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A politician’s guide to non-denial denials

Parliament TV

Michael Gove was deployed to the Commons on Monday afternoon to answers questions on the ministerial code, an hour-long appearance in which he was (inevitably) asked about that day’s Daily Mail splash: ‘Boris: Let the bodies pile high in their thousands’. An awkward question for any minister to handle, you might think, but the oleaginous Gove just about got away with it. Asked directly about the reports, the Cabinet Office minister gave a lengthy reply which contained this key passage to wriggle out of trouble again:

Tens of thousands of people were dying. The Prime Minister made a decision in that meeting to trigger a second lockdown. He made a subsequent decision to trigger a third lockdown. This is a Prime Minister who was in hospital himself, in intensive care. The idea that he would say any such thing, I find incredible. I was in that room. I never heard language of that kind.

So an ‘incredible’ thing which Gove ‘never heard’ but no firm rebuttal of the charge – an instant classic of the ‘non-denial denial’ genre. The term comes from America and is commonly attributed to Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee who made his name in Watergate, the scandal which taught politicians everywhere that it’s the cover up, not the crime, which brings you down.

Here Mr S brings you his handy list of other famous recent examples of politicians giving ‘non-denial denials’ for the next time they find themselves in a tight spot:

The Tony Blair denial: ‘No plans’ for tuition fees

This non-denial denial serves to kick difficult questions into the long grass. It takes its name from Tony Blair’s statement before the 1997 election that ‘Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education.’ The answer was accurate.

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