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.
- personal attacks