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Rebecca Flair Newsnight interview, 29/01/18


Kirsty Walk: Welcome to Newsnight with me, Kirsty Wark. 

Just a few days ago, a shock result was announced in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest. Rebecca Flair, the party’s European Spokesperson, eked out a victory over Simon Hughes. Tonight, in her first interview since her election, we are going to be asking her about the issues the British public care about, and see if the new leader of the third largest party is up to the job. Rebecca Flair, welcome to the show.

Rebecca Flair: Thank you Kirsty

KW: Mrs Flair, your predecessor but one was a former Royal Marine and diplomat who had served in Northern Ireland; your predecessor had been a Member of Parliament for 16 years before being elected. You have been in Parliament for just three and are relatively unexperienced. Were you elected before your time?

RF: I wouldn't say that Kirsty no. My predecessors were both very experienced men at the top of their respective fields when they were elected as our party's leader and between them and their predecessor they have turned a loose alliance of two parties into one strong and unified party with a single, clear vision. I have trememndous respect for everything Paddy and Charles accomplished and continue to accomplish to this day. What qualifies me for the job of leading the Liberal Democrats? I'm a graduate of Cambridge University with five years experience in the professional World of banking, I stood for membership of Parliament and won at my first attempt and within the year was appointed by Charles to be our party's European Affairs spokeswoman. Europe is the big issue facing us today, be it our membership of the organisation as a whole or our membership of the Euro. I made an impassioned case to the party membership over the course of the last month and I have shown them and the country the vision that I intend to lead the party with. The idea that just because I am a thirty year old woman from the border of Wales I am in any way less capable than the older men is frankly wrong, my party recognised that, my predecessors recognised that and the public recognise that too.

KW: I'm sure that nobody would claim you are less capable, but less experienced? Maybe. Was it your lack of experience that resulted is such a narrow margin of victory with the Liberal Democrat members?

RF: The contest to succeed Charles was a hard fought and positive campaign, Simon put up an excellent fight and I would like to pay tribute to him and his campaign team. Unlike the Tories and Labour we managed to stay out of the gutters and managed to avoid throwing copious amounts of mud at each other which I think strikes at the core of the difference between our party and their's. You claim that my narrow margin of victory was a failure on my part? On the contrary I think it speaks to my team, our campaign and our vision that we managed to come from being the rank outsider to the woman sitting before you here today as the Liberal Democrat leader

KW: I could make a comment about how the small nature of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party means it is harder to leak anonymously, but I won't. Does the closeness of your victory – less than 200 votes – mean that a significant proportion of the Liberal Democrat members don’t think you are yet up to the job? And how will you win them around?

RF: Obviously the first few months of any leader's tenure is all about unifying the party around them and presenting that clear vision that I have spoken about here today. Some in the party may well have thought, and may well continue to think that Simon would do a better job than myself at leading the party, the first part of my job is to win them over. Now unlike the alleged actions of the Tory and Labour hopefuls I will not do this by engageing in blatant bribery I shall do this by leading the party into action. Section 28 repeal is languishing in the House of Lords, I will make it my mission to get the House of Lords out of the way nd get Section 28 repealed as soon as possible. I shall move up and down the country selling my vision of a more liberal, more open and more tolerant Britain to the people and then any naysayers that you claim are sitting around will see that I very much mean business and am fully capable of driving the party forwards

KW: Ok, Mrs Flair, let's have a look at that vision. Obviously as a former European Affairs Spokesperson, you have placed the EU at the core of your campaign, and that includes the Euro. So why do you hate the pound so much?

RF: Advocating for the UK's membership of the Euro is nothing to do with hating the pound or hating Britain as the Tories will inevitably spin it. Joining the Euro is all about doing what is best for Britain. It's about doing what is best for our economy and about doing what is best for our influence and standing in the World. Britain should be a leading light in the EU at the heart of every discussion, crafting the rules so that they suit us as best as they possibly can. We cannot do that whilst if we are isolated on the periphery, nor can we do that if we leave the EU entirely as some Tories clearly want us to. The best way to guarantee British leadership in the EU is to engage with the entire project, not simply sit there and complain all the time like some want us to.

KW: The Government claims it has, since 1997, adopted the Social Chapter, assisted with the adoption of the Amsterdam Treaty, and contributed to a whole manner of things in order to be a 'leading light in the EU' as you put it. Why is joining the Euro, and abandoning the pound necessary?

RF: The Social Chapter was a part of the Maastricht Treaty which was signed in the early 90s, adopting it five or so years after the fact doesn't sound like leadership so much as it sounds like deferrence to me. As the adage goes, at the moment it is the Germans and the French that drive discussion in the European Union forward, any British politician who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something, probably their record. The cutting edge of the EU is the Eurozone project, it is with the Eurozone's interests, a clear majority of the EU being in that grouping, that future decisions will be aligned. Joining the Eurozone will represent a tremendous opportunity to our financial sector for even cheaper, even easier and even more efficient banking with the continent, increasing our economic interdependency and propelling us closer towards the centre of Europe. We could become the stock brokers and bankers for the entire continent, the growth that would generate alone sounds to me like it would be worth us entering the Euro.

KW: Mrs Flair, 'being stockbrokers and bankers for an entire continent' sounds like you favour the City of London over ordinary people who may want to keep the Queen's head on our currency. What do you say to those people who believe you want to sell out Britain's identity?

RF: Joining the Euro is not about losing our British identity, we will still keep Her Majesty on the throne, the Houses of Parliament will be our legislature, fish and chips won't be going anywhere anytime soon and everything else that makes Britain Britain will continue to function and thrive very nicely. The Euro gives Britain the opportunity to lead from the front in Europe which will in turn give us the chance to put our hand on the wheel and steer the ship away from issues that we do not wish to take up as a nation. The Euro will make travel to the continent cheaper and easier, it will make trade with the continent for small businesses cheaper and easier, in short it is a great deal for the people of this nation, not just the financiers in the City. The Euro is a fantastic opportunity, one that we do not want to squander as a nation.

KW: Do you think the Government is correct to judge Britain’s potential entry into the Euro through the so-called ‘five tests’ or should Britain just join as soon as possible?

RF: Obviously we cannot rush into joining the Euro, John Major and the Tories will tell you what happens when a Government rushes ahead and makes a mistake. The five tests are quite adequate guides to whether or not Britain is ready for the Euro. Where I differ from the Labour Party and from Gordon Brown is that rather than just measuring whether or not we are ready, I would actively push to make Britain ready. Joining the Euro will bring about stronger growth, more stability and higher employment through increases in trade alone. It is very important that we emphasise these facts whilst working to ensure that our economic cycles are in sync to provide for a painless transition phase.

KW: As you know Mrs Flair, one of the requirements for joining the Euro is keeping your budget deficit in check and below a certain amount. Your platform seems to clash with that. You have a lot of expensive promises in your leadership platform – free childcare, healthcare increases, abolition of tuition fees, tax cuts for all including the richest – but you haven’t explained how to pay for them. If it’s tax cuts for all and spending rises for all, are you just prepared to borrow?

RF: Kirsty that is simply not true, my platform explicitly stated that we must fully fund our public services, that means that we must take the painful choice not to rush for the tax cutting scissors if we are in a budget deficit. I also draw issue with your assertion that any tax cuts for the rich are anything special for I fear that your question runs the risk of misleading the public. My position is very much that the richest will not receive a tax cut unless everyone receives a tax cut. The Liberal Democrats would ensure as a top priority that the public services that the people of this country rely on are fully funded, and we will never worship at the Tory alter to the rich and powerful at the expense of the working and the middle classes.

KW: Do you not see there is a contradiction between increasing public investment, cutting taxes, and for meeting the EU requirements on the budget?

Of course there would be a contradiction if that were what I had pledged to do. My pledge was to increase investment, ensure that the public sector is fully funded and move towards meeting the budgetary targets for joining the Euro. As I have said repeatedly both in my campaign and on your programme I will not cut taxes until I have the fiscal base to be able to do it without costing us billions in interest payments.

KW: So lifting the poorest out of tax comes after fully funded public services?

RF: Protecting people from starvation if they are unemployed, preventing the sick from dying in overstuffed hospital wards because there are not enough doctors to see to them and educating the next generation of our country are my policy aims Kirsty. A good education is the single best way to lift people out of poverty for good, being alive and fit to work is the best way to avoid being rendered unemployed and unemployable and being actually being able to afford a roof over your head and the ability to feed yourself is the best way to ensure that we don't see a mass homelessness epidemic rise up like the 1920s. We will cut taxes whenever we are able to with particular emphasis on cutting VAT and lifting the lowest incomes out of income tax altogether but if we just cut taxes like the Tories would have us do we would have to cut public services. We would have to close schools, close hospitals and cut housing benefit leaving the poorest in our society uneducated, unable to get adequate care if they are sick and homeless.

KW: You said in a leadership speech “I care about raising people out of poverty” and you've referenced similar themes tonight, are you not worried that your Carbon Tax will push more people into poverty as a result of higher energy bills?

