by Martin Odoni

It may take courage to become Prime Minister, but it also takes courage to do the things that will keep you there. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, today had a change-of-heart – I think correctly – over his previous decision not to take part in tonight’s televised leadership debate. Having announced his involvement, he then invited Theresa May to join the debate too. Did anyone fail to predict what May’s response would be?

May will run and hide. She will let the other leaders do all the talking.

The Conservative Party campaign has been so risk-averse so far that it is quite impossible to call it anything better than cowardly. One almost wonders whether May would refuse to do interviews if they require a prior journey across a road, for fear of being run over. The ludicrous upshot of the safest-options-at-all-times approach, designed to hold onto the lead the Tories had at the start of the campaign and nothing more, is that it runs completely contrary to its own message. May has interminably bored the nation to tears with claims to being a “Strong & Stable” leader, and a Corbyn premiership being the doorway to a “Coalition of chaos“. She claims only she has the authority to negotiate effectively with continental leaders as Britain negotiates its withdrawal from the European Union.

But more and more, it is becoming impossible to miss the absurd disconnect between May’s mechanical words and her insulating actions. If she is strong and Corbyn is chaotic, why will she not debate him? If she is so strong, she will surely be able to outwit and outbattle a chaotic weakling at the despatch box? If she is so stable, how come she and her fellow Tories have made most of the real ‘car-crash’ mistakes over the last five weeks? If she is so stable, why does she keep making policy U-turns, including on Manifesto pledges before the General Election has even arrived?

From all this, the follow-up question is inevitable; if a leader is not willing to debate a mere six other Britons, how can she be ‘Strong & Stable’ enough to be trusted with the task of negotiating with the leaders of twenty-seven other countries? If courage is truly the strength it is generally held to be, why is it conspicuously absent from the deeds of a leader who is supposed to be ‘strong-and-stable’?

May’s excuse for not taking part is that she believes a politician’s job during an Election campaign is not to stand on stage and argue with other politicians. Instead, she claims, it is to get out and meet people, knocking on doors and engaging in doorstep conversations. There are at least four reasons why this is a flat-out and very obvious lie; –

Firstly, the Tory campaign has been repeatedly and rightly mocked very widely for its persistent over-orchestration, which has actually been even worse than it was under David Cameron in 2015. The attempts to keep random members of the public and ‘non-approved’ journalists from getting near to May have extended as far as locking some members of the press in another room while the Prime Minister talked to pre-vetted people (an action I am not even sure was legal; what if there had been a fire?).

Secondly, no one is suggesting May should do the televised debate instead of door-knocking. While they cannot both be done simultaneously, in a five-week campaign, there should be no difficulty setting aside time separately for each activity. It is hardly as if the televised debate is going to last the full remaining week of campaign-time (I am heroically resisting the temptation to add that it often seems like a week listening to May speaking for an hour… oops, looks like I said it anyway).

Thirdly, most of the questions in the televised debates are asked by members of the public. Does it really make that much difference if they are asked in a television studio and not on a doorstep?

Fourthly, I would be more than a little surprised, after the debate closes, were I to learn that May had spent that whole of that time talking to voters on the doorstep, and not perched on a settee, watching other leaders ‘squabbling’ on TV. But for her excuse to have any traction, door-knocking while the debate is going on is precisely what she would have to get out and do.

In short, Theresa May is terrified that she will lose in a public debate with Jeremy Corbyn.

May may JC will

May’s cowardice is not only a bad move strategically, given the dismal recent polling news for her party, who clearly could do with something positive to happen for them to stop the rot. It is also bad on democratic principle. Not only because it adds both accountability and knowledge of a candidate to the democratic process. The modern British public are often accused of being ‘apathetic‘ to and ‘disengaged’ from politics. Probably true, and it is spoken of as an indictment of the public. I, however, see it more as an indictment of modern politicians, and May’s behaviour would demonstrate one of those failings. She is Prime Minister of (what just barely passes for) a democratic country, a country where the politicians serve and are answerable to the people. Yet May has demonstrated throughout this campaign that she will not answer to them.

This shows why the criticism of the British public as ‘apathetic’ is not altogether fair. After all, how can the public possibly be expected to engage with democratic politics, when the most powerful democratic politician in the country will not engage with the public?

