Matt Hancock vs The Grim Reaper | Crooked Media
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June 29, 2023
Pod Save the UK
Matt Hancock vs The Grim Reaper

In This Episode

Matt Hancock fails to win over bereaved families at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, as they turn their backs on him while another confronts him dressed as the grim reaper. Nish and Coco get to grips with ‘greedflation’ as MPs question supermarket bosses about their huge salaries. Plus Coco questions why Labour has an all-white all-male line up of candidates for the upcoming by-elections. And Nish is disheartened by a report that finds cricket is racist, sexist and elitist – the “full fruit machine” of prejudice!


We continue ‘Chat Shit Get Banged’, our campaign to stop politicians lying, with the help of John Humphrys, former presenter of Radio 4’s Today programme. The man once labelled the BBC’s ‘Rottweiler in chief’ reflects on his 33 years holding politicians to account, including memorable encounters with Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher.


Also, tales from Glastonbury, and Prigozhin v Putin – how did a hotdog seller build up his own private army? Plus Coco gets a surprise Patreon request.


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John Humphrys, Classic FM presenter and former presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme


Audio credits:

Uk Covid-19 Inquiry

Sky News








Nish Kumar Hi, this is Pod Save the UK.


Coco Khan I’m Coco Khan.


Nish Kumar And I’m Nish Kumar.


Coco Khan And welcome to the place where progressives come to rage.


Nish Kumar But also hopefully to find some solutions to the state where it.


Coco Khan This week we’re saving the UK from Matt Hancock’s excuses from overpaid supermarket bosses, from all white, all male by election candidates and from cricket.


Nish Kumar And bringing us hope. John Humphrys, once the BBC’s scariest political interviewer is here to teach us some of the tricks of the trade.


Coco Khan So a bit of a bit of a mad week, isn’t it, Nish? I mean, you’ve been in Glastonbury thinking about Rick Astley and his Smiths covers. Meanwhile, on the outside, I’ve been thinking about Russia and the hot dog to mercenary pipeline, as exemplified by Yevgeny Prigozhin.


Nish Kumar It was weird being at Glastonbury and sort of feeling in the background going, Is Russia about to be subject to a hot dog coup? Also, it was one of those things where you sort of look at it and go, Well, there’s no good end to this situation. You know, like Prigozhin does not seem like the best gentleman in the world. Putin, as we know, is not the best gentleman. And you sort of go, this is an absolute alien versus predator. Whoever wins, we move situation. Yeah, it was it was a quite a sinister background to an otherwise wonderful weekend.


Coco Khan But when you go out of your tent and you walked past the hot dog stand, how did it change things for you?


Nish Kumar Apart from the potential specter of the collapse of Russia, it was a and and a guy with a private army getting access to nuclear weapons. Glastonbury was great. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you where people really don’t want to have their buzz killed by me talking about serious world events. Glastonbury.


Coco Khan Really?


Nish Kumar That’s the last thing someone on MDMA does not want to hear about, you know, mercenaries getting their hands on nuclear weapons.


Coco Khan You’ve seen that meme, haven’t you, of the guy in the club talking into the girl’s ear?


Nish Kumar Yeah, that was me to everyone at Glastonbury.


Coco Khan You just whispering. *whispers*


Nish Kumar Oh, yeah. It was a, well, very, very deeply strange story happening in the background. Otherwise, Glastonbury was wonderful. I had a great time. Young fathers were incredible. Locarno was incredible. Good to see another Croydon boy up there.


Coco Khan Yeah.


Nish Kumar I love watching Croydon has headlined Glastonbury. It was Stormzy in 2019. Loyle Carter 2023 is exciting for me.


Coco Khan The Croydon stage.


Nish Kumar Yeah.


Coco Khan Who needs Boxpark? You’ve got the pyramid. It was funny from the outside as well because I was. I’ve been to Glastonbury the past maybe five years, but didn’t go this year, so I was able to in real time see the Glastonbury discourse on twitter.


Nish Kumar Yeah, right, yeah, yeah.


Coco Khan And you’re much better off being at Glastonbury than seeing the discourse.


Nish Kumar Yeah, yeah.


Coco Khan And the discourse generally goes like this. I’m not at Glastonbury, so anyone who is is a bastard.


Nish Kumar It’s the worst year of Glastonbury ever. The year that I wasn’t at Glastonbury was the worst year. All of the years.


Coco Khan Everyone that went is a dick and I’m not there, so it’s really shit.


Nish Kumar What did you do?


Coco Khan Oh, I went to the beach, You know, I’ve got this thing at the minute because my flat so unbearably hot. So any opportunity I can to get to the coast I do.


Nish Kumar Yeah.


Coco Khan So I just swam in some human feces.


Nish Kumar Your commitment to engaging with the news is leading you to swim near human shit.


Coco Khan Listen, people want journalists who can do the tough jobs, who can literally get in the shit. And I will do that for journalism.


Nish Kumar Okay. This week, we saw one of the key political figures during the pandemic take the stand at the public inquiry into the government’s handling of COVID. The former health secretary, Matt Hancock, criticized the UK’s pandemic planning ahead of COVID, saying it was too focused on dealing with deaths rather than averting them.


Matt Hancock The absolutely central problem with the planning in the UK was that the doctrine was wrong. The doctrine of the UK was to plan for the consequences of a disaster. Can we buy enough body bags? Where are we going to bury the dead? And that was completely wrong. Of course, it’s important to have that in case you fail to stop a pandemic. But central to pandemic planning needs to be how do you stop the disaster from happening in the first place? How do you suppress the virus?


Nish Kumar What he failed to do at any point in the 3 hours of evidence was take any personal responsibility at repeatedly blaming systems that were already in place. And though he did say it was profoundly sorry for every death. At no point did he admit to actually doing anything that he might need to apologize for.


