John Walker's Electronic House

by on May.06, 2005, under The Rest

The BBC, gawd bless ‘er.

I love election night. It’s like the Eurovision Song Contest without all the awful singing.

Last night’s coverage was magnificent. A fifteen hour marathon performance, remaining sharp, belligerent, and most importantly, awake. I can’t stand Dimbleby on Any Questions or Question Time. He only has to have a week off and Nick Clarke step in to reveal what a terrible job he does of it. But as an anchor he excels, keen enough to stay on top but relaxed enough to be daft. And that way, he leaves the analysis to the excellent Andrew Marr, the jumping around like a lunatic to Peter Snow, and the tearing the throats from the weak to Jeremy Paxman.

I love living in the future. This is how the later hours of an election should be watched:


Paxman was especially wonderful throughout. I cannot understand the argument that says he is rude. He is not rude – he is direct, awkward, bold, and not prepared to ‘put up with bullshit’ (as he recently described himself in an interview with News 24). The argument against him relies on the belief that there is an fair playing field at the beginning of the interview. This is patently untrue, and belies a lack of awareness of the purpose of political interviews. They are a game, a competition to see who can get their agenda across. Everyone knows this, but it bears repeating in the light of anti-Paxman sentiment. The politicians have scripts, and they have messages they intend to get across, no matter the line of questioning or their reason for appearing. That’s why you hear, “I’m very glad you asked me that question. Let me answer it by ignoring it, and reading out this piece of paper.” And what you get from nearly all political interviewers is a quiet willingness to put up with this. At the worst end you have people like David Frost, who believes that politicians should be given free space to say whatever they wish, unchallenged. This defies all reason – politicians have that space in press conferences, speeches, and in nearly every part of their lives. The political interview is the one place where this freedom should be withheld, what with it being AN INTERVIEW and all, in which one might suppose the interviewee answer, I don’t know, the questions from the interviewer. Paxman, and few others, are aware of this, and are the only ones who play properly. They fight for ground, knowing that the politician will be steering things where they want it, and so steer back. The only way to do this is a direct, belligerent approach. Nothing else works – that’s demonstrated by every other interviewer. But so long as people fail to recognise the process of manipulation to which they are a victim when politicians are left unfettered, they will always perceive such fairplay as rudeness.

For instance, if you didn’t stay up until 5.30am (what’s wrong with you?), then you might have missed this: Paxman vs Galloway. Paxman’s opening question is clever, if perhaps unhelpful. It sums up the reality of what happened – Galloway, in a foul tactic, picked a seat where he could use the racial tension to his advantage – but without dancing around. Galloway’s response is utterly ludicrous. But then, from Galloway, that should not come as a surprise to anyone. How Paxman didn’t say, “Oh just piss off then, you useless fool.” is beyond me. The studio laughter at “What else haven’t you heard of?” is wonderful, and Paxman’s eventual turning his back is the most appropriate way to end such an encounter. And if you don’t agree, don’t worry – every other interviewer will allow him the interview you’d rather.

I watched the first few hours of the coverage at Alec’s house, where apart from discovering that I am in fact a foul bigot when it comes to the Welsh language speakers (I still feel ashamed), I had a splendid time engaged in corporate booing at all the right people. I wondered before I went, what would I do if someone had invited me to watch the election, but when I got there they had ITV on? I think I’d have to make my excuses and go home.

And worst of all, if anyone had watched *that* channel, they would have missed the fantastic descent into complete madness as the presenters became more tired. I went to bed at about 5.30am, and was awoken by the phone at 10am. And they were still going. Dimbleby was taking the piss out of Nicholas Witchell at every opportunity, even at one point suggesting that Prince Charles was probably watching him from his window, muttering about how he was “that bloody awful man.” Even Paxman seemed surprised. They were all fantastic, and deserve statues built in their honour.

