Friday 29 November 2019

Local Council By-Elections November 2019

This month saw 42,944 votes cast over 24 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. 11 council seats changed hands. For comparison with October's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Nov 18

* There were six by-elections in Scotland
** There were three by-elections in Wales
*** There were five Independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of the Brexit Party (168), Patria (9, 12), Putting Cumbria First (67), Scottish Libertarian (16, 28), Tunbridge Wells Alliance (180),
Women's Equality Party (40, 193)

In all the years I've tracked local council by-elections, I can't remember a month like this one. Unfortunately, Labour's bad run of results continued. The only consolation to be take is how out of sync they are with national polling figures. And the Tories, while not riding high on a mahoosive percentage have the popular vote again because, well, they're monopolising the right wing vote. UKIP are dead to the point of getting discontinued from here when the new year rolls around, and the Brexit Party are far from a serious intervention. Just like the general election. The LibDems are maintaining their good performance as well, though I'm sure they'd happily trade this for a better national showing.

No, the weirdness first comes with the abnormally high number of Scottish by-elections. Probably the most since the latter stages of 2015 when all those SNP councillors took up Westminster seats. As Scottish wards tend to be larger they always poll very well, and that's put the squeeze on the overall results here. And the second is ... how many Independents? Helping matters along here were the two by-elections in Shetland where indies rule the roost and political parties are a rumour (apart from the SNP). And there was also the City of London contest which, by convention, is not contested by parties except for Labour. It's just funny peculiar they landed at the same time.

What can we take away from these results? The SNP vote is solid. The Tory vote is solid. Labour's and the LibDems'? The discrepency between by-election votes and polling might indicate a certain softness and fluidity. We find out in less than a fortnight.

7th November
Chelmsford DC, Marconi, LDem hold
Cornwall UA, Wadebridge West, Ind gain from LDem
Croydon LBC, Fairfield, Lab hold
Pembrokeshire UA, Hundleton, Ind hold
Shetland UA, Lerwick South, Ind hold
Shetland UA, Shetland Central, Ind hold

12th November
City of London, Aldersgate, Lab hold

14th November
Eden DC, Shap, LDem gain from Con
Fife UA, Dunfermline Central, SNP gain from Con
Fife UA, Rosyth, SNP hold
Highland UA, Inverness Central, SNP hold
Neath Port Talbot UA, Rhos, PC gain from Lab
Powys UA, St Mary's, Lab gain from Con
Torbay UA, Goodrinton with Roselands, Con gain from LDem
Tunbridge Wells DC, Culverden, LDem gain from Con

21st November
Aberdeen UA, Torry and Ferryhill, SNP hold
Cardiff CC, Llanishen, Con gain from Lab
Chichester DC, Loxwood, Con hold
Moray UA, Keith and Cullen, Con gain from SNP
West Lancashire DC, Birch Green, Lab hold
West Sussex CC, Bourne, Con hold

28th November
North Norfolk, Sheringham North, LDem hold
Oxfordshire CC, Wallingford, Grn gain from Ind
Wiltshire UA, Trowbridge Lambrook, LDem gain from Con

Wednesday 27 November 2019

The BBC's Anti-Labour Bias

You could write a book about the BBC and its coverage of the 2019 general election campaign. Whatever was left of its reputation for balance and neutrality has been totally destroyed by a number of "honest mistakes", and the cringing behaviour of its chief political correspondent, our friend Laura Kuenssberg. Would you like a recap? Recently, we have seen:

The BBC apologising after using 2016 footage of Boris Johnson laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. The actual 2019 footage had Johnson looking dishevelled, and saw him place the wreath upside down.

The BBC apologising for editing the leaders' Question Time programme for its news bulletins the following day. Here, derisive laughter greeting Johnson's responses to a question about honesty was edited out to give him a more positive gloss.

The BBC was found editing an online report about a Tory candidate suspended for anti-semitic remarks. It went from a factual reporting of the specifics of the comments to merely branding them "unacceptable".

The BBC invited Jeremy Corbyn to sit down with Andrew Neil as part of their leaders' interviews series. They later admitted that Johnson isn't booked and, as of the time of writing, appears to be doing everything to avoid it. His previous outing didn't go well.

