Continuing with the idea of monitoring all the questions put by particular interviewers, here's a full list of all the questions put by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show to Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage and David Cameron over the last couple of weeks.
Do they show bias?
Before we think about that though...
As I wrote when introducing the idea yesterday, such surveys as this can't pick up on tone [questions such as: Was it a hostile interview? An over-friendly interview?]. That, however, is something that many people who allege BBC bias do pick up on.
Listing the questions is objective, judging the tone of the interview is much more subjective. If I've tended to hear James Naughtie being gentler with pro-union guests than pro-independence guests in the year leading up to the 55% 'NO' vote in the Scottish referendum, others have heard it the other way round.
But, for what it's worth, I found Andrew Marr to be decidedly chilly with Nigel Farage, and much warmer with both David Cameron and Ed Miliband. The 'outsider' didn't seem to be his cup of tea.
Andy sat still and unsmiling throughout the Nigel Farage interview, having introduced the interview with an ironic warning ["....where the party also discussed new policy ideas, although not all of them survived the weekend - as you will see in a minute..."]. He also used the loaded word 'hostile' on a couple of occasions to describe UKIP - a familiar 'tell' when it comes to an interviewer's unfriendly feelings towards something (like the regular use of 'angry' to describe the U.S.'s Tea Party movement and, thus, paint them as aggressive - and worse). This provoked a reaction from Nigel F:
You say we're hostile, and by asking the question in that way you're saying that somehow there is an aggression about UKIP and there isn't.
During the David Cameron interview, Andy was far less intense and not especially challenging -though, as used to happen when I monitored him closely before the 2010 election, he kept on quietly muttering his disagreements with David Cameron throughout the interview - so quietly that some were hard to decipher - and with Ed Miliband, he even did a Gordon Brown impersonation that made Ed laugh and the interview softened perceptibly as it proceeded.
I like Andy Marr (a fellow George Herbert lover), but I don't think he likes UKIP and just doesn't appear to be able to stop showing it at times.
Well, if I'm going to be subjective (and biased) I might as well go the whole hog and talk about the three party leaders' performances too: David Cameron was characteristically adept; Nigel Farage was characteristically plain-speaking; and Ed Miliband was characteristically inept. [I seriously considered satirising Ed's comical politicianspeak here. One day...!].
OK, here are the questions...
Reading and re-reading them, I really can't say that [overall] Ed Miliband got a better time of it than David Cameron. Or a worse time [even though he performed worse].
Reading and re-reading them, I really can't say that [overall] Ed Miliband got a better time of it than David Cameron. Or a worse time [even though he performed worse].
...[and please note I've not done what certain media organisations do and chosen the most unflattering photos I can find of the respective party leaders!]:
- Now, it seems fairly clear...we were talking about it during the papers...that you have been put into a trap: Either you agree with the Prime Minister and support English votes for English laws...er...English-only laws - a lot of people, most people, think that's a fair thing to do - and effectively an English parliament which you won't dominate, or you will be part of leaders getting together and fumbling it and reneging on the pact that you've given to the Scottish people, the solemn promise that you've given to the Scottish people, in which case the Labour Party will be punished north of the border in a very severe way. How do you get out of that trap?
- In a phrase I used to Alistair Darling, this [the Yes campaign in the Scottish referendum] was a kind of quiet revolutionary upsurge against the way politics has been done?
- And so let's turn to the constitutional change. You made a solemn promise, not to other politicians but to 5 million Scottish people, that you would deliver on Devo Max - new powers to the Scottish parliament. Are you determined that's going to happen, come what may?
- Because it would be terrible for you and the Labour Party if you didn't.
- So David Cameron has connected that promise to English votes for English laws and a huge number of people in England say, yes, that is fair, it is absolutely fair. Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on taxes in England if English MPs aren't able to vote on taxes in Scotland? They're right about that, aren't they?
- In a principle way, what is wrong with English votes for English laws? It's fair, isn't it? It's fair play?
- [interrupting] Yeah, I know, but I'm asking you a very specific question here.
- [interrupting] But England is a country, England is a nation herself, and there is no reason in fairness why Scottish MPs should be able to vote on English laws if they can't have it the other way round, so I want to keep on this very, very important principled question. The issue is: Would you accept English votes for English laws, as it's called, or not?
- [interrupting] It's a very straightforward question.
- [interrupting] Yes there is! [in response to EM saying "There isn't a simple answer to this question"] Sorry, yes or no? It's very straightforward.
- [interrupting] That's inside a country [in response to EM talking about devolved London transport policy]. I'm just asking you again: The principled case against an English parliament?