I doubt Theresa May, a woman of absolutely no principles, cares one jot about the moral duty. My hope therefore is that next week she is punished for her strategic foolishness instead.

by Martin Odoni

So. The ITV leaders’ debate. I found the absence of Theresa May from it was rather a redeeming quality, as the leaders who did speak were comparatively less android-like, and she would have ruined that with her mechanical repetitions of ‘Strong & Stable’. I thought Caroline Lucas and Tim Farron were the most impressive speakers, Lucas very impassioned, Tim Farron surprisingly combative. Nicola Sturgeon seemed a bit awkward compared with her performance in 2015 and a bit too eager to speak from a narrowly-Scottish perspective. Leanne Wood’s performance was fairly solid, although it had a bit too much umm-ing and ah-ing at points. I do feel Jeremy Corbyn rather missed a trick by not taking part.

A special mention for Paul Nuttall – and yes, paranoid ‘Kippers, I will start by being fair to him. Given it was clear that the other four debaters were all in agreement on most topics, and therefore were dead-set against Nuttall’s far-right mindset, I genuinely thought his showing was surprisingly good. It can only be difficult to avoid getting in a flap when everyone else on the stage disagrees with your every word, and I thought he held himself together quite well.

But, having said all that, he still said some flipping stupid things, which made it easier for the others to ‘gang up’ on him. Here are my own responses to five of these stupid remarks; –

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 1: –

“There’s a big world out there! There’s the Anglosphere. There’s the Commonwealth which has over 2 billion people in it. This is where our future lies.”

(Emphasis added.)

Really? Nuttall thinks the British Commonwealth is this country’s ‘future’? That would be rather like Vladimir Putin suggesting that the future of Russia lies with the Tsars of the House of Romanov. Or Lars Rasmussen declaring that the future of Denmark lies in raiding other countries in longships and stealing their gold.

The whole reason why the Commonwealth is so-called, and no longer called ‘The Colonies’ or ‘The Empire’, is that it is not Britain’s future. It is part of Britain’s shameful past, and there is little reason to assume any of its constituent nations would be eager to offer Britain a better deal than the European Union.

Speaking of the Commonwealth as Britain’s ‘future’ says more about the pseudo-historical romanticism of the xenophobic right in this country, harking back to some kind of ‘British Golden Age’ that never really happened, than it will ever say about the realities of Brexit.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 2: –

“We are letting too many people come [into the country]. The only way to solve it is by having an Australian points-based system, whereby we have the right to say who comes and who doesn’t.”

Oh? Would this be the same Australian points-based system that, according to studies from last year, allows a higher rate of immigration per head than the UK’s current system?

Well, I am fairly happy for extra immigrants to come in, so I am most gratified to learn that Nuttall was secretly in favour all along.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 3: –

“My party is committed to putting £6 billion extra every single year into the National Health Service. This will fund twenty thousand new nurses, ten thousand new GPs… Net [migration should be] one in, one out.”

While I am heavily in favour of training up far more home-grown medical experts than has happened in Britain over the last twenty-five years, we have to face the reality of how long it takes; training up a new doctor requires up to six years of education. So as we wait for an enlarged next generation of doctors and nurses to come-of-age, what do we do in the meantime? Well, the answer to that is precisely what we have sadly been doing for the aforementioned twenty-five years; we have to rely on immigration to keep the NHS adequately staffed. But if, as Nuttall insists, we have to reduce net migration to zero, adequate staffing becomes a dice-roll. What if not enough unskilled people wish to leave the country at a time of NHS vacancies? What if a lot of the people leaving are themselves NHS workers?

The policy platform of the UK Independence Party, characteristically, is completely incoherent. Particularly, it fails to recognise how one policy can impact upon another. It is therefore ironic that Nuttall said at one stage of the NHS/social care discussion, “The left hand very often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

That is a fine summary of his own party’s policies.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 4; –

“Let’s not forget the opportunities Brexit will give us once we leave the European Union. We’ll be able to sign trade deals all over the globe.”

“Opportunities”? The UK will be compelled to sign such deals, instead of leaving it to the EU to sort that out, as it presently can. Whether replacing all these deals is an opportunity or a chore, it will be an obligation. A very long, slow, frustrating obligation, some of the negotiations taking many years. This is because, once the UK is out of the EU, it is also out of all of the EU’s trade agreements too. That will mean replacing the collective deals with individualised treaties, country-by-country. Nuttall does not seem to realise the incredible amount of work and time that will involve, and again, no plan for what the UK will do in the meantime.