RF: Do you think that people losing their homes to rising sea levels wouldn't push people into poverty Kirsty? The main thrust of my Carbon Tax plan is to reinvest every penny earned from that tax into the Environment Budget in areas such as RnD to create more efficient, cleaner and cheaper forms of energy generation. Money would be made available to invest in grants for the poorest in our society to improve insulation to ensure that they need to use less energy and cut their energy bills. We can use the money to invest in flood defences to protect people from losing their homes to the waves. These are just three of the uses out of the many other potential uses that this money will have. We will lift people out of poverty, out of fuel poverty and protect the environment, these things are not mutually exclusive, no matter what some people would have you believe.

KW: Will energy prices go up because of your Carbon Tax?

RF: Part of my platform is to empower the Competition Commission to engage with the privatised industries and work to increase competition in these markets. We are beginning to see the rise of some large corporations that run the risk of creating near monopolies. Competition is the key to lower prices and more efficiency and I intend to make the energy sector a part of the economy where the public and private sector can work hand in hand to produce the best result for consumers

KW: Will energy prices go up because of your Carbon Tax? Yes or no? Regardless of your new policies you are bringing in.

RF: I am not the energy market and I have no stake in the energy sector. My party's policies will work to reduce energy usage, our carbon footprint and wherever possible the price of power. Every action I would take in the energy market would be with the consumer being put first rather than the interests of big business.

KW: If you apply a carbon tax, you very much have a stake in the energy sector. So will a carbon tax increase prices or not?

RF: Kirsty you know as well as I do that prices are set by the market in response to a whole host of stimuli, not just one policy. It is simply not the case that the price of energy will be increased by one policy when there will be other policies introduced to introduce price cutting pressure. It is too early to say whether prices will go up or down as a result of my party's energy policy as a whole, examining one small part of it and asking what would happen if that bit happened on its own is misrepresentative and poor journalism

KW: You may have been in Parliament a short time Mrs Flair, but I see you have picked up the habits of every MP very quickly, congratulations.

Moving on

During your campaign you frequently referenced Section 28 and the House of Lords together, arguing that the House of Lords needs to go because it is blocking the repeal of the said section. Are you not just using the idea of homosexual equality to further your own minority constitutional reform?

RF: Frankly that is preposterous Kirsty. I have been a strong supporter of equal rights for the homosexual community for longer than I have even been affiliated with the party I now lead. Replacing the House of Lords would help us pass Section 28 repeal it is true and I have often said as much, but my policies for equal rights extend far beyond a simple repeal of a hate-motivated piece of discriminatory legislation that is no more fit for purpose than a chocolate fireguard. If I had the power to make such moves happen right now I would incorporate homophobia into existing anti-discrimination laws putting it on a par with racism and sexism in society and the workplace. I believe we should move towards equal rights for homosexual relationships by introducing civil partnerships for them which would enshrine equal rights for them on issues such as inheritance. To decry my passion for every citizen in this country to be treated equally by the law as political opportunism is disingenous in the extreme and something I would expect from a Tory rather than from a BBC journalist.

KW: Mrs Flair, my role is to get to the bottom of your arguments. The British public can reasonably assume that you want to rip up the constitution - another part of our identity - in order to pass the repeal of Section 28. Shouldn't your arguments stand for themselves and not be used as excuses for constitutional reform?

RF: My arguments do stand on their own merits Kirsty, where they happen to compliment each other as well I shall of course bring them together. The idea that the privacy of one's bedroom and one's choice in partner is any business of the State is to me laughable, the idea that one should have to hide one's true self from other people by law is frankly discriminatory in my eyes and the idea that someone should have fewer rights because of their sexuality is similarly so. Likewise, the idea that the will of the people, as expressed by the democratically elected representatives of the people can be blocked by unelected political stooges, people who gained their position by an accident of birth or people who happen to have been appointed because they were of the "correct" religion is frankly abhorrent to me. There is nothing hypocritical in my views, nor in my party's policies. They stand perfectly well on their own thank you very much

KW: Mrs Flair, thank you very much.

RF: Thank you Kirsty
Head Admin.
Admin Responsible for the Houses of Parliament.
Cabinet Office/PM's Office/Foreign Affairs & Defence.

“In politics, guts is all.” - Barbara Castle.

Thanks given by:

Experience: 4/5
The first question you were bound to be asked was about your leadership credentials – and while whether you do have the experience or not is up for question (many people are unsure if being a Cambridge graduate who worked for a bank is enough to qualify you alone), you did give off a sense of vision and enthusiasm, so perhaps experience isn’t what needs to be brought to the table anyway.
The tougher question was related to the closeness of your leadership race, but it was one I would say you answered more effectively. You may have had a tighter race than the leaders of the big two, but you’ve had a much less divisive one with a more unified front afterwards (although, that’s arguably much, much, much more easy) – it makes LD swing voters pay attention and see you as a viable option.
The Euro: 5/5
This was easily the question you performed strongest on. It’s always going to be hard to get people outside your core voting demographic to see why the euro would be a good thing, but you very effectively convey the perceived benefits of joining the euro, deflect any relevant criticisms and make it clear you know what you’re talking about – even your critics are a little impressed. If you continue with advocacy that strong, you may just start to change public perception.
Fiscal Responsibility: 3.5/5
The general sentiment is one that can gain popular traction amongst the British public: there’s a real thirst for public services to be improved and funded after 18 years of Tory government, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want it done sustainably. While nodding their heads along to what you had to say, they still wonder if there’s a sense that you’re promising it all – funding public services may require more than halting tax cuts, and the British public want to know if (or what) tax rises or borrowing is the route the Liberal Democrats will take.

What I will say is your party likes what they hear. Those on the left who worry you'd be a little too ideologically free market liberal understand you're ready to represent the broad party after this segment, so will be happy to trumpet you as their leader. 
Carbon Tax: 2/5
This was definitely the question you showed the greatest weakness in – your defence did start off strong (other than the rising sea levels comment which would’ve provoked some laughs in the media), but the more Kirsty grilled you the more you seemed to crack under pressure. Outright refusing to answer is energy prices would rise probably hurts more than any frank admission ever could, because it either makes you look clueless, disingenuous or both and none of those are good looks.
Constitutional Reform: 3.5/5
Short, but sweet, and you do pick up after the shaky carbon tax blunder. You make it clear you do have a track record when it comes to equality and that accusing you of being disingenuous appears… well, disingenuous. Arguably you could’ve made that point without appearing to lose your cool the way you did, but you are passionate – the British public can’t and won’t fault you for that.
General Performance:  4/5
Generally, you gave a solid performance. Flair seems to have a balance of passion and rationality that the British public can appreciate. Sometimes, it does appear as if your passion can overtake you, and when you haven’t done your homework it is a little too obvious (so learn to wing it! Or make sure you have all bases covered). That said, a lot of people watching liked what Flair had to say – and even found where they disagreed with Flair she made her points reasonably enough.
Head Admin.
Admin Responsible for the Houses of Parliament.
Cabinet Office/PM's Office/Foreign Affairs & Defence.

“In politics, guts is all.” - Barbara Castle.

Thanks given by:
Harold Saxon Newsnight Interview, 11/02/18.


Martha Kearney: Good evening and welcome to Newsnight with me, Martha Kearney. 

Harold Saxon comfortably won the race to succeed Michael Portillo as the Conservatives’ next leader. Since then he’s made quite the splash, with rumours circulating around his leadership and a unique approach to the fuel protests that have rocked the country. Today I’ll be asking the man who wants to be Prime Minister about the pressing issues around his leadership, and more importantly the issues viewers at home – you – care about. 

Harold Saxon, welcome to Newsnight.

Harold SaxonThank you Martha, a pleasure to be here

MK: You won 65% of the vote to be the leader of Britain’s oldest political party. Feeling confident?
HSA bit of a direct question Martha, of course I am. I think you'll find the Conservatives are also ahead in the polls of the Government.

MK: I would be confident too. But I’m sure you’re aware of the rumours circulating about your leadership. The Express recently lambasted the eurosceptic and socially conservative Cornerstone group for throwing their support behind you. Your rival, Andrew Summer, now head of the Home Affairs Select Committee was known for his eurosceptic and socially conservative views. Views you allegedly do not hold. What did you say or offer to the Cornerstone group to get their support and to win that impressive victory?

HSThat was quite a few months ago Martha and under my leadership the Conservatives are polling above the Labour Party. Any question of my leadership is absurd, Mr Summer has said in public he supports the leadership. To your question on what i offered the Cornerstone Group, I didn't offer them positions for support like our now Prime Minister allegedly did, i offered them a united vision for the Conservative Party which will be the next Government. I haven't read the Express article myself Martha, I am focusing instead on the real issues affecting this country such as the rise in violent crime and the state of our Education system.

I will remind you that the membership also backed me quite considerably, i hope you arent suggesting i offered over half of the Conservative membership shadow cabinet positions *laughs*

MK: That's lovely Mr. Saxon. But lots of viewers do read the Express and will want to know about your leadership. Namely they'll want to know if offering platitudes like a 'united vision' is enough - some members in your party want to see solidly eurosceptic, no nonsense, socially conservative vision. Sources from within your own party has briefed against you in the Daily Mail: what would you say to those sources and to those socially conservative members?

