Explain Yourself

While watching Channel Four’s new attempt to resurrect That Was The Week That Was, Ten O’Clock Live last night, I had a minor epiphany. Or a dose of meat sweats, but I think it was an epiphany. David Mitchell, one of those blokes that I’m certain Douglas Adams was thinking of when he coined the phrase “brain the size of a planet”, was interviewing David Willetts, Evil Bastard In Charge Of Destroying Further Education As We Know It.

Although David M slung out a few tough questions, you could see that he was struggling with the fact that he had to remain at least partly civil towards his interviewee. He also only had five minutes, which the hateful Willetts used to his advantage, throwing out great screeds of smokescreen, cant and bullpucky that served no decent purpose other than to use up time.

Politicians are trained to do this, of course. You’ll never get a straight answer out of them, and it’s a rare interviewee that’s able to cut through the fat and expose the meat. I’m thinking John Humphries and the brutal Jeremy Paxman. But they have to resort to an attack dog style, battering their opponent into submission. This leads to accusations of bias and bullying, and frankly a pitched argument is not the sort of nuanced political discussion I want to hear.

There is a better way. If the buggers want to talk, let em. My political slot would be called Explain Yourself. It would work like this. Say, for the sake of argument, I managed to talk George Osbourne onto the show. He would be asked:

“Mr Osbourne. You have asked the country to dig deep and pay extra tax. You claim that we are all in this together. And yet you quite happily use questionable methods to dodge £1.6 million in tax.”

There would be a second’s pause. And then the interviewer would simply say “Explain Yourself.”

The interviewer would not say another word. They would simply listen to Osbourne (or whatever moral void we managed to talk into appearing) as he exudes the usual fog of fibs, with a look on their face that suggests the appearance of a very bad smell in the studio. Osbourne (or another foul waste of valuable resources) would eventually tail off. The interviewer at this point is permitted one last sentence. “Is that it?” Depending on the previous response, this can be delivered in an air of intense boredom, astonished nausea or sheer unadulterated disbelief.

Then there would be silence again. And because politicians abhor a silence, especially when it can be filled with the sound of their own voices, Osbourne (or some other mouth-breather in a nice suit) would begin to talk again. From that point, all you have to do is watch as they dig themselves a bigger, wider and deeper hole. They’ll say something they don’t mean, contradict themselves and their policies. You might even get a hefty dose of racism, social prejudice or plain stupidity.

This will work, and it will work because you’re pitting a politician against their own worst enemy. Their big fat mouths.

I dunno about you, but I’d watch the hell out of something like that.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

One thought on “Explain Yourself”

  1. Actually, that’s pretty much what Paxman does a lot of the time. Unlike Humphreys and others, he realises that the interviewer’s job is to elicit an answer, not fill airtime with his own voice.

    Is Willetts really aiming to destroy FE? I suppose it depends on whether you think anyone deserves and is right for FE – or at least, uni. The problem, IMHO, is that ‘all shall have prizes’ Labour thought 100% of students should/did, which is simply nonsense. IMHO, of course…

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