Diane Abbott’s car crash interview for LBC

There are few more effective ways of trashing your credibility as a spokesperson than giving a car crash interview, as the Shadow Home Secretary has learned today.  So embarrassingly poor was Diane Abbott’s performance during her interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC, that it’s being openly debated whether this veteran Labour MP should resign her position.  Most damagingly of all, her super-gaffe has occurred in the midst of the General Election campaign, making not just Ms Abbott, but also her party’s policy on policing, a laughing stock.

Asked by the presenter how much Labour’s policy of recruiting 10,000 extra police officers would cost, the Shadow Home Secretary claimed it would be £300,000.  When challenged, she then said it would cost £80 million.  Again, Nick Ferrari questioned the figure, pointing out that it would amount to paying each officer just £8,000.  Clearly confused, Miss Abbott declared that, in power, Labour would actually recruit 250,000 police officers.  Amazed, the presenter asked her to clarify whether Labour would actually be recruiting 250,000 instead of the previously stated 10,000 extra police officers, at which point Diane Abbott told him “No, we are recruiting 2,000 and perhaps 250.”

Messaging this confused, contradictory and nonsensical is unacceptable, especially from someone attempting to communicate with voters.  To make matters worse, Diane Abbott’s ludicrous statements were accompanied by a hesitant, yet simultaneously over-confident delivery.  The overall effect was disastrous.

So, how to avoid giving a car crash media interview? The answer is: preparation, preparation, preparation.  In the high-pressured environment of a live interview (not to mention an election campaign), a spokesperson simply must have their wits about them and be able to answer every question.  For this, they have to be clear about the facts and have had the opportunity to rehearse being grilled.  For a spokesperson to go toe-to-toe with a well-briefed, talented journalist without having previously had high quality media training is sheer madness.

Here are our three top tips on avoiding a car crash interview:

  1. Know your stuff. Floundering when asked not-especially probing questions about your own product/service/policy will drain every ounce of credibility.  It’s very hard to get that credibility back.
  2. Don’t pretend to know the answer. There’s no excuse if you don’t know the key facts and figures.  A journalist will sense immediately if you’re winging it, like a shark scenting blood.  However, if you’re asked something you don’t need to know, or couldn’t possibly know, it’s much better to admit you don’t know the answer, then go on to speak confidently about what you do know.
  3. Invest in top-notch media training. Being faced with aggressive, hostile or just plain tricky questions are part and parcel of being a spokesperson.  Experiencing this in a safe environment, making your mistakes in a training studio and acquiring the confidence and techniques to handle any style of interview are invaluable.  Journalist-led media training is the secret of the most successful spokespeople in business and politics.

 

(PA images: Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott Diane leaving Four Millbank in Westminster, London, following her stumbling explanation of how the party would fund its plans for 10,000 extra police in an interview that left her struggling to do the sums live on air.)