In the week leading up to the 2014 local elections and the European Union elections, we were treated to the power of the media in its ability to hold politicians to account. When the LBC commentator Mr. James O’Brien interviewed Nigel Farage, it was to hold him to account for his views. In particular, the interview was arranged so that Mr. Farage, as leader of the UKIP party, could address the claims that his party is racist. Most people are interested in the interview for what it revealed about Mr. Farage and his party. For some, it was a chance to see him held to account for his views. For a few, in particular those interested in the media, they saw the interview as demonstrating how an interviewer could hold Mr. Farage to account where other political interviewers had failed. Following the interview, a number of articles suggested that well-known interviewers could learn from Mr. O’Brien and his interview technique. It is that last point that I want to explore in this post.
I have to declare my interest at the start to say that I am not involved in politics; I am not associated with any political party and I am not associated UKIP nor am I associated with LBC radio. I had never heard of LBC Radio before this interview was broadcast. My sole intent here is to explore the questions and the questioning technique used by Mr. O’Brien. A separate analysis would focus on Mr. Farage’s responses. Such a commentary would explore what they might mean for UK politics, but that is for another time.
Asking good questions is difficult, ask anyone.
Few people have the natural ability to ask good questions. We assume we can ask good questions or have good questioning techniques. After all, we ask questions every day and we get answers to those questions. For powerful people, it is even more unlikely that they will reflect on the need to ask good questions because they get answers to their questions. They rarely have to consider the best way to pose questions because the organisations they lead are designed to serve them and the people they meet often defer to their status or power. Thus, when someone tells me about an interviewer with good questioning skills I take notice.
Asking good questions is what makes a democracy work
We may think the quality of questions is unimportant. After all, we ask questions every day and we get answers. The answers determine the quality of what we know. In a democracy, the quality of the questions and questioning techniques enables citizens to hold the government or people in power to account. Poor questions lead to poor outcomes. Without good questions, justice is hard to find. However, in a democracy, questions are often confused with political theatre. Jeremy Paxman repeating the same question to Michael Howard is not good questioning technique even though it is good political theatre. The danger is political theatre becomes what people expect from radio and television interviews. The notable example has been the Leveson inquiry and its high quality of questions, which I have discussed before here.
Easy to ask questions but difficult to ask good questions.
I am interested in political philosophy, which is based on the idea that questions help us reveal and understand the best way to live, so I am interested in people who are reputed to ask good questions in the public domain. I have looked at the questioning skills at the Leveson inquiry, at the Select Committee and in court proceedings, which provided an insight into the LBC interview. Although I am interested in the outcomes and the content of the interview, it is only to understand how questions reveal the information or fail to reveal the information.
Usually when I review a questioning technique, a transcript already existed. In this case, no transcript exists so I had to do my best to create one. I relied mainly on the LBC interview posted on You Tube. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pyYoL9ngtE). All errors and omissions are mine.
The interview starts with a question about today’s news. The interviewer says that a UKIP member said something very offensive. The interviewer than says he is likely a small fry but not what we can compare to your small business spokesman who employed 7 illegal immigrants.
The interviewer asks, “Are they both idiots?” Farage response “They are two different issues.” He admits they have occurred and asks why no one else is asking the other parties.
(At this opening point, the interviewer could have explored whether it indicated that UKIP is a party that is not ready for greater political responsibility. Such a question would have revealed something about the political maturity of a party, which could have helped us understand or challenge the view on racism, which as the main reason for the interview. When the UKIP member does or says something inappropriate it receives a lot more attention because the party is now more noticeable. The interviewer could have used this to contrast UKIP with the disciplined party machines of the other parties. However, the closed question does not offer room for a follow up question.)
The interview asks what happens to the councillor. Farage explains he has not heard of him until this moment.
The interviewer asks him what will happen. Farage responds he will face a disciplinary charge to see if he bought the party into disrepute.
(The answer is a stock one for all political parties and organisations. There is no benefit to exploring this question unless the interviewer expects him to say something else or if it leads to a follow up question.)
At 207, the interviewer then says, “That was on the 17th of February”.
