James Cleverly was never going to have the easiest time this morning. The Tory party chairman, considered a safe pair of hands, had been sent out to do the broadcast round, after the party became embroiled in an row about Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comments on Grenfell yesterday, which were unhelpfully amplified by the Tory MP Andrew Bridgen.
Even so, Cleverly had probably presumed that he’d at least be in the room when journalists turned the thumb-screws on radio and television. Over on Sky News though, presenter Kay Burley had another plan. The broadcaster began her segment by saying that the empty chair next to her was ‘supposed to be filled by the Chairman of the Conservative party’, who had decided not to show. She then launched into a remarkable tirade, in which she told viewers all the questions she would have asked Cleverly if he’d bothered to show up:
Rather awkwardly though, it appears Cleverly wasn’t just lurking off-stage during the interview, but was actually occupied at the time. The Chairman pointed out on Twitter shortly afterwards that while Burley was conducting her on-screen conversation with an inanimate object, he was being interviewed by TalkRadio’s Julia Hartley-Brewer:
— James Cleverly (@JamesCleverly) November 6, 2019
Cleverly’s broadcast schedule this morning also appeared to show that he was due to speak on TalkRadio, not Sky News all along:
Mr S suspects we’ll soon find out whether an error meant Cleverly was double-booked, or if the Chairman was never meant to appear on Sky News. But Mr Steerpike wonders if Burley gave the game away when she said at the end of the ‘interview’ that:
‘I know that the spin doctors at Number 10 Downing Street had absolutely reassured me, via text, that when politicians were doing the rounds in the morning, they would be doing this programme, and yet we have an empty chair.’
Rather suggesting that Burley had been promised that guests would appear on her show in general, but not that Cleverly would take part this morning…