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Jeremy Paxman: I ask all my interviewees if they’re ‘okay’ – Miliband, Cameron and ‘even’ Michael Howard

By William Turvill

Jeremy Paxman has said he asks everybody if they are “okay” after his interviews – and not just Ed Miliband. (Picture: Reuters)

The former Newsnight presenter was recorded asking the former Labour leader “Are you okay, Ed?” after interviewing him on a Channel 4 election programme in March.

Paxman, who described the 2015 election campaign as “monumentally dull”, told a Royal Television Society lunch today that he also asked Tory leader David Cameron if he was “okay”.

“I always ask people if they’re okay at the end of interviews – I wasn’t aware the microphone was still switched on,” Paxman said of the incident.

BBC presenter Steve Hewlett, who was chairing the discussion between Paxman and ITV News’s Alastair Stewart, asked: “So you did say to Ed, ‘are you okay?’” 

Paxman: “Well of course I did – everybody heard it.”

And asked whether he asked the Prime Minister the same question, Paxman said: “Yes – I even asked Michael Howard after that notorious interview.”

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As well as bemoaning a “monumentally dull” election campaign, Paxman was also critical of the polls, which widely failed to predict the Tory majority, and said it was “idiotic” for anybody to take them seriously.

He said: “I think one of the lessons of this election, and for me it couldn’t come soon enough, is that [the polls] are not what we all fondly imagine, the stout ladies with clipboards accosting people in the street – they’re done by a variety of mechanisms now. And there are far too many young men who rarely see daylight making adjusting to the findings.

“So I think it was clear from the start, and it should have been clear to anyone with two grey cells after the experience of the Scottish referendum – where, you will recall, many polls were saying it’s too close to call, in fact the final result was a ten-point difference – it should have been clear to anyone that the polls were not to be taken as oracles of fact or truth… I think to take them seriously was idiotic.”

He added: “No doubt by the time the next election comes around we will not have strung them up by their feet from every lamppost in Whitehall, as we should do, but doubtless they’ll all find some other way of ingratiating themselves to the broadcasters or newspapers, and there will be more opinion polls. And we should pay as much attention to them as we shouldn’t have paid to the latest ones this time. I’m totally against opinion polls.”

Stewart contested that there was “no other obvious narrative available in time”.

The pair were also asked whether this election campaign lost out due to the fact there were fewer TV debates than in 2010.

Paxman said: “I think the broadcasters behaved ludicrously about the debates. There is no constitutional entitlement to debates, and when – I don’t want to undermine the effort that was put in or to undervalue the effort that was put in, they were trying to do what they saw was a public service. But to suggest that some how this is something that has to happen every election was just preposterous and untrue.”

Asked whether he would have liked to have seen more TV debates, Paxman added: “Of course I want to see people having people having their feet held to the fire during an election campaign so that the voters can make up their minds… but let us not pretend that this is something somehow enshrined in the Magna Carta or the bill of right or something – it’s not.”

Towards the end of the lunch, the panel was asked by a Daily Mail journalist whether they thought the new Conservative government will introduce significant changes to the licence fee agreement.

Paxman said: “I don’t know – I’m a journalist, I’m not a clairvoyant.”

Asked whether they should do this, Paxman said: “The question you have to ask yourself Mrs Daily Mail is do you think the world would be a better place without the BBC?” This was followed by a round of applause, but Paxman added: “It clearly can’t last… As platforms become interchangeable… as computers and televisions become indistinguishable, tax upon the ownership of a particular piece of technology becomes very, very hard to justify.. I would say impossible."

He added: “I can’t see an alternative at present.”

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