LDVideo: Chloe Smith’s car-crash fuel duty Newsnight interview

Yesterday saw George Osborne execute his latest U-turn, postponing from August until January next year the 3p-a-litre rise in fuel duty. Here is that U-turn, by the way:

Last night, Conservative Treasury minister did a tour of the media studios to defend the decision. Unfortunately for her, that included facing Jeremy Paxman live on BBC2’s Newsnight. You can watch the fairly excruciating result below (from approx. 6m:15s in):


(Available on YouTube here.)

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26 Comments

  • Keith Browning 27th Jun '12 - 8:50am

    The poor woman did the same at lunch time yet she was sent out again for the evening bear baiting sessions – there should be a law to stop Cabinet Ministers sending out ‘juniors’ to explain the unexplainable, when they are too scared to do the job themselves. I thought blood sports had been banned but obviously not in a Tory run ministry.

  • It was utterly embarrassing to watch. She couldn’t provide a direct answer to anything Paxman re this u-turn. This is just another in a line of bad interviews Chloe Smith has taken part in. A few weeks ago, she wasn’t willing to debate Labour’s Rachel Reeves on deficit reduction which simply made her look stupid.

    I’ve read elsewhere that the story goes Cameron appointed her as a minister on the mistaken belief that she was a chartered accountant previously so her experience would be good for the Treasury. Turns out she was a consultant for Deloitte.

  • How is this young lady a minister – I had a look at her CV and she does not seem to have any competencies that would suggest she can do the job?

    Where was Osborne – clearly it was his decision and made on the hoof. Why is he, or his pet gerbil, coming on to defend it?

  • Richard Dean 27th Jun '12 - 9:38am

    I wonder if this means they’ve found a bug in the treasury’s computer model of the economy. Th implications of which might be rather worse than a minister or civil servant mistaking half a billion for one and a half.

  • I know Paxman is an aggressive interviewer but she should have taken some control of the discussion. Her line should have been;
    – people aren’t interested in when the decision was made – the important thing is the govt. is listening and reacting to economic reality and the reality of peoples’ lives. It would be wrong to increase duty now and we recongnise this.
    – we are changing it because economic indicators since the budget e.g. deficit, tax receipts are not as we have hoped and further fuel duty increase would not be a step to boosting the economy at this point
    – stopping the increase will particularly help rural economy and those living in rural areas

  • Not since Howard has Paxman had such fun with such easy pickings. Going on Howard’s history she is going to be the Tory leader some day…..

    On the issue it would have been better to have said that the decision was left until the relevant data was received, and that it was a u-turn, but when the facts change so should the planned activities.

    There is now a growing concern in Tory circles about Osbourne’s competence, and rightly so….

  • They sent a boy to do a man’s job! 😉

    Part of a Treasury PR move to make Danny (in comparison) look good on TV?

  • simon tomlin 27th Jun '12 - 10:49am

    Maybe Ian Ridley is right that , from the government’s point of view, the line should have been that people are not interested in when the decision was made. But that is always the line taken by governments when they face uncomfortable questions.

    But we are interested, because it tells us about the competence or otherwise of a government., which has publicly resisted such a move over the past several weeks.. The Transport Secretary must feel particularly embarassed today after insisting only two days ago that this increase was essential to pay down the deficit.

    To compound the apparent sense of a panic reaction, ministers are unable to say how this freezing of the increase will be funded claiming the money will be found from unspecified ‘underspends’ which they won’t reveal until November.

    I think Chloe Smith did the best she could in the circumstances; I only hope she was a willing volunteer.

  • Richard Dean 27th Jun '12 - 11:32am

    She was a damsel in distress whose success is envied by so many ambitious young women, and she conducted herself well and with dignity and even humour, in spite of astonishing insults from the Big Bad Nasty Overbearing Paxman Person who every sensible voter agrees should be ashamed of himself for such obvious agenda-driven perversion.

  • I’m not comfortable saying this but I agree with Nadine Dorries !!!

    She tweeted:

    “The submarine Chancellor sacrifices another Minister whilst he slips under the surface…again.”

    Osbourne is following in the great tradition of Brown and will sacrifice anyone to avoid being asked what are reasonable questions.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Jun '12 - 12:32pm

    Chloe Smith looked and sounded very uncomfortable during the Paxman grilling.

    It should have been Osbornefeeling the heat, not a junior – but he hasn’t got the guts – what a coward.

  • Possibly the most cringeworthy interview I’ve seen in a long time. But unlike with Howard, where he was trying to avoid answering the question because he knew it could cause him difficulties, I think that Smith avoided the answer simply because she genuinely didn’t know – which would have been even worse to admit to.

    Ian’s right about the line which should have been taken, but clearly this hadn’t been discussed beforehand or anticipated. It wasn’t helped by the fact that only a few hours before the announcement the Tory MPs were given lines to take to defend the fuel rise, and the Transport Secretary knew nothing about it on Monday either.

    It should, though, have been Osborne taking the heat for this – failing that, Danny Alexander as his number 2.

