In Competition No. 2851 you were invited to mark Jeremy Paxman’s departure from Newsnight by supplying an extract from an interview with a politician or statesman in which the interviewer doggedly but unsuccessfully attempts to get a straight answer to a straight question.
Even if you didn’t specify Paxo as your questioner, I was looking for something of the spirit of the man in your inquisitorial style. You didn’t hit his contemptuous, eyebrow-arching heights—who does?—but you provided an entertaining feast of mealy-mouthed obfuscation.
The winners take £30 and W.J. Webster nabs the extra fiver for an entry that features a slippery Boris Johnson.
I. Would you like to replace David Cameron as Prime Minister?
B.J. With whom? Good grief, man, there’s no vacancy and I’m no kingmaker.
I. Nor a potential rival?
B.J. He is my leader and I think of myself as his fidus Achates. I stroll pleasantly in the cool of his shadow.
I. But if he were for some reason…
B.J. ‘If’ is a word that translates us into an imaginary world. I prefer to deal in bracing reality.
I. In reality, then, would you hope to be Prime Minister?
B.J. Every foot-soldier, they say, has a field-marshal’s baton in his knapsack. That thought spurs us all to hope.
I. So you think you are equipped for the job?
B.J. Patently, I have shown myself ‘capax imperii’, end quote. But the party is buzzing with highly capable people, all of us wholly intent on landing a whopping Conservative majority in the General Election.
Paxman: King Herod, did you order the Massacre of the Innocents?
Herod: Look, drawing conclusions of any kind from localised trends in demographic data is extremely unwise.
Paxman: But you had every child under the age of two slaughtered, didn’t you?
Herod: Inflammatory language is deeply unhelpful in any discussion of pre- to post- mortem transition events.
Paxman: Nevertheless, you had those kids killed, right?
Herod: Jeremy, you can dispute accounts of recent events all day. That’s a privilege I, as an autocrat, neither have nor can allow.
Paxman: But you exercised the power to issue death warrants against infants?
Herod: Early-years development has become a much-contested policy area, but I am confident this administration will deliver considerable savings imminently.
Paxman: Because you’ve slaughtered those children?
Herod: I’m satisfied the Judean people share my absolute confidence in the methods of what are, in many senses, their security forces.
If elected, would you vote to stop the HS2 rail project?
I’m glad you raised the subject of trains. Too many in this country are addicted to cars, and the motorways are full. And dangerous.
Yes, yes, but what about getting to Birmingham and Leeds at high speed?
Exactly. High speed is dangerous, where you have overcrowding.
So you’d stop HS2, would you?
In politics you don’t just ‘stop’ or ‘start’ anything. You consider.
Do you consider you will stop HS2?
I think you should go to Birmingham — and Leeds — and see what the public think of such a massive question.
Oh come on. Is HS2 going to be scrapped?
We’re completely against waste — it is, as the name implies, wasteful — so you can rest assured that the best that can be salvaged from this proposal will be salvaged at the lowest cost and greatest benefit to the community.
Did you or did you not praise Putin?
Praise is a strange word to use there, Jeremy.
Be that as it may, did you praise him?
I have always admired the Russian people. They are very friendly.
I am not asking you about the qualities of Russians. I am asking you if you praised Putin.
You’re puttin’ — forgive the pun — words in my mouth.
I’m doing no such thing. Do you admire him, then?
Praise, admiration — you’ll be asking me if I love my neighbour next.
No, I won’t. I’ll ask you again. Do you admire Vladimir Putin?
I meet all types in my position as First Minister and I see strengths and weaknesses. Where’s the problem in that?
So you have praised Putin’s strengths at a time everyone else is condemning him?
I never offered you an opinion on the Russian leader.
Exactly. I’m wasting my time.
An independent Scotland, Prime Minister? Yes or no?
The union has worked well, Jeremy, and change must be considered carefully.
But should Scotland become independent?
In a true democracy, we must respect the result of a referendum.
Independence: yes or no?
The consequences of a ‘yes’ vote are difficult to predict in detail and might involve hard choices.
Should the union continue, though? A simple yes or no?
You know as well as I do, Jeremy, that the people of Scotland must decide on the basis of the facts presented to them.
So, you are in favour of independence?
We must remember that Scots, as citizens of the United Kingdom, have rights and obligations within the European Community.
So is that a no?
No, no, that is not what I said. It is a very important question and I urge the electorate to consider it carefully.
Thank you, Prime Minister.
As if there weren’t enough cookery books in the world, your next challenge is to invent a title for a new one, with a fresh angle, and supply a publisher’s blurb of up to 150 words. Please email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 25 June.
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