STUPID REMARK NUMBER 5; –

“How would we pay for [NHS funding increases]? Well, we would take that money directly from the Foreign Aid budget… … … We believe as a party that people know how to spend their own money better than any Government does on their behalf… we believe that people know what best to do with their own money.”

The implication of this is that the Government spends tax-receipts on services. This is not strictly true, but Nuttall probably thinks it is, so let us go with it for now. With this in mind, from where exactly does Nuttall think the Foreign Aid budget is sourced? Throughout the debate, he kept talking of spending more on some services by re-directing funds from other areas. Fine, but if he is going to rabbit the Bronze-Aged cliché of people ‘knowing how to spend their own money’, how can he then talk about a putative UKIP Government investing in anything at all?

In fairness to Nuttall, he was not the only one to make the odd silly remark; I found Leanne Wood’s remark that large class sizes in schools have little negative effect on the quality of the children’s learning to be very foolish indeed. If that is the case, well, why not just have about fifteen teachers in the whole country, and let each one of them teach one year of pupils up and down the nation all at once? Easy in an age of Skype, right? The reason why not is because of course large class sizes have a negative effect on children’s learning!

But Nuttall definitely made most of the stupid remarks, and if he is really the outstanding talent left in his party, that is a very sorry look-out for its crumbling support-base.

Ah well, better luck next time you need to choose a leader, UKIP – assuming you are still around long enough for there to be a next time, that is.

by Martin Odoni

Oh, it’s going to hurt saying this. Hasn’t David Cameron been impressively clever today? It’s definitely one of his best moments as Prime Minister and I think we should be generous and let him enjoy it.

I refer to his rather out-of-nowhere ultimatum to Ofcom that he would withdraw from this year’s electoral debates unless the Green Party were allowed to take part as well. I really hate to say it, but it was a brilliant move. He put it in terms that make him sound like a truly democratic statesman, by invoking the very real issue of how unfair it would be to exclude the Greens while allowing the Liberal Democrats (less electorate support) and the UK Independence Party (no seats at the last General Election) to take part. Quite right, and it does sound wonderfully magnanimous and statesmanlike.

Of course, that’s not the real reason why Cameron has done this. He cares not one iota about fairness, as his record in office, either on electoral matters or on economic ones, makes all-too-obvious.

The real reason for this new stance can be summed up by the sentence, “No matter which door you open, Dave’s in first.” And this is because, whatever response Ofcom and the BBC offer, Cameron will be in a stronger position for it. If they say yes, the Greens will have a new platform on national TV from which Natalie Bennett can attempt to appeal to the disillusioned Left in this country, potentially splitting the Labour or Liberal Democrat vote. If they say no, on the other hand, Cameron has ammunition with which to demand that UKIP should not be allowed to enter the debates either. If Nigel Farage is left out, it potentially reduces the splitting effect UKIP can have on the Tory vote. And Cameron would even have a pretext for withdrawing from the debates altogether, which, given how uncomfortable such occasions often are for a leadership incumbent, would be tempting in itself. Remember Gordon Brown’s almost-obsequious repetition of “I agree with Nick” five years ago? Embarrassing.

Yes, Cameron’s motivations have been weaselly and cynical, and he might even prove to be quite cowardly, but credit where it’s due, his move has been excellent politics, and clever.

Ugh, that was not fun to write.

By the way, on the infernal subject of media-bias, I need to draw attention to the following text, which was in the BBC website’s initial report – linked to above – earlier today; –

Nick Robinson said Mr Cameron believed people would think it was unfair if the Greens were excluded from proposed debates which included Mr Farage.

This text was substantially changed a little after 7pm, but I have decided to include the earlier sentence on here, so we have recorded yet another example of the BBC reporting doubtful Tory pretexts as undiluted fact. Typical of Nick Robinson in particular to ascribe acts of unashamed Tory self-interest to altruistic motives. But then, a BBC controlled entirely by ex-Tories has no shame either.

See the bottom paragraph; Nick Robinson of the BBC just gives the Tory Party line without cross-examination, as usual.

See the bottom paragraph; Nick Robinson of the BBC just gives the Tory Party line without cross-examination, as usual.