It wasn’t, we dare suggest, the most memorable of debates, but it was, nonetheless, one that clearly defined the choice that lies before us in the 2015 UK general election.
Neither Labour’s Ivan Lewis, nor the Conservatives’ Michael Gove, (not to mention the Lib Dems’ Susan Kramer) said anything that would suggest that this election isn’t, at its core, a choice between two economic modes.
It’s old news, by now, but it bears repeating: The Conservative Party offers the electorate the prospect of a better and more secure future. The economy is key to the Conservatives; without a strong economy, we argue, there can be no security at all — not for the nation, not in terms of jobs, not for the NHS, not for the elderly, and so on. That assumption is fundamental, and it is nothing if not common sense, too.
The Labour Party offers the electorate the prospect of what they believe is a fairer society but they struggle to explain exactly how they will fund this plan without risking economic failure (the same failure that brought austerity upon this country).
The Eastern Eye debate last night played out no differently — we expect no more surprises, at this point — but one or two things did stand out. Labour’s Ivan Lewis spoke with passion each time questions about welfare were raised. To see a Labour representative demonstrate genuine concern was refreshing, and we wonder what the Labour Party might look like had they been led by someone not quite as drab as Mr Miliband. But as much as Mr Lewis may have looked convincing, he did little to assure us that Labour actually knows what they’re doing. On any mention of economic know-how, Mr Lewis (in this case much like his leader) simply seemed to say: let’s hope it all works out, somehow. Not exactly the words we wanted to hear from the Party that still refuse to admit culpability for the state of the British economy in 2010.
Straightforward and honest, Mr Gove argued that more jobs (1.89 million new ones over the last 5 years), and not more hand-outs, is the best way to lift people out of poverty. And with a record on the economy to back up his claims that this country has improved (and keeps improving) under a Conservative led government, he was able to point to Mr Lewis and his Labour Party and ask: if you were in power, could we really trust you not to undo the last 5 years of hard work?
(Video: Mr Gove replies in 4 distinctly formulated points to a question regarding growth and manufacturing.)
Towards the end of the debate, one member of the audience raised concerns about Ed Miliband’s lack of experience outside of politics.
Not to worry, quipped Michael Gove… (Football fans — with the possible exception of Leeds United supporters — will love this one.)
To summarise, this debate, rather than telling us anything new, simply reinforced old impressions. Michael Gove’s Conservatives, on the one hand, are fixing the roof and the sun is shining. Ivan Lewis’ Labour Party, on the other hand, looks more like the well-meaning but ultimately incompetent meteorologists who promised you a sunny weekend in the Lake District (but you can’t even see out of your wind shield, can you, because the sleet is so heavy).