The battle for Number 10 - key lessons from Paxman joust

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IF JEREMY Paxman’s belligerent exchanges with David Cameron and Ed Miliband are a foretaste of the election, perhaps it is a blessing that the televised debates between party leaders are being kept to a minimum.

Instead of focusing on substantive policy issues, the former Newsnight presenter revelled in his attempt to denigrate the integrity of both men. And the outcome? Supporters of the two leaders arguing passionately in the so-called ‘spin room’ about whether the Prime Minister – or Leader of the Opposition – had been the most effective performer.

In many respects, this is immaterial – the only result that counts is the verdict that the electorate will deliver on May 7 and it is difficult, on this showing, to see the Conservatives, or Labour, achieving the type of breakthrough that continues to be elude both parties. However three key themes did emerge.

First, both Mr Cameron and the Labour leader were ruffled over immigration. This weakness will be boost to Ukip following a succession of setbacks to Nigel Farage’s party.

Second, Mr Miliband’s impassioned defence of his leadership did not mask the divisions within Labour’s ranks. While the leader spoke at the party’s campaign launch in London’s Olympic Park, he was not welcome at the corresponding rally in Scotland.

And, third, the Tories need to underpin its next round of cuts to welfare spending with a far clearer agenda of aspiration. Mr Cameron illustrated this by pointing out to Mr Paxman that the post-election cuts to the public sector involve saving £1 from every £100 spent by the state. It is an argument that his party needs to make far more forcefully. For five years, the Tories have outflanked Labour on economic competence and leadership. Yet the fact that the two parties are neck-and-neck in the polls suggests that the Conservative message is getting lost in translation.

An age-old remedy: The NHS needs private sector

IN an irony of timing, Ed Miliband’s dogmatic promise to curtail the privatisation of the NHS came on the day that the latest performance data for England’s hospitals was published.

As usual, a gleeful Labour Party drew satisfaction from the fact that A&E waiting time targets were missed for a 25th successive week and that there had been a significant increase in the number of so-called ‘bed blockers’ in hospitals because of a shortage of care places in the community for the elderly and immobile.

However, Mr Miliband’s headline-pleasing promise to inject an extra £2.5bn into the NHS, and reduce the involvement of the private sector, masks the simple fact that the National Health Service is already operating at capacity.

If the consequence of his proposal is an even greater onus on hospitals, GP surgeries and the like to treat even more patients, they’re simply going to buckle under the strain and the extra money promised by Labour – funding that will have to come at the expense of other unspecified budgets – will be little more than the proverbial sticking plaster.

As the British Medical Association has made clear this week with its No More Games campaign,

the NHS is a widely-respected national institution and the best prescription for its future existence is a much-needed dose of political realism and an acceptance that the private sector will be of intrinsic importance to the future of the NHS.

A final curtain call: Sir Patrick bows out of university

AS ONE of Britain’s most versatile actors whose roles have ranged from Star Trek to many great Shakespearean works, Sir Patrick Stewart is no stranger to long-running roles. Yet none have given this proud son of Mirfield greater satisfaction than his 12-year association with the University of Huddersfield as Chancellor of this innovative institution.

Although he is standing down this summer, the fact that he has accepted the role of Emeritus Chancellor, and will remain as an ambassador for the higher education association, speaks volumes about the character of Sir Patrick – and the importance of role models remaining close to the roots. This, after all, is an individual who overcame a troubled childhood and never took a backward step from the moment his English teacher, Cecil Dormand, gave him a copy of Shakespeare and ordered him: “Now get up on your feet and perform.”

Now 74, he has done so with alacrity for six decades – and Sir Patrick will be an incredibly tough act to follow. Yet, as he will be the first to admit, the show must go on...