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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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”

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!”

PMQs Watch: Attack through defence

Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons yesterday provided an interesting mix of topic exchanges as Jeremy Corbyn went up against David Cameron. Corbyn came ready to fire off a set of questions on housing and social deprivation but was put on the defensive as Cameron came back with an attack on Corbyn’s putative past links with people and organisations he deemed as terrorists. Continue reading “PMQs Watch: Attack through defence”

Affiliative and Adversarial Discourse

The tone of the chamber in PMQs can change quite dramatically from an affiliative (cooperative) tone to an adversarial (competitive) tone depending on the topic. Affiliative discourse is not as common as adversarial discourse in the House, but an occasion such as a terrorist attack often calls for leaders to make statement to which the chamber are usually respectful. When the topic changes to more local, inter-party issues then members can change tone at the drop of a hat. Continue reading “Affiliative and Adversarial Discourse”

PMQs Watch: 35 seconds

In the House of Commons, the force of an utterance often receives its legitimacy from the reaction of the audience: the members of the chamber. In PMQs on Wednesday, David Cameron (PM), in reaction to an unauthorised question from a member, told Jeremy Corbyn to ‘put on a proper suit, do up your tie, and sing the national anthem’ – a reference to the Leader of the Opposition’s noted informal wear and unwillingness to sing the national anthem. Continue reading “PMQs Watch: 35 seconds”

Applause for Benn

Hilary Benn received a rousing reception after completing his speech during the debate in the House of Commons on whether to bomb ISIS in Syria. The house even broke into applause, generally frowned upon by the Speaker, which lasted for over 40 seconds. Most of the applause was from the Conservative benches who had proposed the motion to which Benn was supporting but a good deal of applause also came from his own benches. Continue reading “Applause for Benn”

PMQs Watch – Audience as Participant

Most commentators noted that the tone at Wednesday’s PMQs had shifted significantly from the reserved and hushed tones of previous meetings to a more rowdy and challenging tone yesterday. This illustrates what I call the ‘audience as participant’ effect whereby the audience (the chamber of MPs in this case) claims certain rights to the floor despite the fact that the conversation at PMQs is globally managed by the Speaker and turns are allocated by him. These rights include the right to cheer, jeer, laugh at and generally interrupt proceedings to voice their feelings, attitudes and concerns. Whilst the audience can never be called on to take a turn, they are able to influence the discourse as if they were a participant and the current speaker has to negotiate with this to establish the floor in the way he or she sees fit. Continue reading “PMQs Watch – Audience as Participant”

PMQs Watch – Corbyn’s Crowdsourcing

PMQs saw a new leader of the opposition (LO) on Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn, who won a rather surprising victory in the Labour party leadership election. Corbyn’s first appearance and performance at PMQs was scrutinised very carefully by the media demonstrating the importance of this weekly event in the House of Commons.

When Corbyn stood up for the first time there was a resounding cheer from the Labour benches for their new leader. The Conservative benches were surprisingly quiet. In the past they would often cheer the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, as he stood up in a mocking tone to suggest that he does not get enough support from his own benches. They clearly took a principled decision not to do that for Corbyn’s first PMQs but it remains to be seen whether they will continue like this in the future.

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Hesitations

Hesitations are a natural part of unscripted spoken language. We all hesitate from time to time while speaking for various reasons: to plan what we want to say next, to correct errors or for dramatic effect. Hesitation is normally apparent in the speech output through repetitions, false starts and pauses (either filled or unfilled).

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Revealing ‘ah’ in PMQs

In a previous post I have argued that the house is a multi-faceted chamber with comments and background noise from members of the chamber combining with the current speaker to create a multi-modal discourse act. This is particularly important during Prime Minister’s questions (PMQs) when the performance of those taking part, particularly the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, can be just as significant as what they say. Support from members of the chamber at this time can often indicate how well the current speaker is perceived to be doing.

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PMQs watch

PMQs was a relatively quiet affair on Wednesday apart for the outburst from “Jurassic Park” (aka Dennis Skinner). Harriet Harman asked a few questions on the issue of radicalisation and the aftermath of the Tunisian attacks before moving on to the issue of airport capacity. Continue reading “PMQs watch”

PMQs Watch

PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) in the House of Commons was back to its usual self on Wednesday with the prime Minister David Cameron going up against the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Harriet Harman. Harman is less confrontation and aggressive compared to her predecessor and former boss, Ed Miliband, so one might presume that she is somewhat of a sitting duck for David Cameron who has been noted for his own ‘bullying and adversarial’ tone at times. Harman however is sticking to her ‘soft’ approach and this seems to be having an effect on Cameron who seemed  less boisterous.

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Interruptions at Prime Minister’s Questions

Interruptions at PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) are recorded in Hansard in a limited way, usually through the insertion of the word ‘[Interruption.]’ and are often followed by the Speaker’s call to order. The house however is collective body and background noise from the chamber during PMQs is important in signalling the general mood and degree of agreement or disagreement with the current speaker.

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