If the people of Britain were allowed to go to the polls immediately after Cameron & Miliband: the Battle for Number 10, there’d a landslide. And our new prime minister would be Jeremy Paxman.
Although the show was ostensibly a two-hander, with Kay Burley moderating the audience Q&A segments, this was entirely Paxman’s gig. Burley was barely there. Though, to be fair, she barely needed to be there. A secondhand deli-counter ticket machine could have adequately done her job.
Paxman, meanwhile, was ferocity incarnate. His jaunty suit, the sort of thing that semi-retired businessmen wear to dinner on golfing holidays, initially hinted at a loss of swagger. But as soon as his interview with David Cameron began, all doubts shrivelled away. As, you suspect, did Cameron’s genitals.
This was a man who’d clearly been straining at the leash since he left Newsnight; a man who’d spent too many months trapped indoors, fruitlessly barking questions at potplants. As soon as the cage door was opened tonight and worthy prey was slid before him, Paxman pounced.
He sighed. He rolled his eyes. Egged on by the studio audience, he clutched the side of his face in mock-despair, like Mavis from Coronation Street. His tongue lolled at the back of his throat as if he were a vampire desperate to plunge in for the kill.
Suddenly you could understand why Cameron was so wary about televised debates. As he variously blanched and stuttered and sweated and attempted to drown himself in his glass of water in the face of Paxman’s colossal monstering, you couldn’t help but feel his pain. In fact, first thing tomorrow, I’m going to clear out a wardrobe and use it as a panic room just on the off-chance that Paxman happens to stop by and ask to borrow a cup of sugar.
Ed Miliband fared better in his interview, but over the course of his 18 minutes it became perfectly evident that he was an unwitting player in a game of rope-a-dope, with Paxman leaning back and stifling chuckles as Miliband ran himself ragged trying to prove that he was a worthy opponent. By the end, with Ed worked into such a tizzy that he seemed in danger of choking on his own tongue, Paxman became a little paternal. Just as the credits rolled, he leaned over and half-joking asked “You OK, Ed?”
Of course he wasn’t. None of us were. It’s great to have Paxman back but, god, he’d be a cruel leader.
This article was written by Stuart Heritage, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th March 2015 22.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010