Starmer Holding the Floor

Kier Starmer, the Leader of the Labout party, was interviewed face-to-face on the Andrew Marr show this weekend. This was one of the first big face-to-face interviews Starmer has done in the last few weeks after COVID lockdown rules. Previous interviews were typically carried out online, at a distance.

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Three words and 0.7 seconds: Not much time for a Minister

A lot was made on Twitter of Helen Whatley’s appearance on Sky TV this morning. The claim by some distractors was that Whatley was saying that the government could blame scientists for mistakes made in the COVID-19 policy.

Within ten seconds of listening to the discourse, however, it was clear to me that this is not what she meant to say. (And I believe that most people could easily reach this conclusion.) Face-to-face discourse goes pretty fast and Whatley misspoke for three words and 0.7 seconds! Not much time for the Minister but plenty of time for her opponents.

Continue reading “Three words and 0.7 seconds: Not much time for a Minister”

Get Brexit done!

It is the day after the General Election in Britain and Boris Johnson, the newly re-elected Prime Minister of the country, is standing on the steps of Downing Street delivering his address to the nation. Within 30 seconds of starting his speech, that oft-repeated phrase ‘Get Brexit done’ has tripped from his lips. This well-trodden phrase, that was at the heart of the Tory election strategy, is now a permanent feature of the Prime Minister’s  discourse.

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“Can I explain why?” “No explain how.”

Andrew Neil interviewed Jeremy Corbyn on BBC television tonight. Neil is a forensic interviewer who usually pins his interviewees down to exact words and syllables. But Corbyn is know for his own brand of stubbornness, and there was one wonderful moment when the two negotiated the terms of a question like children in the school yard fighting over whether to play tag or hide and seek.

Continue reading ““Can I explain why?” “No explain how.””

Eye fluttering

Politicians use all means to try and grab and hold the floor during interviews including non-verbal means. Nigel Farage has developed an interesting technique where he flutters his eyes for a few seconds, almost bringing them to a close, in an attempt to shut out the interviewer and hold the floor.

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Slip of the Tongue

Slips of the tongue that involve word substitution always seem to get the biggest laughs. Here Jeremy Hunt, the new Foreign Secretary, mistakenly refers to his wife as Japanese when she is in fact Chinese. The humour in this slip was obvious to the audience of Chinese dignitaries during a visit by Hunt to Beijing to discuss post-Brexit trade talks.

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a/the Single Market

It seems strange that two of the smallest and most commonest words in the English dictionary could cause confusion between interviewer and interviewee but that is what ‘a’ and ‘the’ seemed to do on Sunday when Andrew Marr interviewed James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, on the BBC.

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Closing an interview

In day-to-day conversation, closing a conversation requires both participants to clear the floor. That is, each has to offer the floor to the other and only when neither has anything more to contribute can the conversation close. If you have ever tried to get off the phone from a friend who doesn’t want to finish the conversation, you know how difficult this can be sometimes.

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Pausing as a marker of equivocation intentions

Pausing briefly while speaking is a natural part of delivery. We pause for several reason. The most obvious one is to take breath so we can carry on speaking. Some pauses occur before content words or complex clauses suggesting that the cognitive planning processes can delay the output of the words. It has also been suggested that we pause more when we have to make choices in what words and expressions we select to say. So giving ones opinion would include more pause time on average than reporting factual ideas.

Continue reading “Pausing as a marker of equivocation intentions”

The Unated Nations!

For a brief moment, the world thought that Donald Trump had renamed the United Nations when he called them the Unated Nations during his speech to the General Assembly. This slip of the tongue occurred due to ‘anticipation’ which is when a segment downstream takes the place of a segment upstream. In this case the /i/ vowel in ‘United’ was replaced /a/ vowel of ‘Nations’ to produce ‘Unated’. See line 05 below:

Continue reading “The Unated Nations!”

Charlie Mullins

The word ‘twat’ has a checkered history in the English language. Originally coined to mean ‘female genitalia’, although famously misued by Robert Browning in his poem ‘Pippa Passes’ (1841), it has recently been used to refer to an ‘obnoxious or stupid person’. However, its use in British discourse, especially on national radio, is still questionable as the following transcript highlights.