 Is there trouble in paradise?

HSI feel as do the Conservative Party membership and those who contributed to the polls that our united vision is working, that we are presenting the real alternative to the country. You talk a no nonsense vision, I talk about a country I want to see where we dont have to worry about being affected by crime. The speech i recently gave to the police federation outlines our vision for a no nonense two strike policy on violent crime. I haven't read the particular article in question Martha. I'm focusing on the real issues affecting our country Martha.

So to answer your question, No

MK: But whether the Conservative Party is united is a real issue, Mr. Saxon. The public won't want you to get into government and to squabble about Europe again. Are you eurosceptic, Mr. Saxon?

HS: Martha, I believe in a Europe that benefits the United Kingdom, whilst protecting our own interests at the same time. I dont believe we should enter the single currency due to the economic reasons i have previously outlined and I want to retain the UK's veto power. The Conservative Party is entirely united, Eurosceptics backed me for the leadership as did Pro-europe MPs. My policy platform on Europe was clear, a UK that benefits from Europe and a Europe that is in our best interests.

MK: That's lovely Mr. Saxon but is it enough? Andrew Summer appeared to offer Conservative members an in-out referendum. You did not. Eurosceptics did instead choose to back you but do you not understand why this looks strange to members of the public and your party. What did you offer Amelia Wilson and Francis Paris in exchange for their support?

HS: I dont find it strange at all, Andrew Summer campaigned on an Anti European Platform, that is true. I on the other hand campaigned on a Europe that can still benefit the United Kingdom, whilst protecting our powers and our interests. It was entirely up to Conservative MPs to decide whether to back me, Ms Grey or Mr Summer and the majority of MPs backed me as did the leadership. Let me say this categorically, I did not offer positions for support. If you want to ask someone about offering positions for support, ask Ms Tanner

MK: The allegations about offering positions for support are just rumours Mr. Saxon. You can't have due process for yourself but throw it aside for your political rivals. The British public have reasons to be suspicious of you both, you must understand that.

But moving on - you may have shown a distaste for the Express but the paper has recently resisted attempts by the Labour Party to repeal Section 28. It has been particularly critical of the Liberal Democrats' leader, Rebecca Flair. You may disagree with the Express on your leadership, but do you disagree with them on Section 28?

HS: Of course they are, i was just saying if you wanted to ask someone ask the Prime Minister who had allegations directly thrown at her in the papers, whereas during the Conservative Leadership nothing was suggested so i dont know what your source is. In terms of the express i agree with them on Section 28

MK: Is being homosexual wrong, Mr. Saxon?

HS: A ridiculous statement Martha. Are you suggesting the Salvation Army and the Muslim Council of Britain also think it's wrong? Section 28 has nothing to do with stating that homosexuality is wrong. Section 28 of course is controversial but i believe in an Education system that promotes family values, including marriage.

MK: I'm asking you what you think, is it wrong? Was your previous leader Michael Portillo wrong?

Or do you think homosexuality is entirely natural?

HS: Let me be fundamentally clear here martha, I am not homophoic in any way, shape or form, I just think it shouldn't be taught in our education system when we should be promoting marriage and real family values. This Labour Government are anti-family and want the promotion of homosexuality in schools, now Elizabeth Tanner is entitled to an opinion, but i disagree with her on this. Michael Portilo was a good leader and he resigned for his own reasons, I respect him for that.

MK: So by saying you're not homophobic, you think homosexuality is natural? Why does homosexuality contradict traditional family values? And if homosexuality is anti-family do you not find it hypocritical that you served under a leader who had engaged in homosexual activities?

HS: I wasn't aware of Michael's personal life when i served under him at the time so it's unfair to call me hypocritical. Let's not go off on a tangent here Martha, Section 28 does not prevent the discussion of homosexuality, it doesn't say that homosexuals cannot be who they are or anything like that at all, it is about ensuring young children are learning about traditional family values between a hetrosexual couple. Everyone has a choice if they want to be heterosexual or homosexual, I just feel that we should be promoting traditional family values and marriage in our Education System.

MK: Mr. Saxon, many gay rights campaigners have claimed that Section 28 harms children by stigmatising homosexuality. They've even gone so far as to say that by restricting available information it leads to homosexual teenagers engaging in unsafe sex practices and that this policy physically and mentally harms children.

Can you look those campaigners and the British public in the eye and say you're comfortable with your position when they allege it hurts children? Do you think that promotes family values?

HS: I disagree that the policy physically and mentally harms children. Look, people have a choice to do what they want to do, to be who they want to be, Section 28 doesn't restrict anyone from being homosexual if they want to be, it's about promoting marriage and promoting traditional family values in schools. If someone wanted to choose to be homosexual later then of course they can, Section 28 doesnt stand in the way of that.

MK: I can see this question is uncomfortable for you so I'll move onto a question you may feel more comfortable with. What's the Conservative plan for the economy?

HS: I'm happy to talk about anything Martha, it's one of the reasons why i entered politics. 

I believe that to have well performing public services we need a strong economy. I believe that we need to ringfence frontline services like the NHS and our Education system and the Conservatives will look to find efficency savings in other areas. We will also look to reform welfare to ensure it is still current and is helping those who really need it. This Government is happy to spend,spend, and spend without having any thought about the impact this would have on the country, we need to reduce excess and wasteful spending whilst promoting investment into our economy through job creation and foreign investment and protect frontline services.

MK: The budget is currently in surplus. Do you think Labour are mismanaging the economy? What about the Labour Party's economic vision would you say you disagree with?

HS: Yes, the budget is currently in surplus when we've had protests around the country about how expensive fuel prices are yet the Chancellor or the Prime Minister won't cut fuel duty and yet criticise us for jepoardising the future of the country by pledging 3p off a litre of fuel, which would cost £1.5 billion. I think that's a bit hypocritical of the Prime Minister. 

I think Labour are in serious danger of sending us into spiralling debt if they continue with their excessive spending program. They pledge to throw money into the NHS which could cost billions yet refuse to say how they will fund it, well that would be through a VAT or income tax rise or national insurance, i think we will see taxes going up in this budget by the Chancellor. I think we need to think about saving money where we can through efficency savings, not spending us into oblivion.

MK: The issue on most voters minds right now is the NHS. People feel like public services are in desperate need of cash. Do you think your promise to 'ringfence' spending is enough when people obviously want more? Or are you going to get to grips with reality and realise that if people want a strong NHS they're going to have to accept a small tax rise?

HS: Well of course we would ringfence spending in the NHS and protect spending but we will of course invest in our NHS. We do need more NHS staff and more beds in our hospitals but we also need to place the trust in our experts, our doctors and nurses,  let them make the decisions for the NHS, they know what's best. The Government doesn’t trust our doctors and nurses to make the right decisions. Under the Conservatives we would undertake a full review of the NHS.  The Conservatives would launch an immediate Health Review into our NHS as the next Government. The review would look into why waiting times are so high, why there aren't enough beds, what can we do to improve the efficiency of the NHS. It is just unacceptable that the NHS is underperforming when people need that level of care. I dont believe increasing Income Tax or VAT is the right way forward, let's make savings in other areas to pay for the NHS

MK: If that review recommended raising taxes to give the NHS the funds it needs, would you follow that recommendation? 

What savings do you think you can make to pay for the NHS? How much do you think you can raise from them?

HSAs i said, i dont believe raising taxes is the answer. If our NHS review did recommend raising taxes we would look at all other possible avenues before that final option. 

Under the Conservatives we would give NHS Hosptials the authority to outsource our ambulance services, cleaning, building and security services, which of course will help. We wil also look to make savings by clamping down on tax avoidance and making effeicnecy savings through the Department of Trade & Industry and reducing growth in bureaucracy.

The cost of central Government is far too high under this Government, so we will look to reduce it

MK: I believe your Deputy Leader Cyril Kos pledged during your leadership campaign that cabinet would take a 5% pay cut to fund the NHS. An incredibly selfless act many would appreciate. Is that still Tory policy?

HS: Absolutely that is the case. If the country choose the Conservative Party as the next Government and I am Prime Minister, that policy will absolutely remain in place and I would look to reduce the Prime Minister's salary, I believe that the NHS and our public services do need funding, but as long as it is from the right places. Taking a pay cut to pay for more hospital beds or ensuring that people are getting the right level of care is a price worth paying.

MK: How many nurses could a 5% cabinet pay cut fund?

HS: Now of course, to be clear the cabinet taking a pay cut as well as finding savings in other areas we can recruit more nurses. I think what's important here is that this Conservative Party is finding savings in the right areas like the salary of the cabinet and finding savings in the Department of Trade and Industry to raise funding to invest in the NHS.

MK: If I'm being incredibly optimistic I'd say it'd pay for five nurses at most, Mr. Saxon. There are a lot of criticisms that the Tories will look to tinker in an area where our public services really need radical... I believe you put it as 'spend, spend spend' policies. If the NHS needed it, if a report of experts recommended it, would you do what many feel needs to be done for the NHS and raise taxes?

