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10 car crash election interviews with Tory politicians

Strong and stably gaffe-prone.

One of the best things about election campaigns is the premium footage you get from knackered politicians under pressure on camera. Greg Knight’s Alan Partridge hostage video. Theresa May's panicked eyes running through fields of wheat. Tim Farron inviting innocent activists to “smell my spaniel”.

But we don't focus enough on the constant gaffes made almost daily by Conservative politicians and cabinet ministers – in what is supposed to be a tightly-managed, slick campaign. As I wrote recently, the same scrutiny and mockery directed at, say, Farron’s views on homosexual sex, or Diane Abbott mucking up her policing numbers, is just not targeted at Theresa May and the Tories in the same way. We should be asking these questions; but we should be addressing them (and unpicking the answers) with the same intensity to everyone.

So in that spirit, here’s a run-down of the worst election gaffes made my Tory politicians, which rather undermine the “strong and stable” slogan we’ve all come to know and love:

1. The Prime Minister doesn’t know where she is

Theresa May betrayed the ordinary people she’s supposed to be reaching out to by completely forgetting which one of their sad little settlements she has deigned to enter that day.

 “I’m pleased to come to this…er…this particular town,” she told journalists.


2. The Chancellor has no idea how much money he’s spending

Philip Hammond bungled the figures for funding HS2 on the BBC’s Today programme.

“How much is HS2 costing?” asked John Humphrys.

“About £32bn,” the Chancellor chanced.

Thirty two billion?” echoed Humphrys, incredulously.

“Mmhm.”

“Not £52bn?”

“Err, over, it’s over a – I mean, there’s a huge amount of contingency built on to the budgeting for these projects.”

3. Work & Pensions Secretary fails to defend Tory spending holes and admits they will have to be fixed post-election

Damian Green suffered an absolute mauling on Andrew Marr when he was unable to account for numerous spending “black holes” in his party’s plans, when presented with a hard copy of the manifesto – having criticised Labour for exactly the same thing earlier in the interview.

Green was eventually forced to admit that cuts to pensioners’ payments would be part of the extra £8bn NHS funding promised – but not costed – by the Tories. “We are now going to target winter fuel payments on those who really need them and that money can be targeted to the health and social care system,” he glumly concluded.

When asked how much pensioners would lose, he rather limply had to confess they would only find out after they had voted: “That’s what we’re going to consult on after the election.”

4. The PM is caught out on “dementia tax” U-turn

During a grilling from Andrew Neil on the day her social care funding policy (the “dementia tax”) unravelled, May squirmed in her seat as she had to deny U-turning on the policy – when she had.

In a rather limp euphemism, she said it was a “clarification” rather than a “U-turn” – even though the line had changed in the space of a few days from the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying they had dropped the funding cap to announcing a cap.

Scrabbling for an explanation, and failing to address why the Tory policies are uncosted, May admitted that the manifesto is a “series of principles” rather than policies.

5. Defence Secretary condemns Foreign Secretary’s analysis of terrorism

Michael Fallon bungled an interview on Channel 4 News, in which he was trying to attack Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy stance, by instead condemning his own cabinet colleague, Boris Johnson. When criticising what he believed was a quote from the Labour leader about the origins of extremism, it was revealed to him that he was actually talking about Johnson’s analysis.

“Isn’t it possible that things like the Iraq war did not create the problem of murderous Islamic fundamentalists, though the war has unquestionably sharpened the resentments felt by such people in this country and given them a new pretext?” quoted presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

Fallon pounced, saying, “Well, I don’t think you should allow pretexts” – before it was revealed that those words are actually Johnson’s.

Flustered and awkward, Fallon spluttered that he didn’t “agree” with his own colleague, before completely giving up: “Well I would have to see the words you are trying to quote to me, I don't have them in front of me.”

6. Culture Secretary unable to answer terror security questions

In an excruciating exchange, Karen Bradley was unable to deny that the Tories are responsible for cutting armed police officers – repeatedly refusing to answer whether the number had fallen.

7. Home Secretary accidentally admits to police cuts

During an interview on Woman’s Hour, when questioned about falling police numbers, Amber Rudd veered wildly off-message and referred to May’s “police cuts” while she was in office – a phrase the Tories never use; their line is that they have increased funding of armed police offers.

“I think at the bottom of your question is this suggestion that the police cuts have – the police reductions have in some way contributed to the terrible events that we’ve seen recently,” she faltered.

8. Foreign Secretary has no clue about UK government’s own Saudi report

Put on the spot about a delayed Home Office report into the funding of terrorist groups, Boris Johnson looked flustered and embarrassed when he struggled to say anything coherent about the contents of the document or even its existence.

“You’re suppressing it, aren’t you?” asked Channel 4’s Michael Crick, pushing him on whether it points toward Saudi Arabian funding.

“No, errrr, I I, but I, but I – but that we have plenty of stuff Michael that, err, you know, that we, err, that we don’t publish,” he replied, panicked. “I will dig it out if it’s, if it, if it is – and have a look at it if that’s what you would like me to do, but I, I, as far as I know we do not have the confidential report – the kind that you described.”


9. The PM blurts out about “running through fields of wheat” in awkward interview

In a cringeworthy interview, May went into a mini-meltdown when unable to answer a question about the naughtiest thing she’s ever done.

“Oh goodness me, erm,”she blurted, struggling to reply. “I, well, I suppose the, uh… Gosh, I – do you know, I’m not quite sure.”

When asked again, she added: “Well, nobody is ever perfectly behaved are they?” before the bizarre response: “I mean, you know, I have to confess, when me and my friends sort of used to run through the fields of wheat, the farmers weren’t too pleased about that.”


10. Tory MP and ex-Cabinet minister doesn’t know the minimum wage

In a painful interview, Andrew Mitchell failed to even come close to guessing what the minimum wage is – while simultaneously trying to boast about his party’s pledge to raise it.

When asked by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire what the current minimum wage is, he floundered, desperately mumbling “it’s less than nine pounds”.

“Correct, what is it?” she persisted.

“It’s errr about six pounds, I think,” he said, squirming in his seat.

“That is way out . . . There must be people in your constituency who are on the minimum wage?”

“So, ermm, well, as I say, we’re going to try and get it up to nine pounds,” he replied, defeated.

“Would you like to know what it is?”

“What is it, £8?” he asked, still digging.

“It’s £7.50, for the over-25s.”

Mitchell also failed to say how many council homes the government has built, how many people are on the housing waiting list, and then shifted uncomfortably when asked how many properties he owns.

“I live in my constituency and I have another house in London,” he said. “And I have another home as well, but, but err. I live in my constituency and in London and Members of Parliament are obliged to, you know, do that…”

“But you own three properties?”

“Yes.”

Oof.

***

You can defend politicians from gotcha interviews all you like – a pub quiz approach to policies is rarely the most illuminating way of testing their strength. But the Tories constantly attack Labour’s “incompetence” and have based their campaign on being more “stable” and “trustworthy” with money. So they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with the kind of sloppy gaffes for which Jeremy Corbyn and Abbott would never be forgiven.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.