I’ve spent this week fairly quiet due to work commitments but managed to find time this Thursday to watch the start of the mainstream televised election campaign beginning with the interviews and Q&A sessions with, separately, David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
If you haven’t yet watched the program and you wish to do so it can be viewed here
My Thoughts are below the fold.
Last year, Scotland went through a transformative process of democracy and it was thoroughly examined by political commentators. Many have stated that for years to come no-one will be able to study political theory without examining the 2014 referendum campaign.
By comparison, it seems that the organisers of this presentation have learned precisely none of the lessons of that campaign. The program was something to be expected from the 2010 election campaign. Highly choreographed and stripped of all but the merest hint of emotion from the no-doubt well vetted audience. Unfortunately, this was the result of the tantrum Cameron threw at the prospect of having to actually defend his record in front of the other party leaders and the public at large. His constant shifting of the goalposts until he was truly backed into the corner has been to the detriment of the undecided and new voters whom research has shown will be most influenced by these programs.
I will say a good word about the format though. Jeremy Paxman was clearly in his element giving both leaders a tough time and doing a reasonable job of digging and jabbing when he sensed the candidate trying to avoid the questions being asked.
Cameron is a polished statesman and shows all of the rhetorical skill of one who has spent an education being trained for a career in politics. Of the two leaders, he was by far the one who gave the best presentation and answered questions more clearly and more confidently. This is not, however, to say anything about the content of those answers.
His fobbing off of the rise of zero-hours contracts as being at the choice of the workers involved or good for students (who, in my opinion, would be better off focusing on their studies rather than trying to balance them with working to afford the tuition fees Cameron cast upon them) belies the fact that the “flexibility” offered by such jobs is overwhelmingly on the part of employers who can hire and fire a disorganised workforce at a whim and to ignore that their rise is almost entirely correlated with the Conservative’s policy in Government.
His answers on debt and deficit were sorely lacking. Maybe it’s because I’m a numbers person but when he claimed that his policies were a success because when he came into office the UK’s deficit was almost as large as that of Greece I had to check it.
In 2010, the UK deficit was 10% of GDP and the Greek deficit was 11% of GDP. Now, in 2015, The Greek deficit is only 1.4% of GDP whilst the UK’s deficit is 4.1% of GDP, the second worst deficit in the top 15 EU nations after Spain. Further, if interest on outstanding debt is put aside then Greece is now running a primary budget surplus whereas the UK wouldn’t even cut its deficit by half. This, Mr Cameron, is your “success story”. Despite what I said about Paxman earlier, that these basic numerical facts, which can be found so easily on the internet, are not being picked up and reported is not a good auger for the state of our journalists. (Source for deficit data: http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/government-deficit_gov-dfct-table-en)
Worryingly, his solution for cutting the deficit further seems to be based on universal income tax cuts (by raising the thresholds at which the tax bands are paid) and selective public service cuts for the poor. I’m particularly concerned about revelations subsequent to this program that one of the plans is to effectively cut social security further by applying the income tax to disability living allowance amongst others. This is yet another utterly inhumane attack on the very most vulnerable in society and news of the possibility of such a policy comes just days after this program in which he said to an audience members face “We should do everything we can to help disabled people face as few disadvantages as possible”. It will be interesting to see how he envisages that cutting vital social security will achieve this.
Far better would be something akin to the Green proposal for a truly Universal Citizen’s Income. Give everyone the equal right to live regardless of ability, disability, living choice or circumstance. If people then wish to work a zero-hour contract job then they can, safe in the knowledge that at least they can keep a roof over their head and themselves and their children fed if their employer chooses to not give them any shifts for a couple of weeks or longer. This would also truly “make work pay”. There would be no benefit traps where people end up with less income due to working more hours. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s such an uphill battle to convince parties like the Conservatives to support this plan. It seems to fit all of their goals too…assuming, of course, that their stated manifesto goals ARE the ones they are aiming for. Is that the sound of shifting posts again Mr Cameron? I hope not.
Straight out from behind the podium with uncharacteristic brashness, Miliband was obviously briefed to appear confident and gregarious. I’m not buying it though. I saw someone trying to cover up their lack of confidence and/or excess of nerves. I have a lot of sympathy for this, I’ve been there more than I’d like to. I wouldn’t relish being torn into by Paxman either. But when your line is “Hell, yes I’m tough enough to stand up to Putin”, it’s not that encouraging to hear your voice quaver at the thought.
I’m also concerned with his admission that his relationship with his brother has been damaged by the leadership contest to the point, that five years, on it’s still merely “healing”. I stand proudly with my other running mates in the South of Scotland Holyrood contest and I’ve been greatly heartened by the spirit under which it has been carried. I eagerly await the results next week but I cannot imagine falling out with any of them over it. I have little faith in a potential leader so apparently prone to petty grudges so find that particular answer rather unappealing.
In his answers to the question from the person concerned about being affected by higher tax rate increases betrayed once again the bind that Labour are in the UK. Reversing years of triangulation towards the Tories in order to head off growing opposition from progressive parties like the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru will inevitably lead to his losing votes among the moderate right voters courted by New Labour. It is no wonder that the people of the UK have all but decided against either him or Cameron presiding over a majority government and forcing a far more interesting result through despite the pressures of the FPTP voting system. Perhaps, hopefully, 2015 will see the last time this undemocratic system is used to decide what happens inside the House of Commons. It’s well past time the UK joined the result of the democratic world (except America) where coalition politics is normal and healthy rather than a sinister threat to “The Establishment”.
I know I wasn’t the target demographic for this foray into election politics. It’s very much a product of the old way of doing things. Maybe this is still a useful format for much of the UK but I believe that Scotland, newly politicised as it is, has outgrown such things. I’m looking forward with rather more energy towards the all-leaders debate this week. I hope that the cross-party grilling will provide a little more enlightenment and a little more examination of policies (and I DO hope that people will be brave enough to call out others when they get their sums wrong!). One questions hangs though.
If Cameron and Miliband couldn’t debate just each other, how well will they handle the other five?