For years, Alastair Campbell, 56, pulled strings behind the scenes for Tony Blair’s New Labour government. He tells FHM all about the art of responding to tricky questions…
The most important thing is authenticity. The public can spot people who look and sound like they’re saying something that someone else has written. The words have to match the person. Tony Blair understood this.
If it’s possible to answer “yes” or “no”, then answer “yes” or “no”. People are looking for clarity. It’s the interviewer’s job to make the politician look difficult and evasive. So it’s good to puncture that impression by being completely straightforward.
You can’t lie. The moment you tell a lie, you’re dead.
Create space to answer your own question. A good way to begin an answer is to say, “I entirely accept the point of that question.” Then you can give your own answer, prefaced by something like, “But let me tell you where I’m coming from…” This isn’t the same as saying “good question”. That’s just wasting time. You might as well cough.
The questioner wants to interrupt? Let them. Don’t get flustered. Then, after the fifth interruption, say: “Look, do you want to have an interview? Because if not, I’ll give you the mic and you can just talk.” The public are always more interested in the answer than the question.
Don’t answer too quickly, even if you know the answer. Part of the technique of interviews is working out where the question’s going from the first few words. George Osborne always get this look on his face when he’s asked a question that says: “Ah, I knew you were going to ask this.” Don’t look self-satisfied and like you can’t wait to give the answer.
Do it like Bill Clinton. The best thing to do is pause, look like you’re really thinking about it and then give an answer. Clinton really was the master of this. The long pause after a question.
Truly difficult questions are difficult because they involve tricky, complicated subjects – things like immigration or healthcare. Knowing facts is what’s difficult. Not the combat. The combat is easy.
My Name Is… by Alastair Campbell is out now (Arrow, £7.99)