Coco Khan He did acknowledge that his apology would be hard to take. Thanks for that, Matt. And that fact was certainly brought home to him when on his way out, he approached the public gallery and attempted to apologize to the families who lost their loved ones only for them to turn their back on him. Outside, he was confronted by a man dressed as the Grim Reaper, Charles Persinger, who lost his wife and his mother to coronavirus just one month apart. As Hancock got into his car, passenger in full Grim Reaper outfit shouted sarcastically after him. I’m a big fan of your work.


Nish Kumar There’s going to be a lot more questions for Matt Hancock to come once we The inquiry actually gets into the phase of questions around what happened once the pandemic had actually started. But, you know, some of the details that are coming out are so unedifying and concerning and even said a disorganized Brexit had posed a very real and material threat because he diverted staff and resources to prepare for it at the expense of pandemic planning. In 2016, there had been a huge pandemic simulation that found that the UK’s plans were not sufficient to deal with a pandemic. It was called exercise sickness. But when it came to the outbreak, 14 of the 22 recommendations made as a result of that were not put in place due to health department staff and resources being diverted to prepare for a no deal Brexit. And, you know, that feels very difficult to swallow as a nation. You know, why on earth were we diverting our resources away from pandemic planning at that point?


Coco Khan I’m not surprised that the apology is hard to take, even for a start. How can you apologize for that, that scale of kind of horror anyway? You know, an apology is never going to be enough. But nonetheless, you know, this constant blame of the system, brother, you are the system. You are the health minister. Like, I hate it when people in power use the language of the kind of powerless. I think it’s so, so gross and mendacious. And, you know, if it is true, let’s just pretend for a minute that it is true that it was completely outside of his power as the Minister for Health to get control of this. You know, he was talking about how the decision around social care wasn’t his. That’s actually for local authorities. Whatever, man. It’s a crisis. Do something. But even if that was the case and that he was powerless on things, what’s the point of democracy? What’s the point of voting people in if actually in front of the biggest crisis of our nation? Oh, I’m sorry. The system can’t the system can’t be flexible. Like, I mean, it’s really we talk a lot on the show about faith in politics. And if you saw that, I don’t think it would do anything for your faith in politics.


Nish Kumar And look, I mean, we’re in this situation where, you know, conservative ministers are just blaming other conservative ministers. I mean, I feel like there’s a heavily implied blame on David Cameron and George Osborne here after Cameron Osborne previously gave testimony to the inquiry saying that they’d left the service in an impeccable condition, Matt Hancock is essentially saying that he inherited something that wasn’t fit for purpose. So I mean there’s a huge number of people passing blame to each other and what we’re not getting at the moment is any sense of how we need to fix this and what actually went wrong. It’s just a bunch of people passing the buck around.


Coco Khan So let’s turn our attention to another crisis because there’s just not enough. It’s the cost of living and what’s being called greed deflation. As we record this on Wednesday, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is meeting five major industry regulators to look at whether companies are simply lining their pockets rather than passing on the effects of a slowdown in inflation to their customers. That would be in the form of lower prices.


Nish Kumar Among those in the firing line are supermarkets, which denied acting like a. Can’t tell when bosses were quizzed by MPs on Tuesday. Here’s Labour’s Andy McDonald on the cross-party Business and Trade committee. Addressing a question to Brian Bartlett, food commercial director for Sainsbury’s.


Andy McDonald And the chief executive of and that’s Mr. Mr. Roberts. He’s paid almost £4 million in in in bonuses on top of his salary, you know, and I’d really like to know how do you justify that in the in the midst of a cost of living crisis? I think if if you look at Mr. Roberts, that’s 4.9 million £408,000 a month, £94,000 a week, 2.2 thousand £298 an hour. And workers appeared £11 an hour. I mean, you know, how is that justifiable when people the people who work for you and the people at the stores are suffering from a grotesque cost of living crisis now? How can that possibly be justified?


Clip Well, its a listed company, you know that all of our board directors salaries are published set by the Remco. I don’t sit on the Remco. I don’t have any remit over setting any of those salaries, so I can’t really comment any further on that today.


Andy McDonald What do you don’t get the point that you know, this this discussion is couched around a cost of living crisis. And yet, you know, I’ve got to say the chief executives across the board are in the same ballpark in terms of their that that their pay. Do you not understand how that sits with the general public that these sorts of wages being paid? And you tell us that your purpose is to provide the most reasonably priced food for your customers and yet dividends are paid out and these salaries at this level. Does that not chime with any of you.


Clip Can make football tickets cheap? Who has to pay less?


Andy McDonald No, it’s just absolutely, utterly staggering, quite frankly.


Nish Kumar So, look, the fact that there was no direct response to that question kind of says it all here. I mean, £4 million bonus payments. I mean, what is the bonus for? Is it I don’t understand when if you look at the, you know, the raw materials of a supermarket, which is, you know, the food and products that they’re buying in, if the price of that going up, then and they’re passing all of the costs over to the consumers.


Coco Khan Yes.


Nish Kumar And why in the name of God are there executives still getting £4 million bonus payments?


Coco Khan Absolutely. Like, what was the target that they met? Was it one in seven people not having enough money for food? Was it that food and nonalcoholic drink prices were up for 18.4%? What was the target? What’s it that meant? They could have the bonus.


Nish Kumar And the thing is, this is having, you know, real world consequences like exactly what you said, Cocoa, you know, one in seven people, the Trussell Trust, the Food Bank charity, said this week one in seven people face hunger in the last year because they don’t have enough money. And in the meantime, I don’t know I don’t know how much more the case can be made, that there needs to be some sort of attempted price control. And listen, I know that it’s easy sometimes to dismiss those kind of things as the talk of, you know, the chattering class. Is there agitated leftists. But I am going to quote from you from something that the International Monetary Fund have published this week.


Coco Khan Those well-known lefties.


