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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gaffes and the political interview

Michael White has an interesting article in today's Guardian on the perils of the political interview. The article is clearly inspired by two particularly poor examples, the rather frank though unwise tone taken by the Tory MP for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd and the car-crash interview given by Ed Miliband to World at One.

It seems that Amber Rudd's interview was the most entertaining:

How much trouble is charming Rudd in after taking the Financial Times around her highly marginal constituency of Hastings & Rye (paywalled link), scene of recurring battles since 1066 – mostly against French raiders or Labour challenges? My hunch would be not much more than she's in already with a majority of 1,993. Rudd is smart and charming, unpaid parliamentary private secretary to George Osborne, a well-connected woman with a bit of fight.

All the same it probably wasn't wise to say she'd been looking for a seat in 2010 ""within two hours of London and I could see we were going to win it". Or dwell on the high proportion of benefit claimants the faded-but-resilient Sussex seaside town has acquired. Or admit: "If the worst comes to the worst it's been a great five years." I find such candour rather endearing, but have learned to mistrust my own reactions as psephology. Some of the FT's below-the-line contributors in Hastings were a bit miffed.

Never mind, Rudd, it was a long and informative article, which will be in Fleet Street's e-files for handy reference. And not too many people in Hastings – or even in Rye – read the FT, alas. On the downside the cheeky LabourList website used it to run a feature which will also be in the e-files: how not to do a gaffe-strewn interview like Rudd. Don't diss the constituency or the voters. That sort of thing. And don't do too much detail. On gay marriage, Rudd remarked: "I don't think they'll still be thinking about anal sex" on polling day. You never know, some censorious voters may well think of little else.

The more significant gaffe though was on the part of the Labour leader.  As Michael White points out, whilst on the local election campaign trail Ed Miliband refused to explain how he would cut VAT and low-rate income tax to boost the economic recovery or to confirm (as Ed Balls has done) that borrowing would have to rise in the short term to stimulate the growth UK Plc desperately needs:

That allowed the Tories to say there would be a £28bn black hole in the public finances – shades of Chris Patten and John Major's "tax bombshell" campaign in 1992. The Guardian didn't make much of it, but the Times put it on page one and the Daily Mail helpfully reprinted verbatim his exchanges with Kearney under a "Milishambles" headline. That's now in the e-cuttings too and far more seriously. It hits Miliband where he's vulnerable and where Labour is vulnerable: on management of the economy in tough times when many voters blame the Blair/Brown governments instead of the bankers they failed to supervise properly for the crash of 2008. Worse, it shows Miliband as ill-prepared, callow even.

That may be excusable on the part of a first term MP, it is not what we should expect from a prospective Prime Minister.
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