerable journalist.
And I should know: the shock jock and I have been friends and colleagues for the best part of 40 years, first at the Sun and Mirror and later as broadcast partners at Talk Sport and LBC. ‘I taught [the multi-award-winning presenter] all he knows,’ I boast to those foolish enough to believe me.
Johnson looked like an over-confident white hunter faced with an LBC bull elephant gone rogue. This ‘friendly’ interview wasn’t meant to be this way. Worse was to follow: Ferrari asked why the unaffordable and controversial £88billion national rail project HS2 was still under consideration, only for Johnson to reveal that he believed that the final cost would be “somewhere north of £100billion”. Big mistake; Ferrari pounced. Gotcha!
“You just added 15 per cent to the estimate out of thin air, Prime Minister,” said a triumphant broadcaster. “You’ve made the figure up!” Ferrari was on a roll, he had the PM on toast. “Will you still lie down in front of the bulldozers when they arrive to build Heathrow’s runway three?” (as Johnson had promised when he was Mayor of London).
“I. . .aah. . .don’t think . . .that is . . .aah . . .not particularly appropriate. . . aah,” stuttered the now-labouring Prime Minister of Whiffle-Puff.
Ferrari in the Blue-But-Not-Blue-Enough corner was an indisputable winner on points. But he was still chasing the punch-drunk PM around the ring.
“The Guardian says voters don’t understand your Aussie-style immigration policy, and neither do I,” taunted Ferrari. “By what amount does that mean you will reduce immigration?”
Wearily, a well-deflated Johnson replied: “I can’t give you a number. . . I don’t want to get into the numbers game.”
And that was that. A perfunctory farewell and the PM escaped, to his evident great relief. So with Fearless Ferrari, London’s most popular talk host, in this sort of form who needs Andrew Neil the Destroyer, countless times refused precious interview time with the Prime Minister?
Out of curiosity (and as a guide for Mr Neil’s unsuccessful producers at the BBC) I messaged Ferrari to ask how far ahead – days, weeks, months – had been required to break into Johnson’s hectic schedule. When was the Monday morning interview fixed up, I asked. His one-word reply pinged back almost immediately.