The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was interviewed on the Today programme this morning about local government spending cuts.
He demonstrated a small, but not unimportant, technique when it comes to being interviewed while in the hot seat. Clearly, Mr. Pickles was under pressure to explain the impact spending cuts will have on local services as well as the coalition government’s policy of decentralising power from Whitehall.
Refreshingly, Mr. Pickles did not slip into the “John” and “Jim” routine favoured by the majority of politicians when interviewed by Today. Instead, he referred to his interviewer throughout as “Mr. Naughtie”.
This had two advantages.
Firstly, in placing some distance between himself and his interviewer in this way, Mr. Pickles avoided the interview sounding like a cosy chat between two members of political in-crowd. Politicians who address an interviewer by their first name leave the impression with viewers and listeners that they, the voters, are just bystanders or even intruders upon a private conversation.
Secondly, by using an interviewer’s first name it can appear to the audience that the politician is trying to curry favour with the interviewer, hoping they might get a softer ride as they try to dig themselves out of whatever political hole they are in. This might not be the interviewee’s intention, but it’s how it can come across to those tuned in.
Contrast, Mr. Pickle’s performance with that of the new Labour leader Ed Miliband who this morning held his first monthly news conference.
Mr Miliband was Nick-ing, Tom-ing, Rachel-ing and Cathy-ing left, right and centre as he responded to questions from the assembled political correspondents.
Political correspondents and politicians might be rubbing shoulders every day of the week and might be on “Ed and Nick terms” when conversing privately. However, on the air or at a news conference, journalists would never (or should never) address a politician by their first names. So why should politicians do it?
For a leader saying he wants to reach out to disenchanted voters across the country, it didn’t sound as though Mr. Miliband’s horizons reach very much further than the Westminster village.