The 4 questions Cameron and Miliband must answer at the TV debates

The issues at stake are far more important than time on television

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The Independent Online

As the wrangling over the broadcasters’ proposed Leaders’ Debates goes on, you might argue that I shouldn’t be giving my hand away before the events are even scheduled, since the arguments for the Green presence got even stronger today.

David Cameron has made his position clear: he believes that if Ukip are included in the debates, the Green Party ought to be as well. This is clearly in his own interest, but he has political space to make the argument because of its evident fairness and democratic legitimacy.

But while talk about the debate is filling many television minutes and newsprint column inches, what we’re not talking about is the pressing, urgent issues facing Britain today: the interlinked economic, social, and environmental concerns that together mean we need real change in Britain – not more of the same old Punch and Judy, shallow, points-scoring politics that’s turned so many off voting. (Most 10-year-olds would find trading accusations of “chicken” embarrassingly immature…)

So, let’s get down to business: now in writing, later in person.

Here’s four sets of questions for Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband to get started.

1.   How can you justify so many jobs in Britain not being structured so workers can build a life on them?

With 22 per cent of workers on less than a living wage, more than a million workers on zero-hours contracts, and many forced into part-time work and precarious self-employment when they want a reliable fulltime job, what are your plans to transform our economy so that work is a foundation for a stable, secure life?

To be a worker you have to maintain yourself – and maybe your family. You need to bathe regularly, feed yourself enough to stay healthy, and have a roof over your head. If your employer doesn’t pay you enough to do that – if the state has to step in with housing benefit and family tax credit – then those payments are actually corporate benefits, subsidies for the excessive profits that have built up as the amount of our GDP going into wages has steadily fallen.

 

And workers need job security. No wonder so many are ending up at food-banks when they start the week with no idea if they’ll get zero hours or 40, or somewhere in-between.

2.   How can you plan to continue to make the poor, the disabled and the disadvantaged pay for the fraud and errors of the bankers through the failed policy of austerity?

The introduction of the Bedroom Tax has been just one of the incredibly cruel, unfair, and damaging steps this Government has taken that has hurt those that are most in need. The abolition of the Independent Living Fund, and the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with the Personal Independence Payment were both damaging attacks on the wellbeing of disabled people. These cannot be justified in a society that claims to be, wants to be, and should be humane.

3.   Are you worried about the rapid, accelerating decline of our environment?

With the UN Secretary General reminding us that this is the last generation with a chance to prevent “the worst aspects of climate change”, how can you continue to back fracking, not have immediate plans for an emergency home energy efficiency plan for Britain’s abysmally poor houses (such as the Energy Bill Revolution, which would lift nine out of 10 households out of fuel poverty, create up to 200,000 jobs and cut carbon emissions), and not immediately sign up to the proposed Nature and Wellbeing Act, which would turn around the decline in Britain’s natural world, while providing big benefits to the quality of our lives?

4.   With one of you likely to be the next Prime Minister, under what circumstances could you imagine pressing Britain’s “nuclear button”?

If you say “none”, as I very much hope you will, then why does Britain have these hideous weapons of mass destruction, in defiance of our disarmament obligations under Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons? The expected £100bn cost of Trident replacement over its lifetime is another powerful argument; that could be spent on truly providing our security, through enhanced international aid, through action of climate change, through strengthening our NHS. 

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