March 26, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
So we started with Jeremy Paxman interviewing David Cameron followed by audience questions.
Paxman started on food banks, challenging Cameron on the fact that almost a million people in this country have used one since the coalition came to power. He then moved onto zero hour contracts, which Labour would have you think are the only jobs created, yet are in fact 1 in 50 of them. Cameron argued that having created over 1000 jobs a day, in general there are more people in work, able to put food on their family’s table. That is the important thing to him. He moved onto the ‘rich’ people who Cameron has taken into Downing Street as Ministers and Advisors. Cameron pointed out that no-one questioned the appointments of Andy Coulson and Stephen King at the time, so he saw no reason to.
Challenged on his failure to meet the immigration promises he made, he was forced to accept that the Conservatives have not met the commitments that he made, but talked instead of how he was changing rules to make sure Britain is less attractive as a destination to those that might exploit it. Paxman pointed out that Cameron said he wouldn’t put up VAT before the last election but did. Cameron simply said that they had to make some hard decisions in order to deal with the size of the deficit they inherited. Asked how he would cut £12 billion from the welfare budget, he mentioned cutting the welfare cap from £26,000 a family to £23,000 and trying to stop young people going from school onto benefits. Finally, he was asked about his biggest foreign policy disaster. Cameron insisted that intervening in Libya was the right thing to do, but admitted that it hasn’t been possible to get the next Libyan government together. The final question from Paxman was about the circumstances in which Cameron would vote “No” in an EU referendum. Cameron said that he wanted to stay in the EU under negotiated terms, which is why he wanted to be given time to negotiate them and wouldn’t want the referendum to be too early so he didn’t have time to negotiate, and reminded us that the only party offering a referendum is the Conservative Party.
The second part were questions. The first was on Ed Miliband’s best qualities. Cameron said he admired Ed for the way he sometimes supported Cameron on action against Islamic State. The second was about the provision of care for the elderly, in particular a Cabinet Minister for the elderly. Cameron is concerned that older people’s concerned to be restricted to one person in the Cabinet. He wants his Health Secretary to think about care of the elderly, his Education Secretary to think about through life education, and his Defence Secretary to be concerned about treatment of veterans. The third question was about cuts to public services, and how big they would be if the Conservatives have a majority. Cameron reminded us that the Conservatives need to save one pound in every hundred the government spends, and not use taxes to do that, because he feels taxes cost jobs. Cameron mentioned freezing unemployment benefit but also setting up one organisation to manage all government properties.
The next question was about police cutbacks. Budgets have been cut by 20%, but crime, according to government statistics, has also been cut by 20%, so Cameron congratulated the police for that. Then there was care for the disabled. There are 11 million disabled people and they need to play. A greater role in public and community life, Cameron mentioned that 140,000 disabled people got jobs in the past year. He wants employers to be more enlightened in their recruitment activities so as not to miss out on what disabled people have to offer.
Then we go to the EU and how Cameron will convince the British public not to opt out of the EU. Cameron was fully for the best part of being part of Europe, for trade, cooperation and the common market, but not being part of an ever closer political union. If he can achieve one without the other, he thinks he can persuade the British people to stay in. Then asked about NHS services being provided by private companies. Cameron said that as long as the NHS is free at the point of use he doesn’t mind if the private and charitable sector offers the services. Brilliant care shouldn’t be not offered just because they are not in the public sector. Then he was challenged on some broken promises on the NHS. He reminded the audience that he has never, and he has committed not to cutting the NHS. He talked of getting rid of 20,000 bureaucrats in the NHS, side stepping the accusation of promising no top-down reorganisation.
The final question was whether he could redo one thing from his time as Prime Minister what would it be. He wished that some of things that he had done to achieve the economic strategy had been done quicker. So, he ignored the question.
Essentially, Cameron, a highly skilled politician, strangled the life out of the audience questions, and one commentator on Twitter wished we could have stayed with Paxman. But those who hadn’t seen Cameron much would have seen a lot more of him and there is no doubt he came across as what he is, an experienced leader who can come across well as a decent man.