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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing