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May 03, 2017


Luis Enrique

so ... do you think the interview really was awful, or just a mere solecism?

[I think it was really awful - it wasn't just about failing to be slick and confident - she could have unslickly and hesitantly corrected herself]


As an enthusiastic non-Tory I reckon it was terrible.
Not for the initial error - even though coming on to the show and correctly quoting the policy written on paper in front of her was essentially her only job.
Not even for the lack of basic maths skills - as you say, my expectations are low.
It was the aggressive way she continued to make up numbers and then accuse the host of saying what she herself had said.
It shows an utter lack of self awareness, and a rather paranoid default approach that if there is a problem the other person in the discussion is both responsible and arguing in bad faith.
Of COURSE she is far from the worst example in world politics, but as a representative of the best that the opposition have to offer it is terribly depressing.

Dave Timoney

The response to the interview is clearly proportionate to the public perception of Abbott as condescending and pretentious. That might not be wholly fair, but it's the persona she's got.

I suspect that had the gaffe been committed by another shadow minister, it would have been milked as evidence of Labour incompetence, but perhaps wouldn't have achieved the same scale in terms of media coverage.


The exercise wasn't playing to her strengths, Abbott is primarily an identity politics politician and secondarily a media rent-a-gob (typically playing off her primary shtick). She'd have been far more comfortable ground making emotive proclamations about institutional police racism than dry factual announcements on staffing and funding. The only politician who could get away with this kind of flakiness is BoJo and he would have bluffed out of not knowing the numbers rather than just making them up altogether.


It helps a lot if you don't have an arsehole at both ends of a colonoscope. Old medical joke.

Politicians are supposed to look and sound the part - smooth, confident, likeable, competent etc. Ms Abbott failed dismally and managed to tick a long list of negative stereotypes at the same time.

I agree that smoothness, confidence etc are often merely a front, but most of us have to present a confident front and most of us make bad decisions now and again. So I suspect our expectations are not so high, just so long as they look vaguely competent they get the job. Especially when the alternative is Ms Abbott.

Handy Mike

I've yet to see serious commentary suggesting this is principally about Ms Abbott or the general standard of MPs, as opposed to being about a prospective Home Secretary. You could be no more than averagely stupid for an MP and still be too stupid to be Home Secretary.

Nor was it a high-pressure radio interview. On being asked for some very basic policy costings Abbott plunged into a death-spiral of transparent improvisation and absurd blithering. A high, or even medium pressure, interview might have pressed her on the complexities of funding, but it never got to that.

You're quite right that the impact of a feeble grasp of one's own policies in an interview tends to be less than that of politicians in office executing policy. Can you point to any commentators who seem to think otherwise?

So it's very difficult to see how the usual recipe of seconding cognitive bias explanations via hyperlink explains reaction to this interview away as 'Scale neglect'.

Rather more plausibly, this recent fiasco seems like a wonderful illustration of the over-confidence stuff you're so keen to warn us about in the case of, well, any non-far Left politician: Abbott's persona and demeanor in interview is invariably of someone with a clear and superior grasp of facts, common-sense and moral/political rightness. It's just that before the recent Saturnalian transformation of the Labour party she was rarely troubled to propose or explain specific policy.

Now she is, we are regularly treated to toe-curling demonstrations of what many have suspected for pretty much her whole career.


"Boris Johnson wasted £37m of taxpayers’ money on a non-existent bridge; the last government wasted over £1bn on the cancer drugs fund; George Osborne cost the economy tens of billions in needless austerity; David Cameron called a needless referendum in the mistaken belief he could win it; Tony Blair took us to war on the basis of errors of judgment which should have been widely known. And so on and on."

Aren't people just extrapolating Abbott's mistake in a simple radio interview, and so assuming that given the levers of power she could quite easily make as big a mistake as those mentioned above? If someone can't drive a Fiat properly you sure as hell aren't going to give them the keys to a Ferrari.

But as FATE alludes to, there's definitely some confirmation bias going on.


You know I said to myself as soon as I saw this interview, " how will Chris spin this?". Is there no end to the excuses that you will make Chris for the pathetic shower that Labour is today?


There's a perfectly sensible synthesis of Chris and his commenters' views - Dianne Abbot is clearly a sub-par politician, in the narrow sense of being able to speak the language and come across in a slick way.

Equally - one can, and probably should, argue that this doesn't matter in the slightest in terms of real performance. One wonders how Clement Atlee, say, would perform in an LBC interview.

gastro george

Double standards abound. May's quote about "complex reasons for going to food banks" was equally bad, but she didn't get pressed on it. Some slips are pounced on, other are ignored. Due deference from your friends.


"for example, they hugely over-estimate the number of immigrants in the UK"

I imagine many of the respondents will classify the non-First Nations* population of Brick Lane or Ladywood as "immigrants" despite many of them being born here.

People don't have their birth certificates stamped on their heads.

That 31% MORI figure you link to is very close to the minority composition of English primary schools (31.4%) as reported in the 2016 schools census.

* English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh

Mike Hanson

There's no such synthesis with this commenter's view.

My point was that she usually is able to bluster her way through interviews. 'Slick' might be putting it a little high, but against the politician's standard objective of simply talking past a few minutes of interrogation without an *explicit* confession of failure, inconsistency or ignorance, her performance is often about as good as the standard politician, including a lot of front-benchers.

However, since becoming a front-bencher herself, she is often asked about policy specifics. Upon which she reliably goes to pieces.


The real issue here is not that she came across as stupid, but that she was rather unprepared for her brief. A would-be great officer of state should really be a bit better informed about it.

It is not just about giving political direction to civil servants who know the details of the brief, it is also about being able to understand them and even being able to second guess them.


some one failed to master their brief. Unforgivable when the media is anti labour any way. Needs to do better.

As for Atlee he seems from accounts to have been the master of his brief; industrious in committee work and no doubt able to make that clear, if necessary. Like his equally famous colleagues, such as bevan and bevin.

Handy Mike

More Scale Neglect fodder.


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