Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Paxo - a great stuffing

I saw something last night that you don't see very often.

Having missed the 10 o'clock news, I switched on Newsnight, and watched as Jeremy Paxman got well and truly roasted by the unlikeliest looking fellow from Plaid Cymru.

Paxo was repeatedly told that he hadn't done his homework; was sent scuffling through his papers after allegedly quoting a misleading figure and being corrected; and had seemingly fair challenges thrown back at him with interest. By the end of the interview, he really looked something of a interviewing novice. It is fair to say, in my opinion at least, that he got totally stuffed.

Paxo came in to see us at Betfair once, back in 2007. Newsnight were doing a feature of 'Ten Years of Blair's Britain', and they selected three businesses as case studies: an iron foundry that had been going for hundreds of years before Blair arrived (and was responsible, among other things, for Big Ben); a yuppie hotel which had been founded in the years before Blair came to power; and a business which had not existed before the election of the Labour government: us.

For a man with a reputation as something of a rottweiler, Paxman was sweetness itself. He wandered around the office seemingly in complete awe, and was repeatedly extremely complimentary about the success of the business. In fact, he was a pleasure to chat to. But what was striking was how little he understood the financial markets. He walked around our telephone betting floor and was clearly completely baffled by the numbers being quoted; but my attempt to put them into context by talking about the City left him even more confused.

Most amusing on his visit, though, was that he had clearly come with an angle, and his angle was this: isn't it ironic that a Labour government should have put in place legislation (the Enterprise Investment Scheme) which allowed a group of people to get seed funding for a gambling company - an organisation that surely must, by definition, take the shirt off the back of people who couldn't afford it (the very people, in other words, that a Labour government was meant to protect).

We were recorded, of course; and the interview was conducted in very relaxed circumstances, walking around - nothing like the stark, no-place-to-hide, environment in which he has been quizzing the party leaders this week.

But it was the closest I have got (or am likely to get) to the full Paxo treatment: not happy that I was not giving him a line in response that allowed him to run with that particular slant, he must have asked me basically the same question upwards of twenty times. Taking a leaf from Michael Howard's book, I wouldn't answer in the way he was hoping. It's probably a good job I hadn't had the chance to learn from the Plaid Cymru bloke, or I might have come back with both barrels.

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