Last night's Newsnight lined up three BBC heavy hitters against the Chancellor-soon-to-be-prime-minister and had them take their best shots at him one by one. It was painful. Smiles on both sides and a succession of hostile questions that, if answered honestly, would have laid waste not only the British Government but the whole Western Alliance. Does Mr Brown find George Bush impressive? Of course he doesn't, but equally obviously he can't say so. Brown wriggled, squirmed and deflected. The only thing we learned- and maybe it's something- is that he finds it harder to give the lie direct than Blair ever did.
But it's hard to see the point of these slugfests. They've become ritualised. The aim is to shock the politician into making an ass of himself and sometimes- in a more innocent past- that was achieved. But these days the politician is in on the secret and comes well-practised and well-briefed- and the chance of him taking real damage is astronomically remote.
So how about another approach? Something more relaxed, less confrontational. I'm thinking Frost-Nixon. Two persons in armchairs- maybe with whisky to hand- just chatting away. It's not an approach that's going to bring down a govenment but then again neither is the present one. And maybe, with the journalist less determined to prove his macho credentials and the politician less on the defensive, we'd learn a bit more about policy and personality and the things that ought to matter to an electorate.