Following Labour's press conference about how the NHS is on the table when it comes to trade negotiations with Donald Trump, Laura Kuenssberg retweeted and then un-retweeted the following from Piers Morgan: "Wow. The breathtaking arrogance of this chump [Barry Gardiner} telling journalists what questions to ask. They should all ignore him and pummel Corbyn about anti-semitism." Fair and balanced, Fox News style.

Kuenssberg later plugged Dominic Cummings's racist blog, which for good measure invokes an anti-semitic trope. No "pummelling" for Mr Cummings.

And last of all, Corbyn gets scrutiny. And Johnson gets the fawning treatment.

We've talked about BBC bias so many times it feels dull to even write about it, but this behaviour cannot be swept under the carpet. Whether it's doing piss-poor hit jobs that flagrantly disregarded inconvenient evidence, to under-reporting Tory stories, or we're looking at the questionable framing of the BBC's top journalist, to suggest the BBC is balanced when the Tories never receive the same treatment is utterly untenable.

The BBC is biased. As discussed before, the BBC has always followed the lead of the establishment. And so whoever is in charge of the government are treated within certain parameters, and especially so since the Dr David Kelly affair in the aftermath of the Iraq War. The BBC has exercised its independence from the powers that be by not exercising its independence. Its political coverage of the centre right, the centre, and the centre left have been all of a piece. And so, when the Tories were troubled by a right wing insurgency arising from its own decomposition, they were treated with a mix of novelty and horrid fascination. UKIP was simultaneously of the establishment and a reaction against it, and was indulged for precisely this reason. And then when Corbynism broke through during the 2015 leadership contest, the BBC at first was enraptured by what they regarded as a fleeting appearance of a left thought long-buried, and once Jeremy has won the party leadership Kuenssberg and friends amplified every attack from ostensible Labour MPs. As the left consolidated its power and the reliables on Labour's right squeezed out so the attacks grew, and once the party became a contender in 2017 the BBC closed ranks and its fabled impartiality became increasingly threadbare. And that's how it's been since. The BBC remain biased toward the establishment, and with centrism routed in Labour and the LibDems set to deflate yet again, protecting the status quo means protecting the Tory party.

We shouldn't at all be shocked by this, as the BBC is the establishment. Or at least an arm of it. But the paradox of its behaviour over British politics these last few years is how it has systematically dismantled the base of mass support it has in the public at large. It is weakening itself, so if the Tories win they will come for it. Getting the BBC to stump up the cash for free licences for the over-75s is one of the few pledges the Tory manifesto contains. That means more marketisation, more precarity, and a pressure on mega salaries for stars, including well remunerated chief correspondents, and less money for interesting programming and well resourced journalism. And there won't be anyone outside of parliament willing to run to its defence. If the BBC wasn't so important to this country's cultural life, it would deserve everything coming to it.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan

What might happen if a cockroach became Prime Minister? That is the premise of this heavy-handed satire from the accomplished novelist, Ian McEwan. This wee novella charts the adventures of Jim Sams who wakes to find himself in the body of a human being, a human being who just so happens to be a Conservative Prime Minister. It quickly transpires that nearly all of his cabinet colleagues are also cockroaches so transformed who, in their previous existence, inhabited the Palace of Westminster and were well versed in the comings and goings of politics.

At the centre of the novel is a divisive national endeavour. Before taking over the PM's body, the previous Jim was indecisive and faced backbench rebellions, the contempt of the 1922 Committee, and the hostility of the right wing press. Rebooted with insectile fortitude the new Jim is fully and resolutely hell bent on seeing the project through. Brexit? No, something altogether more controversial. Reversalism.

This scheme is, effectively, backwards economics. You pay for the privilege of going to work, but conversely when you go shopping you're paid to take goods off the hands of retailers. The idea is this would eliminate poverty and unemployment and raise living standards, while the hoarding of money is punished by exorbitant negative interest rates and unspecified penalties for having more than £25 to your name. And this scheme enjoys the imprimatur of its very own referendum, and the backing of most of the right, the very obviously Donald Trumpian US president, and the "secret" reversalist leading the Labour Party. Opposing reversalism is the 'clockwise' establishment, who argue reversing the flow of economics would lead to ruin. This is all nonsense and talking down Britain, and as proof of its soundness the UK had already lined up a reversalist trade deal to prove its viability - with Nevis and Saint Kitts.

