BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

Prime minister's questions

Peter Barron | 14:54 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2007

When it comes to party leaders Sir Ming Campbell is the easiest to persuade onto Newsnight. Scotland's new First Minister Alex Salmond is also rarely unavailable, though that may change. But the very biggest beasts have been only rarely sighted on Newsnight in recent years.

blairnewsnight203.jpgLast night we had Tony Blair, which was great. It had been a long time. But much as we'd have liked a no-holds-barred affair with Jeremy Paxman on matters ranging from the Iraq war to Lord Levy, that, so far, hasn't been on offer. Instead our tenacious environment specialist Roger Harrabin got the gig, on the circumscribed area of climate change. And if the PM thought he was going to get some soft bowling the record emphatically shows otherwise. (Watch the full version here).

The episode illustrates the care with which the party leaders' media appearances are picked these days. These days we're in competition with Blue Peter, GMTV, Richard, Judy and more for interviews with our leaders, and frankly they seem to be winning.

Newsnight logoTake David Cameron. Some observers felt he came very well out of the "slippery nipple" encounter (which you can watch here) with Jeremy just before he became Conservative leader. But despite regular invitations to repeat the experience in an imaginative array of formats, more than a year later our wait goes on.

And our next prime minister, unencumbered by the need to go to the country, has so far not felt the need to spell out his vision on Newsnight, though we remain hopeful that will soon be addressed.

There is of course no constitutional imperative to appear on Newsnight - would that there were - but we'd like to think there is a convention that if you want to be prime minister you should.

Watch this space.


  • 1.
  • At 05:00 PM on 25 May 2007,
  • John O'Malley wrote:

The Blair interview on the environment was simply awful! All the questions from the same political stance: the belief that carbon dioxide causes global warming. Best line was the (incorrectly quoted) statistic from the UN that scientists are "90% sure co2 causes global warming". What does this mean? They're 100% sure they can't prove it.

Paxo would never do that!

  • 2.
  • At 05:06 PM on 25 May 2007,
  • A Smith wrote:

Maybe if Maybe if you didn't carry biased reports - like the hatchet job on Michael Howard before the last election for which you were censored - senior politicans might feel they would be given a fair interview???

I think the responsibility lies with you!

If only politicians would be more transparent and spell out their policies more clearly by appearing on first-rate programmes like Newsnight, the voter would have a more informed choice come the general elections. Politicians,even seasoned ones, seem to be camera shy and have lost their voices. So the poor voter is lost in the political maze not being able to sift the grain from the chaff. Too much chaff by the way things are going! In hind-sight Tony Blair has been the most vocal along with Ken Livingstone but the others do not have much to crow about.Rather one begins to wonder whether eerie silence is the new strategy of seasoned and up-coming politicians. Keeping the public guessing seems to be the new fashionable game.

  • 4.
  • At 05:39 PM on 25 May 2007,
  • sweetalkinguy wrote:

What presumptuous crap.

If a politician thinks that he can do better on Parky, getting lobbed gentle Hello-magazine style underarms, then that is exactly what he will do. Why persist with the aggressive, points-scoring interrogations that typify Newsnight and similar programmes if nobody worth talking to wants to take part? Who wants to watch Paxo preening his ego? Try another way. As Sir Jimmy Young was fond of remarking, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Why not swap Jeremy Paxman and Jeremy Clarkson? Now that would make for television worth watching.

  • 5.
  • At 06:29 PM on 25 May 2007,
  • Malcolm Powell wrote:

Once again you media geeks overestimate your importance in the scheme of things? Why should party leaders put in an appearance just so that "interviewers" can trot out their best "when did you stop beating your wife" style questions?

