Did anyone hear Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s live phone-in interview on Radio 4’s “World at One” with Martha Kearney yesterday? After a week when the country seemed to be basing their voting intentions on two hours of staged debate in a television studio, it was gratfiying to hear that, on Radio 4 at least, listeners weren’t going to accept ‘fob offs’ or platitudes from the PM. On a whole raft of subjects from the banking collapse to immigration, from tactical voting to tax credits, the Prime Minister faced a barrage of well-informed and determined questioners.
Judith Brooksbank from Keighley asked if, in the event of a hung Parliament, Mr Brown would side with either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. The answer was excruciating – Mr Brown wriggled and squirmed, using every word apart from ‘Conservatives’ or ‘Liberal Democrats’. Ms Brooksbank valiantly pressed on – no less than five times. But still the PM wouldn’t answer.
Mark Newton from Loughborough, a Liberal Democrat, disclosed that, following encouragement from Peter Hain and Lord Adonis he would be voting Labour as a tactic to keep out the Conservatives. Would Mr Brown relax his Party’s rules to allow Labour voters to do the same in strong Liberal Democrat marginals? Mr Brown talked about reform of the House of Commons in 2011, then Child Tax Credits. Mr Newton is probably still scratching his head…
But the piece de resistance had to be Robert Hannah from Glasgow, who asked Gordon Brown why, in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, he had seen fit firstly to recover £1.2m by commissioning a report which had cost £1m. No response from Mr Brown. Why then, asked Mr Hannah, had yet another kwango been establish to monitor MPs’ expenses, which employed eighty people and cost the taxpayer six and a half million pounds more? That’s one person for each eight MP’s expenses, he said. “You only have 659 MPs”, he said – “what would Ford or IBM spend on regulating their employee’s expenses – just what are you checking?” he asked. Mr Hannah was faded out with a cheery “Robert, thank you very much indeed”, but it was clear he had the Prime Minister on the ropes.
Fascinating – even without the other two Party Leaders, Mr Brown still seemed to come third.