The Week In Radio: PMQs prove that Victoria's the true voice of the people


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The Independent Culture

Victoria Derbyshire or Jeremy Vine? It's a bit like asking whether you're a cat or a dog person. If you are disposed to radio phone-in shows then chances are you have a preference. Personally, I'm with Derbyshire. This isn't through any great admiration for her broadcasting style, but more a reflection of my intense allergy to Vine, whose smug, sing-song voice is like kryptonite to my soul. I'd do anything to avoid listening to him goading callers into bellowing about how the country has gone to the dogs and that prison is too good for 'em. When I clock him on the radio in shops or cafés I have been known lunge at the offending equipment, sending small children and old ladies tumbling in my wake.

This week, however, I decided to face my fear. More accurately, I thought it might be time to compare what it is both Derbyshire and Vine do. On the face of it, they have a lot in common. Both enjoy top billing on Radio 5 Live and Radio 2 respectively, and are recipients of Sony awards for their ratings-busting discussion programmes. Both presenters have backgrounds in journalism and ostensibly reach for a similar audience – middle-class, Daily Mail-reading types who love nothing more than spouting moral outrage from their armchairs. They are, it is supposed, the voice of the people, presenters we can rely on to ask the right questions at the point when the rest of us have abandoned rational discussion and resorted to lying face down on the floor and wailing "Not fair!"

In the last week, both Vine and Derbyshire have been talking about nurses, whose collective reputation has taken yet another battering after David Cameron declared that their approach to caring in hospitals needed to change, with the focus on patients rather than paperwork.

Vine was quick to stoke the embers of indignation on Radio 2, barking: "How can a politician tell a nurse how to do their job?" and asking his callers to climb on their soapboxes and address Cameron directly, which they duly did. Vine clucked his agreement throughout, and went so far as to hope that Helen, a long-serving nurse from Cranbrook in Kent, would be there to tend him on his deathbed. "Let's make a date," he oozed. Then he lobbed in a firecracker from a listener who deemed today's nurses "too posh to wash", at which point you imagined thousands of hospital workers downing tools and taking themselves off to the staffroom to punch a wall.

Over on 5 Live, Derbyshire, a woman who would remain calm even if her hair was on fire, took a more measured approach, rarely interrupting contributors as they struggled to articulate their irritation at the Prime Minister. She talked to seven nurses, male and female, whom she kept on the line in order that they could talk to each other, and who generally agreed that the real problem lay in staff shortages. We all know that Derbyshire has teeth as an interviewer, as last year's conversation with Ken Clarke on the subject of rape demonstrated. But in this instance, she stepped back and let the nurses steer the conversation.

Whether you prefer Derbyshire and Vine perhaps depends on whether you prefer a bit of orchestrated argy-bargy or the sense that you have stumbled into a group therapy session where everyone remains polite and has their say. Sensational or sensible? I can see the appeal of both, though I'm sticking with Derbyshire. A good interview isn't always about provoking, needling and cajoling. It's about knowing when to shut the hell up.