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Eye gaze

When participating in a conversation, eye gaze can be an important part of the communication process. Our eyes signal the channel of communication: who we are talking to. But it is not always possible to control this, as Diane Abbot found out in an interview recently with ITV news.

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Bull’s Typology of Equivocation (part 2)

Jessica Bott continues her series on ‘equivocation’:

When a politician is equivocating there are multiple ways they can avoid answering a question. Often a politician will have a preferred way to equivocate and avoid using some of Bull’s categories. In the Battle for Number 10 and The ITV Leader’s Debates there were three categories which were not used by the politicians, these were state or imply the question has already been answered, apologises, and literalism. However, Bull 2003 has given examples of these from Thatcher and Kinnock’s interviews. Continue reading “Bull’s Typology of Equivocation (part 2)”

Detachment

Emily Maitlis interviewed the Prime Minister, Theresa May, on Newsnight last night regarding the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. The Prime Minister had been criticised for not talking to the residents of the area when she had visited the site during the day. After the recent election campaign, when she was criticised for being aloof and distant from the electorate, some may say she has missed an important opportunity to show that she is capable of engaging with the public and taking criticism. Continue reading “Detachment”

Face management

When discussing equivocation it is worth first considering the concepts of face-management and self-presentation. Face management originated with Erving Goffman who described it as “an image of self-delineated in terms of approved social attributes” (Goffman 1967:5). This concept has been adapted by Brown and Levinson to include two sides of face, positive and negative.

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Paxman’s interview technique

By Jessica Bott, Coventry University:

With the second instalment of The Battle for Number 10 airing, and the upcoming General Election, it is interesting to look back on the 2015 general election and the first Battle for Number 10 featuring David Cameron and Ed Miliband. In this interview, both Cameron and Miliband faced audience questions and an interview with Jeremy Paxman. When examining the interview for equivocation, it became clear that Paxman has a particular interview technique when dealing with equivocation.

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Andrew Neil interviews Theresa May

Andrew Neil interviewed the Prime Minister, Theresa May, on Monday. Neil held back from his typical ‘bull-dog’ style attack that is a regular feature of his Daily and Sunday Politics programmes. Politicians often leave with visible ‘bite marks’ from these programmes after a mauling from Neil who is known for his adversarial style of interviewing on single issues with frequent interruptions.

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Bollocks!

Using profanity during a political interview is usually a ‘no-no’ for politicians, especially during a general election when you are trying to put yourself forward as a potential foreign secretary, as Emily Thornberry was on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday.

Continue reading “Bollocks!”

Abbott’s shaky abacus

Numbers and costings are notoriously difficult themes during election time when the pressure to rattle off the top of the head a list of figures without so much as a “hesitation, deviation or repetition” is applied to hapless politicians who happen to find themselves on the nation’s airwaves. The cost for getting this “wrong” can be quite serious as Diane Abbott has just found out after her “car-crash” performance on LBC radio this morning with interviewer Nick Ferrari.

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1.3 seconds is a long time

Pausing in a political interview can be taken the wrong way and have consequences for the ensuing discourse. Here is Emily Thornberry (ET) pausing for 1.3 seconds (line 05) during a TV interview on Channel 4 news with Jon Snow (JS). 1.3 seconds might not seem like a long time but in the context of this discussion it is seized on by the interviewer as ‘hesitation’, or a sign perhaps that the question is troublesome for the Labour politician and her party.

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Pantomime time for the Revealing ‘ah’

Here is a nice example of the revealing ‘ah’ by backbench MPs in support of Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. A revealing ‘ah’ is a comment made by a few members of the chamber in order to back up and support some revealing fact that the current speaker is delivering. The comment is purposively mocking in order to  add emphasis to the face-threatening nature of the revelation.

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No-no-no Chorus

A no-no-no chorus in the House of Commons is an echoing by Members of the chamber of the current speakers words in order to reinforce the points and create impact. An example of this was given in Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday when the Prime Minister, Theresa May, was listing a set of items in response to Jeremy Corbyn’s questions.

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Quote of the week

“This is just a little pit stop. This is not a period this is a comma.”

