Friday, 18 September 2015

PMQs: Tone is on the Agenda!

It's been an interesting week in politics. If I put my communications and presentation coach hat on then it's one of the few times that tone has been on the political agenda.  Jeremy Corbyn asked for a new kind of PMQs that didn't involve shouting and "baying".  David Cameron agreed.  He got caught up a bit in his old style but corrected himself publicly. Both were pleased with the results. 

Normally PMs look at their brief but David Cameron didn't on this occasion when in front of Corbyn.  He responded "off the cuff" and read the room.  You could see that his aim was to get the right tone for this new format.  This isn't the first time he has done that in his leadership contest.  In 2005 with David Davies, he went off script to connect to the room, that could have helped him win it then.  It helped him again here.  

Reading the room is key to getting the right tone.  You do it by looking around and connecting to people in it.  Trying answers out and seeing how they get heard, changing tact when necessary.  It takes a lot of practise to be able to hold a lot of information in your head and to be off-script.  But that might be why some of the detail and depth was missing in the answers. 

Jeremy Corbyn's team have suggested that this was tried out but won't be effective as a format every week.  

What was interesting was using people's questions and names. Corbyn connected PMQs to the people.  Cameron picked up on the names and used them back, no mean feat, if you're ever given then forgotten a name at a party.  But when Jeremy Corbyn went for the detail, Cameron took the detail into the big picture.  He didn't answer the question. The questions Jeremy Corbyn is posing need more focus and better supplementaries to get the answers they may be looking for. But it was an interesting exercise into connecting to the people outside the chamber.

So getting the tone right across PMQs will be interesting to examine. There may be change ahead. But before that we are going into Party season and after every Party Conference there are polls.  I wonder how those polls will affect tone as we go forward.  

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