There are some shenanigans, a near-war with France, and tight votes in the House of Commons. But they get the vote over the line by pulling a dirty pairing trick, and reversalism passes into law. The cockroaches' jobs done, they relinquish their human bodies and, spoiler alert, head back to their Westminster home warm in the knowledge the disaster, misery, and poverty of the madcap scheme would be boom time for cockroaches.

In the past, a number of comrades (me among them) have described Ian McEwan as a Blairite novelist. Partly thanks to his 2005 novel, Saturday, which is set on the day of the gargantuan anti-Iraq War march, the protagonist spends much time agonising over the case for war versus the sombre moral rectitude of the marchers shuffling along London's streets. And then later he enjoys all the fun of a home invasion robbery. Since, McEwan hasn't strayed far from the polite spectrum of centrist opinion. He voted Liberal Democrat in 2010, indicated a preference for Ed Miliband in 2015, came out against the Israel boycott not long after, and made disparaging remarks about elderly leave voters a couple of years ago.

As amusing and fun this novel is, the whole absurdity of reversalism is its not-at-all-subtle satire of Brexit, and it is here McEwan falls into the Blairite comfort zone. Like most of the political developments of the last few years, reversalism is treated like an absurdity that fell from the sky. It was a nonsense doctrine that hoodwinked millions on the basis of fantastical promises. And enough of the gullible public lapped it up. It's redolent of how the remain movement have behaved these last three years, up to and including the outright dismissal of leave voters altogether by the LibDems. The utter bampottery of McEwan's reversalism is less comic effect and more the condensing of condescension and contempt he has for the Brexit enterprise. Brexit is indeed bullshit, but it didn't come out of nowhere.

And this is where the second Blairite theme comes in: a weary suspicion of the masses thinking and acting for themselves. It's up front in Saturday, but you get it too in his last book, Machines Like Us, which imagines the digital age and Corbynism (in the shape of Prime Minister Tony Benn) 30 years ahead of time. And here, the political class take the back seat and are forced to adapt themselves the the animal passions of the mob. Though the cockroach conspiracy at the novella's heart reiterates how easy it is for the mass to be manipulated by shadowy elites who can't wait to profit by their further misery. The implied lesson? Leave politics to the professionals.

The Cockroach is good fun, pacey, and funny. But more than any of this, it's a trip into the Blairite imaginary.

Monday 25 November 2019

Prospa - Control the Party

Night off from blogging duties, so have a top new tune instead.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Boris Johnson's Empty Manifesto

Missing. The Conservative Party's 2019 General Election Manifesto. Entirely typical of Boris Johnson's performance so far, there was a muzzing of the hair and oh so funny quips, but a great void where policy is concerned, beyond the tedious "oven ready Brexit" and "get Brexit done" sound bites. Snore. Nevertheless, a lazy manifesto is something the Tories have consciously contrived. The received wisdom in party circles is that Theresa May's document was a disaster and, to be fair, it was. And so the lesson drawn is not to promise anything at all. An exercise in how a 64 page manifesto can be tissue thin.

As per the Liberal Democrat manifesto, I've read the Tory party's offering to save you time. And, what do you know, it is an absence. Sure, there's plenty of asides attacking "Corbyn" as if he's the devil incarnate, Brexit fancies on every page, and a bit of EU bashing that sees the sclerosis of Brussels bureaucracy compared unfavourably to the swift and nifty pen pushers of Whitehall. One supposes the author, a former Gove lackey and fracking lobbyist had never dealt with the DWP or the Home Office during her time at Education.

