Category Archives: election time

Leadsom continues to exploit motherhood row

 

Andrea Leadsom is continuing to make the maximum mileage out of her remarks that being a mother made her a better candidate for the premiership than her rival Theresa May, who has no children.

As I say in my blog yesterday https://wordpress.com/stats/day/deceivingus.wordpress.com?startDate=2016-07-11

Leadsom’s comments in an interview with The Times were coolly calculated, designed to raise an issue that would run well with the section of the Tory party she was trying to attract, give her the publicity boost that a less well known candidate needs and deflect attentions away from questions about the accuracy of her CV.

She – aided by some of the most skilful political PR operators in the country – is now using the criticism of her remarks to present herself as the outsider who is the victim of establishment dirty tricks.

Leadsom wants to ensure that the message on motherhood is still out there while maintaining the moral high ground; and in the last 24 hours she has used two tactics to do so.

First, we have seen the classic non-apology apology, so beloved of corporate executives. Leadsom appears to be expressing regret when she tells the Daily Telegraph that she had “already said to Theresa how very sorry I am for any hurt I have caused.”

Note that she is not apologising for the comments but simply any offence they might cause – and as May’s aides noted, they did not think Leadsom had meant to cause offence. So Leadsom is apologising for something she had not done.

Leadsom then insisted that she did not believe motherhood should play a part in the leadership campaign – though it was her choice, as the interview transcripts have shown, to raise the subject in the first place.

And despite the clear evidence to the contrary, she is still insisting that the article in The Times “said the opposite of what I said and believe.”

This is a key element of the second element of the strategy – that is to present Leadsom as a victim and outsider, who the Tory establishment is trying to destroy.

So she attacks The Times for gutter journalism and says she feels “under attack, under enormous pressure – it has been shattering;” meanwhile her supporter tour the television studios, complaining about dirty tricks.

Former Tory leader and keen supporter Ian Duncan Smith has says there has been “a lot of sniping, a kind of black-ops operation to denigrate her reputation.”

The strategy is clearly working. She is keeping herself in the headlines, ensuring she is seen as the outsider and victim while controlling the agenda.

And those senior Tories who want to criticise her are not now quite certain what to do. In an excellent article in The Times today, Clare Foges, David Cameron’s speech writer from 2011-15, warns that “Vilifying Leadsom will only make her stronger.”

She points out that “anyone hoping to halt the progress of Leadsom should be wary of piling in too heavily” as this would reinforce he position as the anti-establishment candidate; as political experience is complicit in a stitch up against the people, anyone lacking that experience is “bestowed with valuable outsider status;” and that any attempt to caricature Leadsom as an extremist, liar and homophobe will “only underline her underdog status in a way that may appeal to some Conservative party members.”

The coming day will show if and how May’s advisers and supporters can develop a strategy to regain the initiative that Leadsom has so cleverly seized.

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Leadsom uses Trump-style tactics

When Andrea Leadsom told The Times that being a mother gave her the edge on her rival for the Tory party leadership, the childless Theresa May, the general reaction was to suggest that she had made a blunder which made it less likely that she would win.

That response could not be more wrong. Now that The Times has released the transcript and the tape of the interview it is clear that these were measured, calculated answers designed to generate the response they got.

Don’t forget that Leadsom is apparently receiving public relations advice from Lord Bell, who masterminded Margaret Thatcher’s most successful campaigns, and Nick Wood, one of the sharpest political PR men around Westminster. They would not have let her go into this interview without carefully planned answers on this subject.

Her comments clearly indicate that Donald Trump style campaigning – where you can get away with the most extreme, unpleasant and outlandish comments that more establishment candidates would not dare to – has arrived in British politics.

Let’s look at exactly what she said. She started by saying: “I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible.”

She continued by saying that having children kept her focused. “It means you don’t want a downturn, but, never mind, ten years hence it will be all fine. My children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.”

She then said: “I think when you are thinking about the issues that other people have you worry about your kids’ exam results, what direction their careers are taking, what we are going to eat on Sunday.”

Two points on this are decisive. First she did not have to make the second half of her statement. She could have closed off the answer by saying that parenthood made no difference to the relative abilities of herself and May to be leaders.

Second, her initial comment that it would be “horrible” to make the distinction between herself and Theresa has no value because she went to do precisely what she said would be “horrible.” It is best to see this as a clever phrasing to allow her to pretend righteous indignation when the story appeared.

So why did she do this?

