Live-blogging Question Time.

22.30 — I haven’t been following the news too much this week due to work commitments, but let’s hope they stick to long-term topics and give this a go.

22.39 — So, first up is the plan for high-speed rail. Some guy wants to know if it’s worth £30bn. What I guess we need to know here is where the funding will come from. Presumably given the coalition’s devout commitment to debt and deficit reduction, this isn’t planned as a medium-term fiscal stimulus. Which is a shame, because that sort of investment is precisely the kind that I take it Keynesians would endorse.

22.45 — Note how the government is trying to pump up support for this project by stressing how it will spur business and create jobs. How does that sort of argument not validate immediate fiscal stimulus to counter high unemployment now?

22.48 — Sayeeda Warsi is present here and representing the government tonight. David Dimbleby is a journalist. Alan Johnson is a member of the opposition. How have the dots not been joined and this discussion connected to current economic policy? Are we really going to let them offer these arguments for investment in isolation, ignoring the fact it contradicts the Treasury’s current kamikaze mission?

22.53 — Onto Mali, and the wisdom of our minor role in aiding the French. Warsi gives a whirlwind history lesson, invokes evidence of recent progress in Somalia and insists we can do good in preventing anarchy in this other African area too. Alan Johnson says we need political change in Mali because it’s a military dictatorship. As long as that remains rhetoric, I’m not too worried. There is evidently no appetite for a grandiose ground-operation and clusterfuck a la Somalia in the early 1990s. The West seems to have learnt its lesson. But if the numbers involved begin to rise and France gets tied down? I don’t know. I can’t see other Europeans or Americans following suit. I struggle to see this as the next Afghanistan.

23.01 — A panelist – don’t know who – congratulates the French on finally engaging in a war. The audience applauds. I know their reactions can be mindless, but that’s a new level of absurdity.

23.05 — Now for Cumbria’s rejection of nuclear waste. I know I said I’m sort of out of the media loop right now, but is this really page one material in recent days?

23.07 — Warsi again. Just a stream of generic blather. A commitment to localism entails respect for Cumbria’s decision. Yes, that means we now have nowhere left to potentially store waste. Yes, we should look for ways to maintain use of nuclear energy anyway. How? Who knows. But we shouldn’t rely on the Middle East after recent events in Algeria, and the North Sea supply isn’t sustainable, and wind-farms won’t do the trick either.

This is the number one issue of our generation: how to ensure a long-term reliable supply of energy for our nation whilst acting in a way consistent with our environmental obligations. And yet, how often do we hear about energy policy and climate change in the media? Has the Prime Minister made any speeches on it? How can any politician with a sense of decency enter a profession whose purpose is to act on behalf of the common good, to guide the collective, whilst having no apparent desire to offer substantive solutions to this issue?

23.14 — Now the audience howls at some joker who suggests dumping the waste in Scotland and then granting them independence. Nice to know unionist sentiment stands strong.

23.16 —

Because there’s nothing like a good bullshit monarchy-related discussion to follow up ten minutes on energy policy.

23.17 — Alan Johnson pats himself and Parliament on the back for reforming policy so that if Kate’s kid is a girl, she could inherit the throne just like a boy currently can. Whoop-de-fucking-do. And now Warsi is defending Prince Charles’ intellectual capacities against criticisms from a Spectator columnist. A voice of sanity pops up in the audience and asks if we don’t have better things to discuss on a prime time BBC show, only for Dimbleby to shoot her down and tell her she shouldn’t have put her hand up if she thought the topic was futile. Yes, this just happened.

23.21 — So I definitely missed this news story. Nick Clegg – a liberal, of course – is considering sending his kid to private school. The Speccie columnist is attacking lefties for hypocrisy on this point: private schools are fine, he says, but if you object to them and call them unjust, it’s absurd to then use them yourself.

23.22 — The consensus seems to be that this is hypocritical. I’ve argued against that claim before, defending the likes of Diane Abbott. It’s an instance of the old socialists in foxholes problem. It’s a version of GA Cohen’s question and book title, “If you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re so rich?”. A snippet from my own argument:

My own position for a while now has been to distinguish public and private wills and identities. That is, I think we can think about the dilemma best by saying people like Polly Toynbee and Diane Abbott have dual roles – as a journalist and a politician respectively, both are citizens of this country who must assess the fairness of laws from a general point of view. At the same time, however, both are also mothers, and that role is distinct and deeply moving and seems to give rise to its own set of thoughts and obligations. Whereas as citizens we must think about everyone, as parents we surely fail if we do anything short of doing the best by our own children.

That’s why I think there’s a definite sense in which it’s perfectly consistent to spend your life calling for the abolition of private schools on the grounds that they violate your sense of justice, whilst sending your children there regardless simply because whilst they do exist, you naturally and legitimately want to maximise your child’s chance of prospering in life.

23,26 — Apparently Clegg plans on making a statement justifying his decision if he does go down this route. Hats off to him on that front. I’d really like to see him utilising the sort of argument outlined above.

23.28 — Zoe Williams also calls Clegg a hypocrite! “There’s no such thing as a political position that does not influence your own personal life”. This is obviously not true, though. I can hold that a whole array of principles should be in place in law that, nevertheless, I won’t act on unless we agree to as a collective. An example: I’m pretty sure if I lived in America, given everyone else owns a gun, I’d get one too. But I’d much rather have a situation in which we all surrender such weapons and have them outlawed. And I wouldn’t be a hypocrite for having a gun whilst saying they should be illegal. Clegg can offer a similar justification for using private schools. What difference will it make to social justice whether his one kid attends or not?

23.33 — They’re rounding things off with something on European immigration and language, now. I missed the exact thrust of the question because I was busy typing. But one general comment on this issue: I remember my political theory tutor arguing that whilst liberalism requires us to tolerate all forms of diversity within a democracy, language doesn’t have to be one of them. And that’s because of the simple reason that if a nation does not share one language, deliberative democracy becomes impossible. Okay, perhaps not impossible. The European parliament gets by thanks to hundreds of skilled translators. But who doubts that parliament would deteriorate drastically if direct discussion was rendered impossible due to language barriers? I don’t think imposing some sort of language requirements on immigrants is necessarily illiberal. It’s arguably essential to the functioning of democracy.

23.37 — And that’s a wrap. I’ll probably do this next week again, and hopefully have better things to say because I’ve kept up to date with recent events. It’ll help if they pick sensible topics too, though.


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