Ouch! Direct, focused questioning at its best

Andrew Neil was on fine form as he returned to hosting the Daily Politics on BBC1 on Wednesday. After chewing up Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, he turned his attention to Steve Baker, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Wycombe.

Baker (SB) was immediately asked whether he thought Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party,  had ‘betrayed’ his country, a word the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, had used the previous day. Baker refused to be drawn on this issue initially but a good interviewer always follows up his first question with the same second question. Or in the case of Andrew Neil (AN), a third, fourth and maybe even a fifth. See lines 08 and 12 below:

01 AN: .. defence secretary says
02     mister Corbyn has quote
03     betrayed his country
04     in what way
05 SB: well the defence secretary’s chosen his own words
06     I mean the point for me about this debacle
07     [is that we believe
08 AN: [no has he betrayed his country
09 SB: well Jeremy Corbyn I think
10     is a grave danger to this country
11     but that’s because [the er
12 AN:                    [has he betrayed the country
13 SB: but that’s because of the
14     the ideas in which he believes

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Neil shows his role as interviewer in this conversation and his rights to control the floor and the line of questioning. Note the overlap in lines 08 and 12 when he repeats his questions which signals his rights to the floor and the ability to self-select. These interruptions occur before the interviewee has had time to complete their turn. The third time Neil asks his question, he emphasizes the word ‘betrayed’ to maintain the focus of the question and to let the interviewee know that only a direct answer to the question will be acceptable (something that not all interviewers insist on).

Follow up

Neil follows up these initial three attempts with further attempts (lines 17-25 & 36-59) to push the interviewee to directly answer the question but in these cases prefaces the question with some contextual background to give the question more weight. The ability to hold the floor here and provide this context for the question is typical of someone fulfilling the role of interviewer:

17 AN: CONTEXTUAL BACKGROUND
24     ...
25     in what way has he betrayed his country
26 SB: well that really is

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36 AN: CONTEXTUAL BACKGROUND
56     ...
57     so I ask again
58     in what sense has mister Corbyn
59     betrayed this country
60 SB: well Andrew I-

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See below for a full transcript.



BBC Daily Politics, 21st February, 2018

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09sz26r/daily-politics-21022018

 

Full transcript

01 AN: .. defence secretary says
02     mister Corbyn has quote
03     betrayed his country
04     in what way
05 SB: well the defence secretary’s chosen his own words
06     I mean the point for me about this debacle
07     [is that we believe
08 AN: [no has he betrayed his country
09 SB: well Jeremy Corbyn I think
10     is a grave danger to this country
11     but that’s because [the er
12 AN:                    [has he betrayed the country
13 SB: but that’s because of the
14     the ideas in which he believes
15     and what that would mean
16     for our economy and our society
17 AN: but that but that that that
18     people have all sorts of ideas (2.0)
19     but your defence secretary
20     our defence secretary
21     the defence secretary of this government
22     of our government
23     has said the leader of her majesty’s opposition
24     has betrayed his country
25     in what way has he betrayed his country
26 SB: well that really is
27     a question for Gavin Williamson
28     that’s not [the xx
29 AN: [so you don’t agree with it
30 SB: well I’m not- erm I xx
31     commenting on the er
32     on the er
33 AN: well do you think he’s betrayed the country
34 SB: I think that Jeremy Corbyn
35     is a grave danger to our country
36 AN: but that’s a political point
37     that’s a a diff-
38     of course you do
39     everybody (.) in one party
40     thinks the other party’s a grave danger
41     betrayal is an entirely different matter
42     that’s a serious accusation
43     I just point out
44     that a senior figure of
45     the Czech Republic defence ministry
46     says Sarkocy
47     who is the former Czech spy
48     ‘s real name
49     is a liar
50     that the exact word
51     the director of the Czech archives on security
52     says no files showed mister Corbyn
53     cooperating with Czech intelligence
54     the German archivists say
55     there are no Stazi files
56     on Mister Corby at all
57     so I ask again
58     in what sense has mister Corbyn
59     betrayed this country
60 SB: well Andrew I-
61     I’m not gonna comment on that
62     as you’ve sug- suggested
63     this is er an area
64     where there’s lots of questions to answer
65     we’ve got a free press in this country
66     the free press is asking the questions
67     they should be answered
68 AN: yeah but you
69     it’s not just the free press
70     your fellow Tories are all
71     piling in as a result
72     your security minister
73     again the key word security minister
74     he’s compared mister Corbyn to Kim Philby
75     Kim Philby was a traitor
76     at the time if he’d been found guilty
77     he would have been hanged
78     that’s an outrageous smear
79     to say of the leader of the opposition
80 SB: well Andrew I’m not going to allow you
81     to draw me in to potentially libelling anybody
82     er and so I’m not gonna comment [on that
83 AN: [so you don’t agree with that either
84     so you don’t agree with the
       ...

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