First, there is the lesson from Donald Trump’s campaign to win the Republican nomination in the United States. His campaign was full of offensive remarks that his rivals were convinced would destroy his support. In fact they seemed to have the opposite effect.

His remarks ensured that he was always in the headlines and, being relatively unknown as a politician, made him the centre of the debate. He came over as a plain-speaking outsider, who represented real people. This is what Mrs Leadsom is trying to do – and making a few remarks about family life won’t do her campaign any harm.

You can be sure that her media-managers will be all too aware of how effective Trump’s campaign and be eager to see how it works in this country.

Second, the row that followed the article and the response of many senior Tories has helped reinforce her chosen image as the outsider. She accused The Times of gutter journalism, helping her to present it as part of an establishment attempt to stop her winning. Likewise those Tories who condemned her could be presented by implication as part of the same attempt to exclude her.

The success of this attempt to create a campaign of the outsider taking on the power of the Westminster elite was demonstrated by the first sentence in the lead story in today’s Sunday Times.

“The Tory establishment launched a concerted attempt to derail Andrea Leadsom’s leadership bid yesterday…..”

There could not be a better way of encapsulating her campaign had her media managers written the headline themselves. This was a triumph by Lord Bell and Mr Wood.

Third, this was a very effective way of deflecting attention away from the questions about her CV, which had dominated newspaper headlines for the previous 48 hours. An argument about her family life is much safer ground than one about her CV, which casts doubts on her integrity.

And finally, this it is a good issue for her in creating her persona with the Tory party members who will have the final vote on the leadership. There is still a significant number who are suspicious of women who do not have children and it will reinforce their determination to support her.

In the short term, this Trump-style strategy seems to have worked extremely. Mrs Leadsom can now present herself as the establishment-persecuted outsider who has a special reason to care about families.

And you can bet that her media advisers will sampling opinion to see how her remarks have gone down with Tory supporters to see if the gains from making strong comments that upset the party hierarchy outweigh the risks.

If they conclude this, watch out for some more of the same.

 

 

The real Labour party split?

Has shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s use of quotes form Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book revealed a serious ideological split between his office and that of his leader Jeremy Corbyn?

For it is impossible to be a supporter of communist China in that period and also an enthusiastic apologist for the Soviet Union – as Corbyn and his chief spin doctor Seumas Milne have shown themselves to be.

It has become conventional wisdom to see the Cold War as a struggle between capitalism and communism. But for true vitriol it is worth reading the Soviet Union’s views on China.

I have my copy of the Little Red Book (1969 vest pocket edition – second printing), which starts with the modest claim by Lin Piao that Mao is “the greatest Marxist-Leninist of our era.” I won’t rehearse the contents of the LRB here as most British papers are enthusiastically providing edited highlights.

I also have a copy of an article published by the official Soviet Novosti Press Agency published in 1970 under the wonderful headline of “Pseudo-revolutionaries Unmasked. “

This article takes a rather different view Mao’s contribution to Marxism-Leninism than that expressed by Lin Piao, accusing the Chinese leader of coming “out in unison with imperialism’s malicious anti-Soviet and anti-communist campaign.”

It continues: “Hateful to Mao Tse-Tung and his following are the successes of the USSR in the development of socialist industry, agriculture, science and technology, the steady rise of the living standard and cultural level of the masses, the strengthening of the defensive might of the Soviet Union, the tasks set by our Party for the further intensification of socialist production for the purpose of building the material and technical basis of communism and strengthening the positions of world socialism.”

The article, published in Pravda in May 1970, continues in this vein for some 29 pages, littered with comments such as “The anti-Leninist course of China’s present leadership,” accusations that Mao “disguised himself as a Marxist” and a condemnation of Maoism as “a reactionary utopian petty-bourgeois conception.”

I could go on but the message is pretty clear. You can’t support both the Soviet Union and Chairman Mao.

So are we now to see a dialectic struggle between the offices of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell? Is Seumas Milne, the ultimate apologist for the Soviet Union, now demanding the purging of McDonnell for even possessing a copy of a book that represents everything a true Marxist should hate?

Have we seen for the first time that the real struggle in the Labour party is not between the Corbynistas and the old Blairites but between the apologists for Moscow and the apologists for China?

I think we should be told.

Measurements of deception and opinion polls

The obsession with opinion polls during the recent election campaign provides yet more evidence of the way those in power prefer to use measurement rather than judgement.

Business, financial, bureaucratic and political leaders use statistics, market analysis, isometric tests and so-called independent research by think tanks and academic institutions to justify their actions and deflect criticism.

