Thursday 24 October 2019

Reflections on difference between Johnson and Corbyn in PMQs,

Johnson displays all the mannerisms of someone who had a lot of space and time to learn a particular way of performing . He extends sentences through repetition and illustration, full of 'fillers' like '' delivered in non-hesitant way as if even the 'er' has authority. He is happy to string 'oral formulas' together - long established rhetorical devices and mannerisms that he would have learned in debating societies at school and university. At the heart of all this is a kind of role-play. He imagined himself being the speaker and performer he is now, and role-played it for many years. We might call it 'entitlement' - and it is - but the entitlement is brought about through a kind of play, playing with what he thought he could become. One indication it's a 'play' is that one of the routines of debating societies in posh schools is that you're encouraged to take up positions you don't believe in: you just play at it, for that particular debate - and then switch.

Corbyn, on the other hand, clearly doesn't behave as if this particular kind of debate is what he's done a lot of. His tradition of speaking in public is the meeting, single speeches, trying to convince people of a particular way of thinking, a particular politics. A combination of him and his team are pursuing a line that what Corbyn should do at PMQs is just patiently make points. He should be as accurate as possible, citing examples and statistics. This is essentially legalistic in tone and method and though it is in its own way 'performative' it isn't the kind of performance that comes from speechifying as combat between posh boys, and the 'debating society'. Corbyn's use of words and speech comes from the idea that you speak from conviction or belief and not from role-playing.

Just to be clear, none of what I'm saying here is necessarily about 'effectiveness'. They are observations about why their two methods are so different.