- [interrupting] Alone, working together.
- [interrupting] I'm sorry to cut in, but the truth is that you're against English votes for English laws because Labour wouldn't dominate. Surely the answer to that is for Labour to do better in England, not to refuse the English people this basic justice?
- So I return again: Is there a principled case against, in effect, an English parliament, or not?
- And is there a principled case against having two classes of legislation in the House of Commons, some styled as 'English-only business for English-only MPs to vote on'? What's the principled case against that?
- [interrupting] You're using the word 'scrutiny'. I'm wondering about votes really.
- But if you believe in that then you carry on with the injustice of Scottish MPs...well, what else?
- Another related issue, closely related issue, is the Barnett Formula, which means that Scotland gets a higher per head public spending settlement that England, and Wales indeed. Now, Joel Barnett himself, Lord Barnett, former Labour man, said in the paper today, "I'm Barnett and the Barnett Formula's unjust and it has to go". What's your response to that?
- So Barnett stays. Let's return to something you said at the beginning about the minimum wage. £8 an hour it will go up to. I thought we had a Low Pay Commission which is independent, set up by the Labour Party. You are overruling it already just by diktat, are you not?
- [interrupting] But an important role to do as it's told, it seems!
- [interrupting] And they are on poverty wages.
- So what do you say to the CBI, the IOD, and all the other business organisations who say, "It's a fine idea. It will cost jobs. There will be many people who just don't get jobs because of this proposal"?
- I hate to sound like Mr Gradgrind but what will this cost for the public sector because presumably the public sector will have a huge on cost of paying higher wages. Do you know how much it's going to cost?
- [interrupting] How come?
- But if you become Prime Minister the biggest employer of all will be you, through the state, and it's going to cost the state quite a lot of money in terms of paying out higher wages.
- [interrupting] That's still 50p you haven't saved, of course, isn't it?
- Can I ask you about another couple of areas? What happens to hospitals on Day One of a new Labour government that isn't happening at the moment?
- Now you may think the NHS doesn't have enough money at the moment...do you, by the way?
- [interrupting] Nonetheless, the coalition government has ringfenced it to a certain amount. Last time round I don't think the Labour Party made a ringfencing promise for the NHS. Will you for the next parliament?
- [interrupting] And does that mean real term increases, year by year, for the NHS budget?
- Around the fringes of your conference...I've talked to lots of Labour Party people and many of them are saying, "This is all going to be great, it's going to work, but we do have to commit ourselves to substantial rises in taxation and revenue, otherwise the numbers don't add up. It's a horrible thing to have to do before an election. David Cameron will jump at you if you do it, but perhaps you do have to do it".
- [interrupting] It doesn't raise quite enough. [ie raising the top rate of tax to 50p]
- [interrupting] Are they any further ideas you have on tax?
- [interrupting] So you're going to have to go back to borrowing broadly. The IFS talks about a £12 million hole...
- In Scotland in the referendum 16 and 17 year olds voted. It seemed to go very well. They seemed to be well-educated. Is there any case against denying them the vote in future general elections in the UK?
- Will that be in the Labour manifesto?
- Since we've been talking about Scotland again, can I ask you, before you made the pledge on the front page of the Daily Record, did you talk to David Cameron about it? Did you have a conversation about what exactly you were promising?
- [interrupting] And did he at any stage raise the question of an English parliament or English votes?
- So this was news to you when you heard it on Friday morning?
- All right. Alistair Darling, in my interview with him just now, said he wanted...you know, he was by nature a player on the pitch not from the sidelines...Would you now like to see him back...? He's got his own decisions to take of course, but would you like to see him back at the top of Labour Party politics?
- [impersonating Gordon Brown]. "My name is Gordon Brown. I did very, very well. I gave a great, thumping speech. I saved the union. Now, Ed, I say to you, I say to you, I deserve a job too." Would you like to see him back at the top?
- Final question. If you fail to deliver on this promise, what happens to the Labour Party in Scotland?
- Just before we go to the news, why are you 20 points behind on the economy, despite everything you've said, do you think?
- Don't you think that many people who are watching and saying, "Yes, he's very, very good when he talks about redistribution but we really don't understand how he's going to make this country richer and more productive and support profits which we need"?
- And you're going to protect profits to allow that to happen?
- [interrupting] But we are still an indebted country. All those Scottish voters who said, "If we vote 'No' we are condemned to years of austerity, be it Labour austerity or Tory austerity, but it's going to be austerity", they were right, weren't they?