That said, because there is very little here apart from Brexit and the delusions the manifesto repeatedly indulges (save the £350m/week for the NHS, which is conspicuously absent), this is probably the most innocuous Tory manifesto I've seen. Minus the usual hobby horses, it's, well, a bit wonkish and a few side steps to the left of Labour's 2005 manifesto. It's true, read it for yourself. Lots of stuff on wellbeing, mental health, try hards on the NHS, and all topped off with photos of who they deem the more acceptable Tory candidates out there. And so the chapter on schools is illustrated with their Stoke North candidate, who happens to be a teacher. The NHS bit has a couple of nurses who are standing for the Tories. Crime with some ex-coppers, and above the policy section setting out the points-based immigration system we have a chummy photo of Priti Patel and Sajid Javid. Cheap, sick bucket-hugging stuff.

And while this is probably the most innocuous of Tory manifestos, it was preceded in its lineage by a statement of authoritarianism from May and plans to chop down public services and marketise the rest from Dave. Everything is relative, and so this is not without its signature unpleasantries. On top of the points-based stuff, which will mollify the puce-faced bigots in the shires, we have a singling out of Travellers as the numero uno group of undesirables ripe for scapegoating. The manifesto writes, "we will tackle unauthorised traveller camps. We will give the police new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised encampments, in order to protect our communities. We will make intentional trespass a criminal offence, and we will also give councils greater powers within the planning system" (p.19). Can't ever see this measure used to demonise and traduce a powerless minority being turned against others. In-keeping with this theme, while protections of free speech are mentioned more than once we have this:
We will ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries. These undermine community cohesion. (p.20)
And taking aim at Johnson's old adversary, the RMT, the Tories will be requiring "that a minimum service operates during transport strikes. Rail workers deserve a fair deal, but it is not fair to let the trade unions undermine the livelihoods of others" (p.27).

To avoid accusations this document is a billionaires' manifesto (they bought it, you'll pay for it, as Jeremy Corbyn tweeted earlier), the Tories promise to get tough on tax evasion (p.35), pledging to beef up HMRC and introducing tough new penalties for the most "egregious cases". But don't let this fool you, this is but window dressing and will do nothing to address the yawning chasm of wealth and power. The Tories also plan to preside over this state of affairs well beyond this election. On p.48 we find commitments to scrap the Fixed Terms Parliaments Act, bring back the constituency boundary review to rob Labour of seats, introduce photo ID for voters, and give ex-pats the permanent right to vote in UK elections. Measures that will hold the old long-term decline in temporary check.

There are a couple more issues with the manifesto. First, there is a glaring numbers mistake. Second, on the flagship policy to reduce National Insurance and take the lowest paid out of it altogether, there is no detail at all on how this will impact state pension entitlements and eligibility for contributions-based Job Seekers' Allowance. This is a very serious issue, as those who are lowest paid are more likely to face unemployment than well-remunerated ex-spads and rubbish journalists who've climbed the greasy pole. What happens? Of this there is no answer.

Nevertheless, I think this is an interesting document. It's interesting because, as far as the collective thinking of the Tories are concerned, it shows they know thin gruel cannot be handed out forever. The emergence of Corbynism, its transformation of the British political landscape, and the mass support it commands portends a future the Tories would rather not have to deal with. And so they don't. All the big problems of the day are met with weak promises and non-committal position taking, but it does recognise the ruin of austerity, which did a great deal to activate Corbynism to start with, is no longer a viable means for ensuring the hoi polloi remain disciplined and pacified. At present, not least thanks to the contradictions of the Tory coalition they can't offer anything else. Plenty of Tories genuinely believe Brexit to be a magic bullet that will expand the economy, raise wages, and somehow make Britain a happier, healthier, wealthier place. But it won't. Brexit is nothing but a pathetic talisman.

And so this begs the question. The Tory manifesto contains very little, while Boris Johnson gurns his way about the country demanding we get Brexit done so we can "move on" and concentrate on the people's priorities. Yet those priorities are not reflected in this plan for government, which raises another question. If Johnson gets his wish and we're afflicted with him for another four or five years, what is he actually going to do?

Saturday 23 November 2019

Brexit: Lexit or Rexit?

Brexit is an irredeemably right wing project. Guest post from Scott Newton.

