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Nonverbal contention and contempt in U.K. parliamentary oversight hearings on fiscal and monetary policy

  • Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey (a1)

In parliamentary committee oversight hearings on fiscal policy, monetary policy, and financial stability, where verbal deliberation is the focus, nonverbal communication may be crucial in the acceptance or rejection of arguments proffered by policymakers. Systematic qualitative coding of these hearings in the 2010–15 U.K. Parliament finds the following: (1) facial expressions, particularly in the form of anger and contempt, are more prevalent in fiscal policy hearings, where backbench parliamentarians hold frontbench parliamentarians to account, than in monetary policy or financial stability hearings, where the witnesses being held to account are unelected policy experts; (2) comparing committees across chambers, hearings in the House of Lords committee yield more reassuring facial expressions relative to hearings in the House of Commons committee, suggesting a more relaxed and less adversarial context in the former; and (3) central bank witnesses appearing before both the Lords and Commons committees tend toward expressions of appeasement, suggesting a willingness to defer to Parliament.

Corresponding author
Correspondence: Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey, Government Department, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE. Email:
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