Last night’s Question Time from Eastleigh featured UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall alongside Diane Abbott, Esther McVey, Tim Farran and Amol Rajan. Nuttall put in a strong performance, McVey looked OK, but her voice grated (what she said, was not particularly interesting). The body language was interesting, particularly that displayed towards Nuttall. When the camera allowed us to see them, Farran was almost invariably looking at him with a combination of contempt, condescension and defensiveness with his arms folded; McVey looked on with a hard stare, whilst Abbott displayed a greater array of emotions, ranging from smugly satisfied implicit concurrence during Nuttall’s first few remarks on the Chilcot Inquiry, changing to scowling whilst chewing on a particularly sour wasp for most of the rest of the time.
In response to the first question regarding the Sun’s ‘Page 3’, Nuttall quite rightly highlighted the strange focus of many feminists on women baring their breasts in the paper, whilst ignoring far more serious and damaging issues such as domestic violence, forced marriage and FGM on a mass scale. Nuttall stated:
Models who pose “earn good money, it’s their freedom of choice.” “I would have thought that the feminists of this country had more pressing issues such as the increase in domestic violence. Deal with that. Forced marriages, more than ever before. Female genital mutilation – they should be campaigning against that. There’s 40,000 girls in this country, who’ve been mutilated, yet we’ve now got the first court case, and it’s been illegal since the 1980s. It’s an absolute disgrace. These are the real issues that feminism should be tackling. Now look, with the Sun, I am a survivor of the Hillsborough Disaster. I made a choice not to buy the Sun newspaper. If you’re offended by Page 3, you can make that same choice as me: you don’t have to buy the Sun.”
Diane Abbott disagreed, stating that although “there’s nothing wrong with pictures of naked women; art galleries are full of them”, she objected to what she asserted to be the “increasing objectification of women” and the “pornification of the media and advertising.” In making this point, as well as referring to Clare Short [a parliamentary expenses fiddler] as a “great woman” who had “championed” the anti-Page 3 cause in Parliament. Like Nuttall, I would be rather more interested in knowing why Short had not championed the anti-forced marriage, anti-FGM and anti-domestic violence causes in so vigorous and high profile a fashion whilst an MP? As he stated:
“FGM has been illegal since the 1980s, you know, why hasn’t there been a big hoo-ha throughout the 1990s about what was going on, and why has it taken until 2015 to have the first court case and the first conviction? I mean it’s an absolute disgrace. What is going on here?”
The next question to be addressed by the panel was “Who benefits by delaying the publication of the Chilcot Report until after the General Election?”
Nuttall: “Well I think it’s very convenient for the mainstream political parties. Well, obviously not the Liberal Democrats because they voted against, as did Diane, but the mainstream political parties as a whole, that the Chilcot Report is released after May, because all it would do I suspect, if it was released before, would increase the distrust that the people have in the Establishment and the politicians, and I’m sure that the Labour Party in particular would suffer badly as a result of its publication.” Nuttall then made reference to a flying pig when Dimbleby said that Blair regretted the delay to its publication. Abbott could not repress an involuntary smirk. Nuttall continued:
“Look, the fact is, I suspect . . . well, I think they are being economical with the truth, as a politician would say. I don’t think they’re being honest [stony look from Esther McVey, Tim Farron looking contemptuous and defensive with his arms folded. Diane Abbott sitting with hands clasped, a satisfied smile on her face] I think the report will implicate a number of leading Labour politicians [Abbott’s facial expression changes. She’s not looking happy any longer], a number of Labour grandees. Indeed Ed Miliband voted four times against such an inquiry taking place. You know, that’s the Establishment protecting the Establishment. The Tories voted for this war. I’m guessing that leading establishment figures will also be culpable when the report is released. And let’s not forget, this is an Iraq War which cost the lives of 600,000 Iraqi civilians; 179 of our brave British boys and girls who went out in the armed forces never came home. Now, I just hope that the Establishment, are as concerned about the protection of civilians and our own armed forces as they are about protecting themselves.”
The next question illustrated the extent to which UKIP is setting the agenda for political debate, for it focused upon Nigel Farage’s comments that the NHS, as it is today, would be unaffordable in the future. Many commentators, and UKIP’s opponents in particular, have used this as an opportunity to attack UKIP, implying that it wishes to introduce a US model of private health insurance. Nuttall took the opportunity to – for the time being – lay this ghost to rest:
“Well look, I think that at some point in this century, with an ageing population; a growing population, drugs becoming more expensive, we may well have to have a conversation about how we fund healthcare in this country. We’re not at that point now. I want to make it perfectly clear UKIP is committed to ensuring that the NHS remains in public ownership, being funded and free at the point of delivery, but there are problems within the NHS, we know that.”
When questioned by Dimbleby as to how he could possibly know what would be in the UKIP manifesto when Tim Aker, who had formerly been responsible for its drafting, had been discharged from this duty recently, Nuttall replied:
“In our manifesto will be a commitment to keep the NHS in public hands, funded by the state, and free at the point of delivery.”
“We never sacked Tim Aker as the Head of Policy. Tim resigned three weeks ago. He actually put it out in a tweet, because he’s become a councillor in Thurrock, he’s an MEP, and he’s also in one of our top five target seats. The job was too big. It’s now been given to Suzanne Evans, and our manifesto is progressing quite nicely thank you.”
It will be interesting to see what the contents of this manifesto are, and to what extent, if any, UKIP has moved away from its Atlanticist Thatcherite economic position. Recent debates within the party around TTIP are suggestive that this may be the case.
Nuttall’s final major intervention related to issues connected to the SNP. He provided a robust, and fair, response:
“I am absolutely sick to death of Salmond, Sturgeon and the SNP. And I tell you why. Firstly, they lost that referendum, and secondly, you know with them it’s take, take, take, take, take. You never get anything back [Abbott scowls]. And you know what they’re taking? They’re taking your tax. You know, people in Scotland get an extra £1,600 more than people in England. You know what that pays for, your taxation up there? It pays for no tuition fees, whereas down here we pay tuition fees of £9,000 per year. They have free hospital car parking. Down here, we pay. [Abbott looks as if she’s chewing a wasp]. They have free prescriptions. Down here, we pay. When devolution happened, they got themselves a parliament, the English got nothing.” “Nothing is ever enough for them, is it?”
In response to Sturgeon’s recent comment that SNP MPs would in future vote on issues that only affect England, he stated “It’s absolutely appalling.” Quite correctly, Nuttell asserted that “English MPs should vote on English only issues,” not anybody else. Who could disagree? Virtually every member of the Labour Party, it would seem.