25 MARCH 2000, Page 34

Newsnight's Awkward Squad From Mr Mark Mardell Sir: All of

us hacks are occasionally asked to roast a few old chestnuts on a slow day, but Stephen Glover's thoughts on News- night (No news is bad news', 18 March) are so mouldy as to pose a health hazard. So, politicians don't want to come on Newsnight. Surprise, surprise, they don't relish staying up late and sober in order to risk public humiliation if they can't defend their case in a rigorous interview.

In the seven years I have been on the programme there have been periodic out- bursts of angst in the ranks about 'why are we not getting the big hitters?' This usually happens in a fallow, complacent political period. Times change, honeymoons turn to tears and the guests appear. Ken Clarke said on the recent Newsnight at 20 pro- gramrne that if the day had gone smoothly he didn't bother with Newsnight; if he had to defend himself he did.

Mr Glover singles out two Cabinet mem- bers for non-appearance: Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers. The very day last week's Spectator was published Mr Byers appeared on Newsnight explaining why he knew noth- ing of BMW's plans for Rover. Mr Milburn may not have responded to our polite requests and we would love him to appear, but we made numerous headlines with our programme devoted to the health service, featuring one Tony Blair. It's a bit rich complaining of a boycott by a Cabinet min- ister when the Prime Minister has to spend 45 minutes defending his corner.

And Paxman leashed? No one who knows Jeremy would ever think that he could be leashed. More importantly, nobody who watches the programme could dream that he has been; Mr Glover presumably did not see his interview a couple of weeks ago with Barbara Roche on Ken Livingstone's unsuit- ability for office. Get it out. It's a classic.

I have met people in the media who make the 'politics is boring' argument. They don't work on Newsnight. With Mr Glover's undoubted nose for subversive cells at the heart of the media, I would have hoped that he'd have smelt out that there is still an active service unit of the Awkward Squad, led by the editor, at the very heart of Newsnight.

Mark Mardell Political Editor, Newsnight, BBC Television Centre, London W12