In this historical clip, one of my favourites from 2009, Labour MP Hazel Blears answers a news reader’s question about her expense claims and the avoidance of tax on one of her houses. You often see politicians on TV evading questions, skirting around the issue, and presenting themselves and their beliefs, rather than answers to any specifics. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were masters of any inquisition. Hazel Blears?…not so good!
Blears, in this car crash of an interview, which surely must be a low-point of her career, stumbles from stuttering too-fast speech to failing to answer the question, to coming across like she’s on the point not of telling the truth, but simply fleeing the scene. If you’ve any ambition to be a public speaker, or for whatever reason, a politician, having a nice clear voice and a rehearsed mantra is not good enough.
Firstly, and if you’re already a politician and you’ve never considered media training before, the golden rule is keep calm, and keep the appearance of calm. No one will listen if you, as old Hazel blatantly seems to be here, are wavering, appear to be lost, or look like you’re searching for the nearest open window. Even if you’re nervous, which is perfectly normal and a good source of energy, take your time and keep level-headed. Better to take a few pauses than try and extrapolate all your words at once.
Secondly, there is a difference between evading oncoming questions, and ignoring them. Ignoring accusatory questions achieves one thing- it makes you look like you have something to hide. Evasion of questions is when you appear to answer the question, but in fact you answer a slightly different question, or word your answer in a vague enough way to give some sustenance to the listener without revealing too much. A good tactic here is to never challenge the assumptions behind a question unless they become overt, or it serves you to answer them. What dear old Hazel is doing is that over used tactic of feeling peoples pain and saying how important her constituents are and that she understands their anger. All well and good if you felt that she was being sincere but these seem like pre-rehearsed lines. A proper Mea culpa would be better.
And lastly, my final piece of advice to anyone out there wishing to pursue a political career. If you don’t want to face the sort of boiling Hazel Blears got, think about the ramifications your actions may have in the first place and try to frame these actions with the phrase “If I get interviewed about this on national TV, will I damage my reputation?”. This is a good tactic for anyone; politician or businessman
The best example of a politician taking full responsibility for her short comings was Estelle Morris resigning as Education secretary saying that she didn’t feel she was up to the job! How refreshing.