Magazine article The Spectator

Sir Jeremy Paxman QC Is Far More Magnificent Than the Puny Politicos He Tears Aparts

Magazine article The Spectator

Sir Jeremy Paxman QC Is Far More Magnificent Than the Puny Politicos He Tears Aparts

Article excerpt

Readers may possibly have noticed an entertaining article by A.A. Gill in the most recent issue of the Sunday Times. Mr Gill went down to Henley, where Boris Johnson, the editor of this magazine, is standing as a parliamentary candidate. He professed himself a great admirer of Mr Johnson's journalistic abilities but was not so complimentary about his political ones. The general theme of the piece was that Mr Johnson had defected to the other side, that he had exchanged an honourable trade (journalism) for a dishonourable one (politics), and that the worse he performed in his new line of business, the more he would earn Mr Gill's undying respect.

Such views - I mean those about the low standing of politics and the contemptible nature of politicians - are widespread these days among the new media class. They are partly born of snobbery: Mr Gill is vastly better paid than any politician and is a comparatively glamorous figure; he looks down on the vulgar practitioners as a Whig aristocrat might once have patronised a yeoman farmer. They are also formed by a kind of perverted idealism. Mr Gill rightly treasures the role of the fourth estate in criticising and illuminating the political process. But for him and many others like him the job has become almost wholly confrontational, and mockery and abuse are his natural weapons.

During the past couple of weeks I have been spending a little time on the campaign buses on behalf of the Daily Mail. You certainly see what politicians would do to journalists if they could. We are transported around the country without first being told where we are going. We are plumped down in St Neots or Bognor Regis or West Bromwich to see politicians performing on their own terms in front of audiences which are as hand-picked as it is possible to be. It is no exaggeration to say that the journalist on a campaign bus is a kind of political prisoner. The normal balance of intercourse between hack and politico have been enormously tilted in the latter's favour. It is at times like these that I would be happy to take to the hills with Mr Gill.

Equally, the morning press conferences, which admittedly I have generally watched on Sky rather than attend in person, do not inspire trust and belief in politicians. They sit up there on a podium, spouting their propaganda and being allowed to set the agenda. The questions are often too friendly for my liking, possibly because many of those asking them are print journalists unaccustomed to being inquisitorial on camera. As on the bus, I have the disagreeable feeling of the fourth estate deferring to politicians. They have determined the form of debate and we have gone along with it rather meekly.

So do not think me a patsy in these affairs. I am not saying that we should be nice to politicians. But nor should we treat them as though they are inherently criminal and the political process naturally worthless. About ten days ago John Humphrys interviewed Tony Blair on Radio Four's Today programme. I am a great admirer of Mr Humphrys because, unlike some of his colleagues, he is even-handed and unfrightened of New Labour. On this occasion he gave Mr Blair a terrific bashing, interrupting him on many occasions and repeatedly asking him questions about sleaze which he did not want to answer. Naturally many of us cheered and danced around our kitchens. The following day the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph were so moved by Mr Humphrys's performance that they reprinted great chunks of his interview. …

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