Celebrations for Labour after first televised election interviews

As the lights went down, Paxman was heard asking, "You all right, Ed?" Perhaps it was a cynical way of trying to make Miliband seem weak. His response - "I'm all right. You?" turned that around.

As the lights went down, Paxman was heard asking, “You all right, Ed?” Perhaps it was a cynical way of trying to make Miliband seem weak. His response – “I’m all right. You?” turned that around.

There was a point in last night’s Battle for Number 10 TV interview with Ed Miliband when an audience member told Ed Miliband, “All the money was spent by Labour. Liberalisation of banks was under Labour,” basically demanding that the current Labour leader take responsibility for the financial crisis and the austerity the Conservative-led Coalition imposed afterwards.

Miliband started his answer by referring to the questioner as Tim, but had misheard and was quickly put right by the man more correctly known as Dean. The Labour leader admitted that Labour had got matters partly wrong by under-regulating the banks (although he did also point out that other parties – like the Conservatives – wanted even less regulation at the time).

Well, Dean – you got off lightly there. In fact, Ed Miliband could have roasted you alive because your question started from a false premise. Labour didn’t spend all the money, Dean. Labour’s financial record during its time in government is in fact better than any previous Conservative government for the past 50 years, Dean. Labour was forced into a corner in which it had to pay out hundreds of billions of pounds in order to save your bank account, Dean. The financial crisis was a global phenomenon, Dean. In this country it was caused by Tory-voting bankers, Dean. They had promised blind that they could behave responsibly and did not need a nanny looking over their shoulder, Dean. It was the bankers who ruined the country, Dean – Labour had to try to sort out the mess afterwards.

And Labour was doing a good job until the 2010 election happened and George Osborne replaced Alistair Darling at the Treasury. In one ’emergency’ budget, he reversed all the good work Labour had done and plunged us into three years of stagnation. But we didn’t hear Dean talking about that.

Of course, Dean won’t be reading this article so he won’t know that he was wrong. His type sail through life in their little bubbles of ignorance, never noticing the effect their attitudes have on others. He’s a bit like a dangerous driver who causes one collision after another among other motorists who are forced to try to compensate for his behaviour.

That was this writer’s reaction to just one question, from one questioner. From that angle, the 95-minute show seemed very long indeed.

Let’s rewind to the beginning. David Cameron was first up, having lost the coin-toss to Ed Miliband, who put his opponent in to face Jeremy Paxman’s grilling first. How did he do?

He admitted he couldn’t do a zero-hours job (despite having forced at least 700,000 others into them); he was inaccurate about his government’s record on getting the national debt and deficit down; he lied about Labour’s fiscal plans; he admitted he had failed to bring immigration down. His promise not to raise VAT was unconvincing. He lied about the speed of the UK’s economic growth – we’re not the fastest-growing western economy but are somewhere around seventh.

He absolutely refused to give any hint about where the Conservatives’ planned £12 billion cut in the benefits budget would fall. Anyone on benefits – in-work, out-of-work, pensioners; there are an awful lot of us – should therefore be very afraid of what will happen if he returns to government in May.

He repeatedly claimed the economy was “close to the brink” when he came to office in 2010. What does that mean? Close to the brink of what? Bankruptcy? Ridiculous – the UK can’t go bankrupt while it has a sovereign currency (or at least, not as easily as Cameron seemed to be saying). He lied that he had cut the deficit by half – in numerical terms, his government has reduced it by a third, but it is rising again now.

One comment that stood out: “We still don’t have one company [italics mine] that owns all the government’s buildings.” Why do government buildings need to be owned by a private, profit-making firm? Aren’t they public buildings? Can’t the government manage those buildings itself – in the name of the British people who own them? It was a sign of his neoliberal sensibilities – he wants to take anything owned by the state, sell it to the corporations, and pocket the proceeds so the public won’t even get any benefit from the sale.

He said it was important that local councils have resources. What a disingenuous statement – his government has been cutting funding for local government.

