A routine message from Jenny Ward on duty on the desk recently, but these five words have been known to send senior politicians and prominent public figures scurrying for the exits, rather than face the prospect of a grilling from one of our best known political inquisitors. Loreto’s Politics Society, and Ms Norton in particular, staged quite a coup when they managed to persuade the eminent journalist, broadcaster and author to visit the college and talk to students about his long and varied career at the forefront of British politics. Michael Crick has worked on Channel 4 News and BBC’s Newsnight, but is perhaps best known for a number of biographies, the subjects of which have included Jeffrey Archer, Michael Howard, Michael Heseltine and Alex Ferguson, in addition to a series of investigative reports, and infamous ‘door stepping’ episodes.
Indeed, a packed lunchtime audience in E&K theatre was treated to a film montage of furtive public figures trying to evade Mr Crick’s persistent questions, by walking briskly away, jumping hurriedly into lifts etc. before the arranged Q and A got properly underway. With Mr Robertson chairing and a panel of Politics students primed and raring to go, Michael Crick found himself in the unusual position of answering, rather than asking, the questions. He was asked why he turned down the chance to stand for parliament as a Labour candidate in a safe Labour seat back in the early 1980s; he said that he felt he might be used as a pawn in the dispute with Militant so opted for journalism instead, a choice he has never regretted. He now regards himself as largely apolitical and likes to maintain a neutral stance, keeping a ‘distance’ from his interviewees. He does not share the tendency of some of his journalistic colleagues to be on first name terms with politicians, recognising that he might miss out on ‘inside’ stories as a result, but retaining his integrity more effectively. Inevitably, the question arose as to how to deal with reluctant and evasive politicians; the trick, apparently, is to embarrass them with an awkward ‘killer’ question, prepared carefully beforehand. Politicians, we were told, tend not to bear grudges. Our guest cited Gordon Brown and Theresa May, as examples of politicians who have devised a tactic whereby they never quite answer the question they have been asked.
More questions followed, from the panel and the audience, touching on the rise of populism in the West, the impact of environmental issues on political developments, the lack of working class representation in journalism, and, of course, Brexit. Of the latter, he was of the opinion that this incredibly complex issue was in a constant state of flux and, bearing in mind what was happening in Downing Street at that very moment, perhaps he should have been elsewhere!
A question about the ownership and finances of Manchester City was batted away diplomatically (Michael Crick is a United season ticket holder) before he declared his strangest interview to be with a car full of nuns during the visit to the UK of Pope John Paul. A generous offer to advise students interested in a career in journalism rounded off proceedings and brought a highly successful and enjoyable session to a close.