(The statement, posed as a question, which is a common failing in political interviews, implies that the party knew about the tweet since February and did nothing. However, this is not good questioning technique. If he had linked it to party machinery, he could have drawn out a deeper problem for UKIP and its party infrastructure. However, Farage has not heard of the man or the tweet until that moment. Which begs the question of why ask it because Farage has explained what he would do now that he knows. How can he do something about what he did not know about in the past? The interviewer could have asked whether anyone in the party knew about it, but he does not. Here he misses an opportunity to suggest that no one in the party saw it as a problem or has suppressed the knowledge of the tweet. Yet, that is not pursued which suggests that the interviewer has not mapped their questions.)
At 208, we get a statement posed as a question “What about the small business spokesperson that employs seven illegal immigrants?” Farage explains the spokesperson resigned from the company after the immigration raid on a company that he is only a director of and does not run on a day-to-day basis. He explains that the company is disputing the immigration authority’s judgement that they were illegal immigrants. When Farage says, “That does not make him an idiot,” the interviewer asks
At 242, “What does that make him?”
(The question does not follow from the issue since it focuses on how Farage or UKIP would classify him rather than investigating the claim. He does not explore how or why they came to be hired. He could have contrasted this with the government’s pilot about warning illegal immigrants that they face arrest and deportation. At the same time, he could have asked if this illustrates the problem that UKIP is supposedly trying to stop. The interviewer could have explored whether it was immigration, illegal immigration, worker movement, or the movement of specific workers that matters. All these options emerge for a skilled interviewer to exploit. He could have used this to suggest the hypocrisy of the UKIP stand on immigration or at least put into sharp relief claims about limiting immigration and why. Instead, no follow up questions are used.)
At 304, Farage starts to explain how the party is distancing itself from the extremists by refusing ex BNP as members.
The interviewer allows Farage to explain how he has removed people who make outrageous statements and they avoid associating with extremist views. The interviewer does not challenge his claims. He then turns to Farage’s claims.
At 326, the interviewer seems to use a statement as a question “Ok, what about your associations with the BNP?” The interviewer describes the person Farage met, but we do not find a question coming from the statements.
The interviewer moves on to ask about Farage’s association in 1997 with a lunch with a far right writer/ activist. Farage is then alleged to have used racist language in the pub after the lunch. A month later, the writer wrote an article suggesting that the UKIP and BNP find common ground.
At 358 the interviewer asks “How does something like that (the article being written) happen”.
(Instead of asking a follow up question about the arrangements for such a meeting or asking if he discussed whether an article could or should be written, he does not follow up on the meeting. He allows Farage to explain how the writer was brought into the centre of UKIP by the founder. Yet, the interviewer does not ask how he came to be removed or why it appears that UKIP attracts such figures.)
At 420-426 Farage then explains that the person who founded the party, which Farage now leads, brought figure into the party. Farage then explains he met with him to find out what made him change his view.
(The interviewer does not explore the issue. Another chance for a follow up question is missed as he could have asked him “What did you find out about why he changed his view?”)
At 430-456, Farage explains the alleged comments he made and he describes it as mud. He accepts the defence by Farage unequivocally. He accepts it was mud.
(Here the interviewer passed up an opportunity for a follow up question to explore motives of the founder and Farage’s motives in meeting the person and the outcomes.).
At 458-515, the interviewer asks “What about the mud that is being thrown about the far right groups”. (The statement posed as a question only reminds us of UKIP’s alliances in Europe, but it does nothing to explain or reveal why those alliances are made. The interviewer could have asked, “Why do you ally with these parties?”
At 535 Farage explains that the political language and politics of Europe is different from the UK.
At 546-554, Farage says he has drawn a line in Europe so that UKIP will not sit with the extremes but will sit with people “We believe to have a reasonable balanced point of view.
(The interviewer could have explored what Farage meant by reasonable balanced points of view. He could have explored why UKIP had to ally with such groups or find the least extreme parties with which to create an alliance. However, he does not challenge these statements or explore them. However, at 600 the interviewer does ask a good follow up question.)
