Britain’s increasingly rancorous election campaign took a bizarre turn on Thursday night when prime minister Boris Johnson refused to join other party leaders in a televised debate on climate change, prompting producers to replace him in the studio with a melting ice sculpture.
On yet another day in which media coverage became as much a talking point as political issues, Johnson’s Conservative party offered government minister Michael Gove as a replacement but Channel 4 refused, saying it was a leaders-only event.
That prompted the Conservatives to complain to Britain’s broadcast regulator, and led to a bitter real-time Twitter spat between the editor of Channel 4 News, Ben de Pear, and Conservative minister James Cleverly.
Party leaders on climate change
Those leaders who did take part promised to slash Britain’s carbon emissions to zero, although the parties have set different target dates: 2030 in the case of the Green Party, “within the 2030s” for Labour and 2045 for the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party. The Conservatives say they will do it by 2050.
"We are one country in the whole world so it's what Britain does on the world stage in particular, particularly at COP (Conference of the Parties, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) conference next year,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Jo Swinson, leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, said that “turning our back on the European Union is turning our back on our best way of fighting the climate emergency."
Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish National Party leader, said: "I don't actually think it's helping the planet that much for us all to be squabbling with each other here. This is something we should actually be trying to find unity and common purpose on.”
Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader, said there was not enough political will to reach the 2030 target. “We've got to change that,” he said. “The people that aren't represented here as well are the future generation. We've got to be their voice and get to 2030 carbon neutrality."
Sian Berry, Green Party co-leader, said: "It's incredibly important that we do what the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) warned us about, which is get involved in cutting emissions as quickly as possible, because when we do that, the sooner a target we set, the early action helps in terms of getting people's lives better and equality and especially global equality as well.”
Politicians v media
Another ice sculpture replaced Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who also declined to take part.
In a stance could have come from Donald Trump’s strategists, the Conservatives have taken aim at Channel 4 during the election campaign, accusing it of liberal bias.
Johnson’s father, Stanley, was present at the event and tried to get in but, alongwith Gove, was refused by producers.
Meanwhile, the BBC has been under fire after it emerged Johnson might not take part in a series of bruising TV interviews by Andrew Neil; the revelation came only after other party leaders had already taken part and had their interviews aired.
Separately, the BBC said the Conservatives had used some of its news footage in an election campaign video without permission and demanded it be removed, but the party has so far refused.