Who’s sweating now?

For anyone who missed Question Time last night, you can still view it on the BBC web site (don’t know how long for hence no hard link). First up was Charles Kennedy, who was cheered both at the beginning and the end of his 30 minutes. After a shaky start to this campaign, Charles was on fine form. He came across as confident, strong and principled. His supporters couldn’t have wished for more.

Michael Howard – who has started to remind me of Vincent Price – seemed hell-bent on self-destruction as he told the audience that even though he called Blair a liar, and believes he was misled into supporting the war, he would have invaded Iraq anyway! Thus he single-handedly consigned all his anti-war protest votes to the dustbin of history. You can imagine the Tory faithful burying their heads in their hands. He was also tackled head-on by a very angry asylum seeker.

But Blair had the worst night of the three. He was clearly getting fed up with defending himself on Iraq, but the audience showed little mercy. He started to sweat. As you watch the video, Blair got more and more sweaty the tougher it got. It got worse. Seems he was unaware that GP’s have found a great wheeze for meeting appointment targets: don’t let people book an appointment more that 48 hours ahead – just make them call back nearer the day. He didn’t know, he hadn’t got a glib smiley answer ready. He was off balance. Then Dimbleby struck the killer blow by revealing that Blair had refused to debate with the other leaders – hence the one-at-a-time formula.

‘Coward’ shouted someone in the audience. Cue credits.

If they’re attacking us they must be worried!

The received wisdom in campaigning for one of the two big parties is that if you ignore the Lib Dems, you reinforce the impression that they are not electorally significant. So traditionally, Labour and Tories attack each other’s record and try to score points off one another. So I was particularly gratified last night when the Tory PPB took the time to attack the Lib Dems. Tories know that there is a head of steam for those who would protest against Blair, but by voting Lib Dem it won’t save the Tories from oblivion. They are sufficiently worried by this to start attacking us publicly. Well, as they say, ‘Bring it on!’Meanwhile, back in the Blair camp, Labour are still pushing the line of ‘voting Lib Dem will let Howard in via the back door’. This has been comprehensively, mathematically debunked by many – but you don’t have to take my word for it. Visit the BBC website and spend an idle half-hour playing with the ‘Swingometer’. There is no swing to the Lib Dems of any size at all that delivers a victory for Howard. The only swing that delivers a Tory government is a sizeable swing to the Tories – and that’s just not going to happen.

One thing I am looking forward to is what takes place after the election. The Tories cannot survive another defeat in their present form. It is becoming increasingly clear that moving to the right and becoming more nasty has got them absolutely nowhere. They are flatlining in the polls. Their only hope, as I have said before, is a more moderate approach – but where have the moderate Tories gone? Is there a ‘Gang of Four’ or however many to break away a la SDP? It’s clear that 8 years in the wilderness has taught them nothing at all.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the voices of dissent in ‘Not Labour’ are only waiting until after May 5th to be heard. (So principled are they that saving their own seats comes first!). But they will start to make a noise after the election. Brian Sedgemore may be just the tip of the iceberg.

The Big Issue

Someone told me that only 3% of voters will decide their vote on the basis of the Iraq invasion. If this is true, I find it rather disturbing that we are able to forgive and forget so readily. Please register your view on the online poll at the top right of the page. Two years ago, the demonstrations against the war were the biggest this country has ever seen – and rightly so. If you are the Prime Minister, surely the most onerous decision you ever have to make is the one that involves committing your armed forces to battle. Knowing that as a result of that decision, people are going to die. As I write this, 86 British service men and women have been killed. The death-toll of Iraqi civilians is conservatively estimated at 15,000 (we don’t officially keep count). If you take the decision to take your country to war, you have to know that you have exhausted every other avenue – that you have no choice. What bigger issue can there possibly be? Forget spending cuts and tax cuts – just think what you can do with £3 billion (so far). If the Prime Minister took us to war on a false prospectus, he is not fit to be Prime Minister. This is the British people’s one and only chance to either endorse or reject Blair. If we re-elect him with a convincing majority, he will take it that we have ‘moved on’, that we consider other things more important.

New evidence this weekend reveals that the Attorney General expressed doubts about the legality of the war in a leaked memo. What is really galling is the way Michael Howard is trying to look whiter than white on the whole issue. He claims to have supported the war because he believed the case that Blair made. At the time, many others had doubts. Hans Blix asked for more time. Members of Blair’s cabinet resigned. If Howard was taken in then he is clearly incompetent. For most of us, the only possible way to express our feelings on this issue is to cast our vote for the only party that consistently opposed the war from the start. If enough of us do that, then maybe we can get rid of this discredited Prime Minister sooner rather than later.