Political panel show Question Time aired on BBC One from Grimsby in North East Lincolnshire on Thursday night, as topics of the energy crisis, tax cuts, and fracking were discussed.
Joining Fiona Bruce on the panel for this episode were Cabinet Office minister Brendan Clarke-Smith MP, founder of the Academy of Ideas Claire Fox, economist Gerard Lyons, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting MP, and the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on foreign affairs – Layla Moran MP.
The first topic saw the panel answer questions on the ongoing cost of living crisis, which has seen soaring prices in energy bills dominate headlines for a number of weeks and months.
From October 1, wholesale electricity prices for businesses will be fixed at £211 MWh and £75 for gas for six months, following on from the government’s previous announcement that typical households should see energy bills capped at £2,500 a year until 2024.
Government called “out of touch” for energy crisis plans
A Conservative voting audience member said the government were “talking a good game” but won’t acknowledge the reality that proper funding of services isn’t possible if bills “keep going through the ceiling”.
Gerard Lyons, an economist who has been advising the Prime Minister, said that inflation has been made worse by the “bottleneck” economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, which then intensified following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
He has predicted that inflation will peak at around 11% and start to drop next year, before debating the pros and cons of windfall taxation on big businesses.
Prime Minsiter Liz Truss was accused of being “out of touch” by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, in relation to an increased cap on bankers’ bonuses rather than addressing issues surrounding poorer families on Universal Credit.
A general message of “we deserve better” could be heard from multiple audience members, who were visibly frustrated at the current state of affairs.
Baroness Claire Fox called for a “new industrial revolution”, stating that “fiddling around with taxes doesn’t seem to be adequate” and highlighting the importance of economic growth through rejuvenation of industries.
Conservative MP Brendan Clarke-Smith responded to the arguments by often referring to “unprecedented” payment packages offered by the government during the pandemic and in recent times to help during the cost of living crisis.
“The government is trying to give as much as they can”, he said. The Cabinet Office minister then stated that cutting taxes “for everybody” was the focus of Liz Truss’ government.
The debate then moved to fracking, with an audience member calling North East Lincolnshire “a big player in renewable energy” before asking the panel’s thoughts on fracking as an alternative energy source.
The topic sparked intense debate, with some of the audience calling it the “most effective energy source” compared to “unreliable” renewable sources.
Wes Streeting said fracking was “not safe” and a “false dawn”, suggesting that investment in onshore and offshore wind should have boosted over the last decade to give us energy reserves for the future.
He said the government’s “short-termism” policies are “doing this country down” and have been for “more than a decade”. Streeting quipped that expecting this government to introduce new ideas on how to fix issues in the country is “like expecting arsonists to put out the first they created.”
Offering a government response, Brendan Clarke-Smith said the government’s 2019 manifesto was “never against fracking” despite accusations from opposition parties of moving the goalposts on policy since the recent change of leadership.
The Conservative MP said it was important to have an energy mix of renewables and gas and oil, before going on to say he is in fact “neutral” on the topic of fracking.
The government “desperately” needs to address the NHS backlog, says Brendan Clarke-Smith, as the audience provided a tongue-in-cheek response to new Health Secretary Therese Coffey’s ‘ABCD’ priorities of ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists.
The Cabinet Office minister suggested that the entire NHS system needs to be fixed, and it’s a case of how you spend money rather than the amount of money that goes in.
Wes Streeting said the government’s approach to health policy was like “Sesame Street” as he accused the Conservatives of not having a workforce plan to address the NHS struggles – citing a lack of doctors to fix backlogs and waiting times for ambulances.