Have you noticed how some people in public life respond to a question by asking their own questions, and answering them, without any input from anyone else? Some British MPs do it. I have given up watching the BBC1 show “Question Time” in recent years but watched it regularly at the start of this decade. It formed part of my Thursday night viewing, along with “This Week” hosted by Andrew Neil.
Most weeks, as I recall, at least one of the guests on “Question Time” (usually a male MP) would respond to questions from the audience by asking his own questions and then answering them. For example: “Are we committed to bringing down the deficit? Yes we are. Has it taken longer than we thought it would? Yes it has. Is it all the fault of the previous administration? Of course it is. Would we like to keep all of our election promises? In an ideal world, yes we would. Am I going to keep asking my own questions and answering them, even though some people might find it really, really annoying? I don’t see why not.” And so on.
I assume that this sort of thing still goes on. Having seen only a few minutes of the show at any one time in recent years I have no recent evidence of it. I did, however, hear a classic example of this approach to answering questions earlier today, when Esther Rantzen (campaigner and broadcaster, and not a British MP) was on “Desert Island Discs”. The presenter, Lauren Laverne, asked her about Childline, the telephone helpline for children that she set up during the 1980s. There were 50,000 attempted calls to the service on its first night. Responding to the question, “How shocked were you by that?” Esther Rantzen’s reply included the following:
“Did I predict 50,000? No. Did I predict the 50,000 would stay at that level for six weeks? No. Did I predict that mobile phones would be invented and replace the landlines and the phone boxes children had to run to? Absolutely not. Or the fact that now three-quarters of our children contact Childline on the Internet? Absolutely not.”
While listening live I thought that she had asked, and then answered, around eight questions in a row, but it turned out to be just the four. You can hear it for yourself here, at 29:59. [Technical note: this content did not work on my Windows 10 PC earlier this evening, either in Edge or Firefox, but it did play on mobile devices.] I am sure that I have heard MPs employ this technique of using questions with self-generated answers in place of statements, and go way beyond five. Some of them might well get to double figures before anyone else gets the chance to say anything. I’ll listen out for it. I might even start watching “Question Time” again in search of more extreme examples. But will I become the kind of person who asks a series of questions, while giving my own answers to each of them? No, I don’t think so.