BBC Question Time review 11/12/2014

This week the programme was in Canterbury with panelists Penny Mordaunt MP (Conservative), Mary Creagh MP (Labour), Nigel Farage MEP (UKIP), comedian/political activist Russell Brand and Sunday Times columnist Camilla Cavendish.

Question 1: Is the petty, adversarial nature of politics causing its own decline?

Russell Brand agreed that it was, and added that there is an issue of poor attendance of MPs for certain votes versus high attendance for debating their own pay levels. He said Westminster feels “detached” from ordinary people.

Nigel Farage said he agreed with the “petty” part and that focus is on, e.g., what colour of tie political leaders are wearing rather than talking about “the big issues”. He cited career politicians as an additional problem. Having disagreements is not, in his opinion, a bad thing.

Mary Creagh said Farage fits the bill of career politician better than she, and that she doesn’t think politics is petty. Farage responded that he spent 20 years in business before becoming a politician. Creagh changed tack and said that there is a clear ideological divide between Labour and the Conservatives, highlighting that voters have a real choice at the next election.

Penny Mordaunt said that Punch-and-Judy politics can be a turn-off and it’s the optimistic who vote. She and Brand then attacked each other over who is sending the more negative message: him by encouraging his 9 million twitter followers not to vote, or her for not taking Parliament seriously by introducing words into a speech as part of a dare by ex-colleagues from the navy.

Camilla Cavendish said her two real worries are that politicians and the media often aren’t interested in detail, and that there are MPs who haven’t lived in the real world and don’t necessarily realise the impact their decisions will make.

A man in the audience raised the voting system as an issue, saying a proportional system would give more people a voice and force parties to work together sensibly.

Question 2: Is Britain really overcrowded?

Dimbleby said this is in the context of a report from the Office for Budgetary responsibility which said that we’re not, and that we continue to need immigration.

Farage discredited the writer of report, saying it was written by the same man who massively under-predicted the recession. He said that the space itself isn’t the problem; it’s the resources for primary schools, GP surgeries, etc.

Brand said that Farage is blaming immigrants for everything that the economic elite is in fact responsible for. His statement that “immigrants are not causing the economic problems that we are experiencing” was met with strong applause from the audience, and he followed it up with a soundbite moment, calling Farage “a pound shop Enoch Powell”. An audience member (who is later identified as the brother of a UKIP MEP) said Brand should stop preaching at people and discrediting UKIP; if he feels that strongly he should stand for Parliament himself.

Cavendish said we’ve had 16 years of “an experiment of mass immigration” started by the Labour government and people are feeling the effects. They don’t want no immigration, but they want controlled immigration.

Creagh said only 10% of the land in Britain has been built on; lack of housing is a problem but it originates with the government. Labour will tackle immigration-related issues by putting an end to agencies that only hire workers from the Middle East and making wages fair.

Mordaunt said we need border controls and the removal of financial incentives, but also to keep the debate on immigration sensible, given that immigrants are net contributors to the economy.

Question 3: What role should the private sector play in the future of the NHS?

Creagh said that we need to repeal the Health and Social Care bill brought in by the coalition. Dimbleby pointed out that Labour were the first to turn to the private sector within the NHS, and she says the difference is the scale.

Cavendish said this is an issue people frequently write to her about and that the term “privatisation” is deeply misleading. We’re not selling off the NHS to the private sector; what it means is that some of the commissioning groups run by doctors are giving contracts to private groups and charities like Macmillan. She said she personally doesn’t mind who provides the services provided that patient outcomes are improved.

Farage agreed with Cavendish about the “false debate” over privatisation. We have an aging population and demand for services will increase, which countries like France are meeting with an insurance-based system. However, the privatised areas of the NHS have not been a huge success so far; we should “fix it ourselves” to ensure a more cost-effective service. Dimbleby asked him to clarify whether UKIP have dropped the idea of moving to an insurance-based system. Farage dodged the question and would not say that it is off the table, instead stating that NHS care should remain free at the point of service and that is what their campaign will be for the next election.

Brand said “profit has no business being anywhere near healthcare” and it worries him that many MPs would stand to benefit from further privitisation of the NHS.

Mordaunt said that under Labour, use of private services in the NHS was 5% and now it’s 6%, so by no means a big increase. An audience member asks why MPs are set to get an 11% pay rise when nurses are having to fight for 1%; Mordaunt says that if she is an MP after the next election she will not take the pay rise. She finishes by saying more money needs to be put into medical research, with sharing of intellectual property.

Question 4: Would education and social mobility improve if we returned to grammar schools?

Brand says he got a relatively good education at a comprehensive. The important thing is to keep education of good quality and free of charge; the policies of Farage and UKIP are not the future.

Farage said his answer to the question is yes; the removal of grammar schools is one of the biggest social mistakes we’ve made. He said that if every town had a grammar school, it would not be a class or catchment area issue.

Mordaunt confirmed that under the Conservatives existing grammar schools would be allowed to expand but they wouldn’t set up new ones from scratch, because they have other plans for the creation of new schools.

Creagh said that the grammar schools which converted into comprehensive schools provide a good education and the aim should be to have a world-class teacher in every classroom. She criticised Gove’s policy of allowing anyone to apply to a teaching post in free schools.

Cavendish said the grammar schools that are left have become middle-class; the answer is not to go back to more grammar schools but to apply what she identifies as their three distinguishing features to all schools: autonomy, discipline and the respected status of teachers.

Conclusions

I’m no fan of the Sunday Times, and didn’t agree with everything Camilla Cavendish said, but I very much liked the manner in which she said it. She was calm, measured and engaging throughout.

Penny Mordaunt was put on the back foot in the first question when Brand referenced her navy-dare Commons speech, but recovered well from it and stood her ground on question 3.

Mary Creagh had a few wobbles but was strong on question 2. She made a bit of a mistake in swiping at Farage early on; after that, her delivery was good.

Russell Brand got his two main points across (that UKIP can’t be trusted, and that the economic elite/bankers’ bonuses/uncollected tax money/2008 crash are causing our current problems) but his delivery was by turns overly casual and overly shouty.

Nigel Farage looked incredibly tired, and although he was enthusiastic in his answers, there was none of the manic energy I have seen in his previous Question Time performances. He answered the first and final questions fairly well, question 2 was on predictable ground and his response to question 3 made no sense. I can only guess that UKIP will be fighting the 2015 election on the basis of keeping the NHS free at the point of service, but their long-term plan is to move it to an insurance-based system.

Surprisingly for a programme billed as the Brand vs. Farage show, party policy and a range of issues got discussed at a reasonably detailed level. The audience contributions, with the exceptions of UKIP-man and a shouty woman at the back, were really very strong in this episode.

And that’s it for 2014. There will be more BBCQT reviews in the new year (unless I get a lot of people writing in begging me to stop). Until then, thanks for reading!

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