The Third Leader: Brief encounters

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The Independent Online

It is not surprising that, given its subject matter, Jeremy Paxman intended his private email exchange with the head of Marks & Spencer to be strictly confidential. M&S underpants, he disclosed, were no longer giving him – coughs and throat-clearing all round – the "degree of support" they once had. The Newsnight anchorman contacted Sir Stuart Rose personally. Marks & Spencer, despite the ups and downs in its fortunes, still sells more socks and underwear than any other retailer in the UK. So it is good to see the nation's inquisitor-in-chief focusing on this key issue, instead of remaining preoccupied with trivia like the US primaries or the state of the Chinese economy. The downside is that it has exposed him to one of the key questions of contemporary life: Y-fronts or boxers? Mr Paxman's tetchy reply – "Mind your own business" – will not wash from the man who famously repeated a question no fewer than 12 times to the Tory leader Michael Howard in the face of equivocal or evasive answers. Nor will it do for him to insist that he is being misrepresented by the media. Yes, it is true that the bulk of his concerns were on non-gusset issues; he was asking why M&S socks wore out more quickly at the big toe, even for those, like Paxman, who clip their toenails "very rigorously". But clearly the real news point was the pants issue.

There is something that the gimlet Paxman brain fails to have considered. It may not be the pants that have changed but what their owner puts in them. Has the 57-year-old presenter considered the question of age and the unforgiving effect of gravity? Perhaps – an unPaxo like observation – there are some questions better not asked.