Go to main content
BPS News

Theresa May's evasive way with questions is discussed at our annual conference

03 May 2019

Theresa May gives fewer explicit answers to interview questions than any other recent Conservative Prime Ministers, says research being presented at our annual conference today.

Professor Peter Bull from the Universities of York and Salford 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 leaders’ 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 of questions
  • Acknowledging the question without answering – 16 per cent of questions

Professor Bull said:

“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.”

This research has been widely reported today. It is on the front page of the Daily Telegraph, with a longer report behind its paywall, and other outlets to reports it include:

Topics

Top of page