Five general election interview gaffes and how media training could have prevented them

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Five general election interview gaffes

Are you already gripped by election fever?

Or perhaps the thought of going to the polls again leaves you feeling more like Brenda from Bristol, who when asked for her reaction to the general election announcement on regional television simply said ‘not another one’.

Whatever your thoughts, one thing that is certain is the airwaves will be filled by politicians desperately trying to secure votes between now and 8 June – it could be a long six weeks ahead.

So to lighten the mood we have compiled some of the interviews from the last few general elections which didn’t quite go to plan.


The open mic gaffe

The most memorable interview of the 2010 general election was undoubtedly the one where the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown was caught describing an exchange he had with one of his party’s voters in Rochdale as a ‘disaster’ and called her a ‘bigoted woman’.



Mr Brown had been filmed talking to Gillian Duffy who has expressed concerns about immigration.

The conversation appeared to end amicably, but when Mr Brown got in to his car, which quickly sped away, he forgot his microphone was still on and could be heard criticising his staff for the encounter.

Asked what Mrs Duffy had said he replied: “Everything. She’s just a sort of bigoted woman who says she used to be Labour.”

Mr Brown was far from the first politician to be caught out by an open microphone and it still catches spokespeople out, which is why on our media training courses we advise delegates to treat every microphone as if it is live.  

He later suffered the additional embarrassment of having to sit through a recording of the exchange during a radio interview. Studio cameras captured him sitting with his head in his hands.



The ‘brain fade’ interview

Search for Natalie Bennett on Google and it does not take long to find reference to her incredibly awkward interview with LBC during the last general election.

The then leader of Green Party repeatedly struggled to answer basic questions about the figures behind her affordable housing policy, stumbled when asked to provide basic details and the interview was punctuated with lengthy pauses.



It made for uncomfortable listening and Ms Bennett, who blamed her performance on a ‘huge cold’, described it as ‘excruciating’ and said she had suffered ‘mental brain fade’.

Presenter Nick Ferrari, who at one point was moved to ask Ms Bennett if she was ‘alright’, later described it as ‘one of the worst interviews ever by a political leader’.

He also suggested she may have 'genned up' on the subject ahead of the interview - a key lesson for any spokesperson.


The facing the same question 18 times interview

The infamous interview where Michael Howard faced the same question from Jeremy Paxman 12 times is widely considered to be one of the most intense political grillings.

But it looks like quite a light-touch approach compared to the savage interview the then Chancellor George Osborne faced at the hands of Andrew Marr in the last election.


Mr Osborne, who now sits on the other side of the fence as a newspaper Editor, squirmed as he was asked no less than 18 times how he would fund the sums needed to pay for his health service promises.

His excruciating appearance was caused by him ignoring the first rule of media training – you cannot ignore the journalist’s question no matter how challenging you find it to answer.


The Bill Somebody interview

Ed Balls’ appearance on Newsnight in the run-up to the 2015 election was supposed to be his chance to talk up Labour’s business supporters.

But it became one of the more embarrassing moments of his career (before Strictly obviously) when he was only able to name one during a disastrous interview.

In fact, it was only half of one, as Mr Balls was only able to identify the business leader as ‘Bill’, admitting the surname had ‘gone out of his head’.


Presenter Emily Maitlis replied: “Okay. So frankly you’ve got Bill somebody. Have we got anyone else? Cos you were talking about 63 or 50 FTSE100 leaders. Now we’ve got Bill somebody.”

Mr Balls later admitted his embarrassment in a tweet, but placing more emphasis on his examples during his interview preparation could have helped him avoid the gaffe.



The ‘can we start again’ interview

David Cameron’s interview with the Gay Times actually happened about a week before the 2010 election was called, but that’s close enough to be included in this blog.

During the interview Mr Cameron appeared uncomfortable, hesitant and awkward as he stumbled his way through homosexual equality questions and tried to explain recent votes by Conservative politicians.


At one point he admitted that’s ‘not a very good answer’ and later ground to a halt and asked for the interview to be stopped so he could ‘start again’, suggesting he was finding he cameras distracting while trying to give a 'thoughtful' print interview - it is crucial spokespeople understand exactly what format an interview is going to take before they start speaking.

The awkward footage of the interview was shared widely on social media and used on Channel 4 News.



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