Does Brexit offer the British Left a great opportunity to break free from the restrictions which come with membership of the EU? Is this the chance for a 'Lexit', a moment for Britain to embark on its own independent journey to socialism?

Significant elements on the British Left have been highly critical of European integration ever since the establishment of Common Market or European Economic Community (EEC) following the 1958 Treaty of Rome. The key criticism was made by Nye Bevan, who argued that it rejected socialism and democracy in favour of free trade: "disenfranchisement of the people and ... enfranchisement of market forces". This critique remained powerful within the Labour Movement and was deployed by those arguing for the leave option during the 1975 referendum on British membership of the EEC.

The 1975 referendum result was a victory for those wanting Britain to remain in the EEC but the Left of the Labour Party continued to oppose membership of what became the European Community and then the European Union, arguing that it was incompatible with the imperative requirement of State-led industrial modernization. However, it was a marginalized political force after the 1987 General Election defeat. The locus of the anti-European cause now switched to the Right of the political spectrum. It gained an increasingly strong position within the Tory Party, provoking serious splits which contributed to the humiliating defeat of 1997.

The ongoing turmoil in the Conservatives led David Cameron to call the 2016 referendum on British membership of the EU. We all know what followed: a narrow popular endorsement of withdrawal which so far neither Theresa May's nor Boris Johnson's administrations have been able to deliver. The Conservatives have continued to quarrel over the issue of Brexit. But this has also been a problem for Labour, where there remain voices calling for the people's will to be respected and for the UK to depart from the EU as soon as possible. This group includes Labour MPs with constituencies in Leave voting areas as well as those committed to the view that the EU is an insuperable obstacle to democratic socialism and to the modernization of British industry.

There is no doubt that the EU provides some good material for the socialist critique. Armed by the texts of the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties (1992 and 2007) the European Commission has consistently played down the idea of 'social Europe' and promoted the liberalisation of services, greater competition and a shift to 'flexible' labour practices (in other words an increase in exploitation) across the EU. Side by side with this has come pressure for the governments of member states to cut spending and balance their budgets, a function of the Stability and Growth Pact (1999) and of the requirements which come with belonging to the Euro group. The countries whose financial systems were most damaged by the 2007-8 Crash have all experienced demands for economies in public spending but it has been Greece where this pressure has been at its most intense. The radical Syriza government, elected in 2015 to take Greece out of the austerity imposed on it by the EU's 'rescue' of its banking network saw its manifesto trashed and the whole nation taken to the edge of social, economic and political breakdown.

This is, however, by no means the whole picture. Across the EU recent years have seen both divergence from and growing resistance to the free market agenda of the Commission. Notable examples can be found in France, Germany and Italy. These countries have all defied the Stability and Growth Pact's 3 per cent deficit requirement regarding government budgets. There are numerous instances of action by national governments to address urgent issues. The French State is committed to a renewables budget of 71 billion Euros between 2019 and 2028, representing a 60 per cent increase in spending under this heading. In the industrial sector it has successfully intervened to prevent General Electric shutting down the plant at Belfort, commissioning in late 2016 15 fast trains at a cost of 630 million Euros. This year the French and German governments agreed a 1.7 billion Euro plan to boost electric vehicle battery production, an initiative seen in Paris and Berlin as both environmentally virtuous and liable to strengthen the countries' automotive sectors against Asian competitors.

Contrary to the assumption of Lexiteers, the nation-state remains strong in the EU. Member governments follow developmental strategies which they deem to be in their own nation's interest and are willing and able to use countervailing force against the Commission's efforts to promote a liberal model of European economic integration. The Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties indicate one route for the EU but some of its most powerful States are marching in the opposite direction. Of course, Brussels may at some point seek to resolve this contradiction in a way favourable to the Commission's version of the European idea. But it has a rather poor record of winning showdowns against a resistance led by Germany, France and Italy. How many would fancy its chances of victory in the future?