- This is, of course, a day of great solemnity in Salford when Mr Henning is still...we don't know about his fate. Is there anything that Labour Party policy would be different in compared to Conservative Party policy and have you re-thought your opposition to bombing in the area?
- Just picking up on Iain's point, does it occur to you that you might be a Prime Minister at war in eight months time?
- When I spoke to the UKIP leader last night I began by asking him if he had any more defectors lined up.
- Are you saying, therefore, this morning that you expect defectors from the Labour Party and more defections from the Conservative Party?
- Right. Now, I was looking at Mr Reckless's speech announcing his defection, and he said in that that the country was over-regulated and over-taxed, and in that context I'd like to ask you about your proposal to put 25% VAT on a wide range of what you call 'luxury goods'. First of all, have you worked out exactly how this will be done?
- That's very interesting. This is the fastest u-turn we've heard. Are you now saying that it is no longer a policy?
- So to be absolutely clear, the much-touted, much-discussed 25p luxury VAT is dead, as far as you're concerned?
- You made a great point of saying that UKIP now turned its tanks in both directions, on the Labour Party as much as on the Conservative Party. That means you have to win this forthcoming Northern by-election, don't you, really, to show that that's more than just words?
- But if this is kind of a populist revolution of the kind you were describing, and you compared it to what's happened in Scotland, then we ought to see an earthquake happening up there too, shouldn't we?
- You said yourself that if you were a young guy in Spain or Portugal you'd probably come here. You understood all of that. But what do you say to people like the IOD and many big businesses who say that our growth...Britain has growth of a kind that very few other countries in the world have achieve at the moment...is partly based on a huge supply of skilled, hard-working, educated and dedicated people coming to work here and that by doing...by closing the door you imperil our growth?
- I'm still slightly unclear as to whether your hostility to this is cultural or economic. If you are persuaded that Britain's economic growth at the moment required a higher level of immigration than you would like, would you be in favour of it, or would you still say, This is against the interests of British-born workers and, therefore, I want to stop the immigration"?
- Can I ask you just finally about your hostility to what's going on at the moment over the skies of Iraq and Syria? What's your message now that the vote has been taken to the RAF pilots and their families and their commanders?
- And, so, to be absolutely clear, you say there are just wars and unjust wars. Do you regard this one as an unjust war?
- The big story of the morning really is still Iraq. General Richards, like many people in that very interesting House of Commons debate this week, have picked up on the fact that you can't defeat ISIL, or whatever we call them, without pushing into Syria. It can't just be done in Iraq alone. That's true, isn't it?
- You told the House of Commons, interestingly, two things: You said you wouldn't go into Syria, you wouldn't attack in Syria, without another motion, without returning to the Commons, but you also said that you reserve the right to order attacks if there was some terrible humanitarian disaster that needed to be dealt with very quickly. Now if ISIL are pushed into Syria we could very quickly see a humanitarian crisis there. So is it the case that you could order the RAF, as part of the coalition, into Syria without another vote?
- So we could go into Syria without another vote?
- [interrupting] Well actually, with respect, you haven't [answered that] because you've said a big crisis might emerge. This could happen tomorrow or next week in Syria as part of...a result of what's going on now in Iraq.
- OK, now, one of the other things that was talked about, again in the General Richards interview but again in the House of Commons as well by people like George Galloway is that ISIL are not like an army. They don't have barracks. They don't have columns of tanks you could hit from the air. They sit inside the population, hide themselves where civilians are quite deliberately and that, therefore, an air campaign is bound to kill lots of civilians by accident without necessarily degrading ISIL as much as you hope.
- Let's return to the question of boots on the ground. There are three possible armies involved on the ground: There's the Peshmerga, who are defending their own territory in Kurdistan; there's the Iraqi army, who've been frankly pretty useless so far and have run away most of the time; and there's the Free Syrian Army which, as George Galloway said, barely exists. So who are these boots going to be?
- Absolutely. But the army...you also need an army in Syria which can defeat ISIL and the army in Syria that can defeat ISIL, the only organised army really left standing, is Assad's army. Are we now on the point of having to do a deal with the devil, as it were, to get rid of something worse?
- OK, again in the House of Commons you were asked about British boots on the ground and you said, look, if a helicopter lands and needs to be refueled there will be British people refueling that helicopter. What about the Iraqi government and the Iraqi army? We're giving them lots of new kit. Don't we have to give them advisors and help in how to use that? Won't there be logistic aspects of that as well? Aren't there British boots on the ground, even if inside the boots there aren't actually combat troops?
- [interrupting] But we could have, for instance, special forces trying to get hostages out of a terrible situation?
