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Curbing Their Antagonism: Topics Associated with a Reduction in Personal Attacks at Prime Minister’s Questions

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JournalParliamentary Affairs
DatePublished - 30 Mar 2019
Number of pages22
Pages (from-to)1-22
Original languageEnglish


This study of leaders’ exchanges in Prime Minister’s Questions considers the potential for foreign policy debate to be associated with uncharacteristic personal respect between political opponents. Using an existing dataset coded for a specific form of verbal aggression—personal attacks—questions to the Prime Minister spanning a 37-year period were further analysed for policy topic. Compared to questions and responses focused on domestic policies, foreign policy exchanges were significantly lower in personal attacks. Discussion includes the possibility of this being a British example of the old US adage politics stops at the water’s edge. Credible theoretical explanations include intergroup theories, and one linked to another US political science phenomenon (the rally ‘round the flag effect), specifically, patriotism.

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