Beth Rigby's TV Diary

Beth Rigby's TV Diary

Wednesday, 16th November 2022
Beth Rigby
Beth Rigby (Credit: Ali Painter/Sky)
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Making sense of the permacrisis is the new political normal for Beth Rigby.

One of the best things about being the ­political editor of a rolling 24-hour news channel is breaking news. Nothing feels as vital or as exhilarating as a big political moment, be it a knife-edge vote or the election of a new party leader, and there’s no greater privilege than being the person to relay that news to viewers and dissect what it means.

But as I raced into the Sky News studio at just after 8:00pm last Tuesday to break yet another story of an ill-wind blowing through government – this time the resignation of Sir Gavin Williamson – just two weeks into Rishi Sunak’s reign, I felt a prick of irritation. Will this permacrisis ever end?

You can see why this word, redolent of living through a period of war, inflation and political instability, has been chosen as Collins Dictionary’s word for 2022. Sir Gavin’s departure, triggered by allegations of bullying (which he denies), took the total of ministers or whips who have resigned or been sacked from government since the start of this year to 80.

We’ve had two new PMs in seven weeks. There was even a moment when I thought Boris Johnson might make a comeback, despite being kicked out of No 10 in July. Does it get more bonkers than that?

I now think of myself as the permacrisis political editor. Since taking the job in the spring of 2019, I’ve covered the ousting of Theresa May and the bitter Brexit wars that culminated in the first winter general election in nearly seven decades.

There was the triumph of Boris Johnson and then his messy, protracted demise, punctuated by the most astounding debacle of it all – the horror show of Liz Truss’s 45 days at the helm.

When I took this job, I thought I might see two prime ministers come and go. Instead, we have had three PMs in four months. My friend and former colleague, Adam Boulton, did this job for 25 years and witnessed four handovers of power – John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

These days, the span of political editors’ careers could be thought of in terms of cat years, since we cover enough politics in one year to count as what feels like seven. “Instability rules,” is how Adam puts it. Sunak wants to steady the ship. But it hasn’t been the most auspicious of starts. 

On our Beth Rigby Interviews show, we are trying do slower and more in-depth journalism. We’ve just put this week’s show to bed with two interviews, equally compelling in different ways. One was with the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, and his wife, Susie, talking about her cancer battle, and the other with former Foreign Office chief Lord McDonald, who helped bring down Johnson.

I’m lucky to have Rob Burley, the former BBC executive and interviews expert, working with me as we try to revive the art of the long-form interview.

Our goal is to use interviews as a form of inquiry to illuminate a public figure or a policy issue, rather than trying to chase a viral clip. In the breathless cycle of news, Rob and I want to press pause and try to construct interviews that get to the truth, and tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

As for the approach, we’ve decided to leave the Jeremy Paxman-style “Why is this bastard lying to me?” to my political editor role and instead embrace the Brian Walden technique: “Imagine this person’s telling the truth. What follows from that?”

Using a combination of precise preparation and sincere curiosity, we hope these interviews with public figures from all walks of life can fill a gap in a frenetic news cycle – and maybe one day win us an RTS award!

But it’s still frenetic around Westminster and, as soon as the show was in the can, we were getting our ducks in a row for a 72-hour dash to Bali for Sunak’s first G20 summit, followed by the critical Autumn Statement. The mini-budget proved a defining moment for Truss for all the wrong reasons, so Sunak will want to get this right. Whether it can calm the permacrisis is another matter. I’m preparing to buckle up.

Beth Rigby is Sky News’s political editor.