Bank Holiday Monday saw the leaders of the Conservative and Labour Party engage in a debate of sorts as they faced questions from a studio audience followed by an interview with Jeremy Paxman. Both sides were quick to claim victory in the debate, but the aftermath appeared to focus not on the performance of either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, but of Jeremy Paxman.
Jeremy Paxman throughout his years as a political interviewer has developed quite a reputation. He is seen as somewhat of a Rottweiler and the ultimate test for any aspiring politician. Paxman has a clear style and throughout his career has undoubtedly gained many scalps, but there are question marks about whether now is the time for Paxman to step down.
Paxman’s interview of Corbyn drew particularly strong criticism. Paxman interrupted Corbyn several times and seemed unwilling to let the Labour leader answer the questions he was posing leading to a significant proportion of viewers getting more and more irate with Paxman and becoming more and more sympathetic with Corbyn.
There are a couple of reasons as to why I think the renowned Paxman style is unhelpful, which were on show last night. Firstly his rude, sneering, arrogant and cynical style does little to engage people with politics. His failure to let politicians answer questions and expand on their ideas ensures the interviewee feels unable to develop a position without being interrupted. This leads to safety first answers which is not beneficial or enlightening to anyone interested in politics.
Secondly Paxman must understand that he is not the star. There is somewhat of an aura around Paxman but the reality is he can never be the most important figure in any interview. The interviewee must face difficult and hard questions but should be treated with respect. This has not happened for some time under Paxman and this needs to change.
It is unlikely that Jeremy Paxman is going to change. His style and technique will always be the same. However maybe these interviews showed the limitations to these methods and that it is time to move in a different direction. Politicians can be put under pressure in interviews through many techniques. A disarming style perfected by the late David Frost which gives politicians a chance to feel comfortable has proved to be highly effective in gaining answers. Maybe it is time to give that approach a go?