Question Time: 10/12/15

The show was in Bath. The first question asked if Republican candidate Donald Trump should be banned from the UK. Quentin Letts (parliamentary sketch writer) argued that it was unnecessary for a petition as it was widely agreed that no-one supported Trump’s comments. Mary Beard (professor of Cambridge) was in favour of him coming over to Britain so he could be challenged about his views, especially on a programme such as Question Time. Greg Clark (Communities Secretary, Conservatives) wanted Trump to visit so he could go on tour with him and introduce him to constituents; he also labelled Trump an, ‘offensive idiot’. Caroline Flint (Labour) favoured him being banned as he always seems to offend someone when he speaks. Vince Cable (Liberal Democrats) favoured him being allowed to visit the country as when Nick Griffin of the BNP appeared on Question Time, it exposed his views and Cable believes similar would happen with Trump.

Question two concerned flooding and the actions that should be taken by the government to protect people. Flint argued that more frequent flooding and storms suggested that climate change was having an impact on the weather. She described it as a national security issue, affecting lives and pointed out the money that has been cut from flood defences in recent years. Clark was in favour of a review of what is happening and why. Letts argued that new defences could cause new problems elsewhere and that ministers cannot stop floodwater. Cable focused on the chief scientist at the Met Office finding a link between increased temperatures and more turbulent weather. Cable also added that there were taxes on renewable sources of energy and privatisation is taking place. Clark countered by saying that the government is on track for 30% of energy to be from renewable sources, with 21% currently being produced from renewable sources. Flint argued that most had been brought in by the last Labour government, whilst most had been been built under the coalition government. Beard said the focus should be on management of water courses and the building that takes place on flood plains.

The third question asked if David Cameron’s negotiations with Europe were real or not. Cable said that we needed to wait until the negotiations had been included, with three of the aims being difficult to assess and that Cameron could have avoided it, but only got into the position to appease those on the right of the Conservative Party. Cable added that he believes Cameron is in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union. Beard favoured there being a more positive approach, focusing on Britain’s role within Europe in a world role. Clark pointed out that in a referendum, it would be the voters who would decide. Flint agreed there should be reform in Europe, but Cameron is trying to sell Europe to the Euro-sceptics within the Conservative Party; she added that she would be voting for Britain to stay in Europe. Letts likened Cameron to Tigger, who goes away very enthusiastically but doesn’t get what is wanted; he added that due to the negativity, he would be voting to leave.

Question four asked if Jeremy Corbyn had been fairly treated by the press. Clark said that he has been accurately reported by the media. Beard felt that he was facing a tough time, but acting with great dignity – she also liked that he gives arguments over soundbites. Flint felt there was too much trivial reporting that was unfair, but that other leaders have faced similar in the past. Cable believes that Corbyn is disastrous for Labour and that there is no effective opposition to the government, but he is engaging well with younger voters. Letts looked at Corbyn’s past and noted that he seemed to support the IRA in the past and that Labour politicians often say that they he does not speak for them.

The fifth question concerned the lack of spending for mental health issues. Flint described it as a massively important area and that without increased spending, there would be costs elsewhere. Cable said there was a lack of joined up thinking across government. Beard argued that it is often ignored as it is not a visible issue. Letts was in favour of continued support for the NHS. Clark pointed out that assessments for mental health are difficult to get, with months going by, although this is changing, but that further work is required.

The final question asked if Tyson Fury should be considered for Sports Personality of the Year. Beard said he should, but vote for someone else. Flint favoured kicking him off. Letts favoured keeping him. Cable wanted him off, whilst Clark suggested voting for Andy Murray.

Question Time: 2/4/15

Question Time was focused on the Leaders Debate that was held earlier in the evening. Michael Gove said that he believed Cameron won the debate and that a Labour government supported by the SNP would see Miliband being led by Sturgeon and Salmond. In contrast, Andy Burnham said that Miliband won the debate and that the momentum was behind him. Peter Hitchens agreed with a member of the audience who said that Farage sounded the most honest and real because he was unconcerned about making mistakes. Danny Alexander agreed that there was a lot of preparation that had gone into preparing for the debate, which is why so many came across as not being real; he also felt that Nick Clegg had performed well. Alexander then accused the Conservatives of talking up the SNP and Hitchens said that this was because the Conservatives would struggle to win an election outright whilst Scotland remains part of the UK. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said that all three female leaders had performed well, particularly Sturgeon.

