Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Grill the Leaders

Last night's TV grilling of all the leaders turned out to be a more interesting affair that I thought it would be. It actually worked out so well that each leader got equal time to answer questions on their policies, rather than sit there and be berated by the opposition every time they respond, that I think it was better than a US-presidential style debate after all.

Charles Kennedy had the easiest ride of the three, and he generally made it work well. The audience didn't ask him particularly tough questions, and when it got to Iraq I believe he put forward his response more aggressively and passionately than I've ever seen him. He was still a bit hazy on local income tax, but he has improved his style by elaborating. Notice that he struggled a bit in explaining that some people will pay more, but he was very careful to redirect the issue into economic fairness by pointing out the rich pay less as a proportion of their income than the poor, which gained a significant applause from the audience.

That's the strategy other politicians use: they are asked a question, they sort of dodge it, and then go beyond it. I believe Kennedy went one better last night: he answered most questions straight, and then went beyond to justify it by putting it in context of their goal of a "fair society". Much better.

Michael Howard arrived and I noticed how the atmosphere changed. People do realise that Charles Kennedy is not going to be the next PM, and the more relaxed audience suddenly turned very critical. They appreciated the fact that Howard could be next in Number 10... and grilled him accordingly. Perhaps unfair to set different standards, but the spectacle was enjoyable.

He struggled to square the circle on Iraq. He tried to explain his immigration policies, but the audience was often very mean. I personally don't think his policies are racist (although they could appeal to racists), but a number of audience members called it that. He smoothly went through tax and spend, which possibly won him votes, but overall the hostile audience made his term in the chair rather difficult. He didn't do badly, but he could have done better.

Blair put in the worst performance, when this used to be the thing he shined the most at. The audience turned up the hostility another notch, and he was given very little opportunity to wheel out the classics of low inflation, low interest rates, record investment in public services, etc. Instead, the audience demonstrated to Blair that they are concerned about the situation in Iraq. For weeks he has refused to believe that this is an issue that resonates in the country, but he was forced to eat his words last night.

He looked a little nervous, and the sweat started pouring off his head. The audience groaned when he said again that we shouldn't expect tax rises, and was put on the defensive by some incisive questioning on student tuition fees. Then the bombshell was dropped about his targets distorting clinical priorities - which he didn't seem to understand was going on. His response was the usual "I will take personal charge and investigate this!" but Hero Tony coming to Save The Day doesn't wash with the public as much as it used to.

All in all, Charles Kennedy probably came out top - but perhaps only because he had an easy ride from the audience - with Howard second and Blair bottom. It reminded me why I hate Blair so much, and I'm sure other people found it useful to confirm or change their votes. It won't make a massive difference, but it was an entertaining spectacle nevertheless.

The other interesting point to conclude is that last night's debate clearly showed that people are interested in Iraq. We're constantly being told it's not an issue "on the doorsteps" (wherever that may be) but it was good to see all three of them getting at least 10 minutes on it. I'm sure a lot of people made up their mind last night. I was pleased that the audience seemed to be well informed and weren't taken aback by the first answer given to their question. A lot of people aren't buying the "But if I had taken your view, Saddam would still be in power!" blackmail, particularly if you consider that Iraqis likely don't give a shit about the glorious (and very corrupt) government they have elected. They would take peace, security and growing prosperity however it was delivered.

If the new Iraqi government does not deliver on these issues very soon, democracy will begin to be seen as a white elephant. Right now, there are still dozens of people dying in Iraq every day. There is still not enough electricity or water supplies, but the oil is free flowing out the country with not much coming back. Democracy is having its reputation tarnished right now. Just because a country has an elected government, it doesn't automatically follow that it is a success. This seems to be Blair's Blackmail, but we must resist being bribed with it.

This time next week we will all know the result of the election. The past few days could still make it interesting. I live in hope.


At 12:55 pm, April 29, 2005, Anonymous bookdrunk said...

Kennedy did do very well, even in the face of being told he lacks charisma - which he managed to turn into a jibe about the Blair v. Howard relationship.

I thought that Blair did relatively well over Iraq (given the obvious circumstances) and only started to come apart - sweat really gushing - when the discussion turned to NHS waiting lists. Seemed like he was completely unprepared for hostility on that issue..

At 9:57 am, April 30, 2005, Anonymous libellum said...

I'm always disappointed by the questions actually asked by Iraq. The ones being raised should be those detailed in this article. Kennedy didn't do badly, and QT obviously wasn't the forum to make emotive speeches (although he tried) but everyone seems to be avoiding the heart of the matter, which is just making it easier for Blair to get away with.


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