At 600, he asks, “Why not just leave it?” Farage says that they may consider it. (Here the interviewer missed an opportunity to get a commitment or ask why he considers it now but not when they made the initial compromise. The interviewer stays on the surface and does not use this as an opportunity to drill into the issue. If this section of the interview was mapped out or planned, the interviewer could have explored what UKIP requires to achieve power and the extent to which UKIP has to compromise to achieve that power. If they compromise on this issue, what is it that they must compromise to be part of the group? However, the interviewer accepts Farage’s statement uncritically, which raises the question of why did he ask it in the first place? Again, if it was to remind listeners of those associations rather than understand UKIP’s behaviour, policy, or goals in Europe, what was the point? So far, all the questions have been on UKIP’s associations without exploring them. A well-structured interview probes and digs beneath the surface. Here the interview remains on the surface.)
At 631 Farage explains that a degree of compromise is needed. The interviewer does not explore this issue.
(When Farage explains that he has to make compromises in EU politics as that is the nature of the political system, the interviewer does not question the logic nor does he ask what types of compromises are required. He does not ask, “What guides UKIP when it makes a compromise?” He does not appear interested in the way that an answer would reveal UKIP’s political strategy. The interviewer does not explore the decisions behind those alliances and the purpose they serve. He does not go beyond the surface to understand or reveal more about UKIP thinking. Instead, he goes to the issue of political classes.)
At 636-645, the interviewer begins to explore Farage’s claim about the political classes and their friends in the media were attacking UKIP unfairly as the party is no different from any other party yet UKIP sells itself as being different.
(The interviewer misses an opportunity in making this point to ask which it is. Is it that UKIP is different or is it like the mainstream parties? The interviewer does not ask this question nor does he explore the issue. Instead, the interviewer starts to ask him about whether he writes newspaper columns.
At 658- 708 the interviewer explores how Farage is in the media without raising a question. (We see another situation where statements are posed as questions, which are not a good technique because it does not force or require an answer. He could have asked about Farage’s friends in the media, as he seems to have some success at being heard and gaining access to the media.)
At 708 we move on to the issue of who is paying Farage’s medical bills as the interviewer raises a Private Eye report that claims Farage’s medical bills are being paid by a newspaper proprietor. Farage does address whether he will make a legal challenge and dodges the issue by saying he is running an election campaign.
(Here the interviewer could have asked, “Who are your friends in the media?” Alternatively, he could have asked something to draw out the issue, as he will know that all political parties rely on favourable media relationships. All political parties have reporters or media outlets they believe are sympathetic or friendly and that question may have been useful to draw out those relationships. However, the interviewer accepts his defence and moves on. He failed to go beyond the surface issue and ask any follow up questions to draw out elements of the issue or find a gap for further questions. Moreover, he does not explore why the legal challenge cannot be pursued during the campaign.)
From 753 to 802 the interviewer allows Farage to explain why he came into politics and what he wants to achieve, which is to remove the UK from the EU so that it is not tangled up by the bureaucrats in the EU. He then claims to have sacrificed a lot to run this campaign.
At 802-1018, the interview focuses on Farage’s business experience and it starts with the interviewing asking whether Farage has sacrificed in pursuit of his goal. “Have you? The last company you ran was wound up?” Farage explains that he ran his own company for nine years and he closed it down. When the interviewer raises some additional points, Farage then clarifies that he was a non-paid company secretary of a firm that was wound up.
(The interviewer never probes the claims nor does he ask a direct question about the firms. He could have asked whether that experience would inform UKIP economic policies. We never understand why the issue was raised. Every year 80,000 companies are wound up, but the question is never put in context. Was the issue raised to show Farage’s business failings? Was it to suggest his financial connections? The question is left hanging, which should rarely occur in a well-structured or thought out interview. http://uk.ask.com/question/how-many-businesses-fail-each-year) the interviewer keeps focusing on the winding up order, in the mode of Paxman, without using the question to illustrate anything about the issue or about UKIP policies. The could have asked whether Farage has the necessary experience to lead a country through a recession or he could have asked how he would manage the problem of public sector spending in a time of austerity. The interviewer ignores these options.)