There was lots of speculation about possible deals and/or coalitions in the event of a hung parliament, with a Labour/SNP and Conservative/UKIP deal being the two most talked about. Gove said that he would prefer a Conservative majority and did not want to speak about any possible deals. Burnham guaranteed that there would be no coalition between Labour and the SNP and said that Labour are looking for a majority government.

Devolution was also discussed, with Alexander being in favour of more devolution; Burnham said that it is important for everyone to work together. Alibhai-Brown argued that fractions are appearing in society, with people turning against one another.

Gove (and Cameron’s) aim of a Conservative majority was challenged by a member of the audience, asking what has changed in the five years. Gove gave some (by now) familiar statistics, which Hitchens challenged by giving the figure of the debt (£1.5 trillion).

Alibhai-Brown admitted to being surprised by the debate because they contained more substance than she expected and that government is likely to become based more upon style.

The first past the post system was discussed and whether the coming election would be the last time it would be used. Gove, Hitchens and Burnham supported it, whilst Alexander and Alibhai-Brown hoped that a new system would be in place for the next election.

When asked about whether the country is full, Hitchens agreed that it was; he said that he admired migrants for uprooting and coming to another country, but a large influx of foreign people was putting the country and its resources under great strain. He added that leaving the EU would be needed to be able to decide upon this and for there to be self-governance. Gove argued that the country is not full and that migrants contribute to society, focusing on workers in the NHS and schools, accusing those who want no immigration or open-door immigration of poisoning the argument. Alibhai-Brown agreed with Gove, focusing on the migrant workers within the care sector. Burnham favoured taking a longer view approach, arguing that British people went abroad in the past to find work. Alexander agreed that migrant workers helped in various sectors and that further investment, as Clegg proposed in the debate, was required.

Alibhai-Brown said that she cannot understand why young people leave the country to join ISIS and that the influence of Saudi Arabia needed to be considered. Gove argued that Islam is being distorted by a minority and that the way to challenge it is to passionately defend values. Hitchens pointed out that only a tiny minority of British Muslims do travel abroad to fight and that the West has made foreign policy mistakes in the recent past. Burnham described it as a complicated situation and that there is no simple answer. Alexander admitted to not knowing why and generally agreed with Gove’s latter point.

Burnham gave his views on the NHS until Dimbleby interrupted him and asked him to answer the question; Burnham still did not answer the question in Dimbleby’s opinion, although he claimed he did by saying that NHS spending was accountable to Parliament. Alexander offered the view that some decisions with regards to the NHS were out of the hands of politicians, but that some level of politics has to remain in it. Alibhai-Brown agreed that the NHS should apolitical and not be privatised. Hitchens argued that it will remain political because Labour cling to the NHS due to it being the only thing that they have not ruined whilst in government. Gove favoured there being a cross-party group looking at the NHS.

Leaders debate

The leaders debate took place tonight, featuring the leaders from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru. As I thought, there were too many people taking part, which prevented anyone establishing a strong, clear argument on the topics and putting pressure on an opponent. The opening and closing statements, along with the minute given to answer at the start of each question, were little more than short party political broadcasts, whilst the debate section saw the leaders looking for memorable soundbites and attacking opponents instead of putting forward their argument.

Question Time: 5/3/15

Question one asked about the proposed debates ahead of the election and whether David Cameron is running scared. Ruth Davidson, of the Scottish Conservatives, recommended an independent review like there is in America. Danny Alexander, of the Liberal Democrats, said that he was running scared and should ‘man up’. He said that it was part of the process, but debates between leaders are still new in this country, with the first one being held at the last election in 2010. Toby Young, of the Spectator, argued that he is not scared because he is taking part in one and that the debates can become a sideshow to the election and that analysis of records is more important. Val McDermid, an author, gave her opinion that with seven leaders, it would become a soundbite contest, which I think is likely to happen under the proposed format. Kezia Dugdale, of the Scottish Labour Party, called David Cameron ‘chicken’ and that he should take part. Humza Yousaf, of the SNP, argued that Cameron does not want to take part in the debates because of his record and said that the debates should go ahead regardless. He also said that if the Prime Minister is not there, he should be empty chaired in a manner similar to that from Have I Got News For You years ago with Roy Hattersley, recommending Eton Mess instead.

