Last night, staying with my aged father on the south coast, I tuned in to watch the BBC1’s Question Time EU Referendum live ‘Special’ at 6.45pm in which Prime Minister David Cameron stood on a studio podium and faced an audience of questioners under the stewardship of veteran presenter David Dimbleby.
This programme was the centrepiece and highlight of the first day of the resumption of Referendum campaigning after a 48-hour ‘suspension of hostilities’ in reaction to the awful murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. At some point some pundit or another will pronounce upon the extent to which, if any, last week’s tragic events ultimately affected the tone and impact of the final knockings – even potentially the outcome – of the campaign but I’m not personally expert enough to comment.
At this stage it somehow seems to me that the dictum ‘que sera, sera’ applies, or indeed ought to.
My parent is a Tory born and bred and belongs to a generation in which respect for authority counted for a lot. As a result the ‘bear pit’ nature of this Question Time ‘Special’ was probably always likely to offend him in the sense that he was going to find the aggressive/accusatory attitude of some of the questioners inappropriate when directed at a Prime Minister, irrespective of his or her hue. And did.
Although he doesn’t seem to have made his own mind up – he hasn’t been following the Referendum ‘issues’ closely and last night asked me several times “Which way are you going to vote?’ as if interested in what I might say – my hunch is that in his bones my father is a natural Remainer. Several times he commented with exasperation “That’s a bloody stupid question …” even when in my view that wasn’t necessarily the case.
All that said, my companion in front of the television did make two comments towards the end of the programme that held water.
The first was that Mr Cameron did pretty well.
I agreed with this verdict. Whether it was because he or his advisers had decided in advance that (four days from voting day) this was no time to hold back, or that he was caught up in the heat of the moment, or even that – faced with the extreme ends of the spectrum of political career success and failure that he might be coping with by the end of this week – he’d simply chosen to ‘go for it and take the consequences’, he came out of the blocks robustly, meeting fire with fire and impressing with the passion that he injected into his answers and arguments.
For those who might be interested, here is a link to the verdict of a panel of columnists from The Guardian – THE GUARDIAN
All that acknowledged, to a degree, the impact his performance had probably depended upon the onlooker’s individual predisposition.
If you were or are a Leaver, Mr Cameron’s apparent inconsistency on Turkey [in heading a government that officially supports Turkey’s entry to the EU and has applied large sum of money helping to speed up said entry’s process, and who has publicly told the Turkish people that he was personally going to lead the campaign to ‘pave Turkey’s way to Brussels’ … and yet recently has told the British public that Turkey’s EU entry ‘is not going to happen before the year 3000 AD’] and the effect of his controversial recent ‘re-negotiation of the UK’s position within the EU’ [stating last night that he had secured a series of important reforms of it designed to protect the UK’s unique status set out in a ‘legal-binding’ agreement … even though the European Parliament and other forums whose assent is technically required before it becomes legally-binding have yet to approve and/or accept it] are glaring ‘elephants sitting in the corner of the room’.
However, last night the Prime Minister – through a combination of vehement assertion and avoiding the question by filibustering – sought to give the impression that everything he had ever said on these issues was consistent, logical and rational.
Overall, there is no doubt that last night Mr Cameron gave as good as he got – and that includes on the several occasions that he returned to the theme that the status quo (or at least the ‘security of what we know, however imperfect it admittedly is’) was a safer option that the risks of Leaving and thereby casting ourselves off into the cold, wider world of glorious isolation – however inviting that prospect might seem to be in theory.
The second thing my father said which hit the money was that the programme – by which he was referring to its set-up, i.e. with a senior politician facing an audience of members of the public with a wide range of differing views and thus being ‘put on the spot’ – was a remarkable and much-to-be-admired aspect of the form of democracy that the UK operates under. I’m not saying that it tended to make you proud of our national culture on its own, but I recognised and agreed with where he was coming from.
Here was a politician putting himself in the firing line with the public for a ‘no holds barred’ confrontation and open argument, with a lot depending upon the result. This was just the sort of ‘public debate’ that since last week everyone has been citing as part of the ideal manner in which the UK should conduct its politics, especially in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder – the circumstances of which seemed so senseless, intolerant, unacceptable and indeed alien to life as it should be lived.
From what I heard and saw in the media over the weekend, the result of the EU Referendum on Thursday is going to be pretty close. The most impressive pundits I heard were a pair of pollsters interviewed by John Pienaar, the BBC political correspondent (and this was before David Cameron’s appearance on Question Time last night) who agreed that, although the Leave campaign had gained ground, and for a time was ahead, about ten days ago via the topic of immigration, Remain was now in the ascendancy – partly because (as always tends to happen as polling day finally nears) support for the ‘status quo’ always tends to harden.
Here’s my prediction for when we all wake up on Friday morning – a 57% to 43% victory for Remain.