It is the perfect way to shift the blame when things go wrong, ensuring they won’t have to take personal responsibility – and it will be all but impossible to hold them to account.

On issues like energy prices, NHS waiting lists and organisational efficiency (to name but three) it is very hard to prove the statistics wrong. There is always a tame institute, paid-for academic, or management consultancy with a commercial or interest or think tank – all ever eager to call itself independent – which is ready to for a fee or a favour to provide helpful information to back up their client’s case.

At least elections provide results which can be set alongside opinion poll findings. Last week, the pollsters clearly got the levels of Tory and Labour support wrong – we shouldn’t be too surprised as this has been the case in every election from 1992, with the exception of 2005.

My problem is not with the pollsters – they can be correct, as they were in Scotland. It is with the managerial class, who now seem to have replaced journalists at the head of so much of the broadcast media; they focused totally on the polls when there was quite a lot of evidence that other results could be possible.

What reporters saw with their own eyes and what those who had fought many elections could tell from their experience suggested a very different story.

There was also a significant view from journalists – including those at the BCC – and experienced politicians that the Tories were ahead; though in fairness very few predicted with a confidence an overall Tory majority. For example, the excellent John Pienaar kept hinting on Radio 5 about shy Tories, yet the whole thrust of that channel’s coverage was on the inevitability of a hung Parliament.

I suspect that this stance was not due to political bias but a managerial obsession for the cowardly comfort of what appeared to be hard information when their judgement should have told them also to consider other results. These people are only rare among modern managers in that they have been caught out.

As I have reported in some of my earlier blogs, the corporate managerial classs likes to evade responsibility for their actions and decisions. They use “market research” to prove customer satisfaction, isometric tests to select staff (which means managers cannot be held responsible if someone who later turns out to be a genius has not been hired), points for deciding on loans and statistics to justify every government policy or bureaucratic decision. Even the last England cricket coach David Moores fell back on statistics to explain failure.

I have highlighted the way in which the managerial class relies on the “independent” research of others in earlier blogs https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/the-secret-allies/ and https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/is-academic-research-exactly-what-it-seems/

These demonstrate how little trust you can put any measurement.

When an NHS Trust announces that its waiting lists have become shorter or longer, one has to ask what their motive is delivering these stats.

When governments (of any political complexion) produce any analysis, one has to ask when the start and finish dates were.

When any energy company publishes research to justify price rises, one has to ask who commissioned the research and what that organisation’s links with the energy sector is.

At least the Office of Budget Responsibility (which produces official statistics in the UK) is politically neutral – but one has to look at the independence of those mining the data for their own interests.

No doubt the pollsters will produce a report in due course to say that there will be more accurate polls. But that is not the answer and should not lead to return to trusting polls.

We all need to be much more dismissive of statistical or other measurement. Instead we should use our eyes and ears and trust what we find in front of us. Measurements should be our servants not our masters. Sometimes they will confirm what we see.

But where assessment contradicts measurement, we should have the confidence to trust our judgement or that of others who we listen to.

New thought: I have read some criticism of the BBC, which argues that they followed the agenda set by newspapers. This confimsmy view of a managerial BBC that likes to pass the buck – they can always blame the written press if they are accused of misjedgements in their coverage.

David Smith and neutral commentators

David Smith, the excellent Economis Editor of the Sunday Times, has resolved a problem that I have become increasingly worried about – some might say obsessed with.

That is the way the BBC describes some consultancies/think tanks etc as “independent” while calling others “right-leaning” or “left-leaning.” https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/just-who-does-the-bbc-sanctify-with-the-description-independent/

The BBC, probably through editorial laziness, is using the wrong word when it describes some organisations as “independent.” It is perfectly possible to be both left-leaning and independent or right leaning and independent – indeed every think tank or research organisation whose website I read uses the word independent to describe itself.

It is not easy to find a word to define organisations like the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) or the Intergenerational Foundation which are critical from a centrist position of the approaches of the major political parties. But in sanctifying them as independent, the BBC has simply used the wrong word.

First,  it has created a distorted effect. The use of “independent” gives a greater credibility and authority to an organisation’s commentary. That might be fine for the IFS, but I dont think that all organisations called “independent” deserve the accolade.

And secondly it is an incorrect use of language because the centre position between left and right wing is not independent.

I have no doubt that bodies from across the spectrum like the IFS, Intergenerational Foundation, The Adam Smith  Institute and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research are equally independent.