HS: As i said, i would look at all available options before committing to a tax rise. We can save in other areas where we spend an unnecessary amount of money. Through finding savings in the Deepartment of Trade and Industry we can save about £2 billion. We could invest that into the NHS and get 100,000 nurses. It's steps like those that prove we can invest into our NHS without having to borrow.

MK: Very interesting. Mr. Saxon, I'll move onto a topic that might excite you. The fuel protests. You've been incredibly critical of the government. Do you think the Tories need to admit to their part in the crisis? While you were Chief Secretary to the Treasury the fuel price escalator was in place. Was that wrong?

HS: Let me be clear, the Government have completely fouled this up from the very start. The Chancellor first suggested they shouldn't have the right to demonstrate which surprised me coming from a Labour MP. The Government then instead of talking to the protesters decided to end the right to free speech by closing them down. We called on the Government to call an emergency budget and the Chancellor and the Prime Minister said no, the Chancellor effectively said an emergency budget was pointless as the protests had been ended by the emergency powers. I think it's despicable. 

The Government felt the fuel price escalator was the right decision at the time, to paint a comparison between then and now, the country had just come out of a tricky economic situation , today we are in a surplus so this Government can afford to cut fuel duty but they wont.

MK: How has the government ended the right to free speech?

HSThe Government had refused to listen to the protesters and instead of talking to them decided to invoke emergency powers to effectively end the protests.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves Martha, this Government can reduce fuel duty but they won't in an emergency budget when we need to address the situation now.

MK: The emergency powers ensure fuel gets around the country. Are the government really ending free speech by ensuring hospitals are heated?

We can be critical of the government, and one glance at the polls show many people are, but surely saying they're ending free speech is a little hysterical?

HS: This Government simply refused to listen to the protesters or even speak to them, the Chancellor claims to listen to all but how can he when he won't listen to those who are crying out for the price of fuel to come down? He is saying one thing and doing another. People have an absolute right to be angry

My point is this Government could have ended this crisis sooner through constructive dialogue with the protesters, the Chancellor himself has had calls from his own party to do that and he completely ignored that. The Government didn't have to invoke emergency powers if they had dealt with the problem sooner and they didn't. Of course it is right for fuel to be flowing round the country but the Government shouldn't be taking such radical action  when they could have resolved this situation sooner.

MK: That's an understandable position, but lets not pretend the right to free speech has been ended. Mr. Saxon, what would the Tories do if faced with these protests? How much would you cut fuel duty by?

HS: Well to start we wouldnt have that a crisis like this drag on. We would have listened to those who were protesting and heard their views, before taking an informed decision. This Labour Government didn't even speak to anyone who was calling for a reduction in fuel prices. Once we had listened we would have taken the decision to cut fuel duty in an emergency budget. We would cut it initally by 3p as per my announcement during the first round of protests and we would look to take further steps moving forward after assessing the situation.

MK: How would you manage to balance the finances with such a cut? The kind of revenue that'd be needed would require more than a cabinet pay cut.

HS: Well yes of course but we would look to make savings across other areas. What is important here is that we lower the price of fuel. I believe we can look to raise a significant amount of money through measures like reforming social security and making efficency savings elsewhere.

MK: You promised to pay for the NHS by finding savings in the T&I budget. What savings specifically can cut fuel duty by 3p?


Mr. Saxon?

HS: Well the full measures you will see in the Shadow Budget, we are looking at a variety of measures but I can tell you we would look to free universities from state funding which we would then provide endowments paid for by asset sales in the future, We would expect a significant amount to be raised from this but we would also look to fund this from the sale of Channel 4 to private ownership. What's important Martha is that we spend far too much in areas where it isn needed so we can make the savings and redirect that money into reducing fuel duty and our NHS.

MK: Interesting. Finally, your put down the pumps campaign has attracted much attention - some bad, some good. But crucially it doesn't really achieve any of its stated aims: even people who participate in it just stock up the day before the protest. Are you going to continue with the campaign?

HS: I think it's important Martha to highlight what the Government is actually doing here. They are failing to talk to the British people, the people who elected them, they are failing to listen to them and they are failing to take action. The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness that fuel prices are too high and this Government is doing absolutely nothing about it. They react with emergency powers to keep the country moving but in actual fact this hasn't solved anything; low and behold we are back to square one with more protests by the People's Fuel Lobby.  What i will say to people is if they are unhappy about the price of fuel and if they are unhappy with this Government, then vote for the Conservatives at the next election so we can get fuel prices down and get this reckless Government out of power.

MK: Sir Harold Saxon, thank you very much.

HS: Thank you.

MK: Moving on, Britain is expected to be blighted by arctic weather conditions. With the NHS strained and with more fuel protests planned, we talk to Director General of the Met Office Peter Ewins about how this could pan out...
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Leadership: 4.5/6

Just like any leader, the first question the press are going to know is: are you up to the job and do you have your party's backing? This would have been a slightly easier question for you had there not been some embarrassing leaks and rumours at present.

But you handled this question well. This was Saxon in his comfort zone (because yeah, it does go a little downhill from here), you downplay the rumours, substantiate your claims, do well to portray yourself as a leader with the party behind you and importantly show you are willing to compromise and make concessions with the right of the part. So it went pretty comfortably. 

Section 28: 2.5/6

I will say one thing you did right here, you didn't critique Portillo and you distanced yourself in a way that didn't make you seem disloyal or put a target on you, so there are props there. 

On the debate itself though it was clear Saxon was uncomfortable and the public would be able to see that. Defending section 28 while trying to make out that you're all for the gays is... perhaps a balance that could be pulled off, but you did so very clumsily. People who are supportive towards gay rights will be put off by Saxon supporting an undoubtedly socially conservative law, and social conservatives will not be incensed but will probably be confused by what Saxon had to say. 

On the bright side - Saxon might be playing a good medium term game. Short term it didn't work very well, and long term it definitely won't because chances are history won't be on your side, but you do calcify your support amongst your grassroots and core base. 

The Economy: 1.5/6

Yeah. This was definitely Saxon's most clumsy bit. If the Conservatives want to win the election what they need is a clear plan on the economy - now more than ever, as the economy at current isn't the strength it usually is for them. It did appear like Saxon was making some stuff up on the fly, wasn't totally at grips with his own policy and he said some things that would alienate a lot of key voters (cutting University funding and privatising ambulance services comes to mind).

Fuel Crisis: 3/6

This was still a bit shaky - Saxon's hysteria over the fuel crisis he had faced a lot of criticism and mockery did show, but to balance it out his overall message was reasonable and could be bought by a lot of British voters: that the government could have easily de-escalated the crisis and chose not to. For that, the mark is comfortably average, but you are lucky you didn't trip up further. 

Overall Performance: 3/6

Okay - so when it comes to content Saxon doesn't impress. But his demeanour was fine. He wasn't aggressive but didn't roll over, seemed polite and used a lot of politician talk - the non sleazy, tactical kind that can get voters on board. This score is bogged down by Saxon's policy clumsiness, but I would say the overall performance wasn't bad. 

TOTAL MARKS: 14.5/30
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Question Time 14/03/18

David DimblebyGood evening, and welcome to Question Time


Tonight we're in Coventry, and joining me on the panel is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alwyn Thomas; Samuel Burnham, the Shadow Foreign Secretary; Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Home Affairs; and finally to my right is Melanie Phillips, a columnist at the Daily Mail.

*Polite applause*

And our first question is from James Price... James Price, ah yes there you are.

[James Price, an elderly man who looks angry, and has a broad brummie accent]: Does the Trevitt-gate just show us once and for all that politics and politicians are just all rotton?

DD: Samuel. Why don't we start with you?

Samuel Burman: Well James, I certainly don’t believe so. I’ve been an MP for about 25 years now and i’ve certainly seen politicians acting in ways that aren’t befitting of the kind of role they should be presenting. I’ll first condemn Mr Trevvit for what is clearly a major issue in our system, but this is one individual in a system that broadly speaking does what it says on the tin: represent the British people and deliver their verdict at election time. Scandals like this of course nock public confidence in the system as it stands and there is always scope to tighten laws and regulations that allow the odd individual to get through the cracks of legislation. But as a whole, no. Politics and politicians do tremendous work in improving the standards, livelihoods and lives of all Britons. One very bad apple shouldn’t indicate that the lot is spoilt.

DD: Mr Thomas, you gave him the boot. I suppose you don't disagree with that.

Alwyn Thomas: I never thought I'd say this, but I couldn't agree with Mr Burman more. Mr Trevitt acted in a way that was at best a complete breach of the Ministerial Code and at worst potentially illegal, that is why as soon as I was made aware of these allegations I called in the Attorney General to work out what had actually gone on regarding criminality and the like. Politicians are the elected representatives of the people, we are held to an incredibly high standard and Ministers of the Crown are held to a standard that is higher still. Mr Trevitt fell far short of those standards and was rightfully fired from the Cabinet for these transgressions and others. That being said I have seen nothing in my time in British politics to suggest that Mr Trevitt is anything but a fringe player with regards to his actions, the vast majority of British MPs put the national interest before their own. So no, I do not agree that the "whole lot are just all rotten", but where we find a bad egg we must remove it

DD: Well well what a lot of agreement. Mr Hughes - is the whole thing rotten?