He implied that another government might join the Euro. Why did he do this? Nobody has even mentioned it.

On the privatisation of the NHS, he again brought up his son Ivan as a human shield, deflecting an honest question that was prompted by concern with his own anecdotal recollections about a service that no longer exists because he ended it. It was up to audience members to point out that he broke his promise not to have another NHS reorganisation, and he broke his manifesto promise not to force the closure of hospital Accident and Emergency departments. He said spending on the NHS had increased but omitted the fact that the profiteers he invited into the service are eating those increases and leaving nothing for the provision of care. And he said there were more doctors now – all of whom would have begun their training under the last Labour government and were nothing to do with him.

It was a miserable performance by a miserable excuse for a prime minister.

Ed Miliband’s turn began with some truly bizarre choices of questions from audience members. The challenger for the country’s top job was asked, “Why are you so gloomy?” He was asked if he thought his brother David, who lost to Ed in a Labour leadership election, would have done a better job as Opposition leader. “Are you going to break your promises?” “Why aren’t you steaming ahead in the polls?” It’s hard to understand how he could answer a question like that – so he did well even to try.

In fact, he did extremely well, considering the quality of the questioning. Asked why Labour demonises high-rate taxpayers (another curiosity – who says Labour does this, apart from high-rate taxpayers?) he said Labour is not against wealth-creation. He thinks the best way for the UK to succeed is not just for people at the top to have more, but for everybody to succeed. Good answer. He revisited this later, when he asked, “Is our country going to just work for the richest and most powerful, or is everyone going to get a fair shot?”

Asked about Labour’s deficit reduction plans, he pointed out the elephant in the room that David Cameron avoids mentioning: “Living standards have fallen so tax revenue has fallen.” Labour’s plan is to improve living standards and increase the amount of tax revenue coming in, by increasing the number of people able to pay it.

On the David Miliband question, he admitted that New Labour had made mistakes and it was time to move on. “New Labour was too relaxed on inequality.” He mentioned the Iraq War, and he admitted that New Labour grossly underestimated the numbers of immigrants likely to arrive here after the eastern European countries joined the EU. This is important, because it neutralises claims made by Labour’s detractors that the party hasn’t learned the important lessons of its time in office; clearly, he was saying, he has. He returned to foreign affairs later, under grilling from Jeremy Paxman, when he flagged up his response to the government’s call for British armed forces to go to Syria. He said the current situation in that country remains terrible, but it would have been wrong for the UK to have become part of it.

Asked if he was another politician who was going to break his promises, Miliband offered a firm “No.” He said he was going to follow through on his promises because he wanted to rebuild trust in politics and politicians. “I want to under-promise and over-deliver”.

These questions left Jeremy Paxman with very little to ask. He revisited immigration, and asked what else Labour got wrong when it was in office – also covered in the audience’s questions. He tried to trap Miliband with questions about Labour’s economic forecasts about Coalition policy being wrong (they were based on information from the Office for Budget Responsibility – and the claim that wages have fallen is accurate), and about his time as energy minister (“I never said raising energy bills would combat climate change. You can’t use climate change to rip off the consumer”).

The challenge on the Mansion Tax was extremely ill-thought-out. Paxman claimed that Jim Murphy had said it was a way of taking money from the southeast of England and using it to subsidise Scotland. Miliband pointed out that this is what taxation is all about; tax money is used to support government policies throughout the whole of the UK. In fact, it is worrying that this was even mentioned as it suggests that people are starting to forget what taxation is about; the redistribution of some of the nation’s wealth into services for everybody.

Finally, Paxman came to the questions he had to ask, because they are the basis of the Tory election campaign: The claims that Miliband is a poor leader. Is he in a bargaining game with Alex Salmond over a deal with the SNP? No. “People look at you and say, what a shame he’s not his brother.” (This one raised a groan from the audience, who were firmly on Miliband’s side by now, having clearly decided that the questions put to him were not fair). Miliband shrugged. “Who cares? I’ve been underestimated at every turn.”

