Today’s Andrew Marr interview with Peter Mandelson is one that will be studied for many years by political hacks and politicos alike.
For politicians it was textbook example of how to engage and handle hostile interviews.
For political journalists, a salutory lesson that the Paxman approach (“Why is this lying bastard lying to me”) can generate a little heat but no light whatsoever. Even worse, it can also make you look profoundly stupid.
It was quite clear as the interview went on, that Marr was becoming increasingly frustrated by Mandelson’s knack of holding hacks to account.
Most political interviewees are behoven to what’s in the morning papers. John Humphreys is a classic example. He asks ministers for responses to these stories because he believe that is the news – especially if it’s the Daily Mail splash. But because John’s not-fact checked or stood up the story himself, he looks to the poltician to give it validity. If they deny the story then the denial becomes the story which is then carried by rolling networks and picked up by the follwing day’s papers. Speculation becomes confirmation. And on and on it goes.
So when Marr claimed that Hazel Blears criticised the PM in her resignation letter, Mandelson was on him like a shot. What was the quote? Can you quote the exact words, Andrew?
Marr of course, couldn’t and you could see it really hurt him. It led the interviewer to lose control of the interview as he became tetchier and tetchier.
But Marr losing it could have led to a really big missed opportunity. At the very end, Mandelson was asked about Part-Privatisation of the Post Office. His response wasn’t anything new but it seemed he was going to say something only for Marr to jump in and talk about constitutional reform.
You can actually see Mandleson’s exaperation at not being able to finish his sentence. I read it as a professional frustration from a former political TV producer who could see the interviewer was missing a great opportunity.
What did he want to add? Thanks to Marr, we won’t know.
Sadly the Paxman approach is the end result of the media reducing the politicial debate to confrontation and consternation. David Frost was a far better interviewer because he left those spaces, he made the interviewees drop their guard and just as importantly, he listened.
I know the party has been suspicious of Peter over the years (and we’ve had good reason to be.) But his conduct in the last week and today’s performance completely justifies Brown’s decision to bring him back.
His grand father Herbert Morrisson was 57 when he became Deputy Prime Minister. Becoming First Secretary of State – DPM in all but name – Peter beats him by two years.
And there are parallels. Attlee wasn’t the best communicator but built a remarkable post-war settlement. Gordon won’t win a Bafta, but he’s leading us through the worst recession in modern times.
Every PM needs a loyal No2 to ride shotgun and explain the policies.
Today the Dutiful Peter Mandelson eloquently defended his leader, strongly reprimanded the rebels and gave Marr both barrells.
Tony Blair always said that his job would only be complete when the party learnt to love Peter.
How ironic that under Gordon, TB’s work might finally by done.