Could the timing have been more perfect? After getting involved in a furious on-air spat with Alastair Campbell on Monday evening, Sky News‘ political editor Adam Boulton has revealed how “at the end of a long and bruising campaign I’ve been known to grouch to my colleagues”.
Perhaps more startling was Boulton’s revelation that this election campaign hadn’t proved to be one of those times.
In a piece for this week’s issue of the New Statesman – written before his bust up with Campbell on the steps of Westminster – Boulton wrote: “At the end of a long and bruising campaign I’ve been known to grouch to my colleagues that ‘it’s a pity they can’t all lose’.
“In 2010, I didn’t feel like that – thanks to the energising TV debates and better personal planning.
“But you could say I got what I’d wished for. All parties undershot their hopes or expectations: no overall majority for either the Conservatives or Labour, and no Cleggmaniacal surge for the Liberal Democrats.”
Boulton said the TV debates had “foretold the new political mood”.
He added: “Brown and Cameron didn’t have to engage with Nick Clegg on equal terms, but they did. Some of their advisers regard the three-ways as a catastrophic miscalculation, but I salute the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition for embracing politics as it now is in the UK.”
Boulton said there had been “many opportunities for the leaders to get personal” during the Bristol debate he moderated for Sky News on 22 April.
“I made eye contact with them, but they res¬isted any invitation to mix it. Confronted by cameras and a live audience, they instinctively avoided Punch-and-Judy politics.
“The phrase “I agree with Nick” has been much derided, but it’s an expression of the spirit of our times.”
The fiery exchange, broadcast live by the 24-hour news channel on Monday, started after Campbell accused Boulton of treating Gordon Brown like “dead meat” and wanting David Cameron in Downing Street.
Press Gazette understands that hundreds of complaints have already been made to Ofcom about the interview with many focusing on Boulton’s “unprofessional behaviour”. Others also complained to the broadcasting watchdog about a later Boulton interview with former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw.
Boulton claimed in his piece for the NS that he had been accused of political bias by both leading parties and noted how Ofcom was still dealing with complaints that he “heckled” Clegg over expenses in the leaders’ debate that he chaired.
He said a number of Tories had wanted him sacked as a debate moderator after he commented that Cameron “should be careful” about questioning debate rules that his own officials had pressed for. And Boulton noted that complaints had been made to Ofcom after he raised the issue of negative newspaper stories to Nick Clegg during the Sky News party leaders’ debate.