Question Time: Cardiff, 14th March

Kirsty Williams, Francis Maude, the top of David Dimbleby's head, the side of Chuka Umunna's and the back of Leanne Wood's
Kirsty Williams, Francis Maude, the top of David Dimbleby’s head, the side of Chuka Umunna’s and the back of Leanne Wood’s

After last month’s bloated horror, the Bemolution offers a more svelte entry into its mainstream-monitoring initiative for increased readability and the sake of its own continuing sanity.

The Place: Cardiff, Wales

This week: one-time Lib Dem leadership hopeful turned Coalition energy minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce were sentenced to eight months in jail for perverting the course of justice; David Cameron killed off cross-party talks on how best to put Leveson’s proposals on press reform into action; and Work & Pension Secretary Ian Duncan-Smith was forced to exempt soldier’s families from his spare-room-penalising Bedroom Tax.

The panel: Francis Maude, Tory MP for Horsham, West Sussex since 1997. Before that MP for North Warwickshire (1983 – 1992) and a junior minister under Thatcher. Now Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. Abingdon School (private) to Cambridge to The Bar. Formerly a high-up at Morgan Stanley, ASDA and Saloman Brothers. Socially liberal – in 2006 suggested Thatcher’s Section 28 might have contributed towards his gay brother’s death from AIDS.

Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham, Greater London since 2010 and Shadow Business Secretary since 2011. Born to Nigerian and Irish parents in London. St Dunstan’s (private) to Manchester University to The Bar. Initially attached to free-thinking soft left pressure group Compass and worked for Jon Cruddas’s bid to be Labour’s deputy leader. Now seen as more mainstream future leadership contender.

Kirsty Williams, Lib Dem leader in Wales and Assembly Member for Brecon & Radnorshire. Welsh but Somerset-born – she and her parents returned to the valleys when she was 3. Private school to Manchester University, then into marketing and PR. Early campaigner for a Welsh Assembly, first female leader of the big four Welsh parties. In a triumph for women’s lib, voted Sexiest Female Lib Dem in 2006. Supported Welsh Labour government’s 2011 budget on condition it kept to Clegg’s ‘ Pupil Premium’.

Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru and AM for South Wales Central. Stated-educated, Wood went on to attend the University of Glamorgan. Has worked as a probation officer and a university lecturer. Self-proclaimed socialist and republican –was the first AM sent out of the chamber in its history, after calling the Queen ‘Mrs Windsor’. First female leader of Plaid, and the first unable to speak the Welsh language. A supporter of Welsh independence.

Theo Pathitis, sickeningly rich loud-mouth representing no-one.

The Issues: The Huhne/Pryce saga. Tawdry political class soap operatics – the kind of story the media obsesses over while real things happen in the real world and go unreported – but thankfully burned through quickly. Everyone felt very sorry for the family, almost everyone said they felt a bit uncomfortable proclaiming judgement on a legal case, that by lying Huhne had made a relatively minor offence infinitely worse, and that his high profile made it inevitable that he’d get a heavy statement. Markedly un-Zen-like Francis Maude recited a fitting Chinese proverb: ‘if you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves’.

The economy: a novelty Dragons Den-themed question led into a generic plod through Westminster consensus economics. His government might pursue budget-shrinking austerity with goggle-eyed zeal, but Maude, strangely, saw economic recovery at the end of a very Labour-sounding tunnel – state investment in infrastructure and gov’t striving to boost the manufacturing sector. Umunna, meanwhile, was running on post-New Labour default setting, using Opposition to hit out against a plethora of social ills his party either helped cause or did nothing to prevent during 13 years in power. Labour’s line remains that the Coalition is cutting too fast and sucking all the demand out of the economy – VAT cuts and national insurance breaks to businesses were Chuka’s prescription for recovery.

Plaid Cyrmu’s Leanne Wood, who wins this week’s coveted Consensus Buster award, pointedly reminded Umunna that ex-Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling had ‘said he would cut faster and deeper than Margaret Thatcher did’. Labour didn’t ‘deny that we were going to have to consolidate the public finances’, Umunna bleeped robotically in response. Wood explained her austerity alternative ‘Plan C’, prioritising energy-efficient green manufacturing funded through borrowing, closing tax loopholes and savvy pension fund investment. Retail mogul Theo Pathitis essentially enjoyed several minutes of free advertising on the BBC, boasting about how many jobs he’d created in his own business. He liked the 2010 Tory manifesto, he said, but didn’t think the Coalition had delivered on the jobs it had promised to create.

Press regulations: is David Cameron protecting the press while betraying the victims of press abuse? Lib Dem Kirsty Williams thought so. Cameron was accused of putting ‘narrow political interest’ ahead of ‘doing the right thing’. Letting the press regulate itself is akin to ‘letting one rugby team chose the referee then telling him what constitutes a foul’ (she’s Welsh, you know). ‘I’ve been on the wrong side of the press many times’, retail’s own John Wayne Theo Pathitis swaggered, before adding the obligatory dash of populism: ‘but the last thing I want is for politicians to control the press’. Mr Opposition Chuka Umunna said that press regulations had to primarily protect ordinary people. Alas, no-one added that freedom of the press is already severely constrained by corporate ownership, and the dominance of Murdoch-style moguls willing to actively mould the news in their own interest.

Bedroom Tax: Kirsty Williams took the softer Coalition line – pro the tax in principle, seeing it as a way of redistributing living space, but ‘very glad’ about the changes made. Leanne Wood was staunchly against – in Torfaen, Wales, she explained, rent arrears have increased sevenfold since the tax was introduced. MPs should be put up in spare rooms in London council houses instead of having taxpayer-funded second homes she impishly suggested. Francis Maude was the most openly pro, claiming the tax addressed a ‘basic unfairness’. Chuka Umunna spoke of constituents forced out of their homes by the tax, and wondered where ousted residents are going to move in to given the national lack of one-bedroom properties. Pathitis: the potential bedroom tax savings are only about £400m, and that doesn’t take admin fees into account.

David Cameron’s leadership: more tittle-tattle fresh from the Westminster village. Would the Tories do better under Theresa May, someone asked? Umunna said the question was pointless since May, Cameron and the rest of the Tory leadership were signed up to the same political agenda. Pathitis: ‘what’s it got to do with me?’, which led Dimbleby to enjoyably demolish the motor-mouth mogul’s man of the people shtick. Maude unsurprisingly wasn’t going to play ball – ‘he’s a very good Prime Minister, she’s a very good minister’. Kirsty Williams augured that any change in the Tory leadership would bring about an undesirable lurch to the right and said she was glad her party was there to ‘hold them back’. Leanne Wood was deeply unimpressed with the Lib Dem’s Tory-restraining credentials, then echoed Umunna’s point that leadership change was meaningless if the policies didn’t change. Without such a change, the rich would keep getting richer and the poor poorer, she said, which clearly irritated Moneybags Pathitis.

Conclusion: The BBC continues letting the arbitrarily rich pose as no-nonsense everymen. Decades of neoliberal ego-massage mean the Pathitises of the world have actually started to believe their own myth.