“People think you’re not tough enough.” This one provoked the iconic moment of the evening, that will be recalled by everyone who saw it – even Miliband’s detractors.

“Am I tough enough?” he echoed. “Hell yes, I’m tough enough!”

And then it was all over, bar the shouting from the political commentators in the press and on the social media.

A Guardian/ICM poll suggested Cameron had won the confrontation, by a margin of 54 per cent of respondents to 46 per cent for Miliband. YouGov had the difference much narrower, at 51 per cent against 49 per cent. Labour commentators said this was a great result for their party, as Miliband had been trailing much further behind Cameron in the run-up to the show.

On Twitter, the response went the other way entirely, with a hands-down win for Miliband. Paxman and co-host Kay Burley of Sky News came under fire for apparent favouritism towards David Cameron (both are known to have Conservative leanings).

Most damning, for Cameron is the simple fact that he refused to debate Miliband face-to-face. They were in the same TV studio, at the same time, and Cameron didn’t have the courage to do it.

Perhaps that is what voters will remember.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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16 thoughts on “Celebrations for Labour after first televised election interviews

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      This is why Tories love flat taxes. They don’t understand anything else.
      Oh yes, Ed came second – according to two flash polls that have been discredited by a large number of the population.
      Not only that, but your comment fails to take into account the change in the leaders’ personal ratings. Miliband had been trailing badly but has gained a huge amount of ground – from Cameron.
      Try to think of the election as a race. It seems clear that, based on last night’s performance, Miliband will overtake Cameron and leave the comedy prime minister choking on his dust.
      So yes, great result for Labour.
      Humiliation for Cameron. Get used to it.

  1. Florence

    A very good summary, Mike. I think for me one of the most important moments in Ed’s responses was about his brother. He clearly said he stood because New Labour – & by inference David Miliband – were going “in the wrong direction”. He stood because he wanted change. That is one big boost for Labour, and to answer those who are “allthesame” and “redtories” detractors (esp. SNP & Green supporters). The Tory-leaning presenters over-played their hands and in the end, it went against them. More fool them if they think that sort of performance would play with the electorate.

  2. Pieter Egriega

    Good article as usual Mike, I’m going to watch the debate now, and try to evaluate without my obvious leanings…although let’s be clear, our opinions only matter in the ballot box, they do not matter in reply to blogs

  3. Timro

    I was surprised at Cameron and finally understood why he refused to appear with Miliband on the same platform: Cameron looked twitchy, uncomfortable and out of his depth. Miliband on the other-hand looked straightforward, relaxed, honest and likeable.

    What a pleasant surprise.

  4. Steve Grant

    Ed didn’t quite go the whole hog and just tell the truth about the bankers,Yes,Labour did things wrong all governments do but surely it was Darling who should have held his nerve and not given in to black mail from the bankers…However it wasn’t Darlings call,it was Brown who made the decision and committed the country to hundreds of billions to cover the fraud the banks racked up.Had they not done so the banks were threatening to shut the entire system down throughout the country….Now if Ed tells that story as it happened then he would get my respect but as it stands he still has much to do to get me to vote for Labour again….but vote for the Tories?…..you are joking ..I’ve never voted for them in all my 64 years but I want honesty from my politicians,it’s not too much to ask is it?…my vote is here to be won but in 23 years I have never ever seen a labour candidate for general or council elections and the only one that has stopped to talk was the Green candidate in the last local election…..and that guy is an absolute head in the clouds hippy…..with NIMBY attitudes on housing…..he loses my vote on that policy alone.

    1. Derek Robinson

      The Banks weren’t threatening to shut the entire system down throughout the country, they were absolutely stuffed; finished; kaput and if Brown hadn’t of sorted it out you would have had no pension nor anyone else. The weakness has been subsequent to Labour leaving office.
      The banks have been allowed to take the piss by Osborne.

