Major is master of the television grilling

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The Independent Online
AS FAR AS interview technique goes it seems the best man, or at least the one quickest on his feet, won the general election. John Major was more adept than Neil Kinnock or Paddy Ashdown in defusing tough political questions.

Two York University academics who analysed political discourse in television interviews have found that the Prime Minister was most likely to select an answer which reflected well on himself and the Conservatives.

In a paper to be presented this afternoon to a British Psychological Society conference at Downing College, Cambridge, Dr Peter Bull and Dr Judy Elliott, of York's psychology department, say politicians in interviews defend their own and their party's credibility.

Analysis of 18 interviews during the 1992 election finds that Mr Major gave a direct reply to only 39.5 per cent of questions. But when an answer could possibly preserve self-respect, he found an appropriate one on 90.4 per cent of occasions.

Although Mr Kinnock gave a direct reply to 51.4 per cent of questions and Mr Ashdown scored 63.2 per cent, Mr Kinnock missed more of the possible face-saving responses - choosing self-preservation when that option was available in only 83 per cent of his answers, whereas Mr Ashdown found a safe response in 87.2 per cent of cases.

When every response available risked loss of self-esteem or party credibility - 40.8 per cent of all questions - Mr Ashdown's reply rate was higher, at 56.7 per cent, than Mr Kinnock's 25.7 per cent and Mr Major's 17.6 per cent - possibly because the Liberal Democrats are so far from power.

All three party leaders found face-saving responses in 86.8 per cent of instances where questions permitted - irrespective of whether they had directly answered the question or not. Which is a long-winded way of saying what we already know - for a politician, truth always takes second place to political expediency.