Nish Kumar Yeah, exactly. I was not expecting this. It’s a kind of study of a contribution to annual change in consumption. And so it’s a study of profit and where that’s being passed to. And so far, they found that Europe’s businesses have been shielded more than workers from the adverse cost shock. And in this article, it says that they there’s needs to be more attempts to coax firms to accept a compression of the profit share so that real wages can recover at a measured pace, essentially saying that companies need to accept less profits so they can pass some of that money back to their employees. And. I mean, I don’t know how you can dismiss that from the. It’s not exactly a you know, it’s not exactly a bastion of anti-capitalist thought. But the I mean, I imagine I’m sure it will be dismissed as well. They have the international Marxist friends now. But if even the IMF are saying that companies need to accept a squeeze in their profits, then surely we’re sort of through some kind of looking glass here.


Coco Khan Now, this crisis is affecting everyone. So that was a quote from one Conservative MP that said they’d seen a serious deterioration on doorsteps in the last fortnight, driven primarily by the changes to mortgages. And the quote is I have constituents in detached 1990s homes who have never thought about politics, who are now being hit hard. I mean, you know, of course our politics would tell you that if you have a section of society that are incredibly impoverished, that will come home to roost on all of us. And I think it’s finally happening. So I like to think that now the politics of poverty is going to take center stage.


Nish Kumar Yeah, and I’m afraid when Rishi Sunak, a man whose net worth is in the vicinity of £900 million, tells people that they need to hold their nerve through this, he is proving himself to be as useful in this crisis as an igloo in the desert.


Coco Khan Did you see Keir Starmer? He mentioned that in one of his chats with The New Statesman and he was like, My mortgage costs have gone up and Rishi Sunak can’t understand that because he clearly doesn’t have a mortgage. I think fair enough. You know, he also gets paid a lot more than many people, but he still has a mortgage. So I thought that, you know, I think it’s fair to say I don’t think that’s the politics of envy to point that out. I think that’s just like fair play.


Nish Kumar Speaking of the Labour Party, some Labour needs this week. That’s slightly flown under the radar, I think it’s fair to say five crucial by elections that are potentially going to be held over the next few months. And they’ve announced the candidates Coco.


Coco Khan Yes, they have. And those candidates all have one thing in common.


Nish Kumar They’re favorite color is red? Favorite flower is the rose?


Coco Khan No. Favorite band is Simply Red?


Nish Kumar Favorite band is Simply Red? Favorite Ninja Turtle is Rafael?


Coco Khan They love the thought of coming home to you? Is that Simply Red?


Nish Kumar Yeah, that’s Simply Red.


Coco Khan Just joking. Just joking. It’s basically they’re all dudes. They’re all men.


Nish Kumar Sausage fest?


Coco Khan Sausage fest!


Nish Kumar What? We talking? Honky sausage fest?


Coco Khan They are all white men. Yes. Correct.


Nish Kumar Oooh Honky sausage fest. Holy hell.


Coco Khan I mean, I’m not the only one that’s annoyed about it. Several female Labour MPs are reported to be shadow communities. Secretary Lisa Nandy was asked by Sky News if it bothered her. Here she is.


Clip Yeah, of course. I mean, it’s something that we take very seriously in the Labour Party. I myself was selected on an All Women shortlist. People say now I would have been selected anyway. But the truth is that until and unless we change the perception of what a member of Parliament looks like, that wasn’t going to change. We’ve reached the threshold with the being allowed to use all women shortlists again. But for me and others across the Labour Party, it’s incumbent on us to go out and make the case for why we need more women and more diversity in Parliament, and particularly at local level if we’re going to affect the biggest transfer of power out of Westminster in Whitehall in modern British history, which we are, we need to make sure that our mayors and our council leaders and our cabinet members are representative of the communities they serve, and we’re absolutely committed to doing that.


Coco Khan So as it stands, as Lisa Nandy was outlining there, Labour has reached parity in 51% of the UK are women. I think it’s 52% of Labour MPs are women. That is a result of a roughly two decade long policy of all women shortlists. They were very controversial at the time and because they’ve reached parity, as we can see, they don’t have them anymore. I mean, I am concerned that the first glimpse of not having these all women shortlists, that those numbers are going to retreat.


Nish Kumar Yeah. Yeah. If you’re trying to make the case against quotas, this is not helpful to you. And I don’t you know, people don’t like quotas. And I understand that there is an instinctive feeling that, well, you know, it’s about equality and we’ve just got to make sure the quotas fucking work. You know, they work. And I’m confused as to why. We’re not pursuing them more actively in politics because we want if we want Westminster to be more effective in terms of delivering what people across the country need. People across the country have to be represented in Westminster. There’s no two ways around it really either.


Coco Khan Yeah, I don’t mean look representation. We’ve talked about it before. It’s a really blunt instrument. Just because you’ve had lots of women in the party, does it mean that women’s issues are going to necessarily be front and center? I mean, to be fair, we’ve kind of seen that with the Labour Party. Now they may have 52% of all women, but if you look at their five pledges, none of them are sort of focused on women. So, you know. But at the same time, if you don’t force it quite clearly, naturally it’s not going to happen. We all have this idea that like a quota is a a thing that we do in the interim until it sorts itself out. I guess my concern is how long will it take to sort this out?


Nish Kumar Yeah.


Coco Khan [AD]


Coco Khan So a month ago, in our third episode, we launched our chat Shit Get Banged our campaign to stop politicians lying. Since then, Boris Johnson has been effectively kicked out of the House of Commons for doing just that. Is it a coincidence? Let’s just leave it there. Let’s just leave that thought to mull.


Nish Kumar And this month we’re turning our attention to the fourth estate, to journalists and asking the role that the media has in keeping our politics honest and accountable. And who better to help us than a broadcaster who was the scourge of politicians.


John Humphrys But failed. Failed at the challenge you have just said.


Coco Khan Oh, failure seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it, John?


John Humphrys Nah. Moderate, really.


Nish Kumar He had a couple of wins on the way its the former presenter of the UK’s most important radio show, BBC Radio four, The Today program. John Humphrys John, welcome to the show.


