The BBCQT panel in Derby was comprised of Hilary Devey (businesswoman; formerly of Dragon’s Den), Tim Farron MP (Lib Dem; candidate for next leader), Stella Creasy MP (Labour; candidate for next deputy leader), Nicky Morgan MP (Conservative; education minister) and Owen Jones (Guardian columnist).
Question 1: Is it realistic to try to reduce net migration to below 100,000?
David Dimblebly sets this in the context of a renewed pledge from Prime Minister David Cameron, who still sees reducing migration beneath 100,000 as the ultimate target.
Nicky Morgan says ‘it’s the right ambition’ and that the public want to see immigration brought under control. She talks about the upcoming Immigration Bill being about fairness and balance. When Dimbleby presses her on whether the number is realistic, she says you have to have a target.
Tim Farron says the election was run on fear. We need to avoid ‘demonising of those who are other than ourselves’, because that isn’t what makes the UK great. Migrants contribute to the success of the country and there is ‘give and take’ across the EU.
Owen Jones says it isn’t realistic and the Conservatives have ‘ratcheted up fear’ without reducing the numbers, which undermines people’s faith in democracy. He adds a personal anecdote: his grandmother was cared for by ‘Lithuanian care workers and Polish nurses and Indian doctors; and it wasn’t them who put this country into the economic mess it’s in today, it was the banks’. He believes the immigration row has been intentionally created to deflect blame from ‘the people at the top’.
Hilary Devey says ‘I don’t know why immigration is such a problem’ because immigrants come here, get jobs and contribute through paying taxes and engaging in society. The problem isn’t so much people coming in as the fact ‘the whole damn infrastructure’ hasn’t been set up properly with the foresight to accommodate them.
Stella Creasy says the debate needs to be reset because people no longer believe what politicians say about immigration. She ridicules the government’s latest policy of making something illegal that was already illegal (illegal working is now a criminal offence for which wages can be seized) and says the problems with immigration are localised to certain parts of the country.
Question 2: Is a 7-day NHS really viable?
Hilary Devey says David Cameron promised it in 2010, reiterated it in 2015 and is likely to be no closer by 2020 because ‘where are these doctors coming from?’ She thinks politicians should just tell the public the truth if the figures show their pledges are unobtainable.
Nicky Morgan says ‘we have to have an NHS that’s open 7 days a week, because people don’t just get ill Monday to Friday’. She talks about pilot schemes and recruitment drives being successful. Devey challenges her again about the human resource aspect; Morgan says they will follow Simon Stevens’ five-year plan (he’s the CEO of NHS England) and they believe it is deliverable.
Stella Creasy says the increased pressure on A&E is in part coming from people who can’t see their GP within two weeks, and combined with the number of GPs planning to retire she doesn’t see how 7 day opening is achievable. It’d be costly and she is ‘worried that early diagnosis will only be for rich people’.
Owen Jones says the government keeps taking credit for new GPs but ‘it takes 7 years to train a GP; you’ve only been in power for 5 years’. He lists problems the health service has faced over the past few years, including top-down reorganisation and increasing bureaucracy, and concludes the Conservatives are putting a question mark over the future of the NHS.
Tim Farron says the NHS already provides 24/7 care; you already have ‘access to a GP’ 7 days a week but ‘if you want access to your own GP, by golly, you’re going to need to recruit a lot of GPs’. He adds that 50% of med school students would need to choose general practice for the policy to be delivered; the BMA say at the minute it’s 20% and politicians should listen to the doctors.
Question 3: Is the British economy strong enough to pull out of Europe?
Owen Jones says he doesn’t agree with leaving the EU but Labour should have given an in-out referendum ‘years ago’ to avoid the economic uncertainty we will now face. The true giving away of sovereignty and damage to the economy is through the TTIP. Dimbleby says Jones is ‘going around the houses’ and not addressing the question.
Hilary Devey says her personal opinion is ‘we should not extradite ourselves from the EU’ and the Conservatives have ‘a duty of care’ to ensure the average person understands the full implications of a Brexit. She doesn’t think the economy is strong enough without Europe and it would impact terribly on businesses.
