“He Is Just the Nowhere Man of British Politics”: Personal Attacks in Prime Minister’s Questions

Maurice Waddle (Lead / Corresponding author), Peter Bull, Jan Boehnke

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)
    291 Downloads (Pure)


    Views from the media, the public, and from inside Parliament have expressed discontent with, reportedly, recent high levels of personally antagonistic behavior in Prime Minister’s Questions. The focus of this study is a fine-grained analysis of language classified as a personal attack. A personal attack coding system was devised, and significant individual differences between Prime Ministers and increases across individual premierships were observed. Of the five Prime Ministers between 1979 and 2016, David Cameron was the most personally aggressive, though a significant decrease followed Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment as Leader of the Opposition. Potential explanations for recent highs include heightened TV and social media attention coupled with sports-like reporting and party expectation, and not discounting individual personalities or intergroup theories. Suggestions for the functions of personal attacks include highlighting differences, disarming or deconstructing adversaries, and equivocation. Further explanations are offered for the relative politeness of Cameron versus Corbyn.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)61-84
    Number of pages24
    JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
    Issue number1
    Early online date16 Apr 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


    • PMQs
    • disrespect
    • impoliteness
    • incivility
    • insults
    • personal attacks
    • personalisation
    • personalization
    • rudeness

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Psychology
    • Education
    • Language and Linguistics
    • Anthropology
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Linguistics and Language


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