John Humphrys Only 33 years on the program.


Nish Kumar 33 years?


John Humphrys I was just getting the hang of it. Just.


Nish Kumar If you’ll indulge us for a moment John. We’ve got a lot of international listeners and we want to give them some context for people who might not be familiar about your career because it is incredibly illustrious. Coco?


Coco Khan Okay, right. So this is what you need to know about John Humphrys. He started work on a local paper in South Wales when he was just 15. He’s covered some of the biggest stories across the world, including the resignation of President Richard Nixon. He’s won pretty much every award going. There’s no point listing them all. He spent three decades as the most feared, respected and sometimes disliked political interviewer on the BBC. He also spent eight years putting the fear of God into civilians as host of the BBC TV show Mastermind.


Nish Kumar And variously been described as the rudest man in Britain, the BBC’s Rottweiler in chief and a courageous interrogator, and famously the former Labour foreign secretary, Robin Cook, said The only thing that keeps me awake at night is the prospect of being interviewed by John Humphrys in the morning.


John Humphrys You solve the problem by not turning up.


Nish Kumar  John, so now that we’re sat across from you, you seem absolutely charming.


John Humphrys I’m delightful. Everybody says that all my 17 former wives and my ex bosses, they all say this. Well, you’re different when there’s a microphone, a live microphone in front of you. You are different, aren’t you? I mean, if you’re not, you’re a bit weird really.


Coco Khan I’m just interested in this because, like, I’m from a generation who sometimes find the adversarial nature of politics and the discourse and the country around it.


John Humphrys And you write for the Guardian, so  yeah. You want to be nice to everyone.


Coco Khan Not to Tories, John.


John Humphrys I was about to say that.


Coco Khan But do you think that actually, genuinely can I infer from that that you think that that’s what listeners want, but they need you to really go for these politicians, like as you were once described, a Rottweiler?


John Humphrys This is going to sound breathtakingly arrogant. It is breathtakingly arrogant, but when I sit or sat in front of the microphone to interview a politician, I wasn’t saying to myself, Is this what the listener wants? Right?


Coco Khan Huh. Interesting.


John Humphrys Because if you do that, what Listener?


Nish Kumar Yeah.


John Humphrys Do you have in mind do you have in mind that the little old lady who has only a passing interest in politics of any sort and there’s nothing wrong with that, or it might be a 17 year old kid who is angry all the time and wants you to sock it to him and prove what hypocrites and how they been betrayed by them. They are. You can’t do both. You have to find something in the middle. No, because you find something in the middle. It’s bland. So what you do is you deal with what you’ve got. But I don’t have a standard approach of any sort. I deal with what is in front of me.


Coco Khan Yeah, And is it just that the obfuscation their avoidance just makes you angry. And that’s sort of why those interviews famously go way.


John Humphrys You know. It’s possibly or dismissive, but I don’t think I do get angry very often. Occasionally, of course, frustrated is a much better word, but I don’t think I got angry. I never actually I think there will have been occasions, but I didn’t lose my temper. If you do that, you’ve lost haven’t you?


Nish Kumar Right.


John Humphrys You’ve lost the argument. If you lose your temper because you you’ve got to be at least reasonable enough to to be able to say after the interview, I was fair. And Andrew Marr when he left, the BBC announced that he was leaving the BBC and going to LBC, which of course I adore and worship because I work for Global Now Classic FM and not knew.


Nish Kumar Holding those proposers to account.


John Humphrys Get hold it a you of that bloody bagel that I can tell you.


Coco Khan What did he ever do?


John Humphrys Marker precisely what he did wrote If you want to write a few tunes I think got it done. There’s a tune.


Coco Khan Those definitely write them.


John Humphrys But how would he have known anyway., Andrew said. When he left the BBC. He was glad to do so after the many years that he was there because he wanted to get his voice back. And I wrote a piece for somebody, The Spectator, I think about it. Yes, he was. That said, in essence. He hadn’t lost his voice at the BBC. Now, it’s perfectly true that he couldn’t sit down and write a column that said Boris Johnson must be fired because he’s a stinking liar. I mean, you can say that now and everybody would applaud, wouldn’t wouldn’t take notice. But he couldn’t have done that. What he could have done and what he did, because he’s a pro and a very, very good interviewer, he asked the questions that he wanted to ask. Now, obviously, he would often talk about those questions to his producer or his editor, just as I did on the Today program. Not always, but sometimes. Quite often. And therein lies your opinion, as it were. I mean, it isn’t an opinion, of course, If you say, for instance, Tony Blair, you are going to send troops into the most dangerous corner of the globe on a lie. That isn’t actually you making a statement if you raise your voice a little bit. At the end of the sentence, you can define it as being a question. And I asked that question of Tony Blair. A thousand of a thousand. Slight exaggeration, but but nonetheless, you are as if you’re doing your job properly as an interviewer. And admittedly, if you’ve been doing it for a little time and I had been doing it for quite a long time, and and if you have a tiny bit of respect, if you’ve earned your crust, as it were, then you can ask what of the questions you like within reason, of course, but you can ask whatever questions you like. And I always did. I never felt I lost strong feelings about the BBC and what has gone on, etc., etc., etc. But I never felt I was being troubled in any way. I wasn’t. And I talked. I had some absolutely wonderful editors while I was at the Today program. Of course, I would talk to my editor about the line of questioning that we would take, etc., etc., etc.. But when you all. Sitting in the studio with the Prime minister, whoever it is opposite you and you all live. You can’t consult with the editor. And if the Prime Minister says something really surprising, you’re on your own, and so you should be. And that’s the way it is. You are. You are a professional interviewer who knows roughly what he is doing and has a competent editor, has his or her own voice, whatever Andrew might say.


