A ONE-TO-ONE interview with a government minister is rarely a relaxing experience for journalist or politician.
It’s a game of a cat and mouse neither wants to lose.
The politician is wary of seeming out of their depth or poorly briefed and the journalist is wary of being fobbed off with non-answers to their questions.
This was exactly the scenario when I interviewed DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman on (Monday 26 September).
The interview was for a double-page spread published in Farmers Weekly magazine today (Friday, 30 September).
If you haven’t see the magazine, you can read an online version here.
It was the third in a series of farming-related Q&As with politicians from the three main political parties – timed to coincide with party conference season.
Fellow FW journalist Caroline Stocks had already interviewed Mary Creagh (Labour shadow DEFRA secretary) and Andrew George (Lib Dem agriculture spokesman).
This was the second time I had interviewed Spelman.
The first time was on her appointment as DEFRA secretary last year. It was a phone interview and I was given less than 15 minutes. It still made a double page spread – but it wasn’t long enough to explore anything in depth.
In fact, the first interview showed Spelman to be long on aspiration and short on achievement (no surprise as she was a politician who had just taken over the reins of a government department from a party that had spent 13 years in power).
This time, there was more to talk about – Spelman had been in the hot seat as DEFRA secretary for over a year – and I had lots of questions.
I wanted to talk about controversial proposals for a badger cull to combat bovine TB, the ongoing wait for a supermarket watchdog to curb the perceived excesses of Britain’s power-hungry food retailers, plans to slash agricultural red-tape and the not-so-glamourous but important topic of CAP reform.
Rather than 15 minutes on the phone, this time I was given 30 minutes in person at DEFRA HQ. But I had a photographer with me because we also wanted to get some photos and we ended up getting 45 minutes.
How was she? You can judge her performance (and mine) in the video clips below.
I’ve taken to filming more and more of my interviews. I use a small, unobtrusive Flip camera on a tripod. I turn it on and just let it roll.
There are three out-takes from the interview below.
Over the weekend, I will upload an unedited version of the entire interview – from beginning to end – so you can see the whole thing in its full stuttering entirety*.
I found Spelman personable and welcoming – she asked whether we wanted to do the photos or interview first (and didn’t bat an eyelid as we chopped and changed our minds numerous times trying different locations around her office).
Initially a little on her guard, towards the end of the interview, she opens up more.
But I still feel she’s a broad-brush politician when it comes to farming, despite her protestations that the Tories have true-blue rural roots.
Playing back and watching the whole interview, Spelman is noticeably much sharper on some topics than others.
It comes across more on film than it does on paper. The facial expressions and intonation give an insight not available in print.
At one point, she doesn’t seem to know what I am talking about when I ask about the intricacies of her badger culling plans. But she’s much sharper – almost enthusiastic – when talking about CAP reform.
See what you think.
Spelman defends all-Tory DEFRA team
Spelman ‘reasonably confident’ on badger cull
Spelman on supermarket price wars
* I will upload the unedited interview over night – it is about 25 minutes in length and will take hours to upload due to Britain’s slow rural broadband speeds.