For me, the most memorable moment of the election campaign so far was not Gordon Brown’s “Bigotgate” but Jeremy Paxman’s humiliation at the hands of the economics spokesman for the Welsh Nationalist party. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a great admirer of Paxo, whom I knew slightly (and liked a lot) when I was the Observer‘s TV critic. He’s one of the ornaments of the UK journalistic scene, and a great adversarial interviewer. His Newsnight interview with Michael Howard is one of the classics of the genre. He’s also — unusually for a TV professional — quite a good writer.
But he met his match the other night. At first, the interview appeared to be following the standard script. The Welsh Nats are a joke in metropolitan circles, of which Newsnight is the epicentre, and Paxo’s approach embodies this contempt. The question implied by his body language is “Who is this provincial hick and why are we bothering with him? Oh well, let’s get it over with.” And note the elegant sarcasm implicit in the reference to the “august position” of the interviewee, who is chairman of the Principality Building Society. I ask you — a building society!.
But then… Well, see for yourself.
The most revealing bit is Paxman’s exasperation at being asked to consult pages of tedious statistics, and his pique at being accused of not doing his homework. His interviewee is daring to hold him — Jeremy Paxman — to account. But imagine how his inquisitorial indignation would be stoked if a politician sighed impatiently when asked to examine a page of statistical evidence containing what Paxo regarded as clinching evidence of malfeasance.
Memo to future Paxman interviewees: master the detail and stick to it. Challenge him on statistics — the more detailed the better. Remember that grandees like Paxman don’t do detail. It’s below their pay-grade. And make sure the result goes straight onto YouTube — in case the BBC pulls it from iPlayer.