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Theresa May gives fewer direct answers than other recent Conservative prime ministers

Thursday 2 May 2019

THERESA May gives fewer explicit answers to interview questions than any other recent Conservative Prime Ministers, research has shown.

The research is being presented to the British Psychological Society’s annual conference on 1 May, by Professor Peter Bull from the Universities of York and Salford.

Professor Bull analysed two broadcast interviews Theresa May gave after her appointment as Prime Minister and four that she gave during the 2017 general election campaign. 

He found that she gave explicit answers to just 27 per cent of questions, contrasting with an average rate of 38 per cent for party leaders overall during the general elections of 2015 and 2017, and 46 per cent in leader’ interviews during the 1980s and 1990s. 

Theresa May was even more evasive in Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). In the 23 sessions of her first administration, her average rate of explicit answers to questions from the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was just 11 per cent. The rate for former PM David Cameron when he faced Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and 2016 was 21 per cent.

When Theresa May failed to answer a question at PMQs she used the following tactics:

Making political points – 92 per cent of questions
Ignoring the question – 43 per cent of questions
Modifying the question – 26 per cent of questions
Personal attacks – 23 per cent of questions
Saying she has already answered it – 19 per cent
Acknowledging the question without answering – 16 per cent of questions

Professor Bull says:

“People tend to avoid giving clear answers when they are caught up in conflicts, and Mrs May is caught up in several: within the Conservative Party, with the Labour opposition and with the European Union.

“However, failing to give information may also be a reflection of her preference for working with a small circle of advisers and not consulting her cabinet or anyone else.

“If Theresa May fails to answer questions, or even to acknowledge that she is not answering questions, to what extent can she be believed? The consequent decline in her political credibility and authority has arguably played an important ongoing role in the current Brexit crisis.” 

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Sam Wood

0161 295 5361