Interviewer: Minister, what will you do if the strike goes ahead?
Minister: Well, you can’t expect me to answer a hypothetical question.
A hypothetical question is a ‘What if…?’ question. Politicians regularly refuse to answer these sorts of questions on the grounds that they are only obliged to consider what is actually happening. Many people – including, surprisingly, even television and radio interviewers – seem to think it's fair enough if a politician is unwilling to answer a hypothetical question.
But actually, the ‘no hypotheticals’ move is usually just a rhetorical trick. It's about time we stopped falling for it.
After all, it is part of the politician’s job to consider hypothetical questions, questions such as: ‘What if the global economy takes a nose dive?’ and ‘What if interest rates rise?’
In fact politicians are often very keen to answer such questions – for example, they are more than happy to tell us what they will do if they win the election, even if it's rather unlikely they will win.
The mere fact that a question is hypothetical is, by itself, no good reason not to answer it.