Saturday, 11 July 2015

Question Time

I don't watch Question Time, because decades ago when I did I used to find myself shouting at the television.  But last night, driving down the A1, I listened to it on the radio (and when at one point I turned it off, my daughter said she was interested in it so I switched it on again).  You can watch it here (but you ought to have something better to do).

The panel was Conservative minister Anna Soubry, Labour shadow minister Chuka Umunna, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard, UKIP MEP Louise Bours, and journalist Rachel Johnson, with David Dimbleby as presenter.

The politicians seem better than I remember at seeming likeable, but the level of debate is no higher.  The program started with a discussion of the effects of the "living wage" and tax credit measures in this week's budget.  Umunna started by pointing out that Cameron promised, a few months ago on the same programme, not to cut tax credits.  Soubry flatly denied it.  Of course she was wrong, and Dimbleby might have said so, since it was he who put the question to Cameron, but either he'd forgotten or he chickened out.  None of the panel talked about the effect of the new minimum wage structure on employers and the patterns of employment they will now favour, or the effective marginal tax rate of 78% imposed on some claimants by the sharper taper of tax credits (it's OK to examine these things from the left).

Later, Bours and Johnson gave us their analysis of the Greek referendum.  The proposed package, Johnson informed us, would be "a bailout for the bankers, again".   "You're right, absolutely", Bours confirmed.  Well, the 2012 package sorted out the debts to commercial banks, in return for their accepting a write-down of 53.5% of face value, together with reduced coupons and extended maturities.  So that was a fraction of a bailout.  This time the debts are owed almost entirely to the Eurozone and the IMF, so if a bailout benefits the creditors, those creditors are the people of the contributing countries.  A member of the audience wanted to "tax the bankers" to pay for it, and Sheppard suggested specifically a levy on bailed-out banks: he didn't say if he would exempt Greek banks from that.   Johnson and Bours agreed that Greece would have no great problems reverting to the Drachma (except, I say, that they'd have nothing to pay for imports with in the months it took for the new currency to find a foreign exchange level).  Umanna then observed that "it's not as simple as...bankers against the Greek people" and he and Soubry spoke sensibly but vaguely.

Then there was a discussion of student grants and loans, the lowlight of which was Bours arguing with a nursing student in the audience about the content of her university course - not what the content should be, but what it is.  Bours then repeatedly disparaged a degree in "David Beckham studies" - a horror largely of her own imagining.

At the end the panel discussed the next leader of the Labour Party, most of them expressing their disappointment that Umunna is no longer standing.  Bours put her hand on his shoulder "we couldn't wait to see Chuka sitting in a working men's club drinking a pint of stout".

Two years ago I wrote a post in response to Nigel Farage's question about his party's potential MPs "could we be worse?".  Having listened to this programme, and watched the ending, I can add that, criminality and defections aside, the answer is "yes you are".