Leaders’ debate: my impressions

Picture of Nigel Farage drinking a beer outside an English pub. The sign (altered from the original) reads "The Jolly Racist: Half-baked ideas sold daily; Wide selection of rampant intolerance; Homemade-up statistics; No dogs, no Romanians". A second sign standing on the floor reads "Tonight, Carnival night with the UKIP black and white minstrels. Scapegoat Competition. Dress code: Bongo-bongo Land, sluts half price".Last night there was a big debate featuring the leaders of the seven major political parties in next month’s elections (Labour, Tories, Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the SNP). I was driving, so listened to the debate on BBC Radio 5 Live rather than watching it on the TV. The debates all started with questions from the floor, and covered major areas such as welfare, the economy, immigration, the NHS and education. Perhaps I missed out on a lot by not seeing it on TV, but I didn’t believe any of the leaders were particularly impressive and this includes the women, contrary to some of the opinions I heard in the debates afterwards and the opinion polls on the front of some of the papers, especially the Tory papers. (I thought the Times’s poll was aimed at scaring the Tories into action on immigration rather than reflecting reality or promoting UKIP.) You can listen to 5 Live’s broadcast here and watch the ITV version on their website here in the UK.

I was most disappointed that the Tories’ claims about the last government’s economic record went unchallenged. The fact is that nobody accused them of wild taxing, borrowing and spending until the present government came to power after Labour had borrowed extensively to bail out banks following the collapse of some of them in 2008. We did not have a substantial deficit until that point, but neither did we have a particularly generous welfare state. We did not have many council homes built to replace those sold off in the 1980s; we did not have state-funded major infrastructure projects, with rail links and much-needed road improvements taking ages to approve, and most of the new hospitals were built using Private Finance Initiatives, with the private sector having to be paid back out of the health budget and those repayments taking priority over actual healthcare spending. Labour could have taken two other courses of action in 2008; either nationalise the banks without compensation or let them collapse, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people losing their money.

Labour spent the 90s trying to crush left-wing resistance to Blair’s reforms, telling their critics they were dinosaurs, that they were helping the Tories and helping to make sure Labour remained in opposition, and so on. They used tricks to make sure right-wingers favoured by the leadership were selected as parliamentary candidates, even exploiting union block votes where they still existed, and expelled members not only for standing against their candidates, but even for publicly suggesting that people vote for other than their candidate. Yet now that a Tory-led government has hacked away at even what they left in place last time, Labour are unwilling to defend their record and to challenge the terms of debate laid down by the Tories and their corporate media.

The major revelation from the debate was from Nigel Farage. He revealed himself to be a one-trick pony, as all his answers tried to divert the discussion onto immigration or the EU. The worst incident was where, during the section on the NHS, he brought up the cost of “health tourism” and of giving free anti-retroviral drugs to anyone with HIV in this country, regardless of immigration status (and his claims were misleading in any case). This actually has some benefit to the British public as it means the recipient, if they take the medication, is at less risk of spreading the virus, either to their sexual partners or their children, which none of the other leaders challenged him on. He claimed we could re-orient British foreign policy to forge greater links with the Commonwealth, as if those countries were motherless children, and Canada and Australia had not forged their own links with neighbouring countries in the Americas and Asia since the end of the British Empire, and as if any of those countries were a mere 26 miles from our shores. He sounded like one of those bores who has a pet interest and always tries to divert discussion onto it, even butting into other people’s conversations. He also reminded me a bit of the BNP in the mid-2000s, who stood for local and mayoral elections and offered policies on immigration which they could not deliver as local councillors or mayors. As it’s a given that UKIP will not be the biggest party in the next Parliament, his attitude would have struck some as defeatist.

Farage probably impressed some viewers and listeners because his voice cut through everyone else’s. All the others reinforced every stereotype you can think of: shouty women and old-boyish, samey, dull men (I can never tell Clegg and Cameron apart when I hear them on the radio), and all often shouting over each other and none of them saying anything particularly earth-shattering, but Farage at least sounded calm and cogent. However, what he used that voice for was to blame foreigners again and again like a dinner party bore. The debates make no real difference to my vote, as I live in a Lib Dem constituency where they are the only challenge to the Tories, and the media will always say somebody “won” because it suits their agenda and allows them to manufacture a story. If you were impressed by Farage, then please remember that he had nothing to say about any other issue besides immigration and the EU. Do you know what he would do once we were out of the EU, and what he would do if he failed to deliver, perhaps because of a failure (from his perspective) of an In/Out referendum?

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