Monday, July 19, 2010

Zac Right, Shane Wrong

My esteemed mini me colleague Shane Greer has had a rush of blood to the head. He has written THIS blogpost over at the Total Politics Party Lines blog telling Zac Goldsmith where he went wrong in his interview with Jon Snow on Friday. I only saw it for the first time last night, having seen loads of tweets from people who reckoned Zac made a complete arse of himself.

Shane, it seems, followed the Twitter conventional wisdom. But at least he gave his reasons and said how he thinks Zac should have handled himself.

I beg to differ with much of what Shane says. Yes, Zac did wave his arms about too much. Yes, perhaps he did spend a little too much time calling for Snow to make an apology, but I thought he was a long way from making a fool of himself. Indeed, he was understandably indignant as he felt his integrity was being impugned. I thought Zac was far more convincing than his interlocutor, Jon Snow, who, I thought, emerged from the encounter not only with a large dollop of egg on his face but many questions to answer.

I'm not going to enter the debate about electoral law. Fifteen years ago I knew it like the back of my hand, but not now. But one thing I do know. If you want to petition an election result, you do it through the courts, not through the Electoral Commission.

But the main point of this blogpost is not to debate whether Zac did well or not. It is to point out how rare it is for politicians, or anyone for that matter, to turn the tables on an interviewer. It should happen more often, especially on programmes like Newsnight or Today or Five Live (but clearly not LBC, natch!). The thing politicians need to remember is that most of the time they will know more about the subject than their interviewer. If asked a difficult question, or a stupid question, I often throw it back to the interviewer and ask: "What do you mean by that?" The terror in their eyes is a joy to behold. It's a really good thing to do to smartarse interviewers. I know. Someone did it to me once and my mouth flapped like a goldfish.

The thing is to know how far to go and when to stop. Perhaps Zac went too far in making his initial point, but he was totally within his rights to make it, and Jon Snow didn't do his, or Channel 4 News's credibility any good at all in trying to deal with the allegation that C4 News wouldn't let Zac on the previous evening to defend himself live.


Libertarian said...

I have to say much as I dislike Zac I actually was quite surprised that he made Snow look like a bit of an idiot

Morus said...

Iain - beyond the substance of who came out of the interview better, you wrote:

"But one thing I do know. If you want to petition an election result, you do it through the courts, not through the Electoral Commission."

You are right - this can be dealt with by an Election Petition if submitted to the Clerk of the Court within 21 days (or 28 in some cases) of the return of the writ. In such cases, it is possible for the matter to be considered by an Election Court (with status of the High Court, but without any opportunity of Appeal).

If beyond the 21 day limit (as here), but within Statute of Limitations, then the only way this can be dealt with is by the Police referring it to the CPS and the DPP deciding to press criminal charges under (usually) section 82(6) of the Representation of the People Act (1983). The Election Court option is not available, and no petition would be accepted.

In that sense, this is not about "challenging the result" as much as a criminal investigation which, if allegations were proven, would vacate the seat and lead to a by-election (and disqualification) anyway.

The Electoral Commission doesn't have any legal sanctions to give out, but they are able to judge that nothing was wrong, which would render a police prosecution highly unlikely (though the CPS could proceed anyway but at much higher risk of failure).

As I understand it, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism referred their findings to the Electoral Commission to get their view on whether the rules had been broken. In that sense, they are neither contesting the result, nor launching a petition - the time to do so has passed, even if they wanted to.

FX Man said...

Snowdrift to Jacketgate.

I completely agree.

Goldsmith will learn; Snow will not.

charlesbarry said...

While the ding-dong between Snow and Goldsmith was interesting at first, amusing second, it rapidly became irritating and finally made me want to hurl my slippers through the TV as I wanted to know what Zac Goldsmith's answers were to the questions.

While I am sure ZG had perfectly good answers to the questions, I got the feeling that it was less about defending his integrity and more about stalling for time.

On a broader point, while it is good for the discussion between interviewer and interviewee to be in both directions, for an interviewee to simply go for the interviewers throat is simply infuriating. I am listening to the interview to hear the answers to the question, not to hear how the interviewee was wronged. (see M Gove)

DomFisher said...

Have you seen that the Sun was reported that Easyjet's punctuality record from Gatwick is worse than Air Zimbabwe (and below 50%)? What have you started? ;-)

Just thought you would like to know.

Jimmy said...

Absolutely. The merits of his case and grasp of detail coupled with his charm, good humour and flair for self-effacement make him the poster boy for the new conservative party. No doubt we'll be seeing more of him in the weeks ahead as the party realises what a vote winning asset it has. He could even one day surpass his late father's popularity.

Tim said...

Like I said earlier, it's your favourite game he's playing (e.g. yelling 'stalker' to mask your disgraceful conduct over those paedo-smears; it says a lot that you *still* daren't account for your actions). No wonder you don't see anything wrong with it.

Johnny Norfolk said...

To me Jon Snow represents all that is wrong in broadcasting. He is yet another leftie type with his own agenda. The man that refuses to wear a poppy.

Enlightened Despot said...

To a politically non-aligned observer it just looked like a petty squabble from which neither side emerged with any credit. It did look for most of the "interview" as though Goldsmith was just trying to waste time in order that he did not have to answer Snow's questions.

Libertarian said...

By the way on the election expenses themselves I already knew the answer.

All 3 parties at all elections overspend the allowed budget by purchasing generic party items prior to the election period etc.

This is denied to us as Independent Candidates and is yet another anti democratic issues we face

Unsworth said...

Goldsmith is still a little wet behind the ears. He needs some decent media training. But his position was perfectly fair.

By contrast Snow seems to be losing his edge these days. At one stage he was subtle enough, but his over-riding political position is now far too obvious - as it has become with many others. Surely journalism is not the same as opinion? Is the function of an interviewer to extract opinion and comment, or is it to propound views?

Snow is falling.

Thomas said...

The Snow-Goldsmith interview seems to be one of those occasions when people see different things depending on their political viewpoint.
Conservative supporters seem to think Goldsmith did well, and that Snow was appalling.
Non-Conservatives (incl. Liberals like me who support the coalition) think Goldsmith acted like a complete idiot and that Snow handled it really well.

................................. said...

What is it the press say? Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story?

Osama the Nazarene said...

Methinks you do protest too much. To the average viewer it looked like a slanging match with Snow saying this is white and Goldsmith refuting and stating that it was black. Goldsmith looked very much like the politician refusing to answer the question, squirmingly [new word aka Palin] so like in the dying days of Major.

I realise Snow did not cover himself with glory but then I would have expected that from him, not Goldsmith.