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: 15/1/15

The first question was based around the right of freedom of speech and how far that freedom should extend. Whilst true freedom of speech does not exist, there is a lot that can be said, which can cause offence to others. I have not seen a copy of Charlie Hebdo, so do not know how similar it is to satirical magazines in our country (like Private Eye); it did seem provocative of the magazine to publish an image of Mohammed following recent events and the claim that the magazine had been attacked for previous pictures. However, being offended does not provide any kind of excuse for responding in a violent way, a point made by the panel.

This then developed, looking at the suggestions for new laws concerning the monitoring of Internet use. If this law was used as Anna Soubry was suggesting (those who would be monitored would be people under suspicion and warrants would need to be obtained), it would seem to be a logical extension of the existing law; a blanket introduction, as others were suggesting, would be an encroachment on privacy and also be incredibly difficult (if not impossible to implement) due to the amount published each day. In fact, an incredible amount is published each minute according to Visual News.

The General Election campaign is clearly under way, with Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives looking to score points off of one another on the economy and whether taxes should increase or if services should be streamlined. I would imagine that we will hear the same arguments frequently over the next few months. David Starkey took a different approach, suggesting that the country is now at a time where a choice needs to be made about the services we receive and the taxes we pay.