When the answer's no good, put it in the question

I HAVE recently received a letter from a schoolgirl who says that Mr Tony Blair is likely to make a visit to her school in the near future, and she is dreadfully afraid that she may be required to get up and ask him a question. What, she wants to know, should she ask, especially if she wants a straight answer?

You can see her point. From time to time when there is no real news on television we do see the Prime Minister visiting schools where, among other photo-opportunities, he invites children to put questions to him. It always looks good on the news. The PM paying serious attention to the young. To future voters. To people who do not even have a vote yet, so that he cannot be accused of sucking up to the electorate. He listens to their questions, takes them very seriously and gives a statesmanlike answer, ie he doesn't really answer the question but sounds as if he has.

Now, this must be harder for Mr Blair than we might think. Normally when faced with schoolboy questioning, ie William Hague at Prime Minister's Question Time, Mr Blair's natural strategy is not to take the question seriously, nor even to pretend to answer it, but to try to embarrass Mr Hague. Fair enough. That's the game they play in Parliament.

But Mr Blair can't do it in a school. It's all right trying to score points off the leader of the Tory party, but it's not going to look very good on television if a fresh-faced schoolgirl asks an innocent question about the euro or education, and Mr Blair turns on her to sneer: "This comes well from the honourable schoolgirl opposite, who clearly, if given the chance, would rush into Europe and the single currency when she cannot even run a debating society in her own class, and I would advise her strongly to give up politics and keep to netball."

No - any schoolchild invited to ask Mr Blair a question has a natural advantage over Mr Hague in that she will get a polite answer. However, she is also likely to get a time-wasting answer. If she tries to ask a clever question such as "In what field does Mr Blair feel that his Government is doing least well, and how would he go about improving their performance?", Mr Blair is never going to say: "We are making a hash of the health service and, frankly, I can't see how we're going to improve things, certainly not with old Dobson in charge."

What he is going to say is something like: "Well, we have only been in power a few years and you can't get everything right immediately, but we've done a tremendous amount already and if there are areas in which we seem to have under-performed, it's probably only by contrast with the areas in which we have made such progress."

I trust that my young female correspondent will not let him get away with such tosh. A slightly better tactic is to ask a Radio 4 Today-type question. These questions are asked by people such as James Naughtie and John Humphrys, who know they will never get the answer they want, so instead they cleverly put the desired answer into the question.

Here are some examples of Today-type questions:

"Will you be giving Greg Dyke his 55,000 quid back?"

"As Greg Dyke and Melvyn Bragg are such good mates, how long do you think it will be before Jeremy Paxman is bumped off Start the Week and Melvyn Bragg reinstated?"

"When are you finally going to do something about Railtrack?"

"Why are you afraid of having a referendum on the euro?"

You see? All the implications are already present in the question. Of course, the PM will brush the implications aside. For instance, he will answer the first one by saying, "I think Greg Dyke will make a first-class DG, irrespective of political affiliations, and I think it is absolutely monstrous the way William Hague has launched a personal vendetta on him. It's interesting to note that Mr Hague thinks the BBC is already violently anti-Tory, so I feel bound to ask Mr Hague why he hasn't already mounted this sort of attack on Sir John Birt."

So the only real option is to ask Mr Blair a straight question to which he can only answer Yes or No. I would suggest asking him: "Did you get an invitation to Rupert Murdoch's wedding?"

If he says No, he will look like a bit player in Mr Murdoch's scheme of things. If he says Yes, it will look as if he couldn't be bothered to go.

If he claims that it was more important to go to Belfast and rescue the peace process than go to a wedding, get all your schoolmates to indulge in a chorus of booing, stamping the floor, waving paper and jeering loudly at him.

It may throw Mr Blair completely to find schoolchildren behaving as badly as the House of Commons.

Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map