IN one sense, it’s easy to see why Boris Johnson has been so uncharacteristically shy during the Conservative leadership debate. Given his impulsive – some would say reckless – tongue, his readiness with an easy quip, the thinking has undoubtedly been that the less he is exposed to rigorous questioning, the better for him.

But it is astonishing that in what has become a two-way contest between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the clear favourite has kept such a low profile. He has done an interview with Radio 4’s World at One, and another with a Sunday newspaper. He was heard from, fleetingly and with regrettably little time for meaningful follow-up questions, in the chaotic BBC television debate earlier this week. But that has been it. Whether intentional or not, Johnson’s attitude to the idea of public accountability is a curiously lazy one, betraying what seems like an unappetising sense of entitlement.

Granted, there will be a head-to-head debate on ITV on July 9, and the two candidates will address local Conservative associations at 16 hustings over the next month. We may have a clearer picture of Johnson’s intentions and philosophy by the time of the last meeting, but his refusal to submit to interviews is disturbing. Hunt was right to say that his rival’s unwillingness to engage was preventing a wider debate about Brexit in the Conservative Party. What would Churchill say, he continued, if someone who wanted to be Prime Minister was “hiding away from the media?”

It was inevitable that there would be dirty tricks during the leadership campaign - this is Westminster, after all - but the authoritative (and never convincingly denied) reports, even in pro-Tory newspapers, of underhand manoeuvres do nothing to raise politicians in public esteem. Tactical voting was rife. Johnson’s supporters boast of exacting revenge on Michael Gove for his actions of 2016. MPs make startling accusations against Johnson’s team. One junior minister who backed a candidate other than Johnson was reportedly sent a text that read: ‘How are you enjoying your job? Do you want to carry on?’

How in any sense does all of this heal the mile-wide divide within the ruling party? How does it reassure the millions of voters, Leavers or Remainers alike, that their concerns are, and will be, taken seriously? No wonder EU chiefs are shaking their heads as they contemplate the mess that the UK has become. No wonder so many ordinary people are losing faith in politics.

Yes, it is possible that we are doing Johnson a disservice. Behind the scenes he may have already crafted an impressively solid plan to extract Britain from the EU, with or without a deal. But the longer he continues to bluster, to speak in waffly soundbites, and the more we see interventions such as the one yesterday by Bank of England governor Mark Carney, the more urgent grows the need to tell Theresa May’s likely successor: time’s up. You’ve been coasting to victory with barely any effort. Agree to a round of media interviews. Put yourself up for a 20-minute grilling, live on air, by John Humphrys. Tell us, in exacting detail, your plans for Brexit, and how you can reach out to the Tory MPs you need in order to get a deal approved. It's time to treat the electorate with some respect.

BBC protests

THE BBC had solid grounds for its controversial decision to means-test free TV licences for the over-75s. A rethink on its part seems unlikely. It is a cause for regret that an MP’s bill to switch responsibility for the tariffs back to the government stands little chance of success.

Millions of pensioners for whom TV is a lifeline will lose out; and many are now hoping that their winter fuel allowances are not next to suffer. Their protests this week at BBC offices were understandable and they surely deserve a better deal.