The Art of the Political Interview

A friend of mine passed this interesting article in the FT onto me. It argues that most political interviews these days are dull, drab affairs, and that the golden age of political interviews are long gone. This is hard to deny. Even as someone who is politically extremely engaged, I tend to find most political interviews to be milquetoast affairs of terse denials of charges and casual flinging of counter-charges. The vast majority leave us no smarter than before we began: wonkish talking points, avoidance of anything actually controversial or interesting, a chance to ‘deliver a message on X’ rather than engage in a dialogue with Y.

When speaking of such things it is customary to blame the politicians. After all, who could imagine a back and forth like Frost and Enoch Powell managed so many moons ago? And when I watch the US news shows, I do tend to find a higher quality of interview, possibly because the interviewers are more interested in exploring the subject tout court than getting a Chloe Smith-style gotcha. Even then, Meet the Press tends more often to leave one feeling hungry far more than the sneaking suspicion of being a gourmand over-indulger. And the change in host has caused a certain soul-searching this side of the Atlantic too.

But the reality, as so often in these debates, is that we get the politicians we deserve. I hang around enough political circles to know that this is how most of them actually talk. In real life. As much as they may have had some kind of training in ‘message discipline’, the vast majority of MPs are actually very limited in what interests them. Procedure for moving a motion on local mayoral investiture? That’s great chat! Wrinkles in moving a writ for a bi-election when the government’s own MP has resigned? Such was an animated facebook conversation I accidentally stumbled upon.

So where are the people with ideas? Vision of the good life and how we should strike a path towards that end? What in Britain or the US is rotten? So often a heightened tolerance for the minutiae that passes for political life has to be endured if anyone interested enough can reach a point where they might publicly pontificate. People supposedly yearn for a more forthright discussion of such things but, until people vote for politicians interested in engaging with ideas, we’ll continue getting the same thin gruel.

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