At 1018, Farage is able to paint the picture that UKIP is only asked about “Its’ idiots” and never talks about the other parties “idiots”. He then says that we are not having a debate on Europe.
At 1035, halfway into the allotted time for the interview, we reach the central issue. The interviewer says, “People are not worried that the Labour Party and the Tory party are spreading racist propaganda.”
(The statement does not lead to a question, but one is implicit that UKIP are spreading racist propaganda. Here we see a curious disconnect. The interviewer fails to mention (nor does Farage) the government’s pilot campaign against illegal immigrants http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23545955 Here the interviewer could have asked whether UKIP was taking a page out of the government’s media toolkit. Instead, he misses an excellent opportunity to get beneath the surface to ask if politics of fear is what drives UKIP. However, that opportunity is lost.)
At the 1100-1115, the interviewer explains that the public opinion views UKIP as deeply divisive.
(The poll and the point could have opened up questions about whether UKIP is exploiting fear and whether it had a coherent positive vision rather than one that appears to be negative. He could have asked, “Why does your party appear divisive to the public? Is your party divisive (Closed question that leads to follow up question “If your goal is not to be divisive, why do you policies appear this way to the electorate? (Open question) However, these questions never emerge as the interview focuses on statements and claims rather than on questions.)
At 1130-1216, the interview moves on to the topic of people speaking foreign languages on the train. However, he does not ask a question. Instead, he makes a statement. Farage explains his comments that he felt uncomfortable on the train. When he does ask a question of sorts, the interviewer mentions at 1151 that Farage’s wife is a German speaker.
(Instead of asking questions, the interviewer relies on statements posed as question. The interviewer does a poor job of exploring the issues and the deeper issues this reveals about Farage. He could have explored how everyone reacts to uncomfortable situations. He could suggest that this shows how much the world has changed. The interviewer could have asked, “Why do you view that as a threat where other people view that as a benefit?” “Why did you become self-conscious?” Why is your discomfort a reason for immigration control?” The interviewer could have asked, “If one feels a strangeness of being different in their own country, does he (Farage) understand his own country?” However, these points are not explored and the interviewer goes for simple points about Farage’s family that confuse rather than clarify the issue. His statement goes for a rhetorical point rather than helping us understand Farage or to understand the economic challenge that immigration reflects. The interviewer could have explored that Farage was uncomfortable with some languages but not others. Alternatively, he could have asked if he felt uncomfortable about languages because the UK is not doing enough to encourage language skills, which presents a problem for the UK to compete in the world economy. The interviewer could have asked how Farage would support schools to teach foreign languages and encourage students to see their opportunities in a global economy. However, these points were not prepared so no follow up questions were available.)
At 1216-1238, Farage looking at English as a second language issues in schools, makes a point about the need for a balanced, sensible immigration policy. He wants people with skills to arrive and integration in the society.
(Here the interviewer could have made some excellent secondary questions. He could have asked, “What would you do to improve the way that the UK assimilates and integrates immigrants? “How do your plans to help immigrants integrate and assimilate differ from the current policies in this area?” How will the “ability to integrate” be a criterion for immigration policy?” He could have asked, “As the UK is part of the commonwealth, what model would he use for integrating immigrants?” “The next challenge after integration is then the challenge of assimilation. How does Farage understand the process by which an immigrant becomes a citizen? How does a stranger become part of a society?” The history of Europe shows these are powerful and far-reaching questions. The answers can tear apart families as immigrants struggle with the cross-cultural demands of assimilation. The deeper challenge in European history is that immigrants may assimilate but never belong. As Europe’s history has been written by these challenges and the consequences of ignoring it or hoping that it is solved by tolerance and openness, without addressing the nature of one’s culture and what it means to belong to a country, can be catastrophic for all people involved. The interviewer could have asked how Farage’s policies help the UK to change and adapt to the new ways of living and working that other cultures introduce. A country will change an immigrant and in turn, immigrants change a country. The process can be done through integration and assimilation, which is positive and productive, or it can be done through violence, fear, and repression. Where people only live in enclaves and ghettoes and never become part of a society, a culture, even if they are politically or legally a member, the society soon begins to disintegrate along those fault lines. The interviewer could have asked, “What is your plan to help legal immigrants integrate and assimilate?” However, he did not.)