The second question asked what impact an election of lots of SNP politicans would mean for the UK government. Dugdale views the predicted polls as great for the Prime Minister because it will reduce the number of Labour MPs elected. Davidson disagreed, pointing out that both the Conservatives and the SNP will not work together after the election. She also urged people to vote for the candidate they wanted to win in their seat and that the SNP would look to break the UK up as opposed to govern it. Yousaf said that lots of SNP MPs would be positive for the UK government and that the SNP would not work with the Conservatives; he did say that they would look at working with Labour, but on an issue-by-issue basis and would work with other progressive parties; Dugdale claimed that the SNP are not a progressive party, particularly with regards to tax. Alexander claimed that the SNP are more interested in arguments than governing and would have a negative impact on Westminster politics. He also said that the Liberal Democrats would talk to the party that received the most votes first in the event of no party holding a majority. Young argued that the impact of the number of SNP MPs would depend upon the result of the election and that a small Conservative majority is possible, thus diminishing their impact, although if Labour had the most seats but no majority, they would have a greater impact that could be damaging. McDermid said that it was felt in Scotland that the SNP represent the people and that a large number of SNP MPs could change Labour policies.

Davidson claimed that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are currently not trusted, which is why they are struggling in the polls; in contrast, she felt that regardless of whether people agree or not, the Conservatives are seen as saying what they believe. Young said that Ed Miliband has not ruled out a deal with the SNP because he sees it as his best chance of becoming Prime Minister and that he would be prepared to make any deal in return for their support. Alexander argued that the best government would be one with the Liberal Democrats supporting either Labour or the Conservatives because they would moderate policies.

The third question asked if there should be stronger laws concerning ‘Hate Preaching’ on university campuses. Yousaf argued that stronger laws could see fuel being added, with extremists claiming that they are being denied the right to free speech. Young argued that those advocating violence are already banned, but those advocating extremism are not and should not be because there is a right to free speech and that they should be engaged in debate. Davidson argued that a change in the law would hand a victory to extremists because it would see life in the country being changed. Alexander pointed out that advocating violence is already outlawed and that the debate concerns a widening of the law and that debate is better than the passing of new laws or strengthening of existing ones. McDermid argued that building a strong society would see the ideas of extremists being rejected out of hand. Dugdale’s view was that debate is the way forward and the universities are the place for this. None of the panel favoured the passing of new laws or the strengthening of new ones. In Young’s opinion, an open debate would reduce the impact of extremist speakers.

Question four concerned Scottish A&Es missing their targets. Davidson mentioned the sheer weight of numbers, with over 80,000 more patients that six years ago and that integrating social and medical care would help. Dugdale said that the struggle to see GPs is contributing and that more funding is needed, which Labour would fund through a ‘Mansion Tax’. Alexander’s view is that there is a serious problem and that more funding is required, which the SNP control in Scotland. Yousaf said that he wanted to get away from politics being played with the NHS and that the SNP are funding it in Scotland, but there is more work still to be done. Young argued that the proposed ‘Mansion Tax’ would not result in more nurses in Scotland because they have already spent it several times over in proposals. McDermid generally agreed with Davidson and recommended that more is done on prevention instead of cure.

Question Time: 19/2/15

The opening question asked why, with so many encouraging statistics concerning the recovery of the economy, the Conservatives are not predicted to win the General Election by a landslide. Michael Heseltine said that the hard work is beginning to pay off, whilst Caroline Flint accused them of being out of touch and that the majority of people are not benefiting. Nicola Sturgeon wondered why, if this was the case, Labour are not heading for a landslide. I think that this the economy is going to be a big issue in the run-up to the General Election, with the parties taking the lines given as answers to the question. I think that the big advantage for the Conservatives is that they can link Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to the time when the problems started.

The second question was a follow-up to the first, asking if Ant & Dec had said what millions of people are thinking (that Ed Miliband is not seen as a realistic Prime Minister). There was laughter when Michael Heseltine said he had not heard of And & Dec. As to be expected, Flint defended Miliband and Labour, whilst Heseltine attacked.

Question three concerned Russia, it’s threat and if the United Kingdom is prepared. This question seems to be appearing in one form or another most weeks, with the answer essentially being the same of people wanting sanctions and nothing more. Heseltine argued that the UK is safe because it is part of the NATO alliance, giving the country security. In answering, he clashed with Sturgeon over nuclear weapons and whether the country should have them. Trident (and its need) became the talking point and whether it is an effective deterrent.