Meanwhile, yesterday while waiting for a train, I heard this exchange between a four year old boy and his mum:

Boy: Mummy? Mummy? Mummy, do you know where that train’s going?!
Mum: No dear.
Boy: Mummy! That train mummy! That train’s going to POO POO AND WEE WEE LAND!

Which was repeated about nineteen times, recognised as it was to be the funniest joke ever, until he was asked to speak like a four year old boy, and not a baby. Which seems a bit unfair to me. But still more coherent and intelligent than George Galloway.

18 Comments for this entry

  • Bobsy

    I didn’t last much past 1:30, but it was worth it to see Paxman take on Boris Johnson. “This has got to be the most pathetic argument I’ve ever heard!”

    Glorious. I just wish Paxman’d been on more often, and there’d been less of that academic bloke.

  • Lewis

    On a related topic, I missed the Paxman/Blair interview a few weeks back. Someone said it’s archived at BBC but I can’t find it. You don’t happen to have a link, do you?

  • bob arctor

    I gave up early, had fun odd dreams (I was in it then watching it as a movie and it zoomed out and it was a gardener cutting flowers. I sense a metaphor!) but I liked Peter Snow’s Battleground diagram thing.
    It came apart with a sci-fi click-clunk!
    So I woke in the morning to see the result. Unsurpirsing but good all the same. Overall though the Beeb is quite good and worth it really. It is better than ITV…well ok it’s not hard.

  • Lewis

    ITV still has a nice logo.

  • John



  • Lewis


    No, but seriously, ITV is clearly bad, but the logo…

  • Lewis

    Thank you muchly.

  • Pete Osborne

    Our non-representative system is a little crazy. The Conservatives only got 3% less of the vote share than Labour, but have 197 seats compared to Labour’s 356. If our system was entirely based on vote percentages it would look like this:
    LAB: 227 seats. CON: 209 seats. LIB: 142 seats. ‘OTHERS’: 68 seats.

  • David

    “CON: 209 seats.”

    Maybe PR isn’t the way forward after all…

  • unreasonably aggravated

    “I can’t stand Dimbleby on Any Questions or Question Time. He only has to have a week off and Nick Clarke step in to reveal what a terrible job he does of it.”

    you’re mixing your dimblebys. david does question time and the bbc; jonathan does any questions and itv.

  • John

    Ah yes – so I am.

  • Lewis

    David: the PropRep system itself is sound, aside from the fact that we’d actually have MPs sitting in Parliament with huge hats and silly outfits on. It is, however, frankly terrifying that the Tories had such a huge vote share this time round.

    Though actually, using PropRep, wouldn’t it have been a hung Parliament anyway? Or would the rule not apply then?

  • bob arctor

    Usually PR means coalitions, which is one advantage people cite for 1st past the post. See Germany post WW1. People wanted a strong leader, being used to the Kaiser, instead they got a series of weak coalitions, so were less than enamoured with democracy.

  • arnold j lewis

    Paxman is tough but asks all the wrong questions. John Snow from Channel 4 News is better.

  • Andy Krouwel

    I’d just like to say that the POO POO AND WEE WEE LAND gag made me laugh with child like delight.

    Funniest thing all week.

  • John

    Trying not to laugh at the time was difficult. But I didn’t think the mum would appreciate my encouraging laughter. The conversation went on:

    Boy: Mummy, can I look at the track?
    Mum: You can, but you mustn’t go past the yellow line.
    Boy: Why not mummy?
    Mum: Because you might fall in when a train comes.
    Boy: Why would that be bad?
    Mum: Because a train might hit you, and you’d be hurt very badly.
    Boy: Would I get squished?
    Mum: Yes, you probably would get squished.
    Boy: Why would I get squished?
    Mum: Because trains are heavy.
    Boy: Why are trains heav… Like a CAR!
    Mum: Yes, like a car.
    Boy: Mummy? Mummy, what’s *not* heavy?
    Mum: You tell me.
    Boy: A toy car!

  • Jake

    It’s that “others” that worries – even scares, a little – me about PR. How many seats would the BNP get?