Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chloe Smith in the Paxman's Den.

George Osborne sent Chloe Smith, one of his Treasury ministers, to her political doom on Tuesday by putting her up against veteran interlocutor Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. Maybe the chancellor was washing his hair, or perhaps there was something the Osbornes had Sky Plused and the takeaway curry was already ordered. Whatever the reason, it was a humbling experience for Ms Smith, who got both barrels from Mr Paxman, squarely between the eyes.

It's one of those interviews that will be replayed over and over again, not least on media training courses run by people like me, showing how an interview can go horribly, horribly wrong. If you can bear to watch the video above (I suggest for the faint-hearted that behind the sofa, or at least through your fingers would be the appropriate pose), you will see an interviewee being torn into strips, then shredded again, and finally left a quivering wreck on a studio chair.

So what went wrong? Here are five things I noticed.

1) The Chancellor should have been the one in the chair. A u-turn on a major piece of Government policy, with cost implications of half a billion pounds is a big issue,. Big issues need big hitters.

2) Ms Smith should have been better prepared. She clearly had no idea how to respond to the most obvious questions. Whoever preps MPs at the Treasury for tricky interviews must have also gone missing last night.

3) There should have been a Government line that Ms Smith knew and stuck to. She was clearly discomfited by the simplest questions, such as "When were you told about this change of policy?"

4) The Government should have provided a briefing in advance with facts, figures and explanations. Ms Smith could simply have referred to that in her answer.

5) Someone needs to remind Ms Smith that the reason for doing an interview is to put up a strong case, not be on the defensive. Drivers and haulage companies will be delighted by the change of policy (There's a quote she should have used), and she should have made much more of the benefits, dismissing Paxman's jibes about process and timing.

I feel very sorry for Chloe Smith. That YouTube video will haunt her political career for years to come. It's already been filed under "classically bad interviews" by many of us. I wonder if George Osborne enjoyed the curry?


Mark Lee said...

Well put Alan.
I didn't see the interview last night but picked up a tweet about this morning.
I couldn't resist going to check it out.
However bad it was I suspect Chloe could well have left the studio feeling that she had done an adequate job. She would have been justifiably cross with the inadequate briefing she was given but she held her own, didn't look shifty, just very junior and poorly briefed.

Unknown said...

In a word, ''yikes''!

thisisspain said...

"Do you ever think you are incompetent?" ...Ms Smith, if you did not before that interview, you should after it.

HUGELY embarrassing!

Ian R McAllister said...

Paxman is hard, direct and seen by some as rude - but isn't that exactly why we watch? If we wanted our politicians lauded, we'd all live in a communist dictatorship and believe that Grazia magazine actually did "hard" political interviews. Paxman and the Newsight team, much like Question Time and R4 Today, puts the current agenda akward political questions that we want to hear answered in front of the PR blustering and decision making politicians of the day. Plus, if you think that Paxman's "hard", go watch some of the stuff on FOX News - ouch! If Smith expected a red carpet and sympathy, then she should have watched the Paxman versus Michael Howard interview from 1997: a Home Secretary shredded. If someone asked me to go on Newsnight, then I'd be thinking "well briefed, or small hidden gun, or nuclear fallout suit, or for last resorts where's the KY jelly?" Smith is a professional politician, she should have known what to expect and be prepared. As it is, there are burnt Marsh Mallows out there today in better condition, and with better career prospects.

Richard Francis said...

The elephant in the room here is not Chloe Smith. She's just been shoved into Paxman's Den to 'cut her teeth on dealing with crap' - all part of the job package all ascending politician's go through.

The elephant in the room is a clear lack of strategic long-range thinking and the inevitable prehistoric paced crawl in western economies towards the realisation that 19th Century capitalism no longer works in the 21st century globe.

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