At 1238-1301, we turn to the issue of English as a second language at a school. (The interviewer could have asked if Farage was using this issue as a proxy for deprivation just as free school meals are often used as a similar proxy. The interviewer could have asked “What are your plans to help schools that may face lower performance as the language spoken at home will influence the possibility of success in schools http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/357333/ Any plan to limit immigration still has to deal with the issue of the immigrants that are already here and those that will arrive legally through an agreed immigration policy. However, the interviewer does not explore these issues.)
At 1323 -1401, we arrive at the central point for Farage, which he has mentioned in passing earlier. He wants to manage immigration so that doctors, engineers, and skilled professionals are encouraged to arrive from non-European countries. He argues that as a member of the EU the UK has to have open borders to any unskilled worker who happens to be an EU citizen, which is the basic issue he wants.
(The interviewer does not ask Farage to explain the current immigration policy discriminates against certain groups. He could have asked him to explain why it is ok for some immigrants in certain fields but not others. He could have asked how that reconciles with a global competition or what he is doing to improve the skills of UK workers.)
At 1408, the interviewer explains that the terms of the interview do not appear to allow for such debate. “If that was the debate you offered to have on the programme we would have it now…”
(For an interviewer who appears to have an aggressive style he seems quite reluctant to ask the difficult questions or draw out the points of that debate.)
At 1409, he turns to the central issue, which is the question from the caller. “Why do so many people think you are racist?” (The interviewer then goes on to propose an answer! In an interview, one never puts the answers into the interviewer’s mouth. Here we see a missed opportunity. The interview has opened up a great opportunity to hold Farage to account for his proposals but the interviewer refuses to explore it. If the programme was to debate explore why UKIP appears a racist party and immigration policy appears to be a central part of the UKIP appeal, then a debate on that issue seems to be a priority. The interview could have explored what the UKIP would do to help UK workers who lack of language skills needed for worker mobility within Europe aside from managing immigration. The interviewer could have asked, “What will UKIP do for a UK worker who needs the skills to work in larger EU market?” Unlike other workers, the UK workers appear to lack the language skills that will allow them to seize employment opportunities in other countries, which will not be improved by reducing immigration further. The interviewer could have suggested that none of the parties have an answer and the UKIP solution seems the least helpful. The interviewer could have asked, “What are your plans to increase the UK worker’s mobility within the larger EU market?” However, we do not have that debate we move on to something else. I would not suggest that an interviewer who avoids a debate is an example of good interviewer.)
1407-1421 the interviewer then goes to the caller’s question that sparked the interview “Why do so many people think you are a racist?”
(The interviewer could have asked, “How will the UKIP’s immigration policy help the public to understand the economic challenges facing the country when it does not reduce or address the global economic competition?” Alternatively, he could have asked, “What does your policy do to improve the existing situation for immigrants?” Instead, we have the tired rhetorical question or its variant “Why do people think you are a racist?” The short answer is “I do not know.” Then where does the interview go? It descends into pantomime “Oh yes you are! Oh no I am not!” Pantomime interviews make good political theatre, but they do not make for a good interview nor do they suggest a technique that others should emulate.)
At 1422, we arrive at the rhetorical question by Farage “What is racism?”
(If the interviewer had been alert to the question, he might have made an interesting comparison to a similar rhetorical question by Pontius Pilate when he asked Christ “What is truth”. The interviewer might have asked, “What do you understand racism to be? By asking an open-ended question, rather than engaging in pantomime, he could have opened up an opportunity to ask follow up question that require Farage to explain himself. Instead, he does not listen and does not ask any follow up questions. Moreover, the interviewer reaches the point where it would appear that if you discuss schoolchildren speaking English as a second language and your own children speak a foreign language, then it can be or can appear to be racist.)
