Dodging questions

The weekend seemed to be the time for dodging questions for politicians up and down the politician spectrum. Theresa May was dodging questions on a nuclear missile test. Jeremy Corbyn was dodging questions on whether he would use whips in the Brexit vote. And Donald Trump’s advisor was dodging questions on the size of the inaugural crowds.

Dodging questions of course is nothing new for politicians. In academia we call it ‘equivocation’ – the art of answering a question tangentially so it appears as if an answer has been given but face is maintained.

Equivocation: ‘people equivocate when posed a question to which all of the possible replies have potentially negative consequences, but where nevertheless a reply is still expected’ (Bavelas et al, 1990)

May – Trident nuclear test

May was interviewed by Andrew Marr on Sunday on a range of issue. One issue was the question of whether Theresa May new about a failed trident submarine test when they had discussed the renewal of the nuclear defence system some months earlier in the House of Commons. According to the Independent newspaper:

Theresa May has dodged four times a question on whether she knew about a Trident nuclear missile malfunction ahead of a Parliamentary debate. (Independent, Jan 2017)

The transcript of the discussion between Andrew Marr (AM) and Theresa May (PM) is given below and subsequently analysed further.

AM: ... when you made that first speech
    in July in the house of commons
    about our trident nuclear defence
    did you know that misfire had occurred
PM: well I have absolute faith in our trident missiles
    when I made that speech in the house of commons
    what we were talking about
    was (.) whether or not we should renew (.) our trident
    whether or not we should have trident missiles
    an independent nuclear deterrent in the future
AM: did you [know that it happened
PM:         [I think we should
    I think we should defend our country
    I think we should play our role in NATO
    as an in-
    with an independent nuclear deterrent
    Jeremy Corbyn thinks differently
    Jeremy [Corbyn thinks we shouldn’t defend [our country
AM:        [yeh sure                          [but this is 
    a very serious=
PM: =this is a-
AM: this is a very serious incident
    did you know about [it when you told the house of commons
                       [and
PM: and the issue that we were talking about
    in the house of commons
    was a very serious issue
    it was about whether or not we should renew trident
    whether we should look to the [future
AM:                               [okay
PM: and have a replacement trident
    that’s what we were talking about
    in the house of commons
    that’s what the house of commons voted for
    I believe in defending our country
    Jeremy Corbyn voted against it
    he doesn’t want to defend our country
    with an independent nuclear deterrent (.)
AM: prime minister (.) did you know
    (1.5)
PM: there are test that take place all the time
    er for our regularly for our nuclear deterrents
    what we were talking about
    in that [er debate that took place
AM:         [yeh xx le- let’s okay
    I’m not gonna get an answer to this

External link to clip

Marr first asks May about whether she knew about the misfire of the test. May does not answer this directly and instead moves on to the House of Commons.

AM: did you know that misfire had occurred
PM: well I have absolute faith in our trident missiles
    when I made that speech in the house of commons
    what we were talking about

Marr then interrupts and tries again. May again equivocates.

PM: an independent nuclear deterrent in the future
AM: did you [know that it happened
PM:         [I think we should
    I think we should defend our country

Marr again interrupts when Theresa May starts to talk about Jeremy Corbyn and there is some negotiation of the floor.  This is demonstrated by the overlap in the turns and the latching.

PM: Jeremy Corbyn thinks differently
    Jeremy [Corbyn thinks we shouldn’t defend [our country
AM:        [yeh sure                          [but this is 
    a very serious=
PM: =this is a-
AM: this is a very serious incident
    did you know about [it when you told the house of commons
                       [and
PM: and the issue that we were talking about
    in the house of commons

Marr makes a final plea with the Prime Minister to answer the question. In this last attempt, Marr wait until May has finished and then asks simply ‘Prime Minister … did you know’. The simplicity of the question catches May out briefly and the 1.5 second pause before she answers is quite telling in an interview that has been conducted at fast pace with hardly any pausing. May however again refuses to answer the question directly.

AM: prime minister (.) did you know
    (1.5)
PM: there are test that take place all the time
    er for our regularly for our nuclear deterrents

May – women rights

In the same interview, May also dodged the question of whether she would raise the issue of women’s rights when she meets with Donald Trump in the near future.

Analysis on its way…

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/theresa-may-latest-donald-trump-women-march-dodges-question-andrew-marr-march-washington-dc-a7539921.html

 

Corbyn

Corbyn dodged the question of whether he would whip his MPs to vote for the triggering of article 50 in the House of Commons.

Analysis on its way…

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-brexit-dodges-question-whips-labour-party-article-50-amendments-a7539966.html

 


Bavelas, J.B., Black,A., Chovil, N. & Mullett, J. (1990). Equivocal communication. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
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