The two biggest party leaders in the UK took to the television in the first such event of this election cycle, but who came off best from an encounter with Paxman and the great British public?
David Cameron, somewhat embattled British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, and his only realistic opponent Ed Miliband of the Labour Party, both took part in the first big television event of the election cycle, and with just forty or so days left before voters get to choose, both knew it would be all important. Everywhere else the candidates would debate each other, head to head, but not in the UK where Cameron had already rejected that idea in no uncertain terms, several times.
Leaders Appear In Tandem
• Cameron asked about rich friends
• Miliband quizzed about strength
• Kay Burley looked irradiated
Instead there was a bizarre tandem grilling by Jeremy Paxman, famed for his tough questioning that often borders on lacking respect for the people he’s interviewing, where first the Prime Minister sat across from the emollient former Newsnight presenter, and then Ed took to the hotseat for similar treatment. Those of you unaware of Paxman’s style should look up his famed interview with Michael Howard where he asked the same question 12 times in a row in face of political obfuscation.
Alongside this was a somewhat staid questions-from-the-audience session with each, guided by the bizarrely bronzed Kay Burley of Sky News, who frankly looked suspiciously like she’d just come back from a holiday sunbathing in Chernobyl, or perhaps been replaced with a poorly textured alien doppelganger that had only ever seen faded pictures of humans. The audience, by comparison, were the usual cross section of the great British public gambling news coverage of the highlights would show their faces on the telly.
After an encounter with Paxman the audiences questions were a little too simple, and even the prompting of the glowing goddess herself couldn’t actually throw either candidate too far off the party line and their own particular narrative. The Prime Minister was smooth and confident, with Ed Miliband having to work a little harder, especially with Paxman, whose derision of both seemed palpable throughout, and indeed it is perhaps David Cameron that came off best on the night.
Prime Minister Dismisses Characterization
Cameron was challenged on the economy and his statements on V.A.T. Paxman noting that the number of food banks had risen considerably during his tenure as Prime Minister, asked if having 900,000 people using them was a sign of success, which was rather casually batted aside by with a blandly predictable excuse it was “partly because of the difficulties we’ve faced as a country”, which skirts the whole issue of it being a country he’s in charge of. However it was over V.A.T. Paxman was perhaps his most fierce.
Paxman reminded David Cameron that he had, in the run up to the last election, promised to the face of Paxman himself that he would not raise V.A.T. if elected. Twice. Then, when elected, promptly raised V.A.T. anyway in an entirely blatant piece of position reversal. Unfortunately for Cameron he was challenged to promise not to raise V.A.T. after this election in PMQs on Wednesday, and said he wouldn’t, but as Paxman made clear, why the British public should believe him is another matter.
Quizzed about his personal association with rich people who get themselves into very public trouble, something Cameron dismissed as an “unjustified” characterization, Paxman asked; “What do you have in common with these very rich people?” To which, for many of us, the answer is obvious. He was also challenged to be specific over where his touted 12 billion GBP welfare cuts would come from, but seemed quite incapable of all but the most fuzzy answer and didn’t know how much the UK borrowed each year either.
Never looking comfortable in Paxman’s presence (no one ever does) the Prime Minister turned on as much charm as possible when facing the audience’s questions, and seemed far more relaxed, but it was by no means a knockout performance and those who like to bet on sports in UK wouldn’t wager his chances of retaining power are any higher after this televisual mauling. The election is still far enough away, and opinion polls so close, that anything could happen, and indeed it probably will.
Paxo Piles On The Pressure
Ed Miliband’s time with Paxman was marked by his denial of being a “north London geek”, the Labour leader claiming what the papers write about him is treated like water off a duck’s back, and found himself having to defend the strength of his character in no uncertain terms. “Am I tough enough?” he asked rhetorically, “Hell yes, I am tough enough.” A line that will no doubt be harkened back to by comedians and his opponents in the days and weeks to come.
“I am a pretty resilient guy, but I have been underestimated at every turn. People said I would not become leader and I did. People said four years ago I could not become prime minister, I think I can. You were saying I cannot win a majority, I think I can. So let people underestimate me but what I care about is what is happening to the British people in their lives.” He said confidently, completely ignoring all the polls that show he can’t win a majority, and neither can anyone else.
Both men were asked what they admired about each other, and each gave a pat answer, both said they couldn’t live on a zero-hours-contract (which is like stating they couldn’t breath hydrochloric acid) and both repeatedly emphasized the economy, which is shaping up to be the big ideological battleground for this election that unfortunately might be swayed far more by personality and perception than policies and political positions as the parties all hurl themselves towards an all but certain hung parliament.
Those in the UK gambling laws on immigration, healthcare or the electoral system itself could be debated between the parties are likely to be disappointed, and indeed despite his best efforts Miliband is probably less than happy that a snap poll from the Guardian and ICM after the night’s event showed Cameron was perceived to have “won” getting 54% to Miliband’s 48% but since both will have to arrive at an accommodation should they want to lead the next government all that is just so much froth. Bet365 will give you 8/15 on Dave still being PM after May 7th, Ed Miliband at 11/8, which shows how close this race really is.