Jim Hacker’s Interview Advice, and Michael Howard Savaged by Paxman

Tonight Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are both going to be interviewed by Paxman as part of the Beeb’s series of interviews with the party leaders in the run up to the general election. I found this video yesterday of Jim Hacker giving advice to Bernard on how to handle interviews with the media. The hero of ‘Yes, Minister’, and ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ advised

If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Better still, have something to say, and say it.

Pay no attention to the question, just make your own statement. Then if they ask the question again, you answer the question you want. If they ask you again after that, you say, ‘That’s not the question. The real question is..’, and then go on to make your statement.

Intercut with this is footage of the classic interview of Michael Howard by Paxo on Newsnight way back in the 1990s, when Michael Howard was the head of the Tory party. This was when Paxo’s interviews were something of a blood sport and hapless politicians found themselves demolished by his persistent questioning. Such as his repeated questioning of Howard whether he overruled a Tory colleague.

Paxo has said since then that he feels bad about this interview, as he went in much harder that he needed to be. The interview looked like it was going to end before the show’s time, and so the producer told him to keep Howard talking. And unable to think of anything else, Paxo savaged him for not answering the question.

Hacker’s advice to politicos and civil servants facing the media is still relevant. You can see them using it. MPs, cabinet ministers and even Theresa May herself will refuse to answer the questions put to them, and carry on making the same statements they want to make. As for May, she’ll adopt an awkward chumminess with the interview, as she did with Andrew Neil. She tried calling him by his first name, ‘Well, Andrew…’ before repeating ad nauseam her mantra of ‘strong and stable’.

Again like Hacker in one of his interviews with the Beeb in ‘Yes, Minister’, where he adopted the same fake chumminess, calling the interviewer by his first name.

‘Yes, Minister’, however, was a satire intended to mock and show up the bureaucracy of the civil service and the pretensions and incompetence of government officials and civil servants. Hacker’s interview advice was effectively the writers’ way of telling the audience how politicians try to wriggle out of answering questions they can’t handle.

In the case of Theresa May, it looks very much like she learned the technique, but hasn’t mastered it. She is not at ease with interviews, just as she does not like meeting the public. When she appears on interviews, she appears stiff and awkward, and when she uses this technique, it actually looks like something she’s been consciously taught and is trying to remember, like a school pupil trying to remember what the teacher said to him about techniques for public speaking. And, sooner or later, my bet is that she’s going to use this technique tonight.

Corbyn, by contrast, has been savaged by the media despite the fact that he does give them clear answers. They just don’t like what he tells them. All this stuff about not letting people starve, giving people decent wages and benefits and trying to create a fairer society. Which is why they’ve smeared him as a Trotskyite, just like they tried to paint Ken Livingstone as a Communist way back in the 1980s.

As for Theresa May, not only does she use Hacker’s interview technique, she’s even worse at it than Hacker, who was supposed to be a rather bumbling figure, something of an innocent, whose efforts to reform the civil service were constantly being stymied by Sir Humphrey.

The classic comedy series was so accurate in its depiction of Whitehall bureaucracy, that a friend of mine remarked that he now views it less as a comedy and more as a documentary.

Unfortunately, Theresa May and her vile policies are no laughing matter. Hundreds of people have died in misery and starvation thanks to her policies. 200,000 or so people have to use food banks, and 7 million people live in ‘food insecure’ households.

That’s homes where the mother is starving herself to make sure her kids eat, or where they don’t know where the next meal is going to come from.

Let’s end this malignant farce.

Vote for Corbyn and the Labour party on June 8th.

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4 Responses to “Jim Hacker’s Interview Advice, and Michael Howard Savaged by Paxman”

  1. joanna Says:

    What makes my blood boil is the the way Andrew Marr gave TM such an easy time, yet when he interviewed Jeremy Corbyn he kept asking the same question again and again, even though JC had given him an answer, but it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.

    Wasn’t it Einstein who said, “The definition of Insanity, is asking the same question again and again, but expecting different results”?

  2. joanna Says:

    Thank you Beast! I am watching the programme on C4, I really hope that if Paxman verbally attacks Corbyn, that he will do the same to May!

    It will be interesting to see how she reacts to random questions, Jeremy did great!!!

    • Beastrabban Says:

      Mike was a fan of Paxo in the early 1990s, when the Tories really hated him because of the way he laid into Major’s government. I think a lot of people used to watch Newsnight simply to watch him demolish the politicos.

      He’s said that his attitude going into interviews is to think ‘Why is this lying b***ard lying to me’.

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