Simon Hughes: Politics does need fundamental reform. Everyone has sadly become used to politicians who lie and who get caught up in sleaze. I can understand entirely why the public has no trust in politics and we need to clean it up. In relation to Solomon Trevitt's actions specifically, we need to be doing what we Liberal Democrats have been advocating for, which is make the appointment process at quango like these more open. But more generally, we need to be making Government more open, more accountable and more representative. We need to strengthen the powers of the House of Commons to scrutinise the actions of the Government. We need to enshrine fundamental freedoms into law. And, we need a proportional voting system that delivers a representative parliament and eliminates the safe seats that allow wrong-doers an undue sense of security.

*Audience claps softly*

DD: Melanie, as the non politician on the panel - are this lot just rotten?

Melanie Phillips: As usual we see the parties of the liberal establishment all pat each other on the back and tell each other it’s ok – I can be straight with you: yes, politics is rotten. Mr. Trevitt’s actions follow sleaze, sleaze and more sleaze not from just this government but the previous and undoubtedly the next. Sticking fingers in our ears and offering plaster solutions like Mr. Hughes has won’t help, though – it’s society that is rotten and we need to change that and promote traditional values first. Think of our adulteress Deputy Prime Minister and the message she is giving to children. It breeds corruption. Something has got to give.

*lots of applause*

DD: Who wants to go in first on Melanie's accusation?

AT: If I may David?

DD: Of course

MP: I have no doubt all these politicians will want to jump in and accuse me of being some kind of -ist or -phobe, David.

DD: I'm not sure politicianist is a thing, Melanie.

AT: Well the first thing I would like to say is how on Earth can Melanie justify calling 650 elected officials corrupt, or rotten or sleazy off of the back of just one breach of the Ministerial code? Mr Trevitt broke the code, he was fired and then went on to have his whip removed for other matters, he has been dealt with and will never get anywhere near high office again. Where there are bad apples we must of course remove them but I think it is irresponsible to call an entire group bad because of the actions of one man. I think this case shows precisely how open the political system actually is. We found a rule breaker, he was investigated and he was thrown out

SB: If I may?

DD: You may. Various of your party colleagues have of course said that the government should resign over this - do you agree with them?

SB: I think part of the problem here is that the government aren’t being entirely honest with all of us. I’ve received evidence that shows the Labour whips office and the chief whip Ben Maulty knew about the allegations as late as six months ago in late February of this year and have sat on without action ever since. Mr Trevitt is a tale of one bad apple being used for political gain by the government. Now I wouldn’t say that that devalues the system as a whole, but it does indicate that Labour have chosen to use this scandal at this time as a get out of jail free card over opposition to their illegitimate elected senate plans. The evidence i’ve received also shows that Mr Maulty began his investigations into the claims the day after he was appointed, suggesting to me that the whips office was more than aware of the scandal, and so was the previous chief whip - none other than the PM himself. There is certainly a case for the government and Prime Minister to resign over this and I absolutely think they should.

*gasps from the audience*

DD: Chancellor - do you want to respond before we move on?

AT: Well I can't speak for Mr Maulty, he was Chief Whip before I was of course and I wasn't privy to those discussions. What I can say is that I was appointed Chief Whip, I was handed the files shortly after my appointment and I dealt with them in conjunction with the Prime Minister and the Attorney General. We found that there had been no breach in the law but that the Ministerial Code had pretty much been ignored so he was relieved of his position before deciding to further his career suicide by abstaining on a Motion of Confidence in the Government otherwise known as the Queen's Speech. Mr Burman is frankly using rumour, hearsay and guesswork to try and create a scandal for the Government when the real scandal at play is the actions of Mr Trevitt, actions which have led to his firing from the Government and then played a part in his subsequent expulsion from the Parliamentary Labour Party

DD: Well I think we will leave that there - let's go to another question

SB: Then why not go to the people and let them decide if you and Finch are telling the truth?

AT: There is an investigation due to report in September that will tell everyone exactly what happened

It will exonerate the Labour Party, the Government and the Prime Minister

I am very confident of that fact.

SB: Then your party machine is likely feeding you lies

AT: We are hiding nothing

DD: Are you suggesting that the Chancellor is lying, Mr Burman?

AT: I myself have already handed every file and communication to the investigators

SB: What I'm suggesting is that the Chancellor shouldn't go so easy on what is clearly scope for the Prime Minister having known for six months. The dates line up.

AT: How dare you insinuate that I, the Government and the Prime Minister would lie to the public about an issue as important as Ministerial corruption, shame on you

DD: I would like to move on, but I think we should hear what Mr. Price thinks of this.... yes, oh good he has the microphone

SB: Are you saying that the Prime Minister had no knowledge of this state of affairs when the day after he leaves the whips office the investigation begins?

Apologies Mr Price

James Price: "Frankly I think they're all lying. All as bad as eachother. I'm voting BNP."

DD: ... Yes erm, thank you Mr Price. Let's move on.

Our next question is from Lawrence Johnson. Lawrence, yes you.

[Lawrence Johnson, a youngish attractive man in a tight shirt]: "My train to work is still restricted to 30 miles per hour. When are we going to say enough is enough and nationalise Railtrack?"

DD: Let's go to you first Chancellor.

AT: I think that when we're dealing with an issue as important as the lifeblood of our economy, the transport links between major cities and the like, we shouldn't rush to conclusions. I've been in contact with the Department for Transport and they have been in contact with the relevant stakeholders and what they have said is very simple. The British Government is not prepared to continue to subsidise the private sector to do its job for it. If we hand over the money for this set of repairs then they will simply come back for more money next year and the like. This is precisely the sort of thing that the Tories promised us would become a thing of the past with their miracle privatisation that was supposed to lead to record low costs, record high investment and milk and honey for all. Frankly the Tory model has failed disastrously and is in desperate need of a rethink.

My good friend the Transport Secretary is, as I said earlier, in constant communications with Railtrack, stakeholders, train operators and the like to build a framework for an informed debate on the future of the railway system in this country that can genuinely deliver better results for the consumer, which is what we want to do at the end of the day is it not? Let me put it to you this way, the Government leaves no option off the table, if we need to nationalise then the money and the assets will be made available to nationalise Railtrack and bring back BritRail, I very much hope that we can come to an arrangement that leaves Railtrack in private or semi-private hands though.

DD: Melanie - do you share that hope?

MP: I’m not so sure David. I do want to see our railways nationalised as a whole and know I’m not alone in that, but we cannot pretend it is some cure all solution. I hope to see the government be pragmatic and not nationalise for nationalisation’s sake.

AT: I can assure you Melanie that that is what we shall be doing, we shall find the best solution not the most ideological solution

DD: And that land of Milk and Honey - Mr Burman, where is it? Do the Tories now accept privatisation was a mistake?

SB: My personal belief is that competition or privatisation, whatever you call it, leads to the best service and prices for the consumer. Railtrack is a huge issue for both commuters and non commuters alike and I think we’d all like to see a effective and swift solution. Nationalisation may well be a swift option, but it’s certainly not in a long term viable solution. We in the Conservatives would break Railtrack up into its regional parts and franchise it on short leases, ensuring that if the companies running it did not meet the standards required of our railways then they would not receive the franchise again when it came up for renewal. Competition ensures that there is always pressure on businesses to provide the best services they can. If that goes wrong, then the system must be looked at and readjusted, as our policy shows we are willing to do and have done. But the quickfire solution of nationalisation doesn’t do the job that is clearly needed for Railtrack. We need a long term, sustainable, effective and price consistent plan, I believe ours does just that. The Chancellor has effectively said here that there is no plan from the government, that they’ve had time to think one up, but sorry, they’ve got no solution. That’s not good enough and it’s the kind of attitude that has been rife in the Labour party over the last two years and undoubtedly will be for the foreseeable future.

AT: May I David?

DD: Let's hear from Mr Hughes first.

But you may then jump in

AT: Thank you

SH: Southall, Ladbrook Grove, now Hatfield. That's the heart of this issue. Failures at Railtrack have damaged the safety of our railways, and it has cost lives. That cannot stand. Firstly, Railtrack needs to be brought back under the strategic control of the government, so there can be joined up thinking behind the decisions make. It needs to be restructured to make better use of the staff, tools and knowledge available to it. I think there's a case for looking at whether it would be more effective split up, or perhaps more closely bundled in with train operations so that those who run the trains have a greater stake in the rails they run on. But most of all, it needs to be made into a not-for-profit organisation. You can't seek profits when safety is at stake.


DD: Chancellor, you wanted to say something


AT: There's a great deal I would like to say to Mr Burman, David.

