I am dumbstruck. Andrew Neil will be furious. The Daily Politics was ordered off the air at 12.32 in the middle of the Prime Minister's valedictory statement at the end of PMQs in order for the BBC to start its Wimbedon coverage - an astonishing decision which ought to have sever reverberations... Heads should roll over this decision at the BBC. By the way, it is now 12.37 and while Adam Boulton picks over the entrails of the last half an hour, BBC 2 viewers are watching two female tennis players called Czink and Ivanovic hit the ball from baseline to baseline. If it had been Federer v Nadal you could possibly understand the decision, but not for these two. And meanwhile, Andrew Neil is self combusting.
The BBC has released a statement (no doubt after about 63 drafts) which puts it down to a cock-up. That's the not the way Daily Politics insiders see it. My belief that Andrew Neil would be self combusting seems to go for the rest of the Daily Politics team. They are fizzing.
Originally, the programme was due to come off the air at 12.35. This was changed to 12.34 after BBC Presentation demanded it. A Daily Politics insider tells me that it's all down to Peter Horrocks, Head of TV News at the BBC. They reckon that 'Presentation' would not have dared do this without direct orders from Horrocks. He, it is thought, wanted them off air before the News 24 special programme started. 'Presentation' were only too keen to go along with this as they were keen to start their BBC2 Wimbledon coverage on time. Horrocks tonight rubbished this. He told me: "[It's] complete nonsense. Why on earth would the Head of TV News have the slightest interest in ending the politics coverage to go to tennis?
The Daily Politics team was further enraged to see trailers for Rome and other programmes being put out before Sue Barker came on the screen to babble on about the afternoon's tennis. One said: "It's a disgrace. It's the first time a Prime Minister has had a standing ovation since Lloyd George announced the end of the First World War and terrestrial public service TV wasn't there to cover it."
The same Daily Politics insider says that in retrospect they wish they had defied 'Presentation' and refused to hand back. It would have then been up to 'Presentation' to grab the network feed. I'm pretty sure that if Andrew Neil had had more than thirty seconds to consider what was happening he would have done just that.
Helen Boaden has written THIS on the BBC Editors' blog. She says it was a cock up rather than a conspiracy but that's not the way the Daily Politics people see it. When I contacted Peter Horrocks tonight and he told me:
Yes, I had been involved in previously agreeing the off air/on air time of 12.35 when we intended to switch from BBC2 to BBC1. We had assumed, as is invariably the case, that PMQs would be well over by that time. It wasn't. We didn't change plans quickly enough. We should have. Bad mistake which no one would have wanted. We have apologised to viewers."
That's fine as far as it goes, but I know the Daily Politics feel that someone, somewhere is undermining them. I think they need a group hug from someone on high.