  • 6.
  • At 08:22 PM on 25 May 2007,
  • RAY wrote:

Why would anyone want to debate with Paxman. He is a bully boy with the agenda that you area liar unless you prove otherwise. Robin Day was the same but he had a sense of humour.
Paxman is po faced and so is Maitliss. The latter cannot ask a question without aggresio. Kirsty Wark is the same but will not answer questions about her alleged involvement is certain matters in Scotland. So I say to all Politicians if you want to be bullied
go on otherwide stay away . Paxman doesnt want a debate HE ID THE STORY

  • 7.
  • At 09:19 PM on 25 May 2007,
  • Josh W wrote:

I just had to (semi)quote this from the old interview:
"Look, how about you give me two sentences before interrupting.
Sentence more if I may,"
And it starts again.
The funny thing about this interview is that Cameron likes to go into these long speeches and Paxman likes to pressure people, so he's constantly trying to stop him gathering momentum. I can see why! The trouble is two things: He spends so much effort trying to get his questions in, that communication gets really forced. Also, he keeps asking stupidly simplified questions like "Will you promise to cut taxes?" without allowing detail. I think it might be because he's used to so many Tories that he just assumes he knows what Cameron is thinking, but it just seems awkward and dull. Paxman makes some good points very badly, and Cameron just about gets to say what he thinks. Maybe that’s why he doesn't want to go on this, as he doesn't want to be there to give other people a platform.

On the Tony Blair interview, why won't he condemn Bush's environmental stance? Its awful and a massive slowdown on all efforts to sort this out. But actually, maybe he doesn't want to embarrass him before the summer’s diplomacy, so he has a better chance of persuading him. I suppose discussions are better held face to face, but he better get some results. How did the poverty stuff last year go?

  • 8.
  • At 10:13 PM on 25 May 2007,
  • adrian wrote:

I wouldn't describe the "slippery nipple" interview with Cameron as an "encounter", more like the low point in the history of BBC News and certainly in Paxman's career. I wouldn't mention it again

  • 9.
  • At 12:53 AM on 26 May 2007,
  • James wrote:

Woah, can't believe what I'm reading with the first 4 replies.

I'd rather a straight yes/no question than blind acceptance of the inevitable political spin. You've gotta press hard to get an actual response from most politicians - they hold these positions as they're good at giving the impressiomn they're making a point without saying anything worthwhile at all.

I've never seen a politician give a straight answer to a question.

  • 10.
  • At 11:04 AM on 26 May 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

This comment says all we need to know about democracy and accountability of politicians,

Last night we had Tony Blair, which was great. It had been a long time. But much as we'd have liked a no-holds-barred affair with Jeremy Paxman on matters ranging from the Iraq war to Lord Levy, that, so far, hasn't been on offer.

And I doubt it matters who asks the questions, Blair won't touch the subject. After all there's plenty of interviewers who don't have Paxman's confrontational and abrasive style, but they still haven't grilled Blair on the subjects mentioned above.

  • 11.
  • At 01:07 PM on 26 May 2007,
  • stephen downey wrote:

Please explain why the Prime Minister would not pick and chose the media used to sell whatever he happens to be selling at that point in time, we all make these choices all of the time we don't go to IKEA to get postage stamps. You also appear to be displaying remarkable coyness in expressing surprise that the PM seems to be avoiding NEWSNIGHT, when you know how these work. When you're political editor is openly hostile and seems to be on a one man mission to associate himself with the cash for hons story in some kind of outdated "Westland Affair" kind of way, it is no wonder you are being given a wide berth, and you are being naive if you pretend otherwise. Or what else would explain why SKY get the drop on all formal announcements for the time being?

  • 12.
  • At 04:29 PM on 26 May 2007,
  • greg wrote:

Mr Blair never ceases to amaze me with every interview he does how he is able to not get asked the important questions. Did Mr Blair come on newsnight because he knew he would not be getting asked about any important questions? i have failed so see from Mr Blair's entire term in office him have an interview with someone who asks him all the important questions needed. Instead he seems to conveniently appear on shows when there are more manageable problems to answer for.

why not ask him why he thinks that carbon dioxide should be taxed but all the other 98% of greenhouse gasses not?
Or ask him to comment on the human repercussions that a worldwide carbon ban would have on the people trying to develop in Africa?
Or how there is a much stronger correlation between the brightness of the sun and global warming than ANY sort of gas emission, whether its carbon, methane or any greenhouse gas.
or how the new carbon dioxide craze seems to be an extremely efficient way of the worlds superpowers to keep their economic advantage over the rest of the world.

