US vice-presidential debate liveblog

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

 


10:38PM

 

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.

 


10:33PM

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."


10:27PM

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."

 


10:21PM

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."

 


10:12PM

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.

 


10:07PM

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.

 


10:00PM

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.


9:53PM

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.

 


9:45PM

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

 


9:43PM

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

 

 


9:36PM

"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."

 


9:31PM

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..."

 


9:27PM

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.

 


9:24PM

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.

 


9:20PM

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..."

 


9:14PM

"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.

 


9:09PM

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.

 


9:00PM

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 a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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There is nothing compassionate about Britain’s Dickensian tolerance of begging

I was called “heartless” for urging police to refer beggars to support services. But funding drug habits to salve a liberal conscience is the truly cruel approach.

In Rochdale, like many other towns across the country, we’re working hard to support small businesses and make our high streets inviting places for people to visit. So it doesn’t help when growing numbers of aggressive street beggars are becoming a regular fixture on the streets, accosting shoppers.

I’ve raised this with the police on several occasions now and when I tweeted that they needed to enforce laws preventing begging and refer them to appropriate services, all hell broke loose on social media. I was condemned as heartless, evil and, of course, the favourite insult of all left-wing trolls, “a Tory”.

An article in the Guardian supported this knee-jerk consensus that I was a typically out-of-touch politician who didn’t understand the underlying reasons for begging and accused me of being “misguided” and showing “open disdain” for the poor. 

The problem is, this isn’t true, as I know plenty about begging.

Before I became an MP, I worked as a researcher for The Big Issue and went on to set up a social research company that carried out significant research on street begging, including a major report that was published by the homeless charity, Crisis.

When I worked at The Big Issue, the strapline on the magazine used to say: “Working not Begging”. This encapsulated its philosophy of dignity in work and empowering people to help themselves. I’ve seen many people’s lives transformed through the work of The Big Issue, but I’ve never seen one person’s life transformed by thrusting small change at them as they beg in the street.

The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, has argued this position very eloquently over the years. Giving to beggars helps no one, he says. “On the contrary, it locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost.”

Even though he’s now doing great work in the House of Lords, much of Bird’s transformative zeal is lost on politicians. Too many on the right have no interest in helping the poor, while too many on the left are more interested in easing their conscience than grappling with the hard solutions required to turn chaotic lives around.

But a good starting point is always to examine the facts.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, has cited evidence that suggests that 80 per cent of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless. And national police figures have shown that fewer than one in five people arrested for begging are homeless.

Further research overwhelmingly shows the most powerful motivating force behind begging is to fund drug addiction. The homeless charity, Thames Reach, estimates that 80 per cent of beggars in London do so to support a drug habit, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, while drug-testing figures by the Metropolitan Police on beggars indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

It’s important to distinguish that homelessness and begging can be very different sets of circumstances. As Thames Reach puts it, “most rough sleepers don’t beg and most beggars aren’t rough sleepers”.

And this is why they often require different solutions.

In the case of begging, breaking a chaotic drug dependency is hard and the important first step is arrest referral – ie. the police referring beggars on to specialised support services.  The police approach to begging is inconsistent – with action often only coming after local pressure. For example, when West Midlands Police received over 1,000 complaints about street begging, a crackdown was launched. This is not the case everywhere, but only the police have the power to pick beggars up and start a process that can turn their lives around.

With drug-related deaths hitting record levels in England and Wales in recent years, combined with cuts to drug addiction services and a nine per cent cut to local authority health budgets over the next three years, all the conditions are in place for things to get a lot worse.

This week there will be an important homelessness debate in Parliament, as Bob Blackman MP's Homelessness Reduction Bill is due to come back before the House of Commons for report stage. This is welcome legislation, but until we start to properly distinguish the unique set of problems and needs that beggars have, I fear begging on the streets will increase.

Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a report called Drugs at the Sharp End, which called on the government to urgently review its drug strategy. Its findings were presented to the government’s drugs czar Keith Hellawell on Newsnight and there was a sense that the penny was finally dropping.

I feel we’ve gone backwards since then. Not just in the progress that has been undone through services being cut, but also in terms of general attitudes towards begging.

A Dickensian tolerance of begging demonstrates an appalling Victorian attitude that has no place in 21st century Britain. Do we really think it’s acceptable for our fellow citizens to live as beggars with no real way out? And well-meaning displays of “compassion” are losing touch with pragmatic policy. This well-intentioned approach is starting to become symptomatic of the shallow, placard-waving gesture politics of the left, which helps no one and has no connection to meaningful action.

If we’re going make sure begging has no place in modern Britain, then we can’t let misguided sentiment get in the way of a genuine drive to transform lives through evidenced-based effective policy.

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.