On Monday, I participated in a debate at BBC Radio Northampton. Designed to focus on the Corby Constituency, it featured the incumbent MP and Minister Phil Hope, a nameless Lib-Dem, and myself. I was standing in for our candidate Louise Bagshawe, who preferred to campaign in the constituency. A BNP candidate was featured later, as the three main party representatives declined to share a studio with him.
I have to admit that this was not my finest hour. The questions focussed either on Corby issues, where despite some efforts in advance I found that I was not adequately briefed, or on questions about UK welfare and social programmes — SureStart, child tax credits — with which, as an MEP, I am not particularly familiar. So I was unable to answer Mr. Hope as a robustly as I should have liked to do.
Nevertheless, a very clear and alarming pattern emerged in Hope’s message. Continuing regeneration of Corby? “We’re gonna spend more money on it”. Sure Start? “We’re gonna spend more money on it”. Child tax credits? “We’re gonna spend more money on it”. I reminded Mr. Hope that his own Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling, had promised spending cuts “deeper than under Margaret Thatcher”. Hope threw a predictable hissy fit at the mention of the Great Lady, but made no attempt to answer the substantive point. Labour are going into this election on a false prospectus. Ministers like Phil Hope are going around promising to keep right on spending, when they know they can’t do that — and they criticise other parties for suggesting spending cuts. Truth, they say, is the first casualty of war, but it also seems to be the first casualty of General Elections.
Not for the first time, I found myself wondering if the editorial policy of the BBC was entirely neutral. The questions could have been chosen to give Hope an easy ride. One was clearly asked by a Labour activist. I happened to see a handwritten list of e-mailed questions handed to the Presenter by the Producer. The first one was simply two words: “Euro Referendum?”, which would have been grist to my mill. But of course it didn’t get asked.