So how should bodies like the BBC describe organisations like the IFS. My first thought was “centrist” but that wasn’t strictly accurate either.

Then yesterday I read David Smith’s excellent commentary http://www.economicsuk.com/blog/002089.html

In it he refers to two economic commentators as “neutral” – and I suddenly realised he had solved the problem. This is to me the perfect word to describe those organisations that don’t come down on one side or other of an argument or whose analysis is driven by ideology.

If for example the BBC were to talk of the neutral IFS, it would convey the correct message about their position in the political debate without suggesting that many of the other commentators lacked independence.

I doubt if the BBC will change – but they can no longer claim that “independent” is the only real choice.

How politicians tell lies

Yesterday (Sunday March 29th) we had the rather unedifying spectre of the Conservatives’ Ian Duncan Smith and Labour’s Lucy Powell dodging and weaving for all they were worth in the face of some shrewd questioning from Andrew Marr and Andrew Neil respectively.

My aim here is not to judge the content of their arguments (there were plenty of commentators doing that) but to identify where they were using tricks of language whose effect is to deceive.

At the end of February in my blog “How they abuse language” (https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/02/) I identified a number of warning signs – and both politicians used (or abused) many of the verbal tricks I highlighted.

I think it is a good rule of thumb that the more tricks they use, the less likely they are to be telling the truth.

Let’s start with Duncan Smith, who was questioned about where he intended to find £12 billion welfare cuts.

A. Deflection tactics

  1. “Can I just say a couple of things” – enabled him to ignore the question and make two points he wanted to get across.
  2. “When we are right and ready we will talk about what we plan to do”
  3. “We may or we may not decide..”
  4. “Can I make this point because you have pressed me on this…” He goes on not to address the point atall but attack the opposition.

B. Answering different questions to those that are asked;

  1. The helpful whats: “What I will say”, “what we are saying”
  2. “I cannot in this programme go through the spending review” – well he was not asked to – and of course politicians are more than happy to announce cuts/increases where it suits them to do. In fact he uses this line several times.
  3. “I am not going to start ruling things in and things out” – actually in the interview he does rule a couple of things out.

C. The useful word “clear” – used when you want to be anything but clear – as in “We have already made it clear”

D. Picking up a word used by the questioner but not the rest of the question.

  1. Marr’s question used the word “honest” and Duncan Smith replied: “I will tell you what is honest..”
  2. Marr’s question used the phrase “know for certain” and the response was “They know for certain…”
  3. “The reality is… ” for completely avoiding the question.

E. Bogus clarity: “No decisions have been made” – it really entirely depends on when something has become government policy – even if it is something you are determined to do, if it is not formally policy, you can pretend that no decision has been made.

This brings us on to Lucy Powell, who was questioned on Labour’s deficit reduction plans.

A. Bogus certainty.

“We set out what we would do….” – when they have not done that at all.

“We have said…” – not necessarily an answer to the question

“We have said we will be abandoning exploitative zero hours contracts” – without explaining exploitative.

“We are very clear…” (about as clear as Duncan Smith was), similarly “we have have been absolutely clear about what we intend to do” (and going to be less than clear)

“We have been absolutely clear about we intend to do” – and the rest of the answer shows she has not.

B. Three point strategy – I didnt make enough of this when I was drafting my initial tricks. This involves making the same three points you want to make whatever the question – I lost track of the number of times Powell tried to do this.

C. Using certain words to avoid answering the question – enables the person answering to take the reply in the direction he or she wants.

  1. “It is really important” (twice)
  2. There is a new word which may be just a Powell word or it could be a general escalation from important or really important. This is the word critical. There was “the critical point”, “it is an absolutely critical point”, “very critically”, “the critical thing here (three)”, “thirdly and most critically”, “it is a critical issue” (quite a lot of criticals for a 12 minute interview).

D. What people want – a way of changing the question and avoiding what you have been asked.

  1. Asked about deficit reduction plans, she says: “The Tories failed to reduce the deficit. Why has that happened?”
  2. “People want to understand” – follows by a winge about Paxo-style questioning.

E. Blaming the questioner – follows on from the complaint about Paxo-style questions

  1. Ignoring the question and saying: “You are not listening to what I am saying.” This is then followed by a return to the three point mantra.
  2. “It is really annoying…” comment on Andrew Neil

Mind you Neil has been around too long to be bullied – and he is equally robust with everyone he interviews. He responded: “You dont get to ask your own questions” and “Just answer the question.”