Nish Kumar We are seeing an increasingly partizan media and listen, we should hold our hands up and say we’re part of that. The kind of partizanship within the media. This is a podcast where we could absolutely set our stall out as having a certain set of values. And my voting record, which is one of the least imaginative in human history. But do you still stand by?


John Humphrys Let me have guests. No I won’t. Silly of me.


Nish Kumar Do you do you still stand by impartiality, particularly at the BBC, as being something that is still worth defending in that? Because I think sometimes people have been frustrated with maybe, for example, on the issue of the climate crisis, the sense that there has to be some representation of the view that it doesn’t exist. How important do you think the principle of impartiality is at the BBC?


John Humphrys Well, the first thing to say is you slightly apologize for being partizan or biased. Good. No biased media, no democracy. It is that simple. If we didn’t have the Guardian and you won’t like me for saying this, I’m sure. But nonetheless. And the Daily Mail or the Telegraph or whatever it happens to be. We would not have a balanced democracy. It’s essential. And people say, Oh, shut the bloody Daily Mail, whatever, whatever. That’s rubbish. Now, when you talk about the BBC, it is different. We haven’t. We shall never get over it. I was there for a modest 52 years of of my my entire career. And it’s going to be forever, isn’t it. Yeah, but they, they, they have an absolute. Responsibility. Duty. Duty to be impartial.


Nish Kumar There was a story yesterday, strangely, in deadline, which is a kind of trade and industry magazine for the entertainment industry in America, about Tim Davie being in dialog with Polly Payne, who’s the director general of the Department for Digital Culture Media, and.


John Humphrys I saw something about that.


Nish Kumar On the day of the Gary Lineker suspension. So there’s contact with Polly Payne in the morning to set up a more substantive meeting in the evening after Gary Lineker had been suspended. And I. There is no denial that the conversation did not feature Gary Lineker, but we should say that both parties are denying that there was any undue influence exercised on the BBC by the Government. Is is that something you ever came across? Is that political pressure from the sitting government of the day, whichever political party it was, and you worked through conservative and liberal? Is there a concern amongst people like yourself about political interference, direct political interference in the BBC?


John Humphrys I think there’s bound to be, if only because the government effectively the Prime Minister decides who the next Director-General of the BBC is going to be. That’s because they decide who the next governing board. They used to be the governors and so on. And it’s all different now and it’s going to change again, should be. So they they decide who effectively who governs the BBC, not who runs it on a daily basis. But nonetheless they the government of the day broadly, broadly broadly decides what political path the BBC is going to go down. Not directly, of course. That would be simply stupid. It wouldn’t be tolerated. BBC would rise up in whatever all the people that work for it would rise up and so on and so on. But nonetheless, if you a if you are responsible for how much money an organization gets, in this case, it’s the license fee. And if you are responsible for giving the top job to the the person you most favor politically and it’s a pity, I think we should have a completely different way of deciding who is going to be the.


Nish Kumar Talk to us about this. John talk what is an alternative model for the BBC structure that you feel could ensure that there are none of these conflicts happening.


John Humphrys Well, the easiest and most obvious is to have a cross party if it’s going to be done by politicians. You have a cross-party, a majority, and it has to be that in the. I’m not suggesting predictable House of Commons. That would be unruly and unworkable. Yeah, funky and all the rest of it. But you should at least have a balanced committee, and I think it has to be. I don’t think it should be a single individual. No single individual is free of prejudice by definition. So I think that’s probably how.


Coco Khan So, John, sorry, just can I just. Am I right in under in what you’ve inferred here? That is to say that for as long as you were at the BBC, there was some sort of government interference happening. Is that right?


John Humphrys Interference is the wrong word in a sense, isn’t it? This is me a bit nit picking, but pressure. Of course there was pressure.


Coco Khan Give us an example.


John Humphrys Well, pref. Oh, oh, Iraq. Do you want Iraq. As an example?


Coco Khan Yeah.


Nish Kumar Yeah.


John Humphrys Of course I had and I’m more than happy to talk about them. Obviously endless exchanges with Blair about Iraq. I did more interviews with him than anybody else, and I did the longest interview after the children, the only proper interview. I’m probably in the sense, a long interview the day after the Chilcot inquiry only did one interview that was with me and it instead of the usual 15 minutes. So I crashed the sport, for God’s sake. We we dropped the sport on the today. But we and and we, I did him for about 35 minutes and I’m that was that was I think I hope revealing in all sorts of ways. But what Blair never did was personally say you’re not being fair with me about X was that what Alastair Campbell often did was. Well, I can’t repeat the words because you’d have to. But you can you can, you can guess what Alastair Campbell did.


Nish Kumar We’re a podcast John. You can say whatever you fucking want.


John Humphrys Well, I tell you what, then the words usually began with F and ended with K. Sometimes. But but this is very unsatisfactory answer to your question because it is a very, very difficult question to answer.


Coco Khan I feel like you’re giving me a politician’s answer.


John Humphrys I know I am. I know.


Coco Khan To my question, which was


John Humphrys And I’ll regard, that is the gravest possible insult. So I gotta walk out now.


Coco Khan What is an example of political interference in how the BBC could question Iraq?


John Humphrys It never got to me.


Nish Kumar Right.


John Humphrys And that’s.


Coco Khan Okay.


John Humphrys That’s. That’s that, I think is the important thing.


Coco Khan So, John, I know we are running out of time, but before we go.


John Humphrys I’m not. I’ve got all the time in the world.


Coco Khan I wanted to ask you, because, you know, at the beginning of this interview, you said you can’t ask questions on behalf of a listener. There’s far too many listeners of too many demographics. And I completely understand that that’s human limitations. And if you start doing that, you end up not being authentic. And, you know, that’s probably even worse for journalists, like follow your instincts. But because of the lack of plurality of journalists, they tend to be cut from the same cloth economically, demographically. I think there is a fair criticism.


John Humphrys Unfortunately. Unfortunately by the way


Coco Khan Fair criticism.I think there is, well exactly, I mean, you came up on local news from modest background.


