Lisa Nandy aces tough interview

Helen Lucas and Jeremy Adams

Labour party leadership contender Lisa Nandy played a blinder in last week’s interview with BBC heavyweight Andrew Neil. Her clear and confident delivery followed the woeful performance by her boss Jeremy Corbyn on the same show in December. PM Boris Johnson, meanwhile, was empty chaired by Neil for his repeated refusal to face a similar grilling in the run up to the general election.

Here are three things Nandy got right:  

First, she put substance before style, formulating some fresh and compelling messaging centred around her assertion that she is the “brave choice” for a new era. This enabled her to immediately differentiate herself from her competitors and – as importantly – keep the interview focused more on the future than on the past. A measure of how successfully she landed this key point was the number of times Neil repeated the word brave. 

She had also prepared robustly for the challenging questions Neil was likely to put to her, including her relative lack of experience and her voting record on Brexit. She used both lines of question to bridge to wider points she wanted to make, for instance her assertion that successful leadership requires a team approach.

Second, her delivery style was the right mix of energetic and considered. For example, she was sufficiently assertive to challenge Neil on points of fact and detail, but disciplined in her determination to put forward evidence of her thinking rather than resorting to platitudes. Asked how she might bring together voters from Hammersmith and Hull she was able to conjure up three cogent reasons to support her view. Meanwhile, her upbeat vocals were balanced out by a measured pace and she paused briefly at times to let the viewer know she was fully engaging with the question.

Finally, her body language projected composure. The set seemed designed to place her in a subordinate position to Neil, who sat behind a large desk while she was stranded some distance apart on a small chair. But she adopted a strong, upright position and used direct eye contact to bridge that physical gap and give the impression of levelling with Neil. She listened carefully to his questions, smiled occasionally and nodded frequently which all signalled that she was in her comfort zone, whether or not that was how she felt. 

The overall impression was an interviewee that kept the interviewer on his toes rather than the other way around. Nandy may not be a front-runner for the leadership, but she wins our vote so far for her communication prowess.