First it was the sneer. Then the piercing questions and instinctive aggression. Finally there was the almost equine expression of dismay with each answer.
They all said the same thing: I’m Jeremy Paxman, and I’m back.
Paxman was the decisive victor in Thursday night’s non-debate with David Cameron and Ed Miliband. A predictable portion of the reaction on social media and elsewhere criticised him for his curmudgeonly manner and apparent cynicism, but this was to miss the point. The aim of television interviews with politicians is to apply democratic scrutiny, to interrogate positions so that the viewer can learn something new about the subject. If you happen to be entertaining along the way, that’s a bonus.
Paxo satisfied all these conditions. To pick on Mr Cameron for a moment – which is only fair, given his shameful refusal to debate Mr Miliband head to head – we learned, via Paxo’s interview, the following: that he doesn’t know how many food banks there are in Britain, can’t say how much his Government had borrowed, and is able to admit that he had hopelessly missed his foolish target on immigration. He was made to squirm in a way that was most pleasing.
All this is a boon to Britain’s crumbling democracy. Indeed, we need more of it. David Abraham and Jay Hunt, the chief executive and the chief creative officer of Channel 4 respectively, have won plaudits for the reinvention of their television station and its subsidiaries. They have produced several innovative formats and attracted strong ratings. And all the while they have talked up their “unique public service remit, given to us by Parliament… to take creative risks”.
In which case they should make an urgent priority of putting Paxman back on our screens, at the very least on a weekly basis, to interrogate those who work for us in Westminster and Whitehall. From his performance on Thursday, you get the impression Paxo would be up for it. The British public certainly is.