What we are seeing here is classic Tory dogma, competition will make everything better so you're just going to have to live with it. Frankly the British people can see through that weak charade of an argument. We were promised lower costs, yet Railtrack continuously has to ask for more money for its big projects. We were promised higher investment yet that has been coming more and more from the coffers of the Exchequer leading many to wonder what the point of privatisation was. We were promised milk and honey, frankly we've been given slime and wasps.

The Tories solution would be damaging to the British rail system in so many ways that I don't have time to list them all. How can you run a national rail system in regional chunks with different companies and different interests in control around the country? How can you ensure that we get the quality, the investment and the cost reductions that we were promised if everyone's to busy looking over their shoulder at their neighbours? We need a national scheme to get our rail system back on track, we need clear direction and we need accountability. The public's safety is too important an issue to leave to competition and guesswork.

SB: If i may?

DD: He has a point, doesn't he, Mr Burman? Can you have competition where there's only one rail track?

SB: I mean, at this point this is ridiculous. We have a plan, one that reflects the realities of the situation at hand, one we have taken very seriously, by contrast, Labour has presented nothing. If memory serves me correctly the Labour government was directly blamed in the report over this for having left Railtrack as “never need[ing] to develop a culture of responsibility for the asset it owns”. Competition has not caused this failure - the Labour government has, as ever, taken its hands off the wheel and let policy it should be deciding over slide around. Competition has always provided good service and prices for consumers. Under the logic Mr Thomas has provided, he appears to want to take the very basics of food, agriculture and private housing into public hands. It’s ridiculous and the government needs a plan, for that is what they are for - to govern. And yet, as with so many other projects, they have failed.

DD: What is Labour's plan, Chancellor? Would you put up the cash to nationalise it?

SH: That's pretty rich, Samuel, when it's your party that inserted a profit motive into public safety


SB: Public safety is vital, but competition doens't put that at risk. Lax legislation does.

AT: David frankly that's laughable. It was the last Tory Governments which set up Railtrack, privatising the rail system to make a quick quid. It was the Tories who left Railtrack seeking profit for safety and it was the Tories who now think that for some reason they didn't privatise it hard enough. How very Spitting Image of them.

On the point of nationalisation David my answer is yes, if that is what the best course of action is then we will put the money up for nationalisation. But as I said before we are exploring all private, semi-private and public options for Railtrack to ensure that we get safety up

SB: So why was the current government directly blamed for the failure?

DD: Very well. Any last words before we move on?

AT: To put it simple Sam, it wasn't

SB: Why is there no plan Chancellor? Why are you not taking the blame where it has been laid at your door by the report?

AT: The actual wording of the report doesn't mention the Labour Government at all

SB: "Government since 1996"

Apologies if the vast majority of that has been your party

AT: You mean, when the Tories privatised it?

SB: How much is inventing policy on this stage going to cost the tax payer Alwyn?

AT: £2.5bn is the cost of nationalisation Burman

DD: Let me ask a simple yes or no answer to this question to finish this off. Should Railtrack have been privatised in 1996 - yes or no?

SB: So if you know the facts, why is there no plan?

AT: I have already been in talks with the Civil Service about that eventuality

SB: Yes abosultely, it is not to blame for the failure - the Labour government is.

What taxes will you raise to fund such nationalisation?

Which services will you cut?

Income tax?


SH: No, David

AT: We can't answer that question David, what we can say is the having it nationalised is a better alternative to the mess that this privatisation has left for the British public.

Burman, the British finances have a healthy surplus of over £20bn when you take out one time investments, we can nationalise Railtrack if we want to and still have plenty of money left over to invest in public services and cut taxes

SB: They can never answer the question David, it's because they haven't got any policy and haven't got any plans.

DD: Let us draw this to a close before Melanie finishes off her "water".

AT: I just answered the question Burman

SB: No plan Alwyn

AT: Get with the programme

SB: You've had long enough

What will you do? The public deserve to know

DD: I'm sorry, I think I am chairing this panel Mr Burman.

AT: We will do what is best for the railways rather than follow your deranged ideological ramblings

MP: As usual the establishment parties argue, argue, argue but don’t come up with solutions

SB: What is best for the railways? You don't know. We've got a plan.

MP: Our great nation deserves better.

DD: *glares at the Chancellor and the Shadow Foreign Secretary*

If we are quite done.


Our next question comes from Raphaelle Jones. Yes, you in the hat.

[Raphaelle, a petit woman who speaks in a high pitched voice]: "My mother is French and in six months they are adopting the euro. Why isn't Britain doing the same."

DD: Well, Melanie, you've perked right up. What do you think?

MP: Because Britain doesn’t have a long history of surrender, Raphaelle. *Sniggers.*

DD: *nervous chuckles*

AT: *Smiles a little*

*Faint cry of 'racist'*

MP: Lets be real – the question here is do we want control over our currency, our pound, our economic policy, or do we want to give it to eurocrats

I know what I think and I know it’s what the British public thinks.

*enthusiastic clapping from half the audience. the rest look uncomfortable.*

DD: Well. Mr Hughes, your party is famously pro-Euro

SH: Why isn’t Britain joining the Euro? A lack of leadership from Number 11 *gestures towards Alwyn* and from Number 10. Britain should be at the forefront of Europe, and Labour are letting that slip away. Outside the Euro, Britain will be relegated the outer-edges of European relevance, stuck in the slow lane. That is not our inevitable path. Joining the Euro will help us trade with our European neighbours, lowing costs, reducing uncertainty, making it easier to compare prices to get the best deal. All of this is bringing down barriers, and will increase prosperity both on the Continent and right here in Britain. Britain's economy is inextricably linked with the EU and is moving ever more in sync as the world becomes increasingly globalised. Now's the time, Chancellor!

DD: Is now the time Chancellor?

AT: Look, we can argue about this till we all turn blue in the face but the fact of the matter is nobody knows what will happen when the Euro turns up because it isn't in active circulation yet. If I go to France today the money in my pocket will not be Euros it will be Francs. The Government want to ensure that we do the best thing possible for British business so we have set up our Five Tests to measure whether the Euro will represent a good deal for the UK in our current state or not, I have commissioned the report and we will be getting it back imminently. If we are a good match then we will have a referendum and we will implement the will of the people one way or the other no questions asked. If we are not a good match then we will implement policies to make our economy stronger and align us with Europe so that should we vote in a Referendum we would see benefits from membership. The Liberal Democrat "join at all costs" and the Tory "stay away at all costs" positions will see the UK fundamentally in a worse position than we are in now which will of course be a bad thing for our public. We must evaluate the situation and then come to a reasoned conclusion rather than getting ahead of ourselves and committing one way or the other before we know all of the facts

SB: If I may?

Raphaelle, I can sum it up in eight words: because it will be a disaster for Britain. The Pound allows the Bank of England to set interest rates, the measures that determines how much your hard earned savings will be worth. The Pound allows Britain to stabilise its trading policy and to guarantee the safety of wages, savings and jobs. As I set out in a speech earlier today, Britain shouldn’t be surrendering the livelihoods of millions of Brits on the whim that it’ll draw Europe closer. I am a European by birth, but I and the Conservatives have no intent to allow this country to be forced into a currency that will wreck havoc on our nation. By contrast, the government have declared they will push ahead with a referendum when the ‘five tests’ are met, and if they are not met, they will force the results and go ahead with one anyway and thrust a referendum on the British people when they have no mandate to do so. Taking on the Euro would mean lower wage growth, no way out of times of economic downturn and a loss of tens of thousands of jobs because of the massively increased production costs for UK producers. Britain is stronger and stabler on its own two economic feet, I believe we shouldn’t gamble with the entire economy on such a bureaucratic pet project as this. The Euro is lined up to be a mess, i’d vastly prefer if Britain was not tied to the sinking ship.

MP: What these politicians don’t understand is it is about so much more than growth or jobs. It’s why this new breed of ‘liberal’ conservatism, born in the 80’s, disgusts me. Free markets are all well and good until they want to put a price tag on our sovereignty, on our sense of culture and on our Queen’s head. It’s good to see Harold Saxon be a Conservative leader who hasn’t sold out but I advise him and the Shadow Foreign Secretary to not play the liberal lefties at their own game.

SB: I may agree with you that sovereignty is vital, Melanie, but so to are the savings and wages of the British people.

AT: Mr Burman is talking rubbish as usual. Entering into the Euro does not mean higher costs for business it means lower costs for business and higher efficiencies. One of the largest costs for exporters is the cost of administering currency changes, if we have the same currency as our export partners those costs don't shrink, they disappear completely.

DD: do you think that the government is trying to force Britain into the Euro?

SH: Chancellor, we all know those five economic tests are so vague as to be meaningless.

DD: That seems to be what you're suggesting, Mr Burman.

SB: I do. They have announced that they will see the results of the five tests and if they are not satisfactory, then they will 'ensure' that they are.

MP: Anything to bid off Britain. *Snorts disgustedly.*

DD: Chancellor, would you like to respond to these points?

SB: Alwyn, hundreds of thousands work in the import market. That will see huge price rises for consumers and jobs lost because of the cost.

DD: I'm not quite sure I understand that point, Mr Burman. You may need to explain it for the slower among us.

