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Debate: Was Eddie Mair right to call Boris Johnson a ‘nasty piece of work’?



What's going on?

Boris Johnson was made to squirm in a Sunday morning interview with Eddie Mair in which the stand-in Andrew Marr Show host subjected the Mayor of London to a grilling on matters of personal integrity.

Mair, whose rise has been profiled by our Media Editor Ian Burrell, challenged Boris on three controversial episodes from his past, including a made-up quote, a denied affair and his decision to hand over the address of a journalist so a friend could have him assaulted.

Summing up, Mair said: "Aren't you in fact making up quotes, lying to your party leader, wanting to be part of someone being physically assaulted...you're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?"

Boris said he would challenge all three allegations.

But was Mair's abrasive interview justifiable broadcasting?

Case for: Incisive

At last, a journalist was incisive enough in their dealings with the Mayor to break through Johnson's blond force-field of buffoonery. The kind of questions Mair asked are exactly those to which answers must be given if the public is to have a true appreciation of a politician's character. Mair will have reminded the electorate that Johnson, for all his ahming and erring, is no mild-mannered eccentric; he's a ruthless sort willing to lie and fight his way to the top. His  interview has set a new bar to which all broadcasters (except the esteemed Paxman) should aspire. Deference is out the window, holding MPs to account back in.

Case against: Trivial

The sight of a Conservative getting pummelled has distracted the majority from what was, in essence, a small-minded ambush on live television. Who expects politicians to have gone through a career without making a few personal mistakes? (And two of the three questions Mair asked were undeniably personal). What bearing does a phone conversation with an irate friend have on Johnson's record in power? Less than zero. Mair puffed out his chest and acted cock-of-the-roost, but he debased himself by pursuing such a trivial line of questioning. Our politics is weaker, not stronger, for his intervention.