After all the confusion and evasion surrounding the televised political debates, we finally have a schedule.
April 2nd on ITV 1 – Cameron, Miliband, Clegg, Bennett, Farage, Sturgeon, and Wood.
April 16th on BBC 1 – Miliband, Bennett, Farage, Sturgeon, and Wood.
April 30th on BBC 1 – Cameron, Miliband, and Clegg.
The election has officially begun, as David Cameron and Ed Miliband were separately interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on Channel 4, followed by a Q&A session with a live audience.
What follows is not a transcript of what took place, but my perspective on how each leader performed.
David Cameron, British Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister made little effort to rebuff Paxman’s questions, and was content to dodge nearly every single issue. On the issue of food banks, Cameron said they “provide an important service”, and claimed that their use has sky-rocketed on his watch because he relaxed advertising laws, not because of an increase in low standards of living. On the issue of zero-hour contracts, he said some people enjoy them. On the issue of debt, Cameron blamed his government’s runaway borrowing on the previous government, even though he has borrowed more in 5 years than Labour borrowed in 13 years.
On immigration, Cameron dodged broken promises, and jumped straight to the non-issue of migrants claiming benefits. For Cameron, this is both an epidemic and a way to win prejudiced votes back from UKIP, but he conveniently failed to mention that expatriates are more likely to claim benefits than migrants, and bleed the British coffers of millions each year. Expatriates can claim sickness benefit, disability allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and winter fuel payment. But nobody minds that.
Similarly, on the issue of welfare the Prime Minister failed to properly break down the £12 billion cut to welfare, and again jumped straight to the bit prejudiced people love: People on Jobseeker’s Allowance won’t be allowed to claim £23,000 a year, instead of £26,000. How helpful.
Then we went straight to the outright lies. Cameron claimed that he was the only party leader who has committed to a referendum on EU membership. Wrong. Nigel Farage of UKIP and Natalie Bennett of the Green Party have both committed to a referendum should they ever win a majority. Then there was the myth that tax cuts have made poorer people richer, which directly contradicts all economic research, and frankly, contradicts common sense. If people earn more, the government earns more – tax cuts do not equal wealth, they push us further down the path of austerity.
In the Q&A audience session, he didn’t fare much better. Putting aside the “thank you for your questions” and the non-policy propaganda spin-speak, it basically went as follows:
Would you appoint a Minister for the Elderly? Nah.
How deep will cuts go if you’re re-elected? Pretty damn deep.
Will you reverse cuts to the police service? Nah, you guys can take it.
How will you combat prejudice against disabled people? Disabled people are great.
How will you convince people to stay in the EU? We won’t adopt the Euro.
Do you want more private involvement in the NHS? The NHS is great.
Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party.
After Cameron’s dodges and spins, anything Miliband said was going to look like honesty. We began with immigration (of course), and Miliband was pressed to pluck arbitrary figures out of thin air. He refused and nobly reiterated that he thought immigration was a benefit, but was quick to give a nod to the prejudiced among us by saying he wanted to stop migrants claiming benefits. Yawn.
He was also grilled on his economic forecasts that have been proved wrong, and had little to offer apart from a non-apology and a hasty Milislap towards the Tories. On the issue of austerity, Miliband said he would not touch education or health spending, but admitted that winter fuel allowance, the police services, local government and child benefit might all be lined up for the chopping block.
In a political atmosphere obsessed with personalities, not people, Miliband’s occasional stylistic faults could prove damaging. You could tell he was worried about coming across as too calculated, as too dishonest, and afraid of putting up a mask, as expressed through his verbal ticks such as “I make no bones about it” and “let me explain”. If nothing else, Miliband finds it hard to be himself.
That said, when Paxman ran out of questions and attempted to finish the interview by being downright insulting, Miliband held his ground. Paxman accused him of being a “geek”, to which Ed carelessly whispered “who cares”. He only had to ditch his overly-analytic self-doubt to win the audience’s approval. It was an insulting question, and Miliband’s responded perfectly.
Style aside, Miliband’s biggest flaw is the implicit loathing for people on benefits. He repeatedly expressed his love and admiration for people in work, but people on benefits didn’t get a single positive mention, dismissed as an inconvenient section of society.
About a week ago, Labour’s Shadow Work & Pensions secretary said her party didn’t want to represent people out of work. Last night, Miliband confirmed that. For a man who bangs on about everybody having access to a high standard of living, Jobseeker’s Allowance didn’t seem all that important, and those who rely on state assistance to survive are apparently exempt from Miliband’s doctrine of fairness.
Miliband’s Q&A session went slightly better than Cameron’s, and I have again cut out the spin:
Why does Labour demonize high-wage earners? We want to cut tuition fees a bit.
Are you anti-wealth creation? Nah, I love people who work.
How will you lower the deficit? We’ll make difficult decisions, but we’re not the Tories, honest!
Why won’t Labour commit to an EU referendum? ‘Cos it’d be dumb!!
Is Labour still committed to the principles of socialism? Hell yeah (so long as you’re in work).
Is Labour in favour of austerity? Tory austerity bad, Labour austerity good.
Have you learned from your party’s spending mistakes? Blair did it.