I enjoyed meeting him. He was a rare figure, a political journalist known to pretty well every student in the school, who could bring celebrity (which he probably abhors) to the old fashioned task of political inquisition, and spark interest in youthful audiences that are themselves rather switched off from politics (Paxman in fact used his interview with Russell Brand as a hook for his talk, urging involvement in the political process to his student audience). I had been keen for him to visit not just because of his television prominence, but also because many years previously I had seen him deliver a talk to a packed Methodist Central Hall of several thousand students, and belie his aggressive image with a down to earth assessment of politics and the politicians he interviewed and a real engagement with the students who asked questions. Even then, he clearly liked students, rather more than the politicians who have been his daily fare.
I have long been a fan of Jeremy Paxman's anchoring and interviewing. In particular his interviewing. I think the heart of his interviewing technique has been his view of himself as a voice of the people, the man able to ask those difficult questions we want to ask ourselves. He has been successful, and attained his fame, because he has never seen himself as part of the political class, challenging that class robustly and directly instead. His questions have become 'aggressive' because he has come across so many politicians who have lost the ability to make answers for themselves as they cling to their adviser-prepared crib sheets. His 'cynicism' is surely more just weariness with the failure to answer a direct question. That was certainly the case with Michael Howard, who knew he'd been skewered. It was the case with the over-promoted Chloe Smith, who floundered mightily when instead she might have got away with a more honest "you know what, we've messed up here and I am indeed too junior to have been told of the decision much in advance". But politicians have lost the capacity for honesty, replacing it with ever more elaborate renditions of obfuscation.
I will miss the Paxman interview. I will miss the sense that here, confronting this or that politician, is someone who won't allow them to hide behind their meaningless dialogue. The sense that the political interview should be an honest dialogue, and that politicians who want to govern us should also be willing to engage in robust exchanges. Politics should be robust after all. Paxman has never been weary when confronted with someone genuinely interested in debate, in providing answers, in pursuing an intelligent dialogue. He has been weary with the self-serving and the frankly just anodyne. I'm not surprised he's now decided to focus on questioning students instead.