So well done on making it this far. And here goes...
I agree entirely with Richard Morris' succinct review of why Chloe Smith had no excuse.However, I want to focus on Jeremy Paxman. I've blogged previously about why I no longer watch Newsnight when he's presenting. But I would now go further than that. I think he deserves to be sacked.
|Image: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by englishpen|
And not because of his bullying approach per se. His technique last night was no worse than Paxman has deployed many times before; and although I detest the default attitude to politicians of "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?", it is sometimes necessary to deploy an aggressive approach to try to cut through obfuscation about very serious matters.
No, I think he should be sacked because he is incompetent. And this interview illustrates this perfectly.
Before the interview, we already knew that the decision was a last-minute one. We also knew that it would mostly be funded by departmental under-spends, but that it wasn't yet clear how much would be taken from each department.
So what could a good journalist realistically hope to achieve in this interview? I would suggest that the five key things we would have liked to have found out are:
- What are the justifications for the Government changing its mind?
- At a particular moment when tax receipts are sharply down and borrowing sharply up, why wouldn't the money be better spent reducing the deficit?
- How does this decision square with the Prime Minister's boast that his will be "the greenest government ever"?
- Why was the decision so last-minute?
- When will it be known which departments are to experience budget cuts as a consequence of this decision?
Instead, sensing the weakness of the Government's position on the decision, Paxman set out to entertain the audience with the ritual humiliation of a minister:
- He asked Smith about 10 times "When were you told about the decision?" (or words to that effect)
- He repeatedly shouted, hectored and interrupted Smith.
- He asked an excessive number of questions phrased in such a way as to humiliate rather than to elicit serious responses, including:
- "Is it hard for you to defend a decision you don't agree with?"
- "Is this some sort of joke?"
- "Did you get the sums wrong?"
- "Do you ever wake up in the morning and think 'My God, what am I going to be told today? '"
- "Do you ever think you're incompetent?"
So how well did Paxman do? Of the "five key things we would have liked to have found out" I identified earlier, how many did we gain information about?
And this interview isn't an isolated case.
If it turns out that BBC News is actually a subdivision of BBC Entertainment, then Paxman's bosses should be rightly proud of his continuing ability to attract attention. On the other hand, Nick Clarke, Vincent Hanna and Charles Wheeler will be turning in their graves.
What mark would you give Paxman?