Why not ask him how he would define warcrimes?
or ask him how invading two countries could possibly help his global 'war on terror'?
or if he supports America's starting of WW3 with Iran?
Or why he is still insisting that the widows and victims of 7/7 are not allowed an inquiry?
Or how the resources from Iraq and afghanistan have pushed our economy up at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives?

these are pertinent questions that need serious discussion on TV.

  • 13.
  • At 06:40 PM on 26 May 2007,
  • Jim Smith wrote:

You should use the time allocated for a politician unwilling to explain them selves to 1) Inform the audience of the questions you would have asked which they are evading answering. 2) Add time to their opponents to explain their view in more depth.

The refusal to explain themselves must have a down side. So punish them by giving oxygen to their opponents.

  • 14.
  • At 10:56 AM on 27 May 2007,
  • Phil Topping wrote:

The thought occurs. When was the last time you watched a TV interview with a politician and thought "I didn't know that"?


  • 15.
  • At 07:52 PM on 27 May 2007,
  • Simon Newman wrote:

You'd probably do better if your interviews weren't consistently so grotesquely aggressive and biased. Over the years you've managed to make me take the side of a lot of politicians I disliked, simply because your interviewing was so unfair. The only people you're respectful to in my experience are terrorists, whether from self preservation or sympathy.

  • 16.
  • At 11:20 PM on 27 May 2007,
  • Dave Campbell wrote:

At Prime Minister's question time, the Prime Minister or his appointed stand-in has to answer questions 'on the hoof' so why do they find it necessary to have an agreed list of questions before a TV programme takes place? Other leading figures in the public eye don't get this privilege. The only time politicians are really prepared to go on TV is during election time when they court attention like femme fatales only to disappear unheard of afterwards. There is a solution to this state of affairs as anyone can spot. Arrogance comes easy to today's politicians so taking them down a peg or two is fair play to my way of thinking. I can think of a number of interviewers, David Frost for one, who could and have verbally torn to shreds some of our leading politicians which probably is the main reason for their disappearance from our screens.

  • 17.
  • At 09:05 AM on 28 May 2007,
  • JG wrote:

Of course Sir Ming is easy to get on the show, he knows he is in for an easy ride, with lots of leading questions and plenty of time to then get his points across. Other politicians, as has been noted above, get the usual Paxman ego trip.

  • 18.
  • At 10:18 AM on 28 May 2007,
  • ChrisD wrote:

I think that if Newsnight was seen to be more fair and balanced in its interviews then this problem would not arise.
I still remember the hatchet job done of Michael Howard, yes hatchet job because the one abiding memory of that programme is still the dog on the beach and the fact that for the first time ever I felt compelled to complain about programme shown on the BBC.
I would love to know how the editorial team were able to broadcast that and defend it as an example of balanced journalism in a GE campaign?

  • 19.
  • At 04:25 AM on 30 May 2007,
  • nick mallory wrote:

What overwheening arrogance. You'd like there to be a convention for Prime Ministers to appear on Newsnight? No wonder politicians are spurning your programme.

Why are there no comments on the piece regarding the Gaza kidnap above? There are many who would think that the BBC does have an institutional pro BBC bias, and that the US newspaper is spot on in its analysis, but it's clear that mere licence payers aren't going to be allowed to give their opinion about that here.

  • 20.
  • At 02:50 PM on 30 May 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

your all in a world of you re own, with our money. you give politicians such a hard time, preparing to hijack interviews with nasty little question. oh! how clever you all are, then tell the world why politicians wont answer questions. then justify yourselves by saying its what there people want, its not, its what you force down our throats. we have no say, you know that. you are skating on thin ice, i am a loyalist to this country and i will not forget. :(

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.