A sound Left wing politics is always rooted in things as they actually are but the world of the Lexiteers is not, whether they are discussing the EU or the UK. 40 years ago manufacturing accounted for 30 per cent of the UK's gross national output. Given that it represented so large a fragment of British capital it is hardly surprising that governments made its modernization and ability to out-perform its competitors in Europe and the USA an economic policy priority. The Left's argument that a strategy designed to achieve this would work better if Britain were outside the EEC and able to protect its industrial base and plan its economy without fear of interference and veto from Brussels, was plausible. The Thatcher years (1979-90) saw State intervention largely abandoned in favour of a market-based approach which led to the run-down of whole industries and the closure of many firms. Subsequent administrations, of both major parties, have not deviated from this strategy, so that manufacturing now accounts for not much more than 10 per cent of the GDP: industrial reconstruction and renewal has ceased to be a policy priority for Governments.

While it is true that a State-led industrial strategy has returned to favour in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership there has been no rehabilitation of the idea that departure from the EU is necessary for this to work. How could there be, given that the EU accounts for 48 per cent of Britain's goods exports and eight per cent of GDP? Departure from the EU without a deal will lead to trade with it on World Trade Organization terms. This means that tariffs will be imposed on goods coming in and going out. It is hard to see how the regeneration of British industry could be achieved by depriving it of free access to European markets and disrupting the supply chains of leading manufacturing corporations. A Labour Government will offer the electorate another referendum on leaving the EU: but the choice will be between remaining and Brexit based on an agreement with Brussels which provides access to the single European market or at least membership of the customs union - which is what the old EEC the Left wanted to leave all those years ago really was. Within contemporary Britain there is neither the political nor the economic basis for a Lexit of the kind favoured by the old Left.

And this takes us to the final point. Lexit may be a will o' the wisp, but a right wing Brexit, a 'Rexit', most certainly is not. The Conservative Party, which had taken Britain into the EEC in 1973, became dominated by Brexiteers. How did this occur? Andrew Gamble's The Conservative Nation (Routledge, 1974 and 2014) is the best guide. Gamble points out that the Tories have historically represented the interests of British capital: for them, the 'politics of power' has been about forming governments committed to the defence of capital and the free enterprise system. To this end, the Party has always cultivated a 'politics of support' designed to attract enough voters for it to win elections. This has traditionally revolved around patriotism and defence of the national interest abroad, (including, if necessary, unilateral resort to the use of force, as in the case of the Falklands War) and determination to protect the British 'way of life'. During and after the Thatcher era the wealth and political influence of the City of London grew even as industry contracted. The shift of power was a function of the nation's switch to a neoliberal political economy. The deregulation associated with the process facilitated freedom of capital on a global basis. Mobile international money flooded into London, much of it handled by hedge funds, which seek to make profits by speculating with borrowed capital. The City of London quickly became the world's number two destination of choice (after Wall Street) for these. By 2019 hedge funds in the City were handling £500 billion, equivalent to 25 per cent of Britain's GDP. Both the scale of business conducted by and the global reach of the City has left finance with a level of influence within the British State it has not enjoyed since before 1914.

Given the transformation of British capitalism since 1979 the politics of power centres on the reproduction of the neoliberal order within the UK and beyond. This, in turn, requires Britain to have an external strategy designed to facilitate its ability to supply ‘business, technology and financial services to emerging markets such as China and India', become 'financial manager of the world' (Paul Mason, 'Britain's Impossible Futures', Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2019). Membership of the EU is not essential to this. The politics of power therefore looks to a British breakout from the EU in order to pursue a global mission, backed by a politics of support which invokes the Conservative Party's core values, rooted in patriotism and determination to protect British culture and 'character' from alien influences such as the EU and mass immigration. Promoted through the press and TV by billionaire Tory-supporting media proprietors with world-wide interests such as Rupert Murdoch, Viscount Rothermere and the Barclay Brothers, this nationalist discourse has sustained a series of Conservative governments since 2010 and achieved its most spectacular success in the 2016 referendum.

The economics and politics of Brexit are therefore Right Wing, fusing neoliberalism and xenophobia. Brexit represents an attempt to recreate the era when London was banker to the world and Elgar and Kipling were heroes of popular culture. This is, without doubt, a doomed and forlorn project. But it is driven by powerful interests located in the old financial heart of British capital. Lexit has no comparable roots in the modern British political economy and no comparable following in modern British popular politics. It is, to use a fashionable term, 'a unicorn'. Rexit, not Lexit, is the only Brexit there is.

