Wow. Question Time almost became car-crash TV – the moment Blair was hearing for the first time how GP surgeries work around the 48-hour waiting time targets set by government by forcing people when they could make their appointments, and Dimbleby asked “has anyone else had this problem?” and a chorus of “Yes!” came back; the look of incomprehension on his face was priceless.
Not that he had a much better time during the rest of the programme, although some of the audience flustered their lines somewhat (understandable), there were a lot of pertinent questions about Iraq; Blair shillied and shallied as best he could but didn’t answer many of the questions satisfactorily, banging on about “making tough decisions” again and again. The most awful thing (if I were currently a Labour supporter, rather than a lapsed one), was that when it came to a couple of tap-in questions on the economy and improvements in schools or hospitals – Labour’s allegedly strongest points – he failed, utterly, to get any point across at all. The Labour manifesto is stuffed with statistics – hell, I can remember some of them – dubious or not they sound good as an authoritative answer – but Blair forgot all of them. He had to resort to “well, I think they’re getting better” and personal opinions, without any facts to back them up – not even any anecdotal evidence. The one statistic on the reduction in cancer deaths was woolly and unsure (“er… ten thousand, I think”). With no numbers to back him up, the audience were able to tear him to pieces with their own personal accounts of health service failures in response.
IMO, Question Time was a disaster for Blair, even the friendly questions he managed to answer only passably, rather than positively and triumphantly like an incumbent on his way to a third term should. At the end he was audibly booed by some for chickening out of a proper debate (I suspect that he might regret this – he’d have preferred to spar with known quantities like Howard and Kennedy than a hostile and unpredictable audience). The rivers of sweat on his forehead at the end were reminiscent of Robert Hays in Airplane! Meanwhile, Howard got away fairly lightly, there were some quite angry protests from the audience but not many were coherent enough. Despite not actually saying very much of any merit whatsoever he wriggled through. Charles Kennedy managed to put himself across very well – he was sober, mindful of the facts and considered, even when rattled. He seemed more genuine than the other two, though he still can’t throw off that hint of dullness he has. It’ll be interesting to see the polls tomorrow – I reckon the Lib Dems could score a point or two more, the Tories one as well, with Labour losing out.