Question Time analysis: a useless blood sport?

I’ve pondered whether it’s time to bin the BBC’s Question Time programme in its current form. I said then that “the format does not work when the country has a coalition government and is in the midst of an economic emergency”. Big national issues need intelligent discussion, not to be treated as a point scoring blood sport.

Last night’s programme was again a humourless affair, shedding no light on any topic.

I’m wondering whether a change of presenter might make the difference. I get the impression that David Dimbleby sees himself as some grand inquisitor, trying to draw blood from sharp jabs of questions. In this he’s aided and abetted by producers whose aim seems to be to create unbalanced panels where the most strident opinion is favoured over the most thoughtful.

What were the delights we were offered last night? There was George Galloway, no longer an MP, with views at the very margins of our society; Sally Bercow, famous, or is it infamous, for the verbal dribble she commits to Twitter, and who happens to be the wife of the supposedly impartial Speaker of the House of Commons; Francis Maude, a rather earnest government minister with the rest of the panel likely to be against him; Andy Burnham, a failed Labour minister seeking to justify his recent political judgements and to promote himself as the new leader of the Labour Party – enough of elections, pleeeeease, and finally Nick Ferrari, a talk show radio host given to offering pithy and populist opinion.

Where, oh, where was the thoughtful discussion? I rest my case.

Review: This Week of two weeks ago and political honeymoons

Reviewing old news, what use is that? Well, there are a few useful conclusions from Andrew Neil’s This Week programmes that I’m not sure have been fully commented on.

Two week’s ago one of Andrew’s guests was lead singer with Scouting for Girls, Roy Stride. He was revealing on the thoughts of youngish and keen LibDem supporters. His view was that the coalition is positive development in British politics, and that it should be given a chance to succeed. Roy felt that the coalition has rid the country of the overly tribal nature of British political discourse and reporting.

Know what, I think he’s right. For years the internecine warfare among the Labour hierarchy, and the twisting of the truth by Labour spin doctors, has poisoned the well of goodwill towards politicians of all parties. The other notable thing in the interview with Roy Stride was the strength of his optimism about the coalition. This was said in face of strong political negativity from others on the programme.  

A small point on political honeymoons. I believe this one to be different, in that there’s a separation of honeymoons for individuals in government, from the hopes of what a coalition might be able to achieve that a single party could not. That’s why this honeymoon will be longer than might be normally expected.

Andrew Neil has invited all the Labour leadership candidates onto the sofa with Michael Portillo, and then grills them hard on their political vision. He despatched Diane Abbott’s ambitions with cruel efficiency the week before. In this show it was the turn of Andy Burnham, who fared little better than Diane. Pressed hard about why he should be Labour leader, Burnham’s replies were insipid. Again Neil was a clear and easy winner in the exchanges, leading to the conclusion that another contender had bitten the dust of political disappointment.

Petition response from No10 on extra funding for Surrey

In my email in tray this morning is a response from Government to the on-line petition I signed earlier this year, for the Prime Minister “to urgently review funding levels for local government in Surrey.”

I’m pleased to receive the response, but not surprised that it hasn’t had much effect, as this part of the response shows:

“This means that generally an authority with a high need to spend on services, for example due to deprivation, and a low ability to raise funds locally, i.e. council tax, will receive more formula grant than an authority with a low need to spend and high ability to raise funds locally.”

One positive to take out of the response is the committment to devolve power to local authorities. The only pity is that is doesn’t come with any more money. Here’s what they say about this committment:

“”We will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a review of local government finance. “

PMQ’s analysis: Cameron in command

Out for most of the day and World Cup footie in the evening, so have caught up with PMQ’s through BBC Democracy Live [Also available HERE].

Two things to note about this PMQ’s. One to discuss its content, but the other about the Speaker’s view of its purpose. I’ll address the second point in a separate blog post.

I imagine there are many still adjusting to the new look of PMQ’s, what with the LibDems and the Tories in coalition, and still no leader of the Labour Party, PMQ’s is very different. The one person who seems to have adapted most quickly is David Cameron. He seems made for the role of Prime Minister. As Sky News’ Joey Jones comments in his excellent PMQ’s analysis, David Cameron showed a “remarkable command of statistics without notes”.