John Humphrys I was I was a slum kid. I left school at 15. I was taught you wipe your bottom in the newspaper because you couldn’t afford toilet paper. I came up the hard way.


Coco Khan But that story can’t happen anymore. That mobility is gone.


John Humphrys That worries me a lot. That worries me a lot.


Coco Khan Yeah.


Nish Kumar But why so?


John Humphrys Well, because. Because you don’t. I didn’t go to university. And interestingly, there was another kid. He just died the other day as a very, very good friend of mine, it turns out, who was also born. We were born in Splott, a slum district of Cardiff and Norman, Norman Rees. His name was was born in Splott, a few streets away from me. He also left school at 15. We had absolutely no no books in the house, no nothing. You know, we were dirt poor. Norman didn’t even have a father. At least I had a father. He’d been blind as a child, but he nonetheless worked his ass off. I ended up. With Norman Reese in the Oval Office of the White House with the president of the United States sitting opposite us. And Norman leaned across to me and whispered. Not bad for two kids from Splotchy.


Coco Khan Oh, thats lovely.


John Humphrys And what are the odds against that? I mean, the odds are just phenomenal. The two kids who had lived literally streets apart. One became the backbone Washington correspond the BBC. They are going to became Washington correspondent on of IT and the two greatest broadcasting organizations in the country at the time. What are the odds against that happening? What are the odds of one of us succeeding in doing that today? I think probably zero. So we end up with a skewed. Demographic picture. And that that worries me a lot. I do think we should have some working. Melvyn Bragg, of all people, has sounded off recently because he was a working class kid himself. His father ran a pub. But, you know, working class had been all that. But he made the point as well that the BBC doesn’t know any longer how to treat poor people. They caricature people who didn’t go to university or didn’t do this or didn’t do that because they they want everybody to be like themselves. That worries me. It worries me a lot.


Coco Khan Oh I completely agree with that. I think even even, you know, I mean, similar to you, you know, working class background and, you know, and even despite being on the left, I still see a patronized version of people who didn’t go to university, who struggle, single parents like the sort of coded slut shaming, all that. So you still see it does happen. So for me, I feel like the lack of diversity in journalism is a crisis for journalism.


John Humphrys The lack of class diversity.


Coco Khan Yeah, yeah, yeah. Class diversity. But I mean, class diversity interacts with other things, doesn’t it?


John Humphrys Of course it does.


Coco Khan But, I just I just I was just interested to hear from you if you felt the same as me, that that is a problem completely representing you know in in in the moment where you face that politician and you as you say, you speak from the heart. If everyone’s heart is privately educated, there is going to be a problem with that journalism. No?


John Humphrys Precisely. I couldn’t agree more.


Nish Kumar And is there an issue when you know, people who went to the same school and university as Rishi Sunak’s now sat across from Rishi Sunak?


John Humphrys Yup.


Nish Kumar Is that apotheosis of accountability.


John Humphrys What a coincidence?


Nish Kumar Yeah.


Coco Khan Would you come out of retirement just just for Rishi, just to, you know, interview him?


John Humphrys What to do.


Nish Kumar One last prime minister, john.


John Humphrys Oh, no. What would be the point?


Coco Khan Cause like we’ve said, you need people who are not from Rishi’s world.


John Humphrys I tell you what, there are an awful lot of very, very good interviewers out there. I mean, yeah, that and the idea that you need an old fart like me.


Coco Khan Oh, come on, don’t give.


John Humphrys That is not false modesty. That is simply a statement of fact.


Coco Khan You don’t have a little moment where you’re like I could have had him? Boris? He skipped you on Today.


John Humphrys Well, I did do one or two with. With Boris,.


Nish Kumar But when. But not when he was prime minister. Right. Is that right? He. He. Do you think that.


John Humphrys He avoided me. He timed it perfectly.


Nish Kumar Was he scared of you?


John Humphrys Now I do remember trying to do a proper interview with him when he was down in Devon the morning they launched the bus with the lies on the side of it. You remember the the Brexit disaster, the height of the Brexit campaign only a few days ago. And they did the bus, you know, and, and he was the 810 interview, the big interview on him. And I was and he was down in Devon or whatever it was, he was done. And when we got to the point where I was obviously going to give him started, I had started on the question that one would have hoped. I hoped anyway was it was. Deliver a certain message to the listener. He’d like that.


Nish Kumar The fucks up with that bus, mate? Was that the question?


John Humphrys Well, yes something like that. And. And Boris did his football. Well. Well what? John? John? John. Oh! Oh, oh, oh. Something. Something wrong the line down. It was. Ballocks.


Nish Kumar There’s no phone lines it Devon.


John Humphrys Am I allowed to say the word. But you. I’m afraid. And it’s the kind of stunt he pulled all the time, wasn’t it? So I’m on. And what? I want to come back, and we both shall. Absolutely not. Yeah. Now, what would be the point? It really wouldn’t. And no, damn it, there are. I think the standard of interviewing is the quality of interviewing. Political interviewing is good. Yeah, it’s very good. Yeah.


Coco Khan But you’re happy to just, you know, you’re out of it now. You’re like, Leave it to other people. I need my peace and calm.


John Humphrys I thought I’d want to go back into it, but. But I’m. I’m doing different things. I’m singing. I know I’ve joined a choir for God sakes.


Nish Kumar I didn’t know that.


John Humphrys I didn’t know.


Coco Khan What’s your range?


John Humphrys My I’m, I’m pretty deep bass actually I thought I was bass baritone but but I’m I’m below that I can do and that’s one of the I think the only reason they liked me in the choir is because not many can do that. If you want me to do some old man River I can do. Paul Robeson is my man. River That’ll do. You know what? First of all, I’ve sung on a podcast all but now I’m not going to do it. But. But, but, but, but nonetheless. No, it’s great.


Coco Khan Can we find a way to clip if any of our listeners are deejays? If you could just clip Old Man River from John Humphrys and turn that into some sort of beat, we would like that.