I have heard the same frustration from John Humphries earlier in the campaign. And I am sure all the parties will criticise interviewers for being too aggressive will refusing to answer the questions they are asked.

The interviewers are not being too aggressive. Those three and Jeremy Paxman are the only ones capable of stopping the verbal evasion and deceit that is destroying proper debate. We should celebrate them not sympathise with the politicians who try to evade their questions.

More on Osborne, Balls and post-election deals

No sooner had I sent out my blog on the performances of Osborne and Balls on coalition deals with the SNP than Ed Miliband announces that there will be no arrangemen of this type with the SNP.

In this blog I am not concerned about the merits or otherwise of  coalitions but what is being disguised by language. So, apart from noting that Miliband has said something rather different today from Sunday’s comments by Balls, the key is to look at exactly Miliband said.

“There are big differences between us on a whole range of issues, not just on the integrity of the UK and another referendum but on fair funding between the countries of the UK and fair taxes. In repeating this claim, the Conservatives and David Cameron are simply trying to scare people. Labour will not go into coalition with the SNP.”

This of course does not preclude any other form of arrangement – Nicola Sturgeon has suggested the SNP could stop the Tories forming a government. Seems to me that Miliband has ruled only the fullest of coalitions.

And while we are on dodgy phrases, I was amused to see Tory chairman Grant Shapps say he “screwed up” in a recent interview when he suggested incorrectly that he never had a “second job” while an MP. He should have left it there. Nut he could not resist adding that the responded “over firmly” to the question.

Well, that’s a new word for the lexicon of deception. He has made a deceptin out of what looked for a moment as if it was an honest admission.

Osborne, Balls and post-election deals

Just when I thought the weekend had passed without too evasion, I realised I had not listened to the Andrew Marr show – he really is very good at putting politicians in a position where they have to deploy every verbal trick.

This time it was the turn of Chancellor George Osborne and his shadow Ed Balls. Both were pretty evasive on the detail of economic policy. Perhaps Osborne was on the weakest ground when pressed on the 2 per cent defence spending target – the mantra seems to be to focus on what spending is rather than what it will be.

And when confronted with the suggestion that a future Tory government might have to make colossal overall spending cuts, he evaded by saying “we have to make difficult decisions.”

In fairness Balls was equally evasive. Always distrust a politician who says as he did: “We have set out very clearly…” You only use the word “clearly” when you mean to deceive.

I was though much more entertained by Marr’s questioning about possible coalitions. Balls and Osborne were much happier talking about the other party’s coalition plans than their own. Both used the standard defence “we are fighting for a majority” to evade any discussion of coalition.

When pressed about a possible deal with UKIP, Osborne failed to rule out it. He responded with “we have a simple argument in this election…” , “even engaging with him (Farage) is giving him credibility”, and “I don’t think he is a credible participant in this election.”

Osborne’s refusal to answer the question was matched by Balls, who when asked by Marr about doing a deal with the SNP, refused to rule it out. “We have no plans, no desire, no need to have a deal with the SNP.”, “Ed Miliband said it is nonsense – it is not part of our plans”, “I am not going to get involved in speculation about post-election deals.” , and “it is not part of our plans. It is nonsense.”

Speculation about post-election deals is of course mug’s game as no-one knows the election arithmetic. But, if you speculate about what your opponents might do, it is hardly surprising that they do the same.

The result is inevitably mass evasion which makes both parties look deceitful.

Consistency, debates and education

Our politicians think they can get away with deceiving us because they dont think we remember the recent past and cant be bothered to check it.

If avoiding a television leaders’ debate is a sin, then there are a lot of sinners.

Ed Miliband’s righteous indignation about David Cameron’s attempts to avoid a one-to-one debate has echoes of 2001 when Tony Blair refused to debate with William Hague; Alastair .Campbell insisted then that “the UK is not electing a president and our political and constitutional positions are entirely different.” Entertainingly the walking inconsistency that is Campbell now sees refusing to have a debate as “morally cowardly and democratically wrong.”

Today’s politicians cant even bothered to think up new words or arguments – they nick the ones their opponents used 14 years ago. In 2001 Hague said Blair was “a real chicken” who did not dare face a debate. Last week Miliband told Cameron that he could try “to chicken out of the debates,” In 2001, Blair said that he debated with Hague every week at Prime Minister’s questions. Last week Cameron used the same defence for not having a debate with Miliband.

But we should not  be surprised that neither party has a consistent view on debates. Party leaders only want them when they think they have something to gain – the rarity of the 2010 election was that all three leaders thought a debate was in their interests.