Interestingly, three of the most media-savvy new Labour MP’s managed to get called to ask a question by the Speaker, Gloria del Piero, Rushanara Ali, and Chuka Umunna. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from these three MP’s in the future. I hope so because, as I’ve noted previously, the Labour party sorely needs new faces.

As to the overall result, I’m still of the opinion that marks out of 10 for performance isn’t quite appropriate, maybe later perhaps. However, my overall view is that David Cameron is the most commanding presence in the chamber, and that Harriet Harman would be more effective if she’d decided to enter the race for Labour leadership. It would have given her more edge to the exchanges with the Prime Minister.

Public sector pensions crisis worse than thought

Dear Reader, I image you’ll know how exercised I am by the iniquities of public sector pensions versus private sector pension provision.

If you need a recap on my views and some of the useful ideas on how to resolve the situation then take a look at; Three pension crises – Feb 2009Shocking disparity -Apr 2009; and finally Don’t forget the pensions crisis – Apr 2010.

 Well, well. It appears that the crisis is worse than first thought. What comes after crisis – catastrophe perhaps.

An independent commission – Public Sector Pensions Commission – has looked at the affordability of public sector pension provision and, guess what, has found a dramatic under provision, according to their report released today.

You can read the Commission’s report, but a shorter synopsis, from the Chairman of the Commission, can be found HERE

If pensions are a worry to you. I recommend Paul Hogarth and Steve Bee’s website – jargonfreepensions.

Slight wobbles on our Afghanistan policy are OK

Apologies for slow blogging, have been involved in some enjoyable deputy mayoral events. Even though I’ve missed a few days blogging, there are some flies buzzing round my head that I must get rid of by putting pen to paper, as it were.

Afghanistan. I’ll bet you as troubled by our Armed Forces being there as I am. Last year I was a touch wimpish on the subject but was toughened up by listening to General Sir Mike Jackson.

The reasons we’re there, as I see it, are to counter the threats of international terrorist, to see the job through to the end, and not to devalue the sacrifice to date of our Armed Forces. We’re not there for nation building, but to neutralise terrorism so that Afghans can forge a new nation, after the many years of war.

This is not a war where you can say we’ve won. It’s a complex situation. It involves sensitive relations with Pakistan, and the Muslim world.

Therefore, it’s understandable that members of a new government, which is afterall a coalition, would have slightly differing views on the progress and timetable of our role in Afghanistan. I’m surprised at the level of criticism being directed at the coalition for their wobbles on Afghanistan policy, notably around the timetable for our withdrawal.

We’ve ditched Tony Blair’s ‘gung ho’ attitude that so overstretched our Armed Forces, and that’s got to be good. We’ve replaced it with a desire to see an end our involvement. Surely this is a healthy attitude, to say otherwise is not what the majority of the country wants. Differences in nuance from the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, and even Prime Minister are to be expected, and indicate a thoughtful approach to the problem, which will continue to trouble us all, especially when the conflict costs the lives of our brave soldiers.

Question Time analysis: give that man a medal

I missed the first part of the BBC’s Question Time last night. It was much improved over last week’s edition, at which I had a touch of the vapours.

The standout performance was that from Ian Duncan-Smith. The audience reaction to him was amazing. This was a politician in whom they might believe. A politician prepared to argue intelligently and passionately, and who’s set on improving the lot of the people on the bottom rung of society. I particularly liked his direct response to the young man about the Future Jobs Fund, no hedging around the subject, meeting the objection head on.

Of the rest of the panel, Alan Johnson just looks tired, and relied on the worn-out arguments against any sort of change. The different arguments that Camila Batmanghelidjh would ordinarily bring to Question Time were lost in her views being so close to those of Ian Duncan-Smith. I don’t mean to offend here, but Prof Mary Beard was that wild and slightly scary person, to whom you’re riveted because you’re expecting the unexpected. Finally Simon Heffer, I thought he might rise to the heady heights of David Starkyeque repartee, but turned out to be burned-out candle.

I’ve decided to drop my marks out of ten for panelists performance, feeling it’s a touch pretentious on my part.