John Humphrys For you. I can give you the whole of all them any problem while I love it and it suits my book. But, but no, no I, I got when I was seven years old and my mother, my mother sent me and all the other kids in the family to the local church choir. You know something to do on a Sunday, really. And the the choirmaster said after the practice, Oh, John ever come away. But I tell you what. Perhaps not come again next Tuesday. He said you’ll put in the rest of the boys off, you know, for the next 70 and I mean 70 years. I was convinced I couldn’t sing a note.


Coco Khan Oh.


John Humphrys I know.


Nish Kumar But you have rapped on the air, John. With Charlie Sloth.


John Humphrys Oh, my God, I did. Yeah, but that’s not singing. Rapping, is it? By definition it.


Nish Kumar Well, it’s it’s still in the musical.


John Humphrys Of the musical performance, John. I’d love to hear that again. No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t.


Nish Kumar Thank you so much John Humphrys.


John Humphrys Been a great pleasure. And all the funny stories I was going to tell you. We never got around to.


Nish Kumar Tell you what.


John Humphrys Teaching grandmother, but. The most memorable but most memorable most of the time.


Coco Khan Are you telling me what question to ask you?


John Humphrys No, I’m offering you. I’m offering you. Yes.


Coco Khan Okay. You know, I’ll take it.


John Humphrys Whatever, whatever, whatever, whatever.


Coco Khan You’ve you’ve interviewed all the kind of the big names or the pyramid stage of politicians, you know, even Margaret Thatcher.


John Humphrys Oh, yes, yes.


Coco Khan You’ve got to have a story.


John Humphrys She was my first big political interview ever. I mean, I’d done lots before her, but I was on the Today program, my first big interview on on the Today program. She was running again to be prime minister. We were a few days away from the election and I got the interview, had only been on the program a few couple of months and I got the ten polished interview with a wall while the big deal, I was watching myself, but I thought, I know I’ll do something really clever movies on business, all of this before, because we talk to her about the economy, which was disastrous and all that sort of thing. But I thought, I’m going to because I’m going to talk to her about her religion, about her beliefs. Yeah, Good. A good. Because what I would do is I would say to her. You talk about Christianity at great length and its virtues and so on and so on. What is the essence of Christianity? And then in my little head, my little brain, I committed the cardinal sin. I persuaded myself that I knew exactly what you would say in answer to that. And what she would say would be something like love or charity. Perfectly normal. I would then pick another big mistake. I would then say, Oh, you talk about love, you talk about charity. Look at the country. You know, say that the economy is collapsing, children going to school, no shoes on their feet, people stopping at the gutters. And you talk about love. She would be devastated.


Coco Khan Yes.


John Humphrys She would collapse into a heap and she would apologize and resign on the spot. I would become the hero of the grateful nation. I dream I would be the hero of a grateful. You know what she said? Well, one word. Choice. The perfect word. I realized in the space of about a quarter of a millisecond that I could not. I just. Oh, dear God. I prayed for an earthquake or something. Or a lightning bolt to strike Broadcasting house. I was utterly devastated. I never recovered from it.


Coco Khan What do you?


John Humphrys When you think about it? We have a big change, isn’t it? But isn’t it the perfect choice?


Coco Khan Yes, it is.


John Humphrys The perfect answer choice, because you choose whether to be good or bad, whether it be moralism or whether.


Coco Khan It’s the market of everything.


John Humphrys Yeah, precisely. So there we are. Thank you for reminding me of that. Humiliation is the word. I never recovered. I interviewed him many times after that and I never recovered. I don’t I don’t think I ever did a really good interview with him after that.


Coco Khan We’ve done a great interview of us John Jumphrys. Thank you so much.


Nish Kumar Thank you so much.


John Humphrys It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you both.




Coco Khan Cricket. You’re off tomorrow. I want you to see England play Australia in the second Ashes Test.


Nish Kumar That’s right. I’m going to Lord’s. And you know, as a cricket fan, I’m excited about it. On Wednesday, as we record, a couple of protesters were ejected from Lord’s. Protesters from just a hoyle who were trying to make a point about the climate crisis have been frog marched off the field, one by the England cricketer Jonny Bairstow. And I mean there seem to be a lot of a lot of cheers in the crowd for those protesters being evicted from the game. All I will say is it’s going to be very difficult to play cricket when the planet is on fire. I’ve seen the Mad Max films, not a lot of cricket happening in those movies, cricket. So I just, you know, as a lover of the game, I mean. As a lover of the game, I’d say maybe we should be listening to what the climate protesters have to say.


Coco Khan But doesn’t that speak to arguably the fact of this major report that’s come out that said that English and Welsh cricket is full of elitism, classism, sexism, racism. It’s widespread.