- You see, a lot of your critics would say, this is the problem. It starts with air power. It starts with advisors, it...and then, like Vietnam, it escalates. You get sucked in. And you get sucked into something...It may be the right war to be fighting. It's certainly the right enemy to the fighting, but nonetheless you don't know where it's going to end and you don't know how deeply we're going to be drawn in. However much you at the moment don't want to be drawn in further, the logic of the war is that we will be.
- I come back finally to the border question, and not George Galloway but General Richards again - your favourite general at the moment, I'm sure: "You can't possibly defeat ISIS by only attacking them in Iraq", he says this morning. "How the hell can you win the war when most of your enemies end up in a country you can't get involved in?" That really is the question, isn't it?
- Got it. Let's turn to the Conservative Party conference. Did you have any idea that Mark Reckless was about to do what he's just done?
- [interrupting] Before we do, Douglas Carswell - who was a great supporter of yours. Why do you think you're losing these kind of people?
- [interrupting] Well, they say because you're not a proper Conservative in the end.
- [interrupting] Let's turn exactly to that strategy then, if we could, because...we've talked about this before but it's clear at the moment that the big issue is the free movement of people into this country from the rest of Europe. That is the thing that's setting the UKIP people alight. A lot of your own people are very, very concerned about it. Is that at the heart of your renegotiation policy, ending the open frontier?
- [interrupting] So you can do things about benefits but you can't do anything about the free movement of peoples inside the EU, and that won't be part of your negotiation stance?
- Are you determined that we will stay inside the EU?
- [interrupting] Straight question!
- [interrupting] But also they want to know what is your base position. You go there and you negotiate and if you don't get everything you want you say to the British people, "OK, I haven't got the deal. We should leave Europe" and like many of your colleagues who say, "There is a future for Britain outside Europe. It might be bumpy but in the end it will be fine", or you're determined to stay in Europe, basically - in which case it's must harder to get that negotiation successfully really?
- Are there any circumstances which you would go to the British public and say, "I, David Cameron, not Boris Johnson, not Nigel Farage, I David Cameron recommend that we leave the EU"?
- [interrupting] So if you don't get what you want you say to the British people, "It's time to go"?
- [interrupting] What if you dont'? [get what you want]
- All right, let's move on to something else that you said recently, which was right at the end of the Scottish vote. You came onto the street at Downing Street and said English devolution should happen at the same pace as and in tandem with Scottish devolution. Do you still agree with that?
- So, the reason I'm asking this is that the Labour Party don't agree with quite a lot of that. Other parties have a different view as well. It's a very, very complicated thing to deliver in a few months and, therefore, a lot of people in Scotland think, "Aha! This solemn promise on the front page of then newspaper won't be delivered because you and Ed Miliband will fall out and between you the Scottish thing won't be delivered."
- [interrupting] Well, come what may, whatever the arguments going on in London about English parliaments and English votes for English laws and all that, however that's going, the Scots will get the given promise, under all circumstances?
- OK, that's very clear. Thank you very much indeed for that. And, speaking of which, do you now favour an English parliament as such, and where would it sit?
- Now, your big announcement this morning is about using money from welfare cuts to boost the number of apprenticeships. Can I ask you? You're cutting the welfare cap to £23,000. What evidence do you have that lots of families are going to be able to cope with £3,000 less?
- [interrupting] One other question. Are we moving towards a situation where nobody under the age of 21 gets any kind of benefits at all? Because that's what it looks like.
- [interrupting] But pretty close [in response to "It's not quite as simple as that"].
- [interrupting] I understand the logic behind it but...48% of these people, 48% of these people have children, so my question to you is: Are you not going to put...I mean for the best possible motives no doubt...but put a large section of the young population of the country into dire poverty quite quickly with this?
- [interrupting] And their parents essentially having to support them.
- Prime Minister, the other thing I must still ask you about is that moment about when you were overheard talking about the Queen purring with pleasure. Presumably she was furious because she'd been trying really hard to keep out of that debate all the way through. What were you thinking of?
- [interrupting] Are you ashamed about it?
- Are you ashamed about it?
- Yes, and have you repaired things with the palace?
- [interrupting] Ever again.
- All right. Now, you said a little while ago that you were delighted to see Boris back..He's on his way back to the pitch. Once he gets onto the pitch, if the team wins, would you like him back in the cabinet as well?
- OK. You come to this conference with a couple of defections, a minor sex scandal and the problems inside the party. People are muttering, "Final years of John Major". Does that make you quake? Or does it make you angry? How does it make you feel?