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Letter: Why Is It So Difficult for Politicians to Truthfully Answer Questions?

Published on: 7 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 7 Mar, 2023

From: Anthony Mallard

In response to:  The Dragon Says – Dodging Questions Is a Telling Failure

I am in complete accord with the points regarding transparency and accountability of our local and indeed national politicians.

Many years ago, I used to sit and watch the television programme Yes Minister with a retired Civil Service permanent secretary. He used to marvel at the accuracy of the depiction of the relationship between the minister and those who portrayed the show’s senior civil servants.

It was a comedy but it appears to me that more and more of our politicians seek to emulate that show. Take Prime Minister’s Question time. How often are those who ask a question given a straightforward answer or, indeed, any answer to the matter raised? I suggest only those whose question has been planted to achieve a desired and rehearsed response.

Why is it so difficult for politicians to truthfully and simply answer a question put by an elected representative of a constituency? It’s doubtless frustrating for the questioner and the constituent.

Similar examples can be paralleled in television interviews. Do they think the general public is daft or can’t see through their obfuscation?

You also highlight the arrogance of some of our local politicians, who presumably believe themselves above the need to be accountable to their ward, the public and through, in appropriate circumstances, the local press.

Perhaps they are seeking to emulate those in Parliament believing it to be clever. It isn’t.

Whether national or local, all do a disservice to democracy and contribute to the increasingly low respect in which politicians, local government and Parliament are currently held.

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Responses to Letter: Why Is It So Difficult for Politicians to Truthfully Answer Questions?

  1. Paul Robinson Reply

    March 7, 2023 at 1:02 pm

    Funny you should ask this question. Only last week I was listening to a BBC Archive On 4 episode called “What Has Media Training Done to Politics” where journalist Matthew Parris explores the rise of media training in politics and what it has done to the form and purpose of the political interview.

    It is well worth a listen –

    Editor’s response: Thank you very much for alerting readers to this interesting radio programme which I too would recommend. I have just listened to it and many of the themes and points made resonated loudly.

    A few standout points that I would like to highlight: we do not intend to be aggressive in our interviews but will be assertive if we feel questions are not being answered; we do not set out to trip interviewees up by, for instance, testing inappropriately their knowledge of detail; our interviews are often longer format as we believe that often complex subjects deserve the time for arguments to be developed and challenged (we are not social media); we cannot, of course, insist that politicians step forward to be interviewed on demand but persistent avoidance or refusal should be reported so readers can draw their own conclusions.

    Finally, we take our role seriously. Interviewing politicians is, we believe, an important part of our role and part of the democratic process.

  2. Ben Paton Reply

    March 8, 2023 at 7:07 am

    The reason why politicians don’t answer questions is simple. Propaganda works.

    You don’t have to go as far as Russia – where the state monopoly of television stations and a few laws making it criminal to mention the war have crowded out the truth – to see this. Most Russians still believe that Putin is right and that Ukraine started the war.

    In Guildford, the disastrous Local Plan was all based on propaganda. They rigged the housing target, they used the wrong population statistics, they pretended that there was agreement to expand capacity on the A3 – and so on and so forth.

    A complete con.

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