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‘In an interview there should be no escape’: Eight tips from Paxman on how to interview a politician

By William Turvill

Jeremy Paxman believes leader debates allow politicians to not answer questions from the public properly.

The former Newsnight presenter wrote in The Times that the “innate decency and good manners of the British public” also provides another “obstacle” from questions being answered.

Last week, Press Gazette reported how BBC presenter Andrew Marr had described Paxman as a "genuinely tortured, angry individual" and that his interviews with David Cameron and Ed Miliband were "not a good replacement" for head-to-head debates.

Paxman, who is fronting Channel 4’s election coverage this year, wrote in The Times: “Thursday’s rather riveting ITV hustings allowed us to see party leaders jousting with each other (a debate from which I thought Nicola Sturgeon emerged pre-eminent). Debates, of course, allow politicians to spend as much time as they like rubbishing their opponents. The question that Jonny, Terry or Rebecca had actually asked them tends to get lost in the ensuing persiflage.

“In events involving the public you are also up against another obstacle: the innate decency and good manners of the British public. Is there anything more dispiriting to professional troublemakers like me than the polite ‘thank you very much’ with which so many people accept a torrent of verbiage and half truths from their politicians?

“In an interview there should be no escape.”

In his Times article, Paxman provided the following eight tips on how to conduct a political interview (read them in full here):

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1.       Never forget: “You are there on behalf of the citizen”

2.      Continuing seeking an answer until it’s been answered or it is “abundantly clear to any sensible viewer that no answer has been given”

3.      “Do your homework”

4.      Go into the interviewing knowing what you want to find out

5.      “Cut to the chase”

6.      “Simple questions are best”

7.      Television interviews are bad for establishing facts, but “brilliant at conveying impressions”

8.     Listen to the answers you receive and do not stick to a list of questions.

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