Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, was sounding different on Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning. Interviewed by Sarah Montague, there were clear signs that he had changed his approach and style to media interviews. Political leaders are constantly either trying to hone their media interview skills, or are having media training experts trying to do the same for them. Ed seems to have changed his style quite signficiantly.
In the past, his media interview technique was quite combatative. He was eager to get his point across. He sounded excited, someone who had important things to say, and so little time in which to say them. He would often start giving an answer before the interviewer had even finished the question, creating a sense of people tripping over each other as they talked.
If the journalist tried to butt in, as they are likely to, he would carry on trying to make his point, creating a crescendo of rising voices that could sound shrill and confused. A standard technique was to say “…let me make this point, because it’s very important…”, which he probably thought was his way of taking control of the interview and making sure he got the biggest share of voice, and could get his point across.
The overall effect was to make Ed sound like an over-eager schoolboy (“please, me sire, me sir” – hand pointing at the sky). Interviews descended into chaos with few sentences were finished and no complete and fully-rounded point was made. Miliband came across as sounding, not eager to explain his point, but flustered and frustrated. He had fallen into a trap. Journalists use this technique, of verbally bullying politicians to get them off kilter and off message, so they say things they have been briefed not to.
Most listeners are just frustrated and annoyed by such activities. The politicians and journalists deserve each other, they will say.
Well, Ed Milliband was definitely different this morning. The media training had, it appeared, had its effect. His voice was lower. He spoke more slowly. Both are techniqes to make yourself sound more authoritative. He waited of Sarah Montegue to finish speaking. Waited another beat. Then gave his answer. When he was interrupted, he stopped talking instantly.
Not once did he say “let me say this, because it’s important” – something that could, I bet his advisors told him, make him sound arrogant. He was seeking to control the interview by being passive, and it largely worked. Poor Sue sounded a bit confused. At one point, it appeared she expected her interjection to be interjected back by Ed, but he refused to speak, creating a comical pregnant pause.
This was Ed Milliband the unflappable, Ed Miliband the statesman, the calm voice of reason that demands to be heard. Of course, he wasn’t up againt the Rottie of the Today programme, John Humphrys. He was probably gently spinning over a relaxed breakfast of concrete chunks and iron filings. That said, it was an impressive performance. And one, I suspect, is particularly designed to position Ed away from Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, who also regularly makes the mistake of trying too hard in interviews and coming unstuck.
Not Ed anymore. Then again, you are only as good as your last interview.