LONDON, UK — At what point do politicians stop listening to themselves?
It was a question that came to mind during UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s much-hyped livestreamed interview with Buzzfeed Monday, where UK deputy editor Jim Waterson’s direct and often challenging questions came off more like pauses in a litany of Conservative talking points.
At one point, Cameron expressed irritation that the media pays more attention to the process than the substance of politics. But it's hard to engage with a substance as inflexible as a politician’s soundbites in the weeks before a major election.
A question about civility in politics got a reply about the flaws of a rumored coalition between Labour and the Scottish National Party. An audience query about immigration was deftly redirected into talk of welfare reform.
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Waterson asked if there was an issue he wished his government had spent more time on in the last five years.
“Lots of things,” Cameron responded vaguely, before abandoning the actual question and talking about the government’s efforts on economic recovery.
The interview was part of the Buzzfeed Brews series, where the popular online media outlet engages with politicians, actors and other public figures in an informal setting.
Both Waterson and Cameron declined the titular brew for a glass of water instead.
The Prime Minister seemed a little taken aback at questions that veered into the fringes of his personal life, such as his family’s policy on screen time and internet filters for their three school-age children.
When faced with these, the fluidity of his earlier answers was replaced with the start of an English stutter. Even the tone of his voice dropped a bit. He didn’t really engage with the personal stuff, steering the talk back to politics with “going back to our earlier conversation” more than once.
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Campaign season for the UK election hasn’t even officially started yet — it doesn’t kick in until Parliament dissolves, about a month before the May 7 vote. The election is 52 days away. But already Cameron sounds on autopilot.
There was one authentic moment at the close of the interview, when he leaned over the table toward Waterson as the audience applauded.
“Was that half an hour?” Cameron asked, sounding genuinely surprised. “Whizzed by.”