Question Time

Interesting Question Time tonight. No outright winner, but certainly David Miliband made a better fist of it than Theresa May, who seemed to have little answer to the unusually hostile questioning about Chris Grayling’s views on the B&B owner who didn’t want a gay couple sleeping in the same bed as each other. Grayling was caught in secret filming supporting the B&B owner, clearly against anti-discrimination laws.

Definitely fuel for a long blog post, that, as despite disagreeing with the views of the proprietor entirely, I can see the logic of allowing a private citizen who owns a business to have the right to decide who he or she wants to stay in their establishment. Similarly, current employment law is moving inevitably towards the hysterical position that you will no longer be able to refuse someone a job when they’re capable of doing it, if you don’t like them for whatever reason. Mark my words, this is coming. When does personal opinion start to grind against anti-discrimination legislation? Food for thought and debate, methinks: in the B&B owner’s case, he was happy for the gay couple to stay in his establishment, just not for them to stay in the same bed. Is that discrimination, or personal freedom in action? A difficult one. I’m undecided as to which should have legal precedence, despite being morally in favour of the gay couple’s position.

What we may be seeing here with Miliband’s good showing in Question Time is the effect of Labour’s 13 years in Government, which have produced a few good Cabinet performers in this kind of programme, presumably down to long sessions of expensive media training to put across the Labour Party’s message. Theresa May started off well with the question of National Insurance, but seemed increasingly uncomfortable as the programme progressed. Former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell was reliable but didn’t really land any blows of note, while historian Simon Schama seemed to be on something throughout. His contribution, while wildly unfocused, was interesting nonetheless, as he is a lifelong Labour voter who is presently sitting on the fence. The Daily Telegraph columnist present was predictably Conservative leaning and mostly inconsequential.

What has been noticeable in the campaign so far is that politicians from any party properly pressed on the big issues have little answer to the questions, preferring instead to bluster and talk rubbish for fear of upsetting someone. The Lib Dems aren’t immune to this, as was seen tonight on the Ten O’ Clock News when Nick Clegg was asked whether he thought business leaders were wrong to agree with the Tories about that party’s commitment to overturn Labour’s proposed rise in National Insurance next year, which prompted a non-answer worthy of either of the two main parties. This clearly showed that, despite Clegg’s claim to so-called “new politics”, he’s sadly just as beholden to the doctrine of spin as everyone else. His party has a clever message this time around in terms of counter-programming, but if he continues to evade like this, he’s going to end up looking just as bad.

Despite a fairly poor Question Time, the Conservatives are so far doing best in the campaign because of the row over NI. How long that will continue remains to be seen. Certainly there are many twists and turns to come. The release of the various manifestos next week will provoke a huge amount of debate, and may prove to be game changers depending on their content. The Tories need to ante up on the substance of their so far wishy-washy policy themes in order to come across as a credible would-be Government, but many traps lie in wait for the other parties too. It’s going to be a fascinating week.

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