I’m unlikely to be telling you anything you didn’t already know when I say that Neil Mitchell conducted the most impressively witless interview of a Prime Minister in recent political history on Friday (transcript here). But the point wasn’t that Mitchell demonstrated he was profoundly, sublimely ignorant and a patronising goose, it was the reaction he elicited from the Prime Minister. If anything, Mitchell is to be congratulated for managing to goad the Prime Minister into talking like a human being.

One of the hallmarks of this government is its obsession with never straying from talking points in media appearances. Ministers talk, but don’t communicate. Penny Wong is the worst offender. Lindsay Tanner was the only senior member who refused to be bound by talking points and pet phrases, having the intelligence and political smarts to go beyond talking points without embarrassing himself or the Government.

Kevin Rudd combined an obsession with talking points with his own verbal idiosyncrasies involving bureaucratese and a strange compulsion to employ a half-remember patina of sayings from the Queensland of his childhood. Julia Gillard doesn’t even have these, er, distinguishing features. Seemingly worried about ever stepping beyond the confines of what her office has prepared, she’s smothered the livelier, more engaging Deputy Prime Minister Gillard in favour of a more anodyne, “Prime Ministerial” approach.

Sticking to talking points is fine for ministers, but Prime Ministers are supposed to do more. Paul Keating and Bob Hawke were never ones to hold back an opinion. John Howard was more disciplined, but you always had the impression you were listening to a man of strong views, even if you violently disagreed with them.

Prime Ministers are more than just the most senior minister, they’re our national leader, a role well beyond the strict confines of their constitutional role. And a leader who can only say what they and their staff have carefully prepared beforehand is no leader at all.

Labor itself is aware of the problem of the anodyne Prime Ministerial version of Julia Gillard, which is why it tried on that “real Julia” rubbish during the election campaign. Despite that, the only times she came to life were when she was fired up – the day after the leaks, when she fronted the media to attack the claim that she’d opposed the pension increase, and right near the end, when she complained about some of the facile media coverage she’d endured. I suggested at the time she only seemed to come to life when people were throwing bombs at her.

Mitchell, buffoonish, patronising, and apparently having inherited Kerry O’Brien’s habit of asking a question, letting his interlocutor get three words into a response, then asking another one, threw bombs and thus drew forth the same Gillard that made those rare appearances in the campaign.

The media professionals’ conventional wisdom is that losing your cool isn’t a good look for a politician. That’s the sort of thinking that saw Kevin Rudd, rightly snarking it up at O’Brien as “7.30 Report land”, described as having a “meltdown”. But there’s no clear evidence for this – in fact audiences may well enjoy seeing politicians dish it out to the press.

Joe Hockey got plenty of plaudits from ordinary punters for upsetting the Gallery at his Budget Reply speech last year. Maybe it’s because they take comfort from knowing there’s an actual human being inside, not an automaton that talks a lot but says nothing.

Labor’s flood levy may be a dog of an idea, but the selling of it might do them some good. The Rudd Government was great at explaining the need to hand out money to people but didn’t have a clue about convincing people about anything slightly unpopular. Selling a temporary levy might give this woeful government some skills for selling real tax reform or taking the knife to politically-sensitive programs, having discovered the world doesn’t fall in when you do something that isn’t universally endorsed.

Either way, Labor will be much better off if the Prime Minister is more frequently the blunt, cranky leader she was on Friday.

The Prime Minister is also expected to receive a boost with the return of the well-regarded Ben Hubbard as her Chief of Staff, replacing Amanda Lampe, whose departure in March was announced today.

Hubbard, formerly senior adviser to Steve Bracks, left Gillard’s office in 2009 for family reasons and was CEO of the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority in Victoria. Labor sources say Hubbard’s experience, policy focus and political judgement will be good news for the Prime Minister.