The discussion about being uncomfortable about language then continues without any questions emerging and we arrive at the question about Farage’s statement about living next door to Romanians.
1453 If a group of Romanian men moved in next door to you would you be concerned?
1455 Would you be concerned if a group of Germans moved in next door? What is the difference?
1459 Farage responds, “You know what the difference is.”
1501 The interviewer says, “No, I do not know what the difference is.” (Here we are now reduced to pantomime interview techniques “Oh yes you are/Oh no I am not!”)
1502-1530 Farage explains we have a problem with quality and quantity of immigration. He mentions he has visited the Roma encampments [he visited a Gypsy Roma encampment in Bulgaria] http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8901281/bulgaria-vs-nigel-farage/
He explains he visited the encampments and describes the problems of the Roma people (1515) (1526) (not Romanians). He says they have not viable alternatives so end up in a life of crime.
(The interviewer could have explored why the Roma have not been able to integrate in that society and discuss the ways in which the UK offers a better opportunity to integrate. He could have asked, “What would UKIP do to help such immigrants integrate?” The interviewer could have contrasted that with the UK policies on these issues and described how well the UK government and communities treat Romani and Gypsy Travellers. A deeper problem for the interview emerges in this exchange. Farage has said Roma and the interviewer failed to pick up the discrepancy. What this means is that the interviewer was not listening. He failed to notice the discrepancy or explore it. The interview continues under this misunderstanding and the focus is on Romanians rather than Romani or Roma.)
1530-1535 Farage then turns to open door of immigration that he associates with human trafficking.
(From 1541 onward, we do not know if this is about Romanians or Romani people. As it is not clear who is being trafficked. The confusion from Farage, who mentioned the encampments and he only visited the one in Bulgaria, is never clarified. If the interviewer had prepared for the interview, they would have picked up this issue but the interview focuses on Romanians without asking whether that is what Farage meant. Of course, this does not excuse Farage either as he could have clarified the issue. A further problem is created by the interviewer simply accepting the connection between human trafficking and open borders. One could have explored the issue that the trafficking is worse with stricter border controls, as the UK has, than with open borders such as across Europe. Moreover, the interviewer could have disentangled between human trafficking, the sex trade, and economic immigrants, people seeking to get into the UK to work. However, this issue is never explored and accepted uncritically.)
At 1603-1609, we arrive at the issue of fear and the provocative poster. The interviewer refers to the large poster that says, “They are coming for your job”. Farage uses this to talk about worker movement within the EU.
(Here the interviewer lost an opportunity to ask Farage to explain what UKIP would do to improve education rather than raise fear or raise barriers to the free movement of labour. “What are the benefits of immigration that you oppose?” Or something to draw out how UKIP will square a commitment to Treaty of Rome and other treaties that provide the economic market for the UK with a desire to leave the EU. He does not question the central premise that EU relies on UK in a way that UK does not rely on the EU. The interviewer makes no reference to the UKIP issue ohttp://www.ukip.org/issues or even the more “detailed” party manifesto. http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/themes/5308a93901925b5b09000002/attachments/original/1398869254/EuroManifestoLaunch.pdf?1398869254 Both of which contain statements that could have been explored.)
The interviewer returns to the central theme about racism. He accuses Farage at 1616 glossing so slickly over demonizing the Romanians. (Even though we do not know if the interview is talking about Romanians or Romani as Farage referred to Roma encampments at 1515 and 1526.)
At 1634, Farage says he is demonizing the political classes that allowed this to happen. (Here the interviewer does not challenge Farage for stating he is demonizing a political class. He could have challenged him about the idea that demonizing a part of society, even a political “class” is opening the possibility for demonizing other parts of the society. However, he does not explore this issue.)
1630-1658 the interviewer asks why Farage links or connects Romanians and people trafficking. Farage provides an answer saying he did not. He then explains that he was asked if he would be worried if a group of Romanians moved in next to you would you be concerned. I think if you lived in London, you would be (1654).
