Last night’s Newsnight saw Old Malvernian millionaire interrogator Jeremy Paxman clashing with Old Etonian millionare Mayor of London Boris Johnson. But according to Paul Waugh the most exciting bits of the interview weren’t included:
In what insiders described as “fantastic political theatre”, Mr Johnson clashed repeatedly with his interviewer over his stance on an EU referendum, on his membership of Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club and on David Cameron’s public image.”
Mr Johnson raised the issue of Paxman’s pay, saying: “You are paid elephantine sums by the taxpayer.”
Paxman replied: “If only that were true. You don’t know [what I earn]. I should stop making assertions.”
In unscreened exchanges, Mr Johnson pointed out that Londoners could see how much he earned as Mayor but licence-fee payers were not allowed similar transparency. At one point, Mr Johnson said: “Why don’t you get a proper job?”
When asked about drunken antics in his Oxford days, the Mayor replied: “Ask me a serious question…”
Splendid stuff and I quite agree with those “Mayoral Aides” (Boris?) who are urging that the full interview be put up online.
What interests me especially is the question of Paxo’s alleged £1 million salary. It interests me first as a nosey bastard. It interests me second as a licence-fee payer. But most of all it interests me ideologically.
They can be terribly grand BBC presenter types – the Paxos and Dimblebys – when quizzed about their personal lives. The salary issue, especially, they seem to think is tantamount to asking the Queen whether or not she goes to the loo. And up to a point I agree with them. A BBC political interviewer’s private life, in so far as it does not bear on his public role as frank and fearless interrogator of slippery MPs, is none of our ruddy business.
Where it is our business, though, is in cases like the Paxo/Bozza clash above. The ideological undercurrent to Paxo’s line of questioning (he may not share it but tough: that’s his karmic price for working for the pinko BBC) goes like this: “You are a toffy public school boy. David Cameron is a toffy public school boy. You were both in the Buller. You both earn way, WAY more than the national average. How can throwbacks like you possibly be fit to run modern Britain?”
This tack is outrageous and deserves to be challenged at every turn, as vigorously as possible. (Can you imagine a similar line of questioning being adopted if Boris’s and Dave’s “crimes” were to be, say, black or female or homosexual or physically handicapped?) Boris was quite right to make his response personal, for an ex public schoolboy on a million a year (or whatever Paxo earns) by asking such a question lays himself open to a charge of hypocrisy.
No more do Boris Johnson’s or David Cameron’s class, background and income rule them out of being great, effective and morally decent politicians than Paxo’s class, background and income rule him out of being a first rate interviewer.
If Paxo wishes to be impertinent (and disingenuous) on this score, then he should damned well expect some impertinence back.