Paxman’s interview technique

By Jessica Bott, Coventry University:

With the second instalment of The Battle for Number 10 airing, and the upcoming General Election, it is interesting to look back on the 2015 general election and the first Battle for Number 10 featuring David Cameron and Ed Miliband. In this interview, both Cameron and Miliband faced audience questions and an interview with Jeremy Paxman. When examining the interview for equivocation, it became clear that Paxman has a particular interview technique when dealing with equivocation.

Paxman wants answers

In his interview with the politicians Paxman (JP) would often push both Miliband (EM) and Cameron (DC) to get the responses he was after, and would not accept their attempts to equivocate.

In the first example, Paxman asked Miliband whether Labour borrowed too much. Miliband attempts to equivocate throughout this exchange, and tries to explain the borrowing as a result of the financial crisis. Paxman, however does not accept Miliband’s equivocation and chooses to repeat his question multiple times. This could highlight that Miliband wasn’t answering the question and that he wanted Miliband to admit that the previous Labour government borrowed too much. When Miliband would not give the desired answer, Paxman switched tactics and asked if Labour spent too much.

JP – Did you borrow too much?
EM – I think the global financial crisis is what drove borrowing up.
JP – Did you borrow too much?
EM – The figure was too high 
     by the end of our time in government
     as a result of the global financial crisis.
JP –               So, you did borrow too much?
EM – I’m saying the figure was too high 
     as a result of the global [financial crisis]
JP –                           [Did] you spend too much?
EM – Well, I think there were spending programs 
     that maybe weren’t as good as they could have been, 
     but no, I don't believe

External link to clip

Paxman also used this technique with Cameron, in this case asking him whether he could live on a zero hours contract. The exchange is similar, with Cameron attempting to equivocate, and Paxman not accepting his answers and repeatedly asking the same question. However, a difference between the two exchanges is that Cameron eventually admitted to Paxman that he could not live on a zero hours contract, and therefore gave Paxman the answer that he was pushing for.

JP – [I am saying] there are 700,000 people on zero hours contracts
     could you live on one?
DC – As I said, some people
JP –                        Could you live on one?
DC – I want to create a country 
     where more people have the opportunity 
     of the full-time work they want. 
     [For some people]
JP – [Could you] survive on zero hours contracts?
DC – That is not the question.
JP –                           Well, it’s the question I am asking

External link to clip

It would be interesting to compare Cameron’s and Miliband’s interviews with Paxman to Corbyn’s and May’s.

The interview can be watched in full on YouTube.


Sky /Channel 4: The Battle for Number 10, March 26th, 2015


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