(Here the interviewer misses another opportunity. He has made two mistakes. He has not explored the issue of people trafficking. Moreover, he has not forced Farage to explain what he means by it. He does not explore whether UKIP is equating or linking people trafficking to immigration. An interviewer could have separated the two points as Mr. Obrien has allowed him to connect the two. The second issue is that the interviewer simply allows the statement to go unchallenged. He has not explained how or why Romanians (not people traffickers) would create concern. The interviewer does not draw out the issue to make UKIP explain, beyond improved immigration, how to reassure people about any immigrants even Americans. Moreover, he does not ask Farage to explain why this is a problem of immigration rather than a problem of a host culture being unable to integrate or assimilate immigrants.)
At 1704, the interview asks if it is true that Farage pulled out of an interview because there was no makeup artist.
(The question seems bizarre and out of context. One moment the interviewer is asking if Farage’s party is a racist party and then asking if he pulled out of an interview over makeup artists. A well-structured interview stays focused on the issue and does not go off topic except if it serves a purpose.)
From 1708 onward the interviewer then begins to express his view that he remains unconvinced that UKIP has cleared up the confusion about whether the party is racist. He reiterates at 1713 the alliances with rightists and extremist groups even though he did not explore Farage’s answers. He then asks the Romanian questions again through 1721-1750.
The interviewer says, “I do not understand why you use words like Romanians when describing who you would or would not want to live next door to. I do not understand why you are uncomfortable with listening to foreign language when your wife and children speak them. I do not understand why you talk about problems in primary schools caused by children like your own?”
As Farage starts to answer by asking the interviewer to meet UKIP BME members, the interviewer makes light of that claim by muttering 1741 “Some of my best friends are….” Farage then explains that weekend polling shows that UKIP is polling at 16% within the BME community. The interviewer does not explore this claim and then agrees to the proposed meeting.
At 1759, the interviewer counters by asking, “What about the polling that shows just over 40% of the voters believes your party is racist”.
(From 1704 onward, we see an interview that has foundered and has no meaningful summary to provide. The interviewer is not the one that needs to be convinced. The interviewer is there to force or encourage the interviewee to explain their position and use questions to draw out consequences and concerns for the audience. He could have asked, “Your answers would appear to leave people unconvinced. How will you convince people your policies will improve their lives? Alternatively, he might have said, “You have shown a concern for people being fearful and your policies and advertisements have played on that fear. How do you reduce that fear if the root cause is not immigration? What have you proposed to improve the skills of the UK workers? (This is not mentioned in the UKIP manifesto or in its European manifesto). The interviewer could have asked, “What would UKIP have done to prevent the current economic recession?” Such questions would force UKIP to explain what they have to offer beyond closing the borders given the economic constraints were from a financial crisis that was unrelated to immigration. However, he does not challenge the evidence or ask a follow up question about what UKIP has to offer the BME community. If UKIP is offering a better economic policy, how will that help the BME community? How will UKIP improve UK competitiveness when the UK relies upon a wider EU labour and export market that membership with the EU provides? The interviewer does not challenge or explore why UKIP appears to be polling well in the BME community.)
At 1805, the interviewer says we only have 20 minutes not a full hour, which thus sets the context for why it finishes the way it does. He says that an opinion poll shows that 40% of voters who see your party as racist.
At 1807-1815, the interviewer asks what you have done in the last 20 minutes to assuage the fears of those people [the 40% of voters who believe the UKIP party is racist] Farage offers a short summary of his defence
1815- 1820. Farage says he will allay fears because he will “Make it clear to people that actually controlling the quantity and quality of people coming into your country is a primary duty of government and we cannot do it as members of the European Union”
(Here is the central issue that should have started the whole interview. The interviewer could have quizzed Farage on the current immigration controls. He could have asked him what he would do to improve those controls. He could have explored how leaving the EU does not change or alter immigration nor does it provide better control over the borders. Instead, he has been allowed to confuse the concerns over free movement with free movement of workers. He could have pointed out the existing controls and work to limit immigration. https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/securing-borders-and-reducing-immigration
However, none of these issues is explored. If the interviewer had prepared, he might have asked Farage to explain his position on these policies. He might have asked him to explain what the policies require as the UKIP spokesperson for small businesses fell afoul of them in being involved in a company that allegedly hired illegal immigrants. The interviewer has allowed the interview to stay on the surface and allowed the interview to make claims that go unchallenged. This does not suggest a strong interview technique that should be emulated by other interviewers.