Image Credit

The Best Question Time Ever?

Is it really a scoop for Jeremy Corbyn to admit that he would remain neutral in the event of a second EU referendum? It has been bordering on the explicit in Labour's stance for some time, but ever keen for headlines I suppose breaking this "news" was something of a feather in the Question Time cap. More significant, most would agree, was how last night's episode was the best we've seen in years. At least since Corbyn last appeared with Theresa May shortly before the last election.

On the performance of the leaders themselves, of the four Nicola Sturgeon got the easiest ride of the night. She faced pointed questions, but not hostile ones. And her performance was as accomplished as you'd expect. Fluent and business-like certainly, but without the personnel management vibes that afflicted too many politicians during the New Labour era. Understandably a great deal of questioning revolved around Scottish independence, what kind of relationship the SNP would seek with a Corbyn-led Labour government, her price for cooperation (she refused to believe Corbyn wouldn't allow a second independence referendum in time), an independent Scotland's position in the EU, and how her government might deal with a deficit. An assured appearance.

As for Corbyn, I thought he initially came across as a bit flat but soon warmed up under a barrage of hostile questions about socialism, about nationalisation, and about Labour's rumbling anti-semitism crisis. But he rallied after supportive audience members intervened, and had the space to discuss Labour's Brexit position at length. Coming out as neutral in any forthcoming referendum will, hopefully, use ambiguity to nullify ambiguity about what Labour plans to do. From then on there was a mix of tough and friendly questions that played to his strength, allowing him to finish on a Labour's green industrial strategy. No nonsense about pressing the nuclear button on this occasion.

When it came to Jo Swinson, oh dear. It wasn't that her performance suffered in terms of fluffed lines and bad delivery, it was what she was selling that bombed with the audience. Having spent the campaign so far at a remove from the public, save her kind of people, she hasn't had to account for her record in power, nor the positions taken since under pain of persistent questioning. Take the move to hard remain, for example. Simply putting the votes of over 17 million people in the bin was always going to be a tough sell, especially for a party pretending to be the most democratic in British politics, and so it proved. One woman said the LibDems had lost her vote thanks to the cynicism of their ludicrous remain alliance lash-up with the Greens and Plaid Cymru. Another took Swinson to task precisely because she was prepared to dismiss leave voters. She didn't have much luck on other matters either, from her commitment to tackling climate change, her (continued) support for austerity policies, and her preparedness to launch a nuclear strike. The more the public see of the LibDem leader the less they like, and it's doubtful the party's cause won many new friends off the back of this.

And lastly there was Boris Johnson, whose questioning wasn't quite as hostile as Swinson's but was pretty rough. Following the formula we saw on Tuesday evening, Johnson kept trying to relate every question back to Brexit so he could comfortably reside in the soundbites of "oven ready deal" and "get Brexit done". On this occasion, Fiona Bruce was having none of it and intervened persistently to steer Johnson back to answering the question. No wonder the Tory commentariat were spitting feathers afterwards - they're used to deference from the BBC, not being held to account. Johnson was taken up on questions of honesty, on delivery, and on the influence of Russia in UK referenda and election campaigns. On this the PM looked shifty, saying there was nothing in the reports and that Russian influence was "Bermuda Triangle stuff". What definitely isn't are the Russian monies pouring into the Tories. He was also asked about racism and made out that in the millions of words he'd written during the last 20 years, a racism was bound to crop up here and there - almost as if bigotry is a slip of the pen. Johnson also refused to apologise. In all, it was an unusual Johnson performance because he wasn't allowed to bluff and bluster out of questions. As it should be.

Question Time gets a lot of stick - rightly - for dodgy guests and inconsistent chairing, but on this occasion it showed the format can work with balanced chairing and balanced audiences. In fact, this was much more enlightening than any head-to-head is likely to be and is more likely to go down better with punters watching from home. One thing those not plugged into detest is the perception of squabbling politicians. This Question Time avoided that, and should be the model for future leader-focused events.