There are enough viewers for the televised questioning and interviews of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May tonight to have some effect on the election. May finished with a very positive reaction from a substantial section of the audience to the repeated assertion that “No deal is better than a bad deal” with the EU. She was playing to her xenophobic, UKIP-leaning core support. Why this kind of deranged nonsense is apparently not alienating more urbane Tories in greater numbers, I do not really know. I presume they believe they can control her.
I think that Corbyn came over as calm, likeable and humorous, whereas May came over as tense and unpleasant. Again the tension and narrowing of the eyes when asked a hostile question was truly striking. But what struck me most was another quite stunning demonstration of media bias.
Paxman interrupted Corbyn while he was answering very much more often than he did May. But the true bias came over in the selection of questions asked.
It was widely reported in the Sunday press that the Tories were to refocus their failing election campaign on Brexit. So what did Paxman concentrate on in his interview with May? Brexit. He opened the short interview on the subject of Brexit, and crucially he returned to Brexit for the closing three minutes, allowing May to repeat again and again the slogan “No deal is better than a bad deal”, which obviously was going down very well with her supporters in the audience.
Paxman appeared to be asking for clarification of what it meant in giving her the chance to repeat it again and again, but made no argument as to why it is a fantastically stupid idea in this context.
By contrast Paxman spent the entire interview with Jeremy Corbyn on no subject at all except the Tory chosen subjects to attack Corbyn – alleged support for terrorism, reluctance to fire nuclear weapons or murder in drone strikes, lack of support for patriotism/the monarchy.
The equivalent treatment for May would have been to spend the entire time focused on the Labour preferred subjects – the NHS, education, benefit cuts for the disabled. In fact, Paxman only grilled May on security, immigration and Brexit, the chosen Tory subjects, other than a token reference to social care, on which Paxman let off May extremely lightly over her lying about the U-turn on the manifesto.
While Paxman’s questions were superficially hostile, by choosing only favourite Tory subjects he gave May an easy get-out. The equivalent fake-hostile question to Corbyn to allow him onto a favourite subject would be “You say you will abolish tuition fees. But surely the economy cannot afford that?”
There were nil such questions allowing Corbyn to move on to one of his favourite subjects. May received nothing else. Paxman is an openly acknowledged Conservative. That was very plain this evening. But despite all his efforts, Corbyn will still have shaded it with all except those primarily motivated by racism.