US vice-presidential debate liveblog

Our US blogger Nicky Woolf is live-blogging the vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.




I'm going to give this to Biden. Clearly, after Romney's performance last week he'd been briefed to ride rough-shod over both Raddatz and Ryan. When Romney did that sort of thing, it was counted a win. Will it be so in this case? There's no reason it has to be - in the debate game, goalposts move fast, and they move often. Many are going to say that Biden came off as condescending. But it looked like a win to me.



Wrapping-up speech from Biden. "The fact is, we we inherited a godawful circumstance. We tried to help people in need, but you probably detected my frustration about their attitude towards the American people." He points out the 47% again - I make that his fifth mention of that damning . "Those are the people that built this country, and when you level the playing field the're able to move.

Ryan has the last word, however. "I want to thank you, Joe. It's been an honour." A wry smile.

"We face a very big choice. What kind of country are we going to be? President Obama, he had his chance. His agenda: it's not working. It's failed to create the jobs we need. This is not what a real recovery looks like. YOu deserve better. Mitt Romney and I want to earn your support. ... The choice is clear. A stagnant economy that promotes more gvt dep, or a dynamic economy that promotes opportunity and jobs ... we will not try to replace our founding principles, we will reapply our founding principles."


Last question is about the campaign. Biden is losing his voice a little - he's been shouting for about an hour solid. "Whether or not Romney or Obama has the convition to help lift up the middle class, or going to focus on taking care of only the very wealthy - I would ask them to take a look at whether the President has acted wisely, and the slipshod comments made by Romney serve our interests. But there have been things said in campaigns that I find unappealing."

Ryan: "You have a President who ran for President promising hope and change, and has turned his candidate into attack, blame and defame. ... look at all the string of broken promises. ... remember when he said, 'I'll cut the deficit in half'."

The families I'm watching with point out that it's ironic that a question about the turn-off effect of negative campaigning has seen both candidates simply attack more. "Unappealing."



Last few questions return home: a doozy first. "Historically, you are two Catholic candidates, how has that affected your view on abortion?

Ryan pauses. "I don't see how a person can separate their public from their private; my faith tells me how to take care of the vulnerable. You ask me why I'm pro-life, it's not simply because of my faith. It's because of reason and science. My wife and I went to hospital for our 7-week ultrasound. Our little baby was in the shape of a bean. To this day, we have nicknamed her bean." He laughs thoughtfully. "I believe that life begins at conception. Those are the reasons I'm prolife. I realise it's difficult, and I respect people who don't agree ... but it's infringing on our right to religious freedom, imposing it on Catholic hospitals, Catholic churches."

"My religion defines who I am," says Biden. "I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life, and it has informed my social doctrine, which is about taking care of those who cant take care of themselves. With regard to abortion, I accept my churches position on abortion. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on others, unlike my friend here. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor."



Biden hits Ryan where the Obama campaign clearly wants Romney to be hit: their lack of specifics. Almost shouting: "if they're proposing to put American forces on the ground, they should stand up and say so. But that's not what they're saying."

"Nobody is proposing to send American troops to Syria," says a clearly confused Ryan. To loosely paraphrase Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: if a candidate is spending his time denying things, then he's already lost.



Raddatz is being pretty hard on Ryan, it has to be said. Possibly to make up for the limpness of Jim Lehrer when Romney was hammering Obama. To my count she's asked the Republican vp candidate two particularly aggressive questions so far - "do you have specifics."

With Biden she's much more deferential. "Do you think..." "Would you say..." "Can you tell me, vice-President Biden, what was the reason for bringing the troops-" Biden interrupts again. He's dominating this debate. But is the day two story that he was over-the-top, perhaps rude?

"We turned it over to the Afghan troops we trained," intones Biden. He's on shaky ground here, but his tone is that of a winner, and the likelihood is that's what gets remembered.



It is pointed out to me that Paul Ryan looks uncannily like a child-actor from The Munsters.

He does. Afghanistan and the Middle East up next.


Now we're into tax plans. How does Ryan escape from Romney's lack of detail last time? "We need fundamental tax reform. The President wants the fundamental tax rate to go above 40% ... and it doesn't even pay for 10% of their proposed spending increases."

"We're suggesting - don't raise the deficit, don't raise the taxes on the middle class."

"You have refused to offer specifics - do you actually have them?" demands Raddatz. "We want to have big bipartisan..." starts Ryan. "Do you have the specifics?" she insists. "What we're saying is, here are our frameworks: cut spending, so we can lower tax rates across the board. Lower tax rates 20%, starting with the wealthy." 

That's the closest the Romney-Ryan campaign has come so far to putting any specifics on paper about tax. It's not... very close.



"Biden's rude and Ryan is smug" is the conclusion here in Hicksville. "This is catty."



Vanity Fair's Twitter feed is getting very, very excited right now, and loving Biden tonight.




"I got a letter from my friend here - 'can you send me some stimulus money for programs in my state of Wisconsin'" says Biden. This is a serious hit - after Ryan criticised the bailout fund, Ryan has been caught out in what looks like rank hypocrisy. He is clearly rattled, now.

Next up is Medicare and Medicaid. Will things have to change? "Absolutely. Medicare and Medicaid going bankrupt: these are absolute facts," says Ryan, before talking about how it helped his mother and grandmother. "If you reform these programs for people 54 and under, you can protect it for those already retired," he says: but this line, which Romney used as well (though less ably) last week, doesn't play well. As Obama said at the time: "if you're aged 50 and over, take note."



The first real laugh-line of the night from Ryan: "I think the vice-president knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."

But Biden has the answer: "If you heard that 47 percent soliloquy and thought it was just an accident," says Biden, "then... I got a bridge to sell ya..."



Next up is the economy, and Biden loses no time hitting his talking-point targets: the auto bailout, Romney's statement that he'd have let Detroit go bankrupt, and Romney's 47% comment. Somewhere in campaign HQ, David Axelrod is applauding like a child being offered a lollipop.



Biden's on the attack hard – he looks as if he's trying to somehow get revenge for Romney's steamroller of Obama last week. Raddatz is having none of it, but Ryan looks very young in comparison.


“War should always be the last resort,” says Biden with a wise chuckle, in response to some flip-flopping on how well Iran sanctions are working from Ryan. In some ways, what's being said doesn't matter. Biden is steamrollering Paul.



Debate is getting heated about the so-called snub of Netanyaho at the latest UN summit. "I've been friends with Bibi for 39 years," says Biden. "The President has met with Bibi dozens of times. This... is a bunch of stuff." "What does stuff mean?" asks Raddatz.

"It's Irish..."



"Your candidate has a book out called 'no apologies'", says the envigilator Martha Raddatz "should we not be apologising for urinating on Taliban corpses, for burning Korans?" "Oh, god yes," says Ryan.

He's now talking about the lack of a Marine detachment for the Benghazi consulate; that's a line that sinks home here in Ohio - I'm watching with a Hicksville family, and there are nods around the room for what Ryan is saying. Not entirely, though: "His hair unsettles me," says Debbie Welly. Biden's hair, meanwhile, is getting full marks.



Paul Ryan is on the attack already. “What we're talking about here is the unravelling of the Obama foreign policy.” Joe Biden's response is to laugh – a polar opposite of Obama's grim-faced sobriety last time. "I just don't understand what my friend is talking about here," he says.



Hello, and welcome to the New Statesman's live blog of this evening.

There is a much more intimate debate setting for this evening's debate: a shared desk around the envigilator. First question is on Libya.

Crews put finishing touches on the stage for the vice-presidential debate at the Norton Centre at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.