BEFORE this week, Richard Madeley was best known for representing the sofa tendency of British television, and for doing an impression of Ali G live on breakfast telly. To be fair, this was something of an achievement, as a middle-class, middle-aged white guy doing an impression of a middle-class, middle-aged white guy doing an impression of a young black working-class man managed to be even more cringeworthy than British nationalist politicians who preface their statements about how inadequate Scotland is with “I’m a proud Scot but ... ”.

This week, however, Richard excelled himself. During an interview with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, a man who looks as though he spends his spare time pulling the wings off flies and twitching net curtains, Richard took major harrumphage Gavin’s failure to answer a simple question with a simple answer, and pulled the plug on the interview.

READ MORE: WATCH  Richard Madeley cuts short his interview with Gavin Williamson after he dodges question

It was as though Alan Partridge had suddenly morphed into a champion of democracy. That’s as unlikely a transformation as Ruth Davidson trying to persuade us that she’s a great champion of Scotland within the UK.

Williamson was being interviewed against the backdrop of an elephant pen in the West Midlands Safari Park. He was ostensibly there in order to talk about how the British army is going to get involved in efforts to protect wild elephants and rhinos in Kenya from poachers. After allowing Williamson to do his self-promoting bit, Richard asked him if he regretted the comments he’d made in the wake of the Skripal incident in Salisbury, when Gavin had told the Kremlin to “Shut up and go away”. This was Williamson’s cue for producing the greatest amount of pachyderm crap on display on TV since Lulu the baby elephant ran amok in the Blue Peter studios.

If Williamson had possessed even a modicum of wit or nous, he’d have replied to Richard’s question with: “Well, we all sometimes say embarrassing things under the pressure of live TV Richard. And I’d like to give it up to da Staines Massive.”

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But then if Williamson had possessed even a modicum of wit or nous then he wouldn’t have made his inane foot stamping remarks about Russia in the first place. An eight-year-old that prefect Gavin was going to report for running in the school corridor might have been intimidated by his remark, but it’s going to take rather more to put the wind up a former KGB agent.

Williamson attempted the tactic favoured by his boss, answering a different question to the one that he’d been asked. Three times Richard tried to pin him down, and three times Gavin was very clear in the Theresa May sense of the term. The message from Gavin was that he wasn’t going to be held to account by Richard Madeley or anyone else. Eventually Richard got so frustrated that he terminated the interview. There was cheering across the land. It would be nice if more interviewers did the same when faced with politicians who refuse to answer questions, then perhaps the quality of political discourse on television might be somewhat higher.

It would also be nice if the Speaker in the House of Commons ensured that the Prime Minister actually answered the questions put to her during PMQs. Prime Minster’s Questions is really shorthand for Prime Minister Answers Different Questions from the Ones Put to Her. She’s very clear about that. It’s the only thing she’s ever clear on.

What’s especially irritating about this tactic is the arrogance of a politician who thinks that the public doesn’t see through it. We can see that they’re being evasive. We can also see that too often journalists don’t do a Richard and pull them up for their evasiveness because those journalists depend upon access to politicians in order to do their jobs. Instead of the press and media holding politicians to account, the politicians are treating the press as their supplicants, and too many are willing to go along with it. That doesn’t just apply to interviewing. How often do we see party press releases dressed up as news stories?

Of course, this applies to SNP politicians as well; they, too, should answer direct questions with direct answers. Although with SNP politicians we can rarely be certain whether they’re answering the question as the interviewer doesn’t often let them get through a sentence without interrupting them. That’s particularly the case in panel shows, when the topic of independence is being discussed and we have that peculiarly BBC idea of balance with one SNP person and opponents of independence. Then the programme usually turns into British nationalist dog-piling and the sole pro-independence representative doesn’t get a word in edgeways.

It would be nice to see more interviewers and newspapers doing a Richard and refusing to allow politicians get away with non-answers to simple questions. The whole point of the media is to hold those in power to account, and when interviewers collude with politicians and allow them to get away with evading questions, they’re doing serious damage to democracy. So let’s all give it up to Richard Madeley this week, the unlikely champion of democratic accountability.