Questions over ‘Question Time’, Alastair Campbell and David Laws

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    30th May 2010

    I wonder what else he, Campbell, may have sensed? The focus after Question Time was on Downing Street’s attempt to get Campbell off QT. Was our eye on the wrong ball? Their main effort may well have been to keep Laws off. Remember, the Tories now have on board the LDs, the experts in obfuscation and distraction.

    In the previous post, shortly before David Laws resigned after only 18 days as a minister, I asked this:


    So will we now see how principled the two heads at the top of government REALLY are? Will Cameron go heavy on Laws, or be persuaded by his political partner to hold his fire?  If their behaviour the other night over Alastair Campbell’s Question Time appearance is anything to go by, he should be gone by tomorrow. Or rather shouldn’t, since principles fly out of the window when political considerations and expediency raise their ugly heads.

    Am I the only one to wonder if on Thursday night the CamClegg leadership knew all about Laws’ outing and expenses?

    Their withdrawal of David Laws may not after all have been to do with his being put up against Alastair Campbell, more a fear that he might be “outed” live on TV by Labour’s former “hatchet man”, if they thought he had been speaking to Lord Mandelson, the suspected knower of all secrets.

    Call me suspicious if you like, but I still wonder who exactly knew what about whom on Thursday night.

    BBC video clip of Question Time.  David Dimbleby explains Downing Street’s demands regarding vetoing Campbell, refused by the BBC, and Campbell asides with “I didn’t know they liked me that much.” Another clip shows Campbell holding up a picture of the missing ConDem minister David Laws.

    “It is for Question Time, not political parties, to make judgements about impartiality and to determine who is invited to appear in the interests of the audience”
    Gavin Allen, Executive editor, Question Time

    As far as I know Campbell himself hasn’t raised the missing Laws’ impending unfortunate position as an issue with any bearing on his appearance/non-appearance on Question Time.  At his blog Campbell says –

    “I sensed something was going on through the week, because whenever I tried to ascertain from the programme makers who else was on they were a bit vague. I knew that Piers Morgan was on, but that was it.

    Then came word that they were hopeful of getting chief secretary David Laws. Good choice I thought, in the week of the cuts announcement and the centrality of the Treasury to the Queen’s Speech. But they weren’t sure about a Tory, and they thought they might get a Green but really it was not straightforward.

    Two days later came word  that no, it seemed Laws couldn’t do it after all. So who? They weren’t sure.”

    I wonder what else he, Campbell, may have sensed? The focus after Question Time was on Downing Street’s attempt to get Campbell off QT. Was our eye on the wrong ball? Their main effort may well have been to keep Laws off. Remember, the Tories now have on board the LDs, the experts in obfuscation and distraction.

    The Telegraph hasn’t said how they got the Laws story, and no-one seems to have even asked who broke the story or why.

    Before Laws’ unfortunate position broke and he then resigned I was about to write  in straight-forward terms about the unbelievable action of the ConDem government in telling The Question Time producers at the BBC that David Laws would not appear without an equivalent (opposition) number. In other words I presumed they wanted him to face such as Liam Byrne, the former (Labour) Chief Secretary to the Treasury and now shadow.

    Not that that would have been easy-peasy stuff for Mr Laws. Having publicised the little note left to him, privately, and I cannot recall that this is normal procedure, (do we know what Mr Brown left in his note to Mr Cameron?) Mr Laws might have had the shine taken off his halo as Mr Byrne said something to the effect “this was hardly news to anyone, David. It was meant to bring a smile to your lips, not be sent to the Daily Maul.

    File photo dated 25/05/10 of Chief Treasury Secretary David Laws as he arrives in Downing Street in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday May 28, 2010. Chief Treasury Secretary David Laws was facing a storm over his expenses tonight after it emerged that he had channelled more than £40,000 of taxpayers' money to his long-term partner.The Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister - who this week promised public spending curbs which would send 'shockwaves' through Whitehall - claimed up to £950 a month for five years to rent a room in two properties owned by his partner, according to the Daily Telegraph. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

    But I suggest that this new and open government is a lot less than the sum of its parts.

    It has been said, though I cannot confirm this, that this is the first time EVER that Downing Street has tried to influence the Question Time programme regarding  another panel member. However, you may recall that in October last year Peter Hain tried to prevent the appearance on the programme of Nick Griffin, BNP leader. The BBC then also insisted that only they decided who should comprise their panel list. Hain’s argument then was against a politically racist party. Mr Hain would still have been unhappy whichever BNP member had been asked to appear.

    However, as for the argument regarding equivalent ministers, this does not stand up to scrutiny. Regularly there appear on Question Time many panelists who are not in the political frontline on the programme.  In recent years it has been replete with actors, writers, single issue campaigners and civil and human righters galore.  Frequently there is only one politician.

    So, what really happened?

    • Did the ConDem government try to play fast and loose with Question Time regarding Mr Laws because they didn’t want him to appear, because they knew that the expenses/personal situation was about to explode?
    • Did they worry that Campbell might already have the news on his expenses and relationship?


    • Did they fear Campbell’s ability to let the public see chasms within the ConDem parties over policies?
    • Did they want to concentrate their attack on the Labour leadership and knew that Campbell would not be the one to tackle successfully on this, but thought that Miliband, Balls, Harman or Byrne would be far easier meat?

    Whichever it was, and it might have been a selection of the above or for several other reasons, I for one think we should remember this episode of Question Time.

    It was the day that the new, ‘freedom-loving’ government tried to ban free speech and free decision-making by the publicly paid-for broadcaster. That tactic wouldn’t be out-of-place in Russia, Iran or China.

    Welcome to the new politics.


    This from Suzanne Moore at The Daily Mail is priceless. The Iraq reference here is nonsensical and if continued at the Daily Maul and other right-wing rags that supported the Iraq invasion, it will be the undoing of Cameron’s party. Ms Moore needs to remind herself how many Tories voted for the success that was the Iraq war. The Lib Dems voted for the “disaster” that they reckon it was.

    On Campbell Ms Moore says –

    “The new pick’n’mix Gov­ernment is too petrified to take him on. David Laws won’t go on Question Time because Andy Coulson told him that Campbell has lasers that come out of his eyes. Or something like that.

    The BBC refused to drop Campbell as a guest at the behest of No  10. It rightly asserted its editorial independence. So Campbell was there, but no Government Minister was.

    The BBC were right not to kowtow to the Government, but to see them perpetually kowtowing to the man who tried to destroy them rather sticks in my gullet.”

    So there we have it. Campbell was proved right over Andrew Gilligan and David Kelly, Blair was right over Iraq, the Conservatives were right to support Blair over Iraq and Ms Moore thinks she speaks for such as Gilligan and the Conservative party.

    Just how wrong do journalists have to be to be considered suitable to write for the Daily Maul?


    Later updates on David Laws & Lib Dems

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    2 Responses to “Questions over ‘Question Time’, Alastair Campbell and David Laws”

    1. (David) Laws unto himself on expenses? « Tony Blair Says:

      […] Blair « Tony Blair to advise Venture Capitalists Khosla, Silicon Valley Questions over ‘Question Time’, Alastair Campbell and David Laws […]

    2. Nick Cohen, on the Lib Dems: ‘Something Nasty in the Woodshed’ « Tony Blair Says:

      […] Questions over ‘Question Time’, Alastair Campbell and David Laws […]

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