David Cameron’s policy for 18-21 year-olds not in work and community work (and if it should be extended to all) was the fourth question. Duncan Bannatyne liked the idea, but does not think it should be rolled out for all. Flint gave Labour’s proposals, which include a guarantee of a job for six months after a year. Norman Lamb (Lib Dems) said that education is the key, giving the best chance of employment. This was the route taken by Heseltine when answering. Compulsory volunteering seems an interesting definition; surely it can only be one or the other?

The final question asked whether Scotland would rule Westminster if there was a minority Labour government. Labour are claiming that votes for the SNP will increase the chances of a Cameron government, whilst Conservatives claim that votes for UKIP will increase the chances of a Miliband government.

Question Time: 12/2/15

The first question was about tax avoidance and whether it is morally acceptable. Armando Iannucci made the point that some businesses had got off lightly in avoiding tax in the past. Sarah Wollaston said that there is a moral obligation to pay tax and that avoidance and evasion were different things, with evasion being an aggressive attempt to avoid paying tax. Ed Davey used facts to show how well the government has done in recouping tax money, whilst saying how wrong it was. Chris Bryant argued that more people are tackling benefit fraud than tax evasion and pointed out that not everyone does it. Suzanne Evans agreed that not everyone does it and that political parties spend too much money. A member of the audience hit upon the key point, saying that this has only become an issue due to the election. Tax evasion has been tackled, but more still needs to be done. As it moved onto party political funding, the parties all looked to score points off of one another and the money received from their donors.

The second question asked if the West is appeasing Russia. Ed Davey said that the sanctions were sufficient and the efforts of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were the right way to go about things. He also looked to score points off UKIP by arguing that Britain’s position is enhanced by being in the EU. Suzanne Evans argued it is common sense instead of appeasement, with Russia’s forces being far larger. She also said that the EU had provoked Putin. Chris Bryant said that the EU has not provoked Russia, but that there has been appeasement of Russia. Sarah Wollaston described it as bullying and that no-one would want to be involved in a conflict with Russia and that as a result, sanctions are the way forward. The questioner said that the actions of the West may have been seen as appeasement by the Russians. Armando Iannucci agreed with sanctions, citing that those imposed on Iran have seen success in opening negotiations; he suggested extending the sanctions.

The third question asked about Labour’s pink bus ahead of the election. I think it’s a very strange idea that only a pink bus can be selected to encourage women to become involved in politics. My view on the pointlessness of it seemed to be reflected across the panel, although Chris Bryant argued that pink is just a colour and that lots of women did not vote in the last election. The argument also touched on lowering the voting age to 16 and getting young people to vote.

The fourth question asked if A&E patients with trivial injuries should be charged. Sarah Wollaston said no and that it would not raise much money, whilst putting people at risk. Suzanne Evans agreed with her and outlined some UKIP proposals for the NHS ahead of the election. Armando Iannucci argued that they could be fined, but they would still have to be treated. The questioner said that his question was based around people taking responsibility for themselves as opposed to saving or raising money. Ed Davey was against fines, arguing that people could be educated about other options; this was immediately tackled by an audience member, who said that getting an appointment to see a GP is difficult and they often refer to A&E. Chris Bryant argued that there were lots of different aspects causing problems in A&E.

Question Time: 5/2/15

The first question asked whether Labour has any friends in British business. As expected, answers from politicians became party political broadcasts, saying what their party would do and how much they supported business in creating wealth and jobs. Through the audience, the question expanded into zero hours contracts and Labour’s management of the economy in the past.

The second question concerned ‘bog-standard schools’ and whether they would continue to exist. The focus was on the new Conservative proposals for school budgets, which would see all pupils receive the same amount of money spent on them. Party political attacks continued, although Tristram Hunt said that Labour’s proposals would be announced in the coming weeks. The need (or otherwise) for teachers to be qualified, free schools and FE colleges were also discussed. I believe that the best way to raise standards in schools would be to give complete freedom to schools over how they spend money; they know the children they are working with best and what they need in order to succeed.

The third question concerned a report indicating anti-Semitism is on the increase in Britain. The increase in attacks has been linked to violence in the Middle East. George Galloway, a member of the panel, was discussed and whether his remarks have inflamed tensions; Galloway defended himself and his record despite a hostile audience, although others agreed with him.