The first question I asked when listening to Jeremy Corbyn’s uncomfortable stumbling on Woman’s Hour when he had forgotten the answer on the cost of Labour’s childcare policy was, “Does it matter?” If the policy is a good one then perhaps it does not matter whether Jeremy Corbyn can produce the exact figures on demand. On the other hand, surely he knew that the media are trying to find any lapses from Labour on figures. This is especially true after the even more cringeworthy Diane Abbott interview.
I suspect on this question it depends on your view of Jeremy Corbyn. His supporters will say Labour are getting unfair scrutiny, his opponents will question his competence.
How not to handle it when you have forgotten the answer
The more important point for me is how he handled the question. This provides an interesting insight into how to handle questions when we have forgotten the answer. Corbyn’s approach is to start to answer, fruitlessly check his notes and then pause. “I presume you have the figures?” asks Emma Barnett. “Yes I do,” he quickly fires back.
And so starts the bigger problem. Jeremy Corbyn now has to give a precise answer. This is where the incident becomes more relevant for an undecided voter. If Jeremy Corbyn says he can do something and then immediately fails to deliver then that starts to undermine his credibility.
How you can handle it when you have forgotten the answer
So what should he have done? And what can we do when we are asked something and have forgotten the answer? Being honest before returning to your key point is often a good tactic. Something like, “I do not have the exact figure but we have costed every policy in detail in our manifesto. This is something that the tories have not done…..etc.”. If he is feeling particularly feisty he could explain that the Labour manifesto has exact figure for [insert long list of policies] and that he is more concerned that everything is properly costed than trying to memorise every single figure. Not as good as confidently rattling off the figures but at least it is going to avoid being lead story on the BBC news website.
“The cover up is worse than the crime”
As is so often the case, the cover up (in this case of the fact he has forgotten the answer) is worse than not having the figures in the first place. It would take a hard heart not to have some sympathy for Jeremy Corbyn. We have all been put on the spot about something we have forgotten. How we deal with the situation makes all the difference about how your audience will remember it.