Keith Hann: Can you please just answer the question?

Journal columnist Keith Hann ponders why politicians don't follow the lead of TV crime suspects and say 'no comment' when interviewed

ITV ITV Leaders' Debate 2015 showing all seven lecterns
ITV Leaders' Debate 2015 showing all seven lecterns

In TV crime dramas, the baddies always respond to difficult police questions with “no comment”.

I’m beginning to wish that politicians would do the same, instead of endlessly churning out the pre-prepared PR boilerplate in which they have been drilled in order to skirt around every difficult issue.

Though my sympathy with TV and radio presenters wearily repeating “Could you please just answer the question?” is reduced by the knowledge that they will instantly condemn and lampoon any politician who actually says what he or she thinks for making a terrible “gaffe”.

Personally, I think we need more and bigger gaffes to enliven this wretched campaign, and open up a bit of clear blue water between the parties.

Because if nothing changes between now and May 7, we seem likely to end up with a dead heat between Labour and the Conservatives. Leaving the politicians themselves to make the unappealing choice between an extremely shaky re-run of the last Conservative-led coalition; or a Labour minority government propped up by the party that looks set to destroy Labour in Scotland and whose very raison d’etre is to do precisely the same thing to the country as a whole.

On either scenario, and whatever the Fixed Term Parliaments Act may say, the chances of us having to re-live the whole election campaign before too long look high. Which would be frankly unbearable.

Since the potential outcome is so finely balanced, the major parties are taking their natural supporters for granted and “reaching out” to potential swing voters from the other side. So Labour has implausibly become the party of strict financial discipline, while the Tories have discovered a surprising taste for populist giveaways.

If the fringe parties adopted the same approach, Natalie Bennett would now be touring the UK in a Maserati, while Nigel Farage would be on a chartered boat in the Mediterranean, rescuing would-be immigrants and ferrying them to Dover for a slap-up lunch. Luckily no such strictures apply to those never likely to have to form a government, so the SNP can cheerily propose “an end to austerity” that would create financial mayhem and undoubtedly lead to yet more austerity for everyone in the long run. I wrote five years ago that the 2010 election was one to lose, as whoever emerged as the victor was likely to make themselves deeply unpopular by taking the necessary action to put the public finances in order.

In the circumstances, I am pleasantly surprised to find that the Conservative Party is apparently still in with an outside chance of retaining office. Though whether this has more to do with their reasonably solid track record of economic management or the free gift they were handed when Labour chose the wrong Miliband as its leader is hard to say. I’ve done one of those “who should you vote for?” analyses, correlating party policies with individual desires, and find that I am 38% Conservative, 36% UKIP, 15% Labour, 3% Lib Dem and minus 85% Green.

I imagine that most of us will be similarly conflicted, given the mainstream focus on policies not designed to appeal to their core supporters.

It may seem a bit rich for a PR man to say that what we need for the rest of the campaign is less PR, but anyone who has observed me in what passes for action will know that mine has never been a conventional approach.

So I would greatly welcome the clarity of some anti-PR campaigning by the sort of politicians who rant about “that bigoted woman” live on camera, or say something utterly outrageous with a humorous twinkle, or punch members of the electorate who lob eggs at them.

Allied with a willingness to provide straight answers to straight and sensible questions. (And if it’s an obvious trick question designed to plunge the politician concerned into a pit full of sharpened stakes, then say so, rather than waffling on evasively.) Otherwise the big winners on May 8 may turn out to be the same as in 2010; the “no comment” party of those who took the trouble to get themselves onto the electoral register but could not find any reason at all to vote.

www.blokeinthenorth.com

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer