This episode of BBCQT came from Manchester, with panelists Matthew Hancock MP (Conservative), ex-mayor of London Ken Livingstone (Labour), Peter Wishart MP (SNP), Kate Andrews from the Adam Smith institute and comedian Matt Forde.
Q1: Will bombing ISIS really make us any safer?
Ken Livingstone says military advice makes it clear that air strikes alone won’t achieve anything and it would need to be followed up by troops on the ground. In his opinion ‘we’ve got to learn from the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan’ by developing a multinational strategy for intervention.
Matthew Hancock says ‘What is clear is that ISIL are a danger to this country’. ISIL are already attacking Britain so we need to take them on ‘and I think we must not wait’.
Peter Wishart sees the question to answer as whether we will assist the situation by getting involved in it. He considers it ‘naive’ to think that ‘a further round of bombing will solve anything’.
Matt Forde believes ‘there’s a real danger that we’re deliberately learning the wrong lessons’ from the war in Iraq and it must not be used as an excuse to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Syria.
Kate Andrews’ direct response to the question is ‘no, bombing is not going to make us safer’. She says the Prime Minister has not presented a convincing strategy for defeating ISIL and agrees with Livingstone that Britain must work together with other countries to develop ‘a long-term strategic plan’.
Livingstone expands on the idea of what that might be, saying we need ‘tens of thousands of troops on the ground’ but only if it is from a broad coalition of countries and has UN backing; Britain cannot be ‘America’s poodle’ again. Hancock says that the UN have already ‘voted unanimously in favour of action’.
Wishart disagrees with military intervention and argues that given we already have the biggest refugee crisis of modern times in Syria ‘we need a diplomatic solution’.
Livingstone says he would like Corbyn to give Labour MPs a free vote on airstrikes and that military advice should be listened to. ‘I remember when Tony Blair was told by the security forces “if you go into Iraq we will be a target for terrorism” and he ignored that advice, and it killed 52 Londoners.’ Hancock and Andrews join forced to accuse Livingstone of absolving the 7/7 bombers from blame by accepting their propaganda.
An audience member says bombing is ‘too indiscriminate’ because an aerial attack ‘doesn’t differentiate between those we are trying to save and those we are trying to kill.’
Q2: Could the shooting down of the Russian jet lead to World War 3?
Wishart calls it a ‘worrying escalation’ and says it demonstrates the dangers of having such a tense environment.
Livingstone sees it as completely unacceptable that ‘Turkey shot down a plane which was not targeting Turkey’, but doesn’t believe it will escalate to the level of world war.
Hancock says it’s ‘clearly a very complex situation’ but we can ‘help stop atrocities by taking action’.
Andrews thinks talk of a third world war is ‘incredibly dramatic’; things are escalating, but not to that extent.
Forde says that strong British leadership is vital, otherwise people like Vladimir Putin will get their way.
Q3: Does the Chancellor’s U-turn on tax credits mark the end of austerity?
Kate Andrews says ‘no’; the Chancellor ‘just really lucked out’ that the revised growth figures meant he could roll back on tax credits and still stick to his deficit predictions. She is pleased to see that help for working people has been protected but is critical of the Chancellor crafting economic policy ‘from budget to budget’ rather than having a long-term strategy.
Matt Forde says that the tax credit U-turn was not driven by the ideology of helping working people but because the House of Lords had ‘humiliated’ the government.
Matthew Hancock defends the Chancellor by saying he has acted perfectly reasonably, using the extra money to in part reduce the deficit, in part invest in infrastructure and in part to ameliorate some of the most difficult cuts.
Ken Livingstone picks up on Andrews’ point and agrees that economic policy is too short-termist. He says for the past 35 years we should have been investing in modern manufacturing, as was done in Germany.
An audience member says the £12 billion welfare cuts passed from central government to local authorities have been ‘devestating’ and the government is unaware of just how damaging its decisions are, including withdrawal of support such as transport to school for her disabled son. Hancock responds that we need to live within our means now to be able to provide public services in the future.
Peter Wishart says the government are ‘ideologically committed to an austerity programme’ and ‘they don’t care less who they hurt along the way’.
Q4: The NHS can’t meet the demands and expectations of our population. The future lies in targeted drugs, emerging technologies and things it was never designed for, so is it inevitable that the NHS will become privatised?
Andrews says that free healthcare at the point of use is ‘a wonderful thing to see’ but the NHS is out of date and overburdened, leading to a drop in care compared to its Western European neighbours. She thinks it doesn’t necessarily need to be privatised but it should not be run by the government.
Livingstone argues that relative drops in level of care are the result of under-investment. He thinks healthcare should be devolved from Westminster to local authorities.
Forde says the important thing to retain is free at the point of service – it is not important whether that service is provided by the public or private sector.
Hancock agrees with Livingstone that we can use people on the ground to resolve problems in health and social care.
Wishart says he’s glad healthcare has been devolved to Scotland and it should be an entirely publically run service. Andrews counters that such an inflexible ideology leads to poorer patient outcomes.
Q5: What are the long-term consequences of a Conservative government without opposition?
Matt Forde says ‘I joined the Labour party when I was 16 and left the day after Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader’. His reason is the current Labour party ‘doesn’t feel like a home for sensible people who want the entire country to be represented’.
Ken Livingstone argues that it was Corbyn who forced the U-turn on welfare cuts and he has tapped in to the anger across the country from people who felt unrepresented by previous politicians.
Matthew Hancock sees the current Labour leadership as a threat to free market economics and aspiration.
Peter Wishart says that with Labour in absolute shambles the Conservatives will press on with their ideology unencumbered.
Kate Andrews points out that the government only have a small majority, but says with a lack of real opposition they could become complacent.
The most striking thing to emerge was that of the five panelists, only the Conservative MP backed the government’s position on airstrikes in Syria, but those opposed are split between the two camps of no military intervention or much larger-scale military intervention. I thought the most consistently astute inputs came from Kate Andrews, particularly on the tax credits question. Dimbleby kept the programme ticking along quickly and it was good to get so much content covered. Plus it’s the first time in ages we were spared the usual loaded question on immigration, so thank you Manchester!