Paxman Patronized by Politician. Man bites dog?

September 26, 2007

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Foreign Secretary David Miliband is accused by BBC’s Jeremy Paxman of showing him insufficient respect. We ask whether such bullying behaviour is acceptable, and whether Gordon Brown should immediate relieve Milband of all formal duties, pending a full enquiry into the matter

Late last night, I witnessed an unprecedented and unprovoked verbal attack on a BBC employee. It took place in a near-deserted conference hall at Bournemouth. The aggressor was the young and newly-appointed Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. His victim was the aging public servant Jeremy Paxman, who has suffered similar attacks down the years, while carrying out his duties as a distinguished political interviewer. It was typical that Paxman was disgracefully portrayed as a gruesome and sneering figure in the infamous Spitting Image show.

Mr Paxman was at a grave disadvantage during the exchange. He had courageously left the relatively secure location on the Newsnight studio, and entered a dangerously open space for the interview.

The aggressive young politician, clearly looking for trouble, had taken up an arrogant and insouciant posture, on a plastic chair. His interviewer, handicapped by the various bits of equipment required for him to carry out his duties, had been placed in a relatively servile position. This would have been evident to any observer of Celebrity Big Brother body language.

At one stage, Miliband’s distainful manner got through to his innocent victim. ‘Don’t patronize me’, Mr Paxman cried in despair. But his plea for mercy was too late. Quite clearly, he had been bullied into submission.

Later in the interview he could be seen staring into space. Maybe, in his prime, his posture could be interpreted as part of a well-known strategy to unsettle an arrogant interviewee. But that was then. Yesterday it looked more as if there was not a lot going on between those glazed eyes. The brutal attack on him had scored a technical knockout. Outrageous. In future, will Jeremy be able to operate in quite the same much-admired fashion that had earned him such celebrity status?

Perhaps Mr Miliband was still over-adrenalized from the heady experience of making his speech to Conference. Clearly he was spoiling for a fight. [How far away, I thought, from the graceful and courteous way that Douglas Hurd would fulfil his duties as Foreign Secretary, in the long-gone days of Margaret Thatcher’s governance. However robustly he would be pressed on behalf of the people, Mr Hurd always respected the fact that the interviewer was only doing his or her duty].

How different, I further mused, from the graceful exchange between Mr Paxman in his younger days, when taking on the guileful Home Secretary Michael Howard. The polite and insistent repetition of the same question by Mr Paxman. The polite refusal to answer it by Mr Howard. The basic move repeated in a seemingly unending exchange. But that was also a long time ago.

We are living in times when politicians may even see political advantage in dissing public servants.

An apology is called for

This is of some interest to readers of this blog. I like to think of us as a community concerned about leadership behaviours. I suggest that the cruel behaviour of Mr Miliband requires a firm leadership response.

In the interests of the nation, Mr Brown should insist that Mr Miliband should apologize to Mr Paxman and the BBC and promise to reform his ways and treat much-loved national icons with appropriate respect.

More, I call for a public enquiry to see whether our much-loved national icons require additional protection against violent behaviours of interviewees.

Something must be done before careers come to a premature end. Foreign Secretaries come and go. But there’s only one Jeremy Paxman. Surely he can be permitted to continue in the sunset years of his career, without vicious bullying from the supporting cast of actors?


Waiting for Gordon

September 24, 2007

Unity ruled. Not the name of a Union, but the mood of unity enveloping the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth. The New Leader outlines his vision for the future. At times he retreated into the comfort-zone of his old role as Chancellor

The images from the first day of the Labour Party Conference offered some interesting surprises. At lunchtime, the faithful moving to the main auditorium wiating for Gordon’s speech were like fans heading for the Centre Court of Wimbledon when Tim Henman is playing. No, not quite. These were the faithful, queuing to get a good spot on Henman hill, clutching their thermos flasks and sandwiches.

The United Band of Hope

‘Where are the Blairites?’ asked Andrew Neill of the BBC’s Daily Politics show, in mock consternation. They were not to be found. The big-time defector Peter Mendelson had been one of the first of Brown’s political friends to betray him. Now he became one of the first of the Blairites to double-cross the frontline back to Brownite territory. He had announced his re-conversion in suitably confessional surroundings at a fringe meeting yesterday evening.

That was surprising. Then there was the even more surprising spectacle of another defector making an impassioned ‘come and join us speech. This was Quentin Davies, who had quit the conservatives last June [2007] as Gordon was becoming the party’s new leader.

Delegates struggled with the situation. Except for Dennis Skinner, who has a great taste for irony. Dennis Skinner sniggered. Mr Davies ended with a rallying cry. Come and join us, he called. A cheer-leader jumped up applauding enthusiastically. Brave fellow. A few others, stood up more reluctantly, applauded even more reluctantly. If they were looking for a lead from the senior party members present, they might still have been unclear what to do. Harriet Harman and the other platform leaders seemed rather unclear whether to applaud, and with what degree of enthusiasm.

Eventually there was a (sort of) standing, (sort of) ovation. Sadly I didn’t catch how Dennis was reacting. I don’t think it would have been ambiguous.

The main course

The anticipation of Gordon Brown’s speech was higher than I can remember. In some part, the first chance for those in the hall, and far beyond to see what he had to offer.

He started surprisingly by personalizing the events that had dominated his first hundred days. That was not the surprising bit, but by acknowledging a member of the audience, a fireman who had served with distinction in the thwarted attack on Glasgow airport. A more convincing standing ovation for this, than the one that had greeted Quentin Davies.

The new Prime Minister then returned to familiar ground. The impact of his father’s values on the young Gordon. His commitment as a conviction politician. Very worthy. Perhaps dutifully rather than enthusiastically received from time to time. New Labour as the party of aspirations, of expanding the middle ground.

He moved to equality of opportunity, and illustrated this with images of children and their education. The applause was far warmer. Curiously, some of his specific pledges seemed just a tad less well received than the rather platitudinous bits. But the bits well-received sounded to me too much like the Chancellor unfolding the sweeties in his budget plans.

Then, the offer of more sweeties. We (did he mean The Chancellor?) will renew the link between pensions and earnings. That was a surprise. (Unsurprisingly well-acclaimed). National minimum wage completely achieved. More new homes in environmentally and socially acceptable ways. Youth budgets in every community.

Yes it was a bit like his speeches as Chancellor. But it did not sound as a simple pitch for votes for a snap election. On the other hand, it wasn’t a simple anything. Rewards balanced with obligations. A Yes And speech for those in the Hall. One Member one vote; carbon omission legislation; All-elected House of Lords. (Phew).

Then a Yes And on being a good national leader and a good European and a good friend of The United States (phew, again.). And the debt owed by the nation to Tony Blair (lengthy applause, another surprise). Robust opposition to Al Qaeda. Humanitarian intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever (Yes And deepest commitment to the safety of our armed service people.

A National Health Service that is also a Personal Health Service. More specific examples. The speech had run for an hour. More Chancellor-like stuff on investing in medical research. Now more like the son of the Manse as he ended personally and patriotically.

No mention of the election.