AT: Mr Burman, why would the import market see cost inflation? The people exporting to us have fewer costs than they would have?

Have you never seen a supply and demand curve?

SB: I have Alwyn, for i've been in Parliament a lot longer than you

The Euro has lost nearly 30% of its value against the Dollar since it was first trailed almost two years ago. Now that's volatility. And that means that the prices we can barter for on the international markets, which use the US Dollar, will be much harsher than they have been. If we can buy less using one Euro than one Pound, then the real purchasing power of consumers has gone down, and with it demand for importing jobs.

AT: Ahh, the arrogance of experience. Mr Burman you may have been in Parliament longer than I have but you clearly do not understand how import and export markets work, allow me to spell it out to you. If we join the Euro then businesses that deal with imports and exports will see lower costs because of reduced administration and no need to continuously change currencies between Francs, Marks, Lira and Pound Sterling. Both the import and the export market will see cost reductions

Mr Burman, the price is volatile because there just aren't that many Euros around, they're not even being bought and sold in shops yet

SB: We may see lower costs within the internal market, but we will lose massively on the international stage, which as I have said, uses the US Dollar.

Alwyn, you may say there aren't many Euros around, but it's all the evidence anyone has

AT: The US dollar is the currency of choice for around 300 million people, the Euro would be the currency of choice for that many and maybe more

DD: Does business agree with you that the euro would be a disaster, Mr Burman? It's a stronger stance than your party has ever taken before.

AT: It would have a larger market than the dollar, maybe even able to surpass it if it is backed by the power of the London Stock Exchange

SB: Taking on board the Euro means removing our power to aid the value of our currency.

Well I can't speak for every business in the nation, but certainly import markets would be hit. It's the same stance i've taken, for example, in the Queen's speech debate, where not one Labour MP got up to tell the house that my assesment was wrong.

DD: What is an import market, Mr Burman?

SB: How can businesses put their trust in something so untried and untested?

AT: Ah yes, when you lose the argument you run around for the next excuse, when the question is uncomfortable you run for the deflection. The answer to your question David is that business is nearly unanimously in favour of the Euro and our membership of it

SB: An import market is for goods that we buy abroad, so for example a shirt from the USA or bannanas from Brazil
You'll have to excuse me Alwyn but i've seen little evidence that business is unified on the issue

Have you got any evidence that there is unification?

DD: Any final thoughts from the panel before we draw this to a close?

AT: None from me David, we have seen yet again that the Tories are content to sell this country short to satisfy their anti-Europe cravings. They said business don't like the Euro, they do. They say that imports will be more expensive, with the costs of administration reduced they will be cheaper. We will be able to import French, Spannish, German goods at reduced rates and the whole country will be able to benefit. We must ensure that the economy is ready to make the transition, then we must get the mandate from the British people. It is time for Britain to stop being scared of Europe and instead take a leadership role befitting of our economic stature and proud history of leadership on the global stage.

MP: *Rolls eyes.* We need a new party. Nevermind joining the euro, we need to leave this pseudo European superstate entirely. Until one of the establishment parties realises this I will have no faith in the political system to stand up for our sovereignty, our culture and our British values.

SB: It's just not true, is it Alwyn?

Business isn't united as you claim and Britain and British savings and wages won't be tickety boo under the Euro

DD: Tickety... boo. Well I suppose we can stop there.

Thank you again to our panel, and to you our viewers. Next week they're shipping us up to Aberdeen for our annual trip to the regions, so join us then. For now, good night.
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QT Marking:

Question 1 (Trevitt-gate)
Alwyn Thomas (Lab): +4
Samuel Burham (Con): +2

Initially subdued, Burham probably got the better of Thomas in the early answers. But the swift change of tack into fighting over an unsubstantiated accusation was a gamble that ultimately didn’t quite pay off for Burham. Thomas’s defence was capable, and as a result he edges the first question.

Question 2 (Railtrack)
Alwyn Thomas (Lab): +3
Samuel Burham (Con): +4

Bringing out a brand new policy was high risk and it almost didn’t work… but when contrasted to the fact that Thomas wasn’t giving any hint as to what the government would do (even if that is legitimate), it looked good. Burham came unstuck a bit defending privatisation, but ultimately squeezed a small win on this question.

Question 3 (Euro)
Alwyn Thomas (Lab): +3
Samuel Burham (Con): +3

A draw.. This debate got far too into random economiksy words. But when it got to the substance, Thomas sounded relatively reasonable especially for an audience still largely undecided on the euro, but Burham made the emotive argument a bit better. Both have something to learn from the other if we're going to have a euro referendum...

Overall performance
Alwyn Thomas (Lab): +4
Samuel Burham (Con): +4

No knockout blows from either side, but a solid performance from both that largely ended in a draw. Thomas could have benefitted from punchier and clearer answers, especially on Railtrack. Burham was clear, but found it hard to defend from pretty strong rhetoric. If you’re going to go in either hard or specific, make sure you can back it up.
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Callum Finch Newsnight Interview, 12/04/18

Gavin Esler: Good evening, this is Newsnight with me, Gavin Esler. 

Callum Finch started as Elizabeth Tanner’s second in command, and following tragic circumstances stepped up to become Prime Minister. Inheriting a struggling government, Finch has oversaw scandal, division and the gravest terror attack of our times. In a rare and exclusive interview I’ll be asking him questions on the issues you, the viewers at home, care about. 

Prime Minister, lovely to have you here.

Callum Finch: Great to be here, Gavin.

GE: Prime Minister, 

Around eight months ago, your Secretary of State for Public Services was found to have offered jobs not only to friends, but to sexual partners. There was uproar and demands for change as public trust plummeted to new lows. The ‘Trevitt report’ cleared you of wrongdoing, but we have to ask: what was your side of the story? What did you know and how did you react when you found out what Trevitt had done?

CF: Well, the first time I became aware of this was when I was made aware of the wrong-doing by the Chief Whip. Upon receipt of the information, I was most disappointed - Mr Trevitt seemed like a decent man but do to this is unacceptable. This is why I took immediate action to relieve him of his duties in Government, and then commissioned an investigation into what happened and what could be done in the future to prevent somebody from doing a similar thing.

GE: Isn’t that part of the problem Prime Minister? There are no mechanisms in place to prevent something similar for happening again. People have made it clear that they want change and for Westminster to be cleaned up, but from the government we’ve heard no promises - never mind action. What do you think needs to change?

CF: Let's be clear, Government is bigger than one person and always will be. It is the beauty of democracy. What we need is to change the culture. For a cabinet minister to think this is acceptable clearly indicates a failure of morality and when the self-regulating concept of morality, and the ministerial code fail, clearly change is required. Following the Trevitt report, we have been reviewing ways we could make the process more transparent, making sure that with any appointment, Ministers must declare any conflicts of interests or potentially face charges.

GE: It’s all good to say that there needs to be a change of culture, Prime Minister, but that is something beyond your control. Regardless, at the highest echelons of power surely you can influence if that change occurs or not? Do you, for example, support Harold Saxon’s attempt to push for the recall of MPs? Do you think standards where Ministers appoint people to positions of power should be made more strict? What practical action can or will you take?

CF: I don't think the recall of Members of Parliament is the correct action, Gavin, particularly with the implementation that Mr Saxon has proposed. I think it is just another bandwagon for him to jump on. I think an independent body who has the power to investigate Members of Parliament, in the interests of the public, would go a long way and provide a more measured approach than the legislation proposed by Mr Saxon. It would prevent rash judgements being made on potentially erroneous accusations and make MPs accountable.
And yes, I think we must hold Cabinet Members to the highest of standards possible. Something I expect of all of my Cabinet Members.

GE: Your Home Secretary has offered support for the recall policy. Do you think the policy is wrong or misguided, or do you agree with her?

CF: I don't think the message is wrong - constituents should be able to hold their elected representatives to account - but the implementation is a long way off being perfect, as I have just alluded to, Gavin.

GE: So, to clarify, you will be voting for the policy?

CF: It is current form, I will not.

GE: Will you be whipping your MPs to vote against or will you let your Home Secretary express her alternate opinion?

CF: I feel this particular matter should be decided by the individual, and free from political influence.

Much like the process its self should be. So no, I won't be whipping my MPs for or against, Gavin.

GE: Prime Minister, Harold Saxon said that he met with you to discuss faith in politics and was critical of your conduct. He described you as ‘silent’ and ‘weak.’ Can you describe this meeting between the two of you and minor parties? Was it unproductive?

CF: Well, I was welcomed to the meeting and he didn't discuss anything with me. All that was exchaged was pleasantaries. I was invited to discuss HIS ideas but it seems he didn't have any to put to me. Mr Saxon is just keen to chase his headlines and I'm surprised he didn't tie himself to my office door. If he is as passionate as he says he is about the issue, he would have done more to make that meeting productive. Infact, I thought that his comments were part of the issue, rather than trying to provide a solution to the problem. We are used to seeing Mr Saxon chase soundbites and cheap, petty points and this doesn't instill trust. His reactive and opportunist nature is, some would argue, why politicans don't get the trust they deserve.