Stella Creasy says we want to be ‘part of the club making the rules, not outside knocking on the door’ and criticizes Jones for playing party politics. She is worried the EU referendum will be a distraction and would rather have it sooner rather than later. Creasy adds that it’s important for EU countries to work together on climate change, terrorism, etc.; it’s not just about the economy.
Nicky Morgan says we need to have the debate and give the British people the decision. The British economy is strong but ‘our relationship with Europe is very important’ and it’s too complex to give a yes or no answer.
Tim Farron says ‘Could we survive on our own? Yes, but we’d be a lot poorer; an awful lot poorer’. If we left the EU but stayed in the trade area we’d be subjected to the rules without having any say in them, which he sees as a bigger loss of sovereignty. He would like to see more positivity in the debate and points out the benefits of EU membership for tackling climate change and keeping peace within Europe.
Question 4: Is the backing of the trade unions the kiss of death for any Labour leadership candidate?
[This refers to both the backing of Ed Miliband, and the falling out between Jim Murphy, former leader of the Scottish Labour party, and Len McCluskey, leader of the trade union Unite, who put pressure on Murphy to resign. Murphy did so but accused McCluskey of having a negative influence and inability to back the right horse.]
Stella Creasy says that Labour get that they lost the election and need to listen to make sure they’re delivering what people want to see from the party. Within trade unions every vote is equal.
Owen Jones says that Derby ‘has a proud history’ in that it returned the first 2 Labour MPs to represent the working people. Those people still need a voice and the party would be more overrun with career politicians if it wasn’t for the clout of the trade unions.
Nicky Morgan says she’s clearly ‘not an expert on the Labour leadership’ but she likes Jim Murphy and it was sad to see him stand down.
Tim Farron says he’ll be ‘all ears’ if Len McCluskey decides to back his leadership bid. Trade unions are vital for workers but he thinks the Labour-Union link is ‘bad for both’ because people at the top of the unions have their own agenda that doesn’t necessarily reflect their membership, and not all union members are part of the Labour party. Stella Creasy agrees with the point that not all members of trade unions are members of the Labour party, but thinks that having that range of views is ‘healthy’ and it’s right that they can vote as affiliated members.
Hilary Devey says the kiss of death would be if Labour defer to the will of the unions. She questions the need for trade unions because workers have the choice to go and bad employers will go out of business.
Question 5: Regarding the gay wedding cake that’s been in the news, should the courts be deciding whose beliefs get priority?
Tim Farron says it’s a shame it ended up in court, but businesses running services for profit can’t show prejudice or discrimination.
Nicky Morgan says the court case determined that the Equality Act had to be enforced. They are entitled to hold their own view in private but have to carry out the service of the business.
Stella Creasy says ‘discriminating against people on the grounds of their sexuality has no place in the modern world’. When Dimbleby asked whether it would also apply to a religious message on the cake, she bizarrely asked how he would feel if it was his own sexuality being subjected to scrutiny. There is baffled laughter from the audience.
A rather bewildered Dimblebly calls on Owen Jones, who echoes that businesses have to abide by legislation, including the Equality Act.
Hilary Devey agrees and says it’s a non-story; if that’s the way they run their business they should turn the key and go home.
There was clearly some sniping going on between Stella Creasy and Owen Jones, who have different ideas about how the Labour party should be run. Creasy answered well at the start but increasingly went off on tangents and ended on an incomprehensible note. Jones often dealt with the initial question with a brief sentence or two before going on to his pet topics, whether they were related to the question or not, and kept trying to get on to emotional subjects to manipulate the audience.
Nicky Morgan came under fire from many angles and held it together well, although she wound me up on the EU question by saying ‘we need to have a debate’ as if it’s in some future fenced-off oasis, rather than meaningfully engaging in the debate happening around her at that very moment.
Tim Farron was like a polite boy being invited around to afternoon tea for the first time: he answered thoughtfully when spoken to, particularly on Europe, but was otherwise very quiet and perhaps should have waded in on a few occasions. He seemed to want to say more on the NHS question but Dimbleby had already moved on.
Hilary Devey was the surprise package: confident, engaging and asking questions as well as answering them. Her manner was rough around the edges but she was terrific at getting to the heart of each issue very quickly.