The spirit of Jeremy Paxman lives on in those he tormented
JEREMY PAXMAN did a lot of damage to political discourse. Not that I disapproved of him. I liked him. The problem is that so many MPs seem desperate to copy him. Watch any select committee hearing that has a newsworthy interviewee. All you’ll see is MPs Paxmanning away furiously in a bid to get a clip of themselves on the evening bulletins. They interrupt, they snort, they scold. You can tell they’re dying to hit upon a question that their interviewee refuses to answer, so they can be filmed barking, “Did you threaten to overrule him?” 12 times in a row. Last Thursday the Public Accounts Committee questioned two Google executives – Matt Brittin and Tom Hutchinson – about the company’s tax affairs. Well, I say questioned. Mostly it was just verbal tomato-flinging. “You can’t like the fact that lots of people hate you!” growled Richard Bacon (Con, South Norfolk). You might think an MP would sympathise. “Your employees want to be proud of you!” gibbered David Mowat (Con, Warrington South). “You are taxing my patience!” snapped Meg Hillier (Lab, Hackney South). The witticism went down better than you might expect, being met merely with silence rather than a chorus of groans. Mrs Hillier ordered Mr Brittin to reveal his salary. Politely he queried the question’s relevance. “I’m asking you, so it’s a relevant matter!” she squawked. He mumbled something about “not having the figure to hand”. “You don’t know what you get paid?!” shrieked Mrs Hillier gleefully. Perhaps it was simply good manners that stopped Mr Brittin from replying, “I know what I get paid, I’m just not telling you as you’ve yet to explain what it has to do with the amount of tax Google has agreed to pay HMRC, although I appreciate that quacking away about how I’m ‘living on a different planet’ from ‘angry tax-payers’ will play well on TV, and may help viewers forget that you and all other MPs are about to get a £1,000 pay rise on top of the 10 per cent pay rise you received six months ago.” Mr Brittin gently suggested MPs’ cries for more tax were “not related to a tax demand or an audit”. An appalled Mrs Hillier retorted that he was being “very rude about politicians”. The Google bosses were supposed to come out of these exchanges as the villains. Yet after 90 minutes of this histrionic bluster I was almost starting to side with them. Up popped Dame Lin Homer. Her most memorable pronouncement was that she is “not a tax expert”. Dame Lin has been the head of HMRC for the past four years.