GE: Do you think your perceived inaction has left a void in the agenda that the Leader of the Opposition has filled?

CF: Let's not forget which party has failed to represent their constituents in debates properly during the term of this parliament. Surely if they want to restore trust, they should turn up and do their jobs, Gavin? The policy of Mr Saxon depends on the position of the moon and the direction of the wind. Would you trust somebody in your workplace who didn't turn up every day, Gavin? Imagine if your producer turned up minutes late to a episode of this show - would you trust them? I think they are trying to seize control of an agenda during a time of international crisis but those in glass houses should not throw stones.

GE: Very scathing, Prime Minister. 

The big news story right now, as I’m sure you know, is the US and France’s move to invade Afghanistan following the awful attacks in America and France in December. Do you think this is the right thing to do in order to avenge the sixty Britons who died in the attacks?

CF: Indeed, Gavin. We need to make sure our approach is measured and more importantly, compliant with international law. My thoughts remain with the sixty Britons who died in the attacks and a day doesn't go by when I don't think about them. Times like these are why I enlisted in the Armed Forces many years ago - to protect my country.

Today, the Foreign Secretary submitted a motion to the United Nations under chapter 7, citing a breach in international peace. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies and will be providing logistical support to their military assets but I will not be authorising UK military action untill absolutely all diplomatic routes have been exhausted and we have a clear objective in mind.

GE: The President delivered a strong statement to the press where he called on ‘hesitant allies’ to ‘step up to the job.’ Are you a hesitant ally, Prime Minister?

CF: If hesitant means performing our own due diligence and making sure the conflict is rational and has a clear objective, then yes. but myself, President Powell and President Chirac have remained in constant contact since the terror attack and our Armed Forces are conducting excercises incase they are called to action. We are absolutely united with our allies across the world, not just France and the United States, in making sure the world is free from terror.

GE: So do you think the President was publicly criticising your conduct?

CF: I think you'll have to ask the President about that, Gavin. I have many talents but mind reading is not amongst them, I'm sorry to inform you.

GE: Would you criticise the President’s conduct, Prime Minister? Do you think he is being irrational in his hurriedness, and is throwing himself into a war that is illegal?

CF: I haven't said anything of the sorts, Gavin, I'm simply saying that we have our own approach to consider. Has Mr Saxon been giving you lessons on how to chase headlines?

GE: I’m only asking what the public is wondering Prime Minister. But your position does seem to be at odds with the rest of the NATO nations. So surely by proxy you must think their conduct isn’t appropriate, or reasonable? Or do you think it is?

CF: The United Kingdom was one of the countries to collectively invoke Article 5 of NATO. For those at home, that is the collective defence part of the NATO treaty - allowing allies to define a common enemy in defence of each other. We are providing logistical support, Gavin, but at the moment, we are evaluating all of our options and objectives, before potentially following suit with the full-scale invasion.

GE: Will you still provide logistical support to America’s mission if it were to take place before UN approval?

CF: We'd have to judge that on its individual merits, Gavin, taking into account the status of the UN approval and the objectives of the involvement at that moment in time.

GE: So your government could very well turn around to NATO and say ‘nah’? Wouldn’t that have some pretty severe consequences internationally?

CF: I doubt we will get to that point, Gavin, as we have offered our logistical support anyway for any operations currently being conducted. We remain very much on the same page as NATO because like I said earlier, we were behind the invocation of Artice V of the NATO treaty.

GE: It does sound like you are at odds with your NATO allies Prime Minister. Are you worried you could be alienating Britain on the world stage?

CF: Don't be ridiculous, Gavin. Relationships with our Allies have been built over many, many years and they remain strong but we can't be world leaders without thinking for ourselves and considering the lives of our people and Armed Forces as well.

GE: On another matter of importance which influences our relationship with our allies – the euro. The government has found the Five Tests will be met and they will legislate for a referendum. What campaign will you be joining?
Do you think the euro will be a good thing for Britain?

CF: I can see the array benefits of the Euro, Gavin, but like I said before, we need to be abe to think for ourselves and make sure the currency is sustainable and provide prosperity and security for the UK economy. That is the underlying message I have given to Heads of Government across the Eurozone.

GE: Isn’t that what the civil service’s evaluation of the five tests set out to do? For you, is the issue not settled?

CF: Despite the portrayal of the Civil Service under Sir Humphery Appleby, Gavin, politicans do have independent thoughts and I will be evaluating everything before the campaign begins.

GE: Of course they have independent thought. That’s why your current and former Chancellor have made it clear they are big fans of the euro. Its why your old friend from the backbenches, Harriet Roth, made it clear she despised the euro. As someone with independent thoughts, what do you currently think is good for Britain at this very moment: to keep the pound or join the euro?

CF: I think overall, the Euro is good for Britain but I do have my concerns - such as the control of monetary policy we would be relinquishing, and how if the zone is expanded, it might not work for all within the currency union. Most will admit it isn't perfect but at this moment in time, I feel it will bring benefits to the UK economy. We just need to see how things evolve.

GE: If you continue to have those reservations will you be joining Harold Saxon on the no side of the referendum and speaking against your Chancellor and former Chancellor?

CF: I don't think I'll be joining Mr Saxon in anything, Gavin, because I don't like riding wagons which have questionable integrity and structural deficiencies. I don't think I will be, no. I'm just being honest with the British people in what I feel about the Euro.

GE: Prime Minister, 

More important than the euro on British voters’ minds is the NHS, the sacred cow of British politics. It seems people still feel like the government can do more to strengthen it. Do you have a plan for the NHS?

CF: We certainly do! One which doesn't want to put ambulance services into the hands of a private company, Gavin. We have provided sustained investments into the National Health Service, following the years of Tory mis-management and fund malnurisment. We are making sure the NHS is properly equipped with investment in new technologies, research and importantly, training new doctors and nurses as well as making sure those already working feel valued and are properly renumerated for their noble and understated service.

GE: It seems like on the funding front the government has done everything it can. I cannot dispute that. But some would argue that’s only half of the solution and the health service needs reform. Do you agree with that evaluation?

CF: Rome wasn't built in a day, Gavin, but I think there are areas we can obviously improve in. I'll refrain from feeding you the line about generic streamlining but what I will say is that the investment brings us more beds and an increased capacity can often help out the issues people say need reforming. We need to make sure that the service given to patients is the very best possible; making sure we have clear targets on waiting times in accident and emergency departments and sufficient response times for ambulance emergency vehicles. We started the process of reforming the NHS in 1997 and we continue to build upon that record.

GE: Can you promise the country there will be reforms implemented to keep the NHS fighting fit?

CF: There isn't anything to say it isn't already fighting fit, Gavin, but if you're asking whether I can promise reforms will be implemented to continue to innvoate and improve the NHS then yes,  I can absolutely promise that.
We must make sure that the management of the NHS is not reckless.

GE: Well Prime Minister more people remain dissatisfied that satisfied with the current state of the NHS. What reforms do you envision? More marketisation? More competition?

CF: I feel it only requires the reiteration of a simple message - the NHS is fundamentally about providing the best service to the patient. Plain and simple. It is my belief that the only method of doing this is keeping the National Health Service as a truly public service to prevent putting patient service quality above profit.

GE: Prime Minister - thank you.

CF: Thank you Gavin.

GE: And now for the weather...
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Scandals: 4.5/6

The start was definitely shaky - you seemed to be a little all over the place on recall and on what actions could be taken to 'clean up Westminster', but the end of this was definitely your strongest bit of the interview. The attacks on Harold Saxon are passionate, scathing, and definitely stick onto him and deflecting any of the criticisms that had been leveraged onto you. 

Afghanistan: 2.5/6

The weakest part of your interview, though while you stumbled you didn't fall into any traps. Your position might be one that many in the country could buy as imminently sensible, but there are deeper international considerations when it comes to these issues which could come to bite you - such as your relationship with your NATO allies. It appeared like you were at odds with them, and some of your attempts to avoid the question ('that's unlikely' etc) did little to reassure viewers at home. 

The Euro: 3.5/6

Quite a clever/Wilsonian position that could keep the Labour Party and country united behind you - pro-euro sentiment enough to have your europhiles satisfied, but anti euro voters, members and MPs will likely feel you are at least listening to them. However, the Prime Minister did seem somewhat indecisive at a time he really needs to start picking a side, and there's a fine line between keeping both sides pleased and annoying them both. 

The NHS: 4/6

Similar to the last question, the Prime Minister took a middling position that would keep most voters relatively happy on the most crucial issue of the day - promising continued investment and a vague pledge for reform. Outlining more specific policies would have definitely helped budge your mark higher, though. 

Overall Performance: 4.5/6

The Prime Minister seemed on form here. He appeared to have all of his lines ready and have a basic grasp of the issues of the day, generally looked statesmanlike, showed some gusto and was at times funny and likeable... all decent qualities. At times you appeared too flaky, too brusque and often you would be unnecessarily confrontational with the interviewer, but it was a solid performance from the PM. Well done. 

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