I wish I’d Iain Martin’s writing skills

Some of the issues contained in my recent posts have been: the lack of any credible Labour politician to argue their case in the much changed political world; the importance of William Hague’s recasting of UK foreign and diplomatic policies; that our salvation, economically, will come from being an outward-looking mercantile nation once again; and finally, that the inbuilt leftist liberal intelligentsia running the BBC and Channel 4, is struggling to adjust to a new political dynamic.

I wished I’d both the time and the writing skills to flesh out these issues. One man, who’s always on my political wavelength is Iain Martin, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe. Today he has in two blog posts wonderfully captured the importance of these issues. They are:

“The introduction to “Newsnight” on Wednesday was a classic of its kind: portentous, statist in its underlying assumptions and slyly contemptuous of the ability of the private sector’s ability to create wealth and employment.”

“Having declined to make the full-throated case for several years that private-sector wealth creation will power the recovery and it will be crowded out if the state stays too large, Cameron now finds that it is not widely enough understood in the media or the country.”

  • Labour needs lessons in opposition – where he both notes the intelligent shifts in UK foreign policy from William Hague, and Labour’s complete failure to understand these shifts, saying,

“How did Labour respond to all this? Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that William Hague needs to start behaving like a foreign secretary. This is silly. In the Locarno room at the FCO, Mr. Hague had just made a serious speech about Britain’s place in the world. That counts as behaving like a foreign secretary.”

Now if I was years younger, I’d be writing to Mr Martin and asking for an internship under his tutelage. Oh, and I got a little buzz of pleasure, to find that I’d used the word statist in my blog post on not wanting to hear from Gordon Brown, and that Iain used it in his piece on Cameron’s not arguing his case.

Now, waiting for Mark Urban’s analysis of William Hague’s speech on Newsnight, which I hope is the top story.

I’m not interested in hearing from Gordon Brown, thank you

Following on from my previous post about old political faces. I’ve no interest in seeing or hearing from Gordon Brown. Maybe, I’ll soften my opinion over time, but it’ll need to be a longish time, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, I’m slightly disheartened that others like Guido Fawkes or The Guardian, are interested in him. Leave him be, please. I do not want the return of a Gordon Brown jabbering statistics at me, or to be the voice of doom on the coalition’s economic prospects.

The country is on a new path. while there’s the pain of retrenchment to come, there’s also the optimism and hope that things are set to improve. That the latent mercantile energies and talent of the British people’s will now flourish after years of despondency flowing from statist control.

Question Time analysis: Is it time to bin it?

Watching BBC’s Question Time this evening from Canary Wharf, I’ve concluded it’s time to bin the programme, or at the very least to make major changes to its format.

While the make up this week’s panel is left-wing, last week’s was right-wing. Whatever, the format does not work when the country has a coalition government and is in the midst of an economic emergency.

Having panelists airily criticise the changes being made to save the nation from bankruptcy serves absolutely no purpose. Frankly, I’m not any longer interested in a programme that sees value in creating argument over a national disaster. For example with the polarised views of a Marxist, in Caroline Lucas, or the delusions of political columnist, in Peter Hitchens.

One possible solution is to take one or two ‘hot’ topics and have a couple of politicians, and academics or experts discuss the topic in detail. Just take a look at blogs on the internet, there’s plenty of thoughtful comment and analysis there. The time will come again when Question Time is the perfect format for political discussion. Now is not that time. Now is the time for serious analysis of the financial threats to the UK and world economies, and the nature of work in a globalised business world.

Continuing with a programme format that designs in partisan and tribal argument adds nothing to public discourse or enlightenment.

Here are my marks out of 10: Peter Hitchens, brevity is not his forte, nor is sound argument – 5: Caroline Lucas, a panelist twice in as many months is enough, no more please, too full of convoluted Marxist babble – 4: Ed Balls, all Labour politicians are in denial on the scale of our economic woes – 5: Vince Cable, more animated, impressive and cerebral than I’ve seen before – 8; Brent Hoberman, most probably an intelligent and thoughtful businessman, but not a worthy panelist, although he didn’t interrupt as Lucas and Balls were allowed to do – 6.

Finally, it’s going to get very boring if all the opposition aims to do is find, or promote splits in a coalition.