Nish Kumar Yeah, it was you know, it was the full fruit machine. Every different type of prejudice was represented. Yeah, it was. It was you know, it was all of it. It was classism, sexism, racism. The and there was hard data supporting the claims. 87% of respondents had Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, 82% with Indian heritage. And 75% of all black respondents reported encountering discrimination in the game. Listen, I understand that it’s going to be very, very hard for people listening to this to not instinctively respond by saying, Oh, cricket’s racist, the most obviously racist game in the world. And I am a huge cricket fan, even I will admit that when they play in all white, if I may quote my own stand up, it looks like a smart, casual meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. I’m sort of aware of the optics around cricket, and I’m aware of this. The extent to which certainly in England it’s sort of viewed as a preserve of upper class, privately educated white men. You know, as a South Asian kid, cricket was such an important part of my identity. You know, when I was 12 years old, I queued for two and a half hours so that I could meet Brian Lara, the icon of West Indian cricket at the Deb Adams in Oxford Street. And if you were in that crowd, every single ethnicity was represented. There were black people, white people, Asians. You know, it’s it is a game for everybody and it should be a game for everybody. And as a sport which is already, you know, you know, as a sport, you should be pulling from the widest group of people possible. And it should be a way of making people feel included. And it’s and it isn’t. And it feels very disheartening to see that, you know, any time there is a racism in sport story, you always come back to this same idea that sport should in theory be the ultimate example of fairness, where talent and hard work wins out and sometimes there is an element of luck and that’s fine. And we accept that as part of the game. But you can’t look at something as being the ultimate example of fairness. When you can see evidence of institutional racism in the organizations that run the game. And so I understand people that aren’t sports fans. Sometimes when these things happen, you just think, well, does it matter? And what I would say is as a sports fan, it really does, because I think sport can only ever hold up a mirror to what’s going on in society. And sometimes that mirror is incredibly positive. And what Colin Kaepernick did kind of, you know, resounded through the entire world. What Muhammad Ali did resounded through the entire world. And, you know, those are two examples of things where sport has a hugely positive in Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Olympics, these these are hugely positive moments because of the unifying power of sport. So when sport can be seen to be dividing people, it feels heartbreaking. And as a cricket fan of South Asian ethnicity, the report was absolutely devastating. And, you know, it’s incumbent on the authorities behind these games to do something about it, just as it’s incumbent on institutions across societies to do something about it. And, you know, if you want to if you want to talk about backing up your data with hard evidence, read the fucking report. It’s all in there, right? Yeah. And you know, I’ll be at Lord’s tomorrow and I’m sure I’ll enjoy myself. But I’ll enjoy myself, maybe. Slightly less than it would have done previously.


Coco Khan It’s time to open up our inbox. So plenty of reaction to our interview with Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, in last week’s episode. Lauren has emailed to say Andy Burnham is a legend to hear someone in politics so clearly speaking their own mind and not trying to appease their party is so refreshing. Even the times he didn’t agree with you guys, he presented his alternative viewpoint while still listening to yours. I’d love to see him as Prime Minister.


Nish Kumar Not everybody agreed with that assessment. And anonymous listener actually WhatsApp us and said the following whilst the interview with Andy Burnham was lovely and refreshing in many ways, it was disappointing to hear him go from claiming he was finally free to answer questions honestly and in a straightforward manner to fluttering and stumbling over his words as he refused to condemn Abu Dhabi’s rampant human rights abuses because they built some nice stuff in his city. Wish you’d pushed him harder on that, especially during Pride Month in an awful year for LGBTQ plus people around the world. I agree. Probably we should have pushed him harder. I think that yeah, I think that he was such a brilliant, compelling interview in so many ways. But unfortunately, you know, that is the living definition of sports. Watching the fact that the mayor of a city is unable to criticize people because they’re pouring money into the city. And it does feel it really does feel concerned, especially with, as you say, their record and human rights and specifically the LGBTQ Pacific community.


Coco Khan Someone tweeted me as well and that they raised a really interesting point, which was that fundamentally, you know, we’re looking at modern slavery in the Gulf States, and we’re currently going through this period of reckoning in the UK where we look at these kind of historic large buildings and say, well, that was built on slavery and we have to face up to that. This might be something that in a hundred years from now, we’re going to be absolutely disgusted by like how we learn from our history here. Nonetheless, though, back on our amazing books, I have saved the best till last. Guess who got in touch? Its Chicken Nugg Nuggs night? Chicken Nugg Nuggs is back


Nish Kumar Chicken Nugg Nuggs.


Coco Khan They won’t tell us their real name, though. They did leave us a message. And that message said even reconstituted breaded chicken snacks have a social conscience my dear friends, I am a simple nugget. I enjoy progressive leftist politics and being dipped into a variety of flavorful dips. Just like leftist politics, I’m best enjoyed in large groups.


Nish Kumar Yes, this is a reference to last week when we read out a very serious, a very heartfelt message that was only odd to abide by the fact that it came from the user. Chicken nugg nuggs and at Chicken Nugg Nuggs continues to display an incredible, articulate sense of their own political and social conscience, but refuses to give any other name other than chicken nugg nuggs and listed are we we celebrate that chicken nugg nuggs wasn’t the only interesting name that got in touch with us last week.


Coco Khan We talked about Dr. Zaius, didn’t we, last week? Not the one from Planet of the Apes. They also got back in touch and they wrote the one time I get a comment of mine mentioned by name is the one time my username is overshadowed by chicken, not nugs. Go figure. In case anyone is interested, Andy Burnham’s refreshing honesty Fix my broken Soul.


Nish Kumar And finally, there was a YouTube exchange that was started by at awkward Atlas 5623 who said if going on a rave with Coco became a patreon perk, I would sell my kidney so fast. People really want to go on a rave with you.


Coco Khan I mean, if you’re going on a rave of me, I’d keep you kidneys, mate. You need them. We’re going to need those kidneys. You can get in touch with us by emailing PSUK at reduced listening dot Or you can even send us a voice note on WhatsApp. Our number is 07514644572. Internationally, that’s +447514644572. If you’re new to the show, remember to hit follow on your app and you’ll get every new episode every week.


Nish Kumar And if you reply with something serious that engages with the issues on the podcast and that is absolutely fantastic, I think is exactly what we’re after also. If you reply seriously and you have a stupid fucking name, you’ll almost certainly get read out. So bear that in mind. Just bear that in mind.


Coco Khan Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.


Nish Kumar Thanks to senior producer Musty Aziz and digital producer Alex Bishop.


Coco Khan Video editing was by Dan Hodgson and the Music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.


Nish Kumar Thanks to our engineer David Daggehe.


Coco Khan The executive producers are Louise Cotton, Dan Jackson, Madeleine Herringger and Michael Martinez.


Nish Kumar Watch us on Pod Save the World’s YouTube channel. Follow us on Twitter and TikTok, where we’re at Pod Save the UK or on Instagram through the Crooked Media channel.


Coco Khan And hit subscribe for new shows every Thursday on Spotify, Amazon or Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.