At 1821-1854, the discussion moves to EU finances and whether UKIP will have an audit of its finances and whether party members will sign up for it.
At 1854, the press officer intervenes to explain that the interview has run over its time.
At 1914, we have a final question “Will you go for an audit that all Labour MEPs go for?” Farage provides a non-committal answer to the closed question by saying it is not an audit as such.
The interview runs down at 1921 rather than being ended abruptly.
What we find is that Mr. O’Brien appeared superficially prepared for the interview but he only asked superficial questions. He rehashed previous events and did not have a game plan to his questions. He did not map out his questions or consider potential follow up questions. Moreover, he often used statements as questions, which meant that Mr. Farage would infer a question from the statement and provide an answer, but no follow up question was asked. A good interviewer knows where they want to go with a response and either use it to link to the next question or provide a rebuttal summary that forces the interviewee to respond. An interviewer who simply accepts the response must only do this if it is for effect. In this interview, none of the responses had the impact that allowed them to speak for themselves.
A second set of issues with the interview technique emerges. The interviewer said that they had no time to debate the immigration claims. Yet, we find they had time to ask about make-up artists, MEP financial audits, and health expenses. If the interviewer had prepared an interview plan, he would have started with the central argument that UKIP wants to manage immigration by leaving the EU. The interviewer could have used that as a theme to draw out the consequences for UK labour market, UK businesses and UK workers. At no point is Farage asked to explain how UKIP will improve the skills for workers to compete in a globalized labour market. He does not explore how UKIP will help business compete in the global market if immigration is restricted or if UK leaves the EU. The interviewer could have asked how a simple solution to a complex issue will be implemented.
Overall, the interview allowed Farage to make a series of uncontested statements and claims. If the interviewer had prepared follow up questions, he would have been able to challenge these statements. At critical points, the interviewer simply moved on and left the topic. The underlying lesson here is that interviews require a question map so that themes can be explored and follow up questions planned. If an interviewer tries to wing it or link together superficial issues, then they will have a superficial interview.
The interview does not appear as damaging to Farage or UKIP as many headlines would have us believe. As a result, it appears to have confirmed popular prejudices rather than forced Farage to explain his position. His position or views on any topic were rarely challenged. In many ways the interview helped rather than hurt the UKIP position on these topics because the central claims went unchallenged.
I would recommend that people who want to improve their interviewing skills learn from this interview. They could see the benefit of a question plan, the benefit of preparing secondary questions, and the benefit to starting with a premise rather than a conclusion. If your question plan has more closed questions rather than open questions, you will have a different outcome. The challenge is to plan open and closed questions so that when they are combined you draw out issues and ideas that would not otherwise be seen. A central flaw or weakness in this interview is so many “questions” were statements that implied questions. Instead of asking a direct question, which many people confuse with making a statement, the interview makes a statement and implies it as a question. For example, the statement “Your wife is a German speaker” only implies a question. The interviewee must infer a question, which does not reflect a well-planned interview. A good interview does not imply questions or require an interviewer to infer them. A good interview asks questions. Finally, a good interviewer never answers the question for the interviewee, which is what happens at one point in the interview. Overall, this is a mediocre interview. It was not worth the hyperbole and headlines that it garnered.
List of resources.
For readers who want to improve their questioning skills, the following are a list of sites and resources. I am not endorsing these sites. They exemplify what is available for those who want to understand questioning skills and how to plan questions for interviews.
This provides examples of closed and open questions.
This site provides examples of questioning techniques from Socrates.
Here is a resource that shows how questions are at the heart of the scrutiny process. It is a useful resource for citizens to hold their government and public official to account.
I would suggest that the Centre for Public Scrutiny is a good organisation to start with for understanding how good question skills are important for good government.