Harold Wilson wanted to debate Alec Douglas-Home in 1964 but refused to have one with Ted Heath in 1970. Margaret Thatcher turned down Jim Callaghan in 1979 and Neil Kinnock in 1987, while John Major refused to debate with Kinnock in 1992 and was himself turned down by Blair in 1997.

Discover the real moral high ground out of that if you can.

And while I was checking this saga in the archives, I was reminded of the way the major parties deceived us about student loans -its been out of the headlines for a couple of weeks, but remember the history when it comes up again, as it is sure to.

After reminding myself of this story, I eneded up feeling quite sorry for the Liberal Democrats because they were the only party to find themselves in government having made a specific promise. Labour and Tory were clever – or lucky – enough to escape this.

Major and Gordon Brown used classic evasion tactics. Before the 1997 election Major asked Lord Dearing to produce a report on tuition fees, conveniently delaying publication until after the 1997 election. Some 13 years later, Brown appointed Lord Browne to look at the issue and he too was not to report until after the election.

Of course Blair and Cameron, who had refused to comment during the elections, were damned for implementing most of the reports by the very people who had commissioned the reports.

At the 2001 election, Labour said “we will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated against them,” only to introduce legislation in 2003, insisting that its election promise only lasted for one parliament.

In both the 2001 and 2005 elections, the Tories and Liberal Democrats promised to scrap all tuition fees, safe in the knowledge they had little chance of being elected. In 2010 the Lib Dems didn’t expect to be part of a coalition because they made the same promise.

The Tories, like Labour, hid behind the Browne report, both knowing full well that they would have raise tuition fees significantly.

Now Miliband is promising to reduce the fees to £6,000. It is not for this blog to debate the merits of the policy – I will just be looking at the small print to see how many ways you can interpret what Labour actually says in its manifesto. In fairness, I expect the other parties to be just as ambiguous on the subject!!

And I am equally sure that all of them will try to con us into thinking they deserve the moral high ground on education, just as they are doing on the debates.

Leslie, Hammond, spending and defence

When I started doing these blogs last monts, I highlighted the way in which politicians and business leaders abuse language to dodge answering questions. https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/how-they-abuse-language/

I almost thought when I woke up to hear Chris Leslie, the shadow secretary to the Treasury that he was trying to establish a record by including every possible evasion technique in less than five minutes –  and added a few more I had not thought of.

Asked reasonably enough by John Humphries about the implictions for Labour’s economic policy of a coalition with the SNP, we got the full range of evasion…. “What a total distraction..”  “The thing that  we have to focus on, the thing that we absolutely have to focus on…” “What we are determined to do…” “That is what people want to be focused on in this election…”

And that all came in his first answer – not the use of the helpful whats that I have focused on and the deflection away from the actual question.

By question two he brushed coalition aside saying to Humphries: “You have to ask this question” and trying to move the subject on “We have only one thing in mind…” He goes on to refocus the question “What this isnt about…”

The comes the question “What will you do about…” and the answer comes from the text book of spin evasion “What we WANT to do about…”

It all proved too much for Humphries who asked in exasperation for “some sort of commitment to something.”

Leslie was only following the party line which was to insist that no-one was talking about the subject when everyone was.. The previous day Caroline Flint had defected the issue by saying “Let me say this…”

I am grateful to Patrick Kidd of The Times for saving me the trouble of listening to picking up other evasions on this subject – Harriet Harman said: “That’s not a sensible question” on Sky and Sadiq Khan said on Pienaar’s Politics that it was “a jiujitsu move by Lynton Crosby when he’s under attack for advising the Prime Minister for bottling out of the debates.”

However, I think that alll Labour’s dodging the question about an SNP coalition pales into insignificance when set alongside Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s responses to questions on whether a Tory government would keep defence spending at 2 per cent of GDP.

Hammond has form when it comes to evasion – he described government cuts as “an envelope of resources on a downward trajectory;” But on the Andrew Marr show, he ducked and weaved, trying to put a positive spin on defence spending without committing to anything.

Pressed on the 2 per cent figure, he responded: “We are spending 2 per cent of GDP”, “We are the second largest defence spender”, “We led the charge to make this committment” for Nato countries.”

He continued by saying he could not predict what was in the defence review or the Tory manifesto.

Mr Kidd said in The Times that the politicians were using “creative evasion” I think he is being rather too generous – though I am deeply grateful to Mr Leslie and Mr Hammond for adding to my stock of evasive aswers.