“Let me now answer, very directly, Marie's question”: The impact of quoting members of the public in Prime Minister's Questions

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JournalJournal of Language Aggression and Conflict
DatePublished - 12 Jun 2019
Issue number1
Number of pages23
Pages (from-to)56-78
Original languageEnglish


Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the UK attracts much criticism for the adversarial and occasional aggressive language on display. During his successful campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn called for a “new kind of politics” (ITV 2015). One feature of his “new” approach, apparent during his early sessions as Leader of the Opposition, was to include questions to Prime Minister David Cameron sourced from members of the public. Although, subsequently, these “public questions” became less frequent, they provided an opportunity to compare their interactional effects with standard “non-public questions”. Arguably, the aim of this salient feature of corbyn's approach to questioning Cameron was to redress the moral order of PMQs. We test this proposal via two measures of the PM's responses: reply rate and personalisation. Results showed that Corbyn's public questions did not enhance Cameron's reply rate. However, whereas Cameron used significantly more personal attacks than Corbyn in response to non-public questions, the level of such attacks by the PM for public questions was as low as Corbyn's, with no significant difference between them. In this latter regard, such an approach showed the potential to mitigate the ritualistic and customary verbal aggression of PMQs.

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© 2019 John Benjamins. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

    Research areas

  • Equivocation, Personal attacks, Personalisation, PMQs, Quotations, Reply rate

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