Barack Obama, 20th January 2017

Gove: “It was a mistake”

MPs sometimes have to eat humble pie and admit that they have made a mistake. In an earlier blog, I showed how Michael Gove MP used all his political rhetoric to make a historic U-turn on running for the Conservative leadership after David Cameron had stepped down. After coming third in the election for leader and some weeks later, he came up against Sky’s Adam Boulton who obviously took great pleasure in grilling him on his leadership failure.

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Quote of the week

“Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a titanic success of it.”

Boris Johnson, 2nd November 2016

Equivocation – the first penalty shoot-out of the season

Just as the new football season gets underway with the same old tricks and moves, so the new political seasons kicks off this week. Andrew Neil (Daily Politics interviewer) went up against David Gauke (Conservative MP) in the first penalty shoot-out of the season. As MPs do, Gauke brought his ‘equivocation gloves’ to the studio to defend against the interviewer’s penalty kicks. Continue reading “Equivocation – the first penalty shoot-out of the season”

The power of the eyes

In face-to-face communication, the eyes (and eye gaze) are the most powerful part of the body we have. John McDonnell illustrated this on Sunday when he directly turned to the camera during an interview on the Andrew Marr show (BBC). The change in gaze from interviewer to viewer (and then back) provided a powerful shift from the traditional interview format to one addressing the television viewer.

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Quote of the week

“Remain means remain”

Angus Robertson, 20th July 2016

PMQs watch: Theresa May’s first outing – a touch of Thatcher perhaps?

Theresa May delivered her first Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon and came through the event relatively unscathed with a touch of “Thatcher” to her performance as some commentators noted.

Her former boss, David Cameron, developed a competent, confident and charismatic approach to PMQs. May scored well in two of these areas but lacked the charisma of her former boss. Continue reading “PMQs watch: Theresa May’s first outing – a touch of Thatcher perhaps?”

May’s first PMQs

Theresa May, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will perform her first Prime Minister’s questions (PMQs) on Wednesday in the House of Commons. PMQs is known to be a testing ground for new Prime Minister’s and leaders – their performance at PMQs can often be a sign of the quality and leadership potential as perceived by the media and the public.

Theresa May has a lot to live up to since the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, was considered to be a master of PMQs. Prime Minister’s need to know their brief but also strike the right tone between competence, confidence and charisma. It will be interesting to see how she performs. Continue reading “May’s first PMQs”

 Quote of the week

“I was the future once.”

David Cameron, PMQs, July 2016

 

PMQs Watch: Humour at Cameron’s last PMQs

Politicians are not noted for their stand-up comedy routines, but there was plenty of good humour at David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Many of the jokes were scripted and some fell a little flat as members struggled with their delivery. However the sense of occasions and the fact that it was the politicians delivering the jokes, at their own expense in some cases, meant that there were some genuinely funny moments worthy of Mock the Week or Have I Got News For You. Continue reading “PMQs Watch: Humour at Cameron’s last PMQs”

The language of U-turns

We all have to make U-turns in our lives sometimes: reversing our car when we realise we’ve gone down the wrong road; changing our opinion on some topic; wearing something we swore we would never wear.

For politicians, making a U-turn is potentially face-threatening so getting the language right to explain the U-turn to the public is paramount. It seems that these days anything that has been said in the past can be overturned provided the explanation ignores what has been said and looks only forward. Continue reading “The language of U-turns”

Turn transition with the eyebrows

Turn change can often be signalled via body language. Here Hilary Benn gives the turn back to Andrew Marr through a raise of the eyebrows and a slight forward movement of the head (09). The rising intonation on Benn’s tone unit (08) suggests that he was not finished with his comments but he yielded the floor to the interviewer (Marr) who had indicated his desire to take the turn in 06 with a brief attempt to interrupt.

Continue reading “Turn transition with the eyebrows”

Slip squared!

Slips of the tongue can be embarrassing for anyone speaking in public, but when the slip occurs twice in quick succession, one has to ask whether the speaker subconsciously really wanted to say something different. David Cameron (DC) was outlining during PMQs the tough steps the government had taken against ‘unscrupulous employers’ under his premiership when he mistook the word ‘employees’ for ‘employers’ – a reasonable mistake to make you might think. Continue reading “Slip squared!”

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