Last evening, ITV Wales hosted the GE Debate of the Welsh Party Leaders. Yours truly had been invited to be part of the audience – an invitation which came out of the blue.
Many of you recall the various TV ‘debates’ during the 2015 GE, many recall the various other TV ‘debates’ such as BBC’s “Question Time”, and many have made their suspicions known that they must be rigged.
I’m now in the happy position to confirm these suspicions, certainly as far as last night’s debate was concerned, that suspicion having been confirmed from a source at ITV who has, of course, got to remain anonymous.
The invitation came about because ITV asked the leaders to provide names for a list of audience participants. So, for starters, there was a large chunk of party activists of all parties. Confirmation was provided at the check-in, where we all had to give our names to be checked against the ITV list. ‘Are you in a Party?’, asked the nice young lady. ‘Yes’, I said, so she went to the back of her wodge of papers, where party-affiliated invitees were listed in colour-coded blocks. (Yes, it was purple for UKIP). That was half of the audience.
Next – the questions. I asked my branch chairman if there were any questions we should ask of Neil Hamilton. No, I was told – ITV had selected people to ask questions and no other questions were allowed. These ‘questions’ took the form of a brief little video clip, introducing both the questioner and illustrating the theme of the question. The selected questioner was then given the opportunity to ask that question live from the audience.
One can make the case that this was done to structure the debate into four segments. These were: First-time voters; Brexit; Immigration; Can we trust politicians.
This being Cardiff, the video clips had a definite taste of ‘Remain’, just as the majority of the unaffiliated invitees reflected the political attitude of the Welsh Capital: Labour, Left, Remain. The applause showed that clearly.
Astute UKIP Daily readers will have noted immediately that of course the leaders would have been told what was coming, and had had time to prepare their answers. No nasty traps here, and no opportunity for gaffes. Or so one would have thought …
Before I get to the nitty-gritty, here are the ‘dramatis personae’:
Adrian Masters (chairing the debate) – Carwyn Jones (Welsh Labour), Andrew R.T. Davies (Welsh Conservatives), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Mark Williams (Welsh Liberal Democrats) and Neil Hamilton (UKIP Wales). Allow me here to give praise to Mr Masters, who did ask the leaders needling questions showing up their inconsistencies.
Frankly, that lot was pitiful. One expects to hear the same slogans from leading politicians, all according to the hymn sheets provided by their central offices. One expects them not to answer questions directly but use them as an opportunity to show themselves off, like peacocks unfolding their tails. But one would have hoped to get logically consistent arguments – a forlorn hope last night. The leaders’ performances really took the proverbial …
So let me give you a flavour of the inanities: Mr Davies (T) went off on ‘strong and stable leadership’ and after the first use of that May slogan, the audience erupted in laughter every time he came up with it.
Mr Williams (LD) twisted himself into knots on immigration: all people are free to come, he said – but, of course, ‘we need strong border control’. Huh?
Mr Jones (L) kept on and on about how wonderfully well Wales has done under his leadership as First Minister, but: ‘Tory cuts!’
Ms Wood (PC), who seemed to think that as ‘woman’ she had the right to talk over the others, and to heckle them from her rostrum, told us that this GE was about Wales! How Wales had been ‘disregarded’, how insulting that was. Oh dear …
Neil Hamilton had to stand up to a hostile audience. Given the heckling, especially in the later part of the evening, he did as well as could be expected. I don’t need to bring his arguments: UKIPpers know them by heart.
In the first break, I was pleased to hear an unaffiliated member in the audience tell his neighbour that ‘Neil did very well – a surprise’ and ‘Mark (Williams, LD) hadn’t found his feet’. That good-will evaporated in the later part of the evening as the Labour/Left contingent had swallowed whole the inanities of Jones (L) and Wood (PC) and got behind their anti-Tory and anti-UKIP stance.
What struck me was the wilful obfuscation by Jones and Wood who on the one hand demanded ‘stuff for Wales’ from Central Government while never acknowledging that it was their policies in the Welsh Assembly which has made things so dire. Note to self: politicians are ‘the best’ and that’s why we must vote for them.
While it won’t come as a total surprise that LibLabPlaid blamed everything on the Tories, their arguments can be condensed to the following slogans, especially in regard to Brexit and Immigration:
‘Tory Cuts!’ ‘The NHS, the NHS!’ ‘Ireland, Ireland!’ ‘Stop the Tories’, ‘Wa-ales! Wa-ales!’
These are proper political arguments? Blimey!
Friends – halfway through the evening I lost the will to live. Ms Wood was the epitome for woolly thinking, trying to be the Top Hen, heckling and yes, even eating while on the podium. Mr Williams tried so hard to make a case for a second referendum (nobody bought it). Mr Jones had the gall to say that higher taxes means fairer taxes … yep, that’ll work! Mr Davies, once he stopped mentioning ‘strong and stable’, came up with a nice quip for Labour: “Corbyn Carwyn and Chaos”. Mr Hamilton changed UKIP’s “holding May’s feet to the fire” to ‘breathing down the Tories’ necks’ – much more applicable, I thought.
My verdict: it was yet another feast of political posturing, no substance, only another opportunity of slapping party slogans round each other’s heads. No question was really answered, a lot of squirming, and once the Labour/Left Cardiff audience got what they wanted: Labour/Left slogans, it was all over for the rest of the leaders.
My counsel: never attend as ‘audience’! These TV debates are better watched at home where one can at least throw things, shout at the screen and switch the whole thing off. Yes, I did shout a few times ‘shut up, Leanne’, but she didn’t hear me …
Oh, it was a lovely evening – not!
(If you really really must, you can watch the whole thing here.)