      I do agree Milliband should have been, as others need to be, more vociferous on this matter as well as other things, like letting people make false premises about Labours spend etc.
      The argument of the actual massive rise in debt should be used more effectively as it is after all the raison d’etre for any deficit reduction. What we have actually seen is pain being dished out to people who did not cause the crises with absolutely no benefit. The debt is nearly doubled in five years, Osborne has been an utter failure by all measures
      unless you consider reducing the state to rubble a benefit.
      Labour need to be quicker to use facts and ram them home, on that I would agree.

  5. Rupert Mitchell (@rupert_rrl)

    I found Paxman’s attitude more “bullying” than impartial and he most definitely came over as a Tory favourite to me. To bring in overheard personal comments was absolutely disgusting and, seemed to me, rather a desperate attempt to gain a winning point against Ed who shrugged it all off magnificently and as a gentleman.

  6. Richard Ashton

    It definitely was set up for Cameron to do well, he got easier questions from Paxman, and in the audience Q&A. The tory bias was blindingly obvious, but that actually worked out well for Ed. It also allowed the viewers to see just why Cameron didn’t want to debate Ed face to face. Cameron looked like a cowardly, weak leader who needs spoon fed lines disguised as questions to defend his, and his parties record in office. And even with the deck stacked in his favor, he still failed. A prime minister thats so bad, he couldn’t even win a rigged Q&A.
    I was a little disappointed that the disgraceful performance of the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith wasn’t mentioned. His attack on the sick, the disabled, and the unemployed with punitive sanctions is disgusting enough, but even that doesn’t account for the millions of innocent children’s lives that have been torn apart by tory welfare policy. Paxman mentioned the increase in food banks, then allowed Cameron to wriggle out of a satisfactory answer, and this process continued throughout his interview with Paxman, and the audience Q&A.
    In contrast, Ed looked calm, confident, passionate and honest. A leader who has learned from the mistakes of new labour, and a leader who will put people before corporations. Paxman looked increasingly more desperate as he realized that Ed was more than a match for his abrasive, arrogant and rude style of questioning. His credibility as an unbiased journalist left in tatters as the nation witnessed the nasty tory he really is. Well done Ed, a good first step on the road to number 10.

  7. Gazza

    OT : Well Truth will out – Benifit Cuts leaked.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32084722

    Tax Disability… hhhhmmm
    regional benefits cap…. hhhhmmmmmm
    reducing eligibility for the carers’ allowance…. hhhhhhhmmmmmmmmm
    NI contributins taken away from families …………
    Limit child benifit to 2 children

    List created by Civil Servants on orders of Head Conmen Conservatives HQ.

    Yes, all will be very popular policies with those affected and left picking up the pieces

  8. Timro

    An item on the BBC1 Six O’Clock news revealed that leaked documents show that some of the “welfare cuts” being considered by the Conservatives include restricting Carer’s Allowance so that 40% of claimants now receiving it would lose it and only people on Universal Credit would be able to receive it. The same story extends to pretty much all working age benefits. Millions will end up thrown to the wolves.

    Watch the BBC News channel (Freeview 130) to hear the item again when repeated,

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’ve written an article. Basically it’s a huge expansion of the chequebook euthanasia schemes that are already running against ESA, DLA and PIP claimants. If the Tories are elected in May, then the death toll by 2020 could be more than a million, I reckon.

  9. concernedkev

    I would not trust YouGov polls they have a profile on all users and only invite to political polls occasionally. I am a subscriber no invite last night

  10. Joan Edington

    “Well, Dean – you got off lightly there. In fact, Ed Miliband could have roasted you alive because your question started from a false premise. Labour didn’t spend all the money, Dean. ”
    You have hit the nail right on the head there Mike. Ed let yet another questioner off lightly, just as he has dome with the Tories too often in Westminster. I don’t watch parliament very often, since it is a hugely disgusting performance most times that I do, but on so many occasions I have been grinding my teeth waiting for Ed to come up with the obvious statements to wash the smarmy grin off Cameron’s face and silence the braying hordes. Unfortunately it rarely happened.

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