10.34am: "Are you ready for some more calls, prime minister?" asks Gaunty. Is there a chance he might be a little right-leaning, do you think? Let's not get ahead of ourselves, says the Tory leader. "Oh come on, behave yourself," says Gaunt. "I bet you stand in front of the mirror wondering what it will be like to be prime minister?" Which reminds me a little of the Alan Partridge episode when he quizzes a distant royal: "Do you want to be Queen? Yes, she wants to be Queen!"
10.39am: It's SunSport's Ian McGarry. "Morning, prime minister." Crikey. He's at it as well. Have I missed something? So this is what they mean by the "home of free speech". If this was a radio station licensed and regulated by Ofcom, then someone might have put a call in by now....
10.53am: "For all those of you who say you hate me, it's a bumper day for you," says Gaunty. "There are four pages of me in the Sun. You can put it on the dartboard." "Use it to light your fire," suggests Cameron. In case you missed it earlier, SunTalk is here. Ah, we're onto immigration. "But there are a million illegals!" suggests Gaunty. "What are you going to do about them?" Ah, yes. "Illegals." Lovely noun.
11.07am: Another caller on Cameron: "He's got a true face, some fair eyes, and I would vote for him anytime." Which just about sums up the tone of the programme so far. This ToryTalk programme is a triumph....
11.44am: It's Sun political editors old and new, Trevor Kavanagh and George Pascoe-Watson. "Everyone knows that Labour is going to lose the next general election...." Hmm, can you feel a subliminal message here? For those listeners who were not already aware, it does not cost any money to send an email to SunTalk, says Gaunt. Phonecalls are charged at a local rate. "Not a premium rip off rate, as some stations charge, naming no names!" says Gaunty. Let it go, Jon, let it go.
11.45am: "The reason we want to be on the internet is because we want to be the home of free speech," explains Gaunty. "We are not regulated by Ofcom, we are regulated by the Press Complaints Commission. We don't want people to libel anyone or any of that nonsense, we want people to talk from the heart. If we were a traditional radio station that would not be possible." What he's trying to say, I think, is that you can go a little bit further on the web. But not TOO far, obviously. But how far is too far?...
1.20pm: "We've put it together in six weeks. It sounds like it!" jokes Gaunt. And it does a bit. For a phone-in show there were only a handful of phonecalls worth listening to. Gaunt is a consummate radio pro and hurries things along - sometimes too quickly, in fact - and had a big name guest in the shape of David Cameron. But once the prime minister, as Gaunt insisted on calling him, exited stage right, the programme lost any sense of occasion, with one Sun columnist turning up after another. Some of them were better value than others - we needed more Ally Ross and Gordon Smart, less P&O travel guide, which felt like it lasted forever. I haven't checked my watch, but possibly it did. Gaunt's dedicated band of followers will enjoy it, I am sure, and if you agree with everything you read in the Sun, then you will appreciate most of the things you hear on SunTalk. But it could have done with a little bit more light and shade, a little bit of left with its right. Preaching to the converted can make for awfully boring radio. Strangely for a project that was so keen to big itself up as the "home of free speech" where people would "talk from the heart", SunTalk played it safe.
The Sun managed to get this sensational story out of Gaunt's interview:
DAVID Cameron today sensationally revealed he is planning TWO TERMS in power if he wins the next general election.
Politician in wanting to stay in government for more than one parliament shock!!!
Only slightly less seriously, there is something intensely humourous about having page 3 girls on the "radio", as the programme also had - Gaunt himself, after all, has a face for radio. Meanwhile, on actual radio, Chris Moyles had a 12-minute long "rant" about Saturday's front page Sun story which suggested that he was shortly to be removed from the Radio 1 breakfast, which indeed does seem dubious when you consider, however much you might personally dislike Moyles, he's been the most successful breakfast DJ on the station for years. Somehow you imagine that SunTalk isn't likely to threaten Radio 1's listening figures any time soon.
There's an standard piece of nonsense in today's Sun regarding Abu Qatada, obviously briefed to them by a friendly "security source":
JAILED hate preacher Abu Qatada was linked to al-Qaeda for the first time yesterday — by one of the terror group’s own leaders.
Adil al-Abbab, revealed recently as Osama Bin Laden’s head of religious affairs in Saudi Arabia, said: “Free our prisoners and the prisoners of the Muslims. O Allah! Free Sheikh Abu Qatada.”
An indication of how important Adil al-Abbab is can be noted by searching Google for him - the Sun's story is the first result. The second helpfully links us to an English translation of al-Abbab's address, and he does indeed call for Allah to free Qatada. He also however calls for the freeing of plenty of others:
O Allah! Free our prisoners and the prisoners of the Muslims!
O Allah! Free Shiekh Dr. Omar Abdul‐Rahman! Sheikh Rifa’i Taha, Sheikh Sulaiman Al‐Ulwan, Sheikh Waleed Al‐Sinani, Sheikh Saeed Aal Al‐Za’eer, Sheikh Faris Aal Shuwayyil, Sheikh Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Sheikh Abu Hafs Al‐Mauritani.
O Allah! Free Sheikh Muhammad Al‐Fizazi, Sheikh Abu Qatadah Al‐Filistini, Sheikh Na‐sar Al‐Marsad, and all the other Muslims.
Most of these are indeed either jihadists or linked to al-Qaida; others Google turns up next to nothing for, and one, Sheikh Waleed Al-Sinani is mentioned in this Amnesty International briefing on Saudi Arabia as being a prisoner of conscience because of his political beliefs and views on human rights.
In any case, the idea that because some speaker no one has previously heard of calls for the release of Qatada instantly links him definitively to al-Qaida is absurd. It gets even more so, though:
Qatada, long suspected of being the network’s top European envoy, was respectfully referred to as “Sheikh” which denotes leadership.
Err, no, although a nice try. Sheikh literally means elder, but in this instance it is being used almost certainly in the sense of Qatada being a religious scholar. al-Qaida uses "sheikh" loosely in any case: they have long referred to Osama bin Laden as being a sheikh, although he has no formal religious training and no authority to issue fatwas, something that he was criticised for doing previously, including by those predisposed towards al-Qaida's brand of Islam.
A UK security source said of the web rant: “This is clearly an own goal.
“These calls for his freedom from a senior al-Qaeda figure end any doubt about his significance to Bin Laden.”
Of course. Presumably bin Laden feels the same about Al-Sinani as well then? The problem with Qatada is that he is enigmatic, as posts over on my place have repeatedly made clear. He probably is an Islamic extremist, but whether he actually supports al-Qaida or not is another matter entirely. This tainting by association is very weak stuff.