It was a case of life imitating art as Junior Treasury Minister Chloe Smith did her best ‘startled and luckless MP off The Thick of It’ impression to a less-than-impressed Jeremy Paxman and an even less impressed viewing audience.
Regardless of your view on the government’s austerity drive, it is easy to sympathise with the young Ms. Smith, an MP since 2009, she was only 15 when Michael Howard took his mauling from Paxman over the whole ‘did you threaten to overrule him?’ saga. Smith’s boss George Osborne was otherwise engaged, and so it fell to Smith to defend the government’s latest instalment of ‘omnishambles’ over the u-turn on the plans to increase fuel duty.
And so it began: ‘When was this decision taken?’ demanded Paxman, on no less than seven occasions. ‘I can’t tell you the ins and outs’ came the response from the obviously rattled Smith, before adding that she was not going to provide ‘a running commentary’. The need for a running commentary there was none; Paul Mason’s introduction had listed the recent u-turns for those less well versed in the burning issues of pasties, caravans and charity boxes. Mason’s piece to camera even included the dreaded ‘i’ word: ‘incompetent’. Shades of the Charge of the Light Brigade therefore, as Osborne’s miscommunication and responsibility shirking left Smith to bear the brunt of Paxo’s wrath.
Back to the interview, and there appeared no end to the onslaught: ‘Is it hard for you to defend a policy you don’t agree with?’ ‘Nice question’ she snapped back, before offering the profound Aristotle-esque analysis that ‘I don’t think many things are certain in this world’. The gravitas of this statement was undermined slightly however by the spluttering and large gulp of water that followed immediately after. It was clear that Paxman could scent blood: ‘Which department has underspent?’ he enquired on five occasions, to be told that ‘they fall across and in different ways’ (yeah, me neither). That was the final straw, and, risking an enquiry from the League Against Cruel Sports into his conduct against the flailing Minister, Paxman bellowed ‘Is this some kind of joke?’ Not even Howard had had it this rough. Smith was clock-watching by now, counting the seconds until she could return to the relative tranquillity of the Treasury Office. The ‘i’ word raised its ugly head once more; ‘Do you ever think you’re incompetent?’ Smith muttered something about ‘the best interests of her constituents’, and that was that. Phew.
By Dan Harrison, Former BULS Chair