MPs sometimes have to eat humble pie and admit that they have made a mistake. In an earlier blog, I showed how Michael Gove MP used all his political rhetoric to make a historic U-turn on running for the Conservative leadership after David Cameron had stepped down. After coming third in the election for leader and some weeks later, he came up against Sky’s Adam Boulton who obviously took great pleasure in grilling him on his leadership failure.

After equivocating for a few turns, Gove (MG) eventually came out and admitted it ‘was a mistake [to run for the leadership]’ – line 03. The two second silence following his revelation is quite significant and shows how Bouton (AB) couldn’t really believe that Gove had actually uttered this word. Boulton confirmed, as all good interviewers should do, that he had said ‘mistake’ (line 05) before asking a particularly tough conflictual question (lines 06-11).

01: AB: So do you feel that that was a (.)
02:     foolish miscalculation
03: MG: hhh  well it was a mistake wasn’t it ↗ 
04:      (2.0)
05: AB: so it was a mistake (.)
06:     but was that the biggest mistake
07:     was it supporting Boris
08:     knifing Boris
09:     or thinking you were fit to be prime minister (.)
10:     what was the
11:     what was the worst mistake
12: MG: oh I (.) I don’t know
13:     overall it was a mistake
14:     but the thing I did manage to get right

External link to clip

Conflictual questions are questions in which all direct answers threaten face. In this particular instance the options put to Gove as the biggest mistake were: supporting Boris [Johnson], knifing him or [mistakenly] thinking he is fit to be Prime Minister – a particularly toxic list for a politician. Selecting one for Gove would be an attack on his face and so he equivocated (lines 12-13).

It is claimed that Bouton could be heard saying “Well, that was fun!” as the interview closed.

Sky News, 27th October 2016