Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Ed Miliband gets all gladiatorial at 'People's Questions'


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Indy Politics

Before Ed Miliband’s first “People’s Question Time”, in the Nottinghamshire village of Hucknall, the local Labour candidate, Leonie Mathers, urged his audience not to “hold back”, adding: “The tougher the questions, the better!”

Which made you think the coming months might be enlivened by an electoral version of The Hunger Games in which party leaders deliberately pit themselves against the most hostile audiences possible. David Cameron would take on sundry Russell Brand wannabes and more militant versions of Len McCluskey. Miliband would square off against St George’s flag-brandishing white van men and fat-cat homeowners due to be clobbered by the mansion tax. And the polls would reflect who withstood the onslaught best. 

With a broadly sympathetic, if anxious, audience, Hucknall wasn’t like that. To be fair, though, the questions themselves were anything but hand-picked. Graham asked, on behalf of his son, a Green voter “because it is now the only socialist party”, when Labour was going to stop “sticking to the middle ground and get back to its roots”. (“I believe in tackling inequality,” Miliband replied. “But it’s got to be practical and not pie in the sky.”)

A pensioner asked impenetrably about the IR35 tax, to which Miliband’s sensibly understated response was: “I won’t wing it because it’s a complicated question.”

And Sally suggested – persuasively – building more bungalows to accommodate old people, who could vacate their badly needed two- and three-bedroom houses. “More bungalows!” exclaimed Miliband. “I’ll take that one away.”

Having once forgotten it, he now always remembers the deficit, repeatedly vowing not to make “promises I can’t keep” in response to requests for better public funding of everything from tuition fees to fire service pensions and social care.

So having promised that Labour would hold four million “conversations” with voters before election day, Miliband certainly made an energetic start today. Only 3,999,975 to go!