  • Richard Dean 27th Jun '12 - 1:00pm

    In fact, the true story is that the Beast of the BBC got it wrong again. This was our heroine Chloe’s personal triumph. She had single-handedly persuaded the Submarine Lump of Lard to U-turn, and as part of the deal had selflessly agreed to avoid saying he had done so. Well done Chloe, keep smiling, you’re definitely going places!

  • Keith Legg27th Jun ’12 – 12:48pm………..Possibly the most cringeworthy interview I’ve seen in a long time. I think that Smith avoided the answer simply because she genuinely didn’t know – which would have been even worse to admit to. It should, though, have been Osborne taking the heat for this – failing that, Danny Alexander as his number 2.

    Well, considering that in the video clip, Danny Alexander was smiling and joining in Tory ‘Rah-Rahs’ I’m surprised he wasn’t eager to appear.

  • Tony Dawson 27th Jun '12 - 2:38pm
  • David Allen 27th Jun '12 - 5:42pm

    I don’t agree with most of the above comments.

    Ian Ridley suggests that Smith could have taken control of the interview by stating that “people aren’t interested in when the decision was made”. Nonsense. Paxman knows how to play his game, which is to carry on demanding an answer to the same question, irrespective of what reason the interviewee offers as to why they don’t want to answer. As long as Paxman ridicules the interviewee for not answering, Paxman looks strong and the interviewee comes under more and more pressure.

    Smith’s big mistake wasn’t to keep hedging and look silly. Actually, her big mistake was to stop hedging, and eventually let Paxo goad her into admitting they had been talking about it for weeks.

    Why was that a mistake? Well, because Justine Greening two days earlier had been interviewed about the same question, and had launched into a strong and uncompromising defence of the policy of sticking to the increase. Clearly Greening had been left out of the loop. Had she known the policy was about to be reversed she could have waffled or meandered away from the question, thereby not looking like a prize idiot two days later.

    No doubt Osborne will hope that Greening takes it out on Smith. She should be taking it out on Osborne.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 27th Jun '12 - 8:08pm

    In fairness she is, sort of, in control of her brief in a way you would expect from a consultant.

  • Peter Andrews 27th Jun '12 - 10:57pm

    Well lets just be thankful that for once Danny Alexander was not shoved out to defend Osbourne ‘s incompetence.

  • Eduardo Reyes 28th Jun '12 - 9:25am

    Surely the way this plays out underlines one problem we face as a party in this arrangement – this is difficult to spin as a Tory U-Turn, when in fact it is a government U-Turn? I don’t think Danny Alexander could credibly criticise Smith or Osborne on this.

    On another note, am I alone in finding that Paxman increasingly relies on a style of questioning, rather than on being properly briefed? He’s very ‘top line only’ for a news programme that has the time to probe properly.

  • Smith is not up to this job. If you can’t even defend something popular like not increasing fuel duty you shouldn’t be a minister, or really an MP.

    That said – Paxman needs to be put out to pasture. Everyone knows he is richer than Croesus – being chauffeured back and forth between Bix in Oxfordshire and London might give him ample time to muse on the cost at the pumps, but he hardly has the same relationship with the rising price of fuel that most of us have.

  • – the only question she didn’t answer was ‘when was this decision taken’, which isn’t particularly important; the question that was inadequately put and inadequately answered was WHY.? and they didn’t clarify what the difference in the money was about, though I think I got it.
    I didn’t think it was cringeworthy atall, but I do think she should have been prepped with a few riposte lines for the arrogant bully who was ‘interviewing’ her. The BBC team of bombastic bullies needs retiring. Paxman, Neil and Marr need to be removed and a team who can do the job, ask the questions that the viewer wants, should be brought in.

  • Considering the duff hand she appears to have been dealt. I though she held her own rather well. Which is not to excuse the decision to send out somebody not involved in the decision making

  • Chloe Smith did about as well could be expected given the circumstance. Mr Osborne really should have been braver.

  • peter28th Jun ’12 – 11:12am………………- the only question she didn’t answer was ‘when was this decision taken’, which isn’t particularly important; the question that was inadequately put and inadequately answered was WHY.?…………………

    She didn’t answer ANY question; the reason being that no- one above her (Osborne, Alexander)had given her ANY answers. It was cowardly, in the extreme, to sacrifice her like that.

    …………………. but I do think she should have been prepped with a few riposte lines for the arrogant bully who was ‘interviewing’ her. The BBC team of bombastic bullies needs retiring. Paxman, Neil and Marr need to be removed and a team who can do the job, ask the questions that the viewer wants, should be brought in………….

    That ‘arrogant bully’ was doing his job. The fact that those responsible for this ‘off the wall’ reversal of policy sent out a ‘lightweight’ to face a seasoned ‘heavyweight’ was not of his choosing; I’m sure he’d far rather had Osborne or Alexander in the seat opposite. As for removing ‘Paxman, Neil and Marr’??????? ‘Real Heavyweights’ like Peter Mandelson and George Galloway (whatever one thinks of them) seem to tame ‘P,N and M’ with little effort.

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