Hilary Benn Comes Clean In Harborne

For weeks Gordon Brown has tried to simplify the public spending issue – pretending that Conservatives would cut 10% off everything while maintaining his capital spending would rise every year until 2012. It isn’t true and presumably Hilary Benn knows that – hence his more candid response on the issue when he visited Harborne, in the heart of the marginal Edgbaston Parliamentary constituency, last night.

The occasion was BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme which was broadcast live from Lordswood Girls School in Knightlow Rd, Harborne. The last time I attended an Any Questions, was some time in the 1970s when the show was broadcast from a venue on Castle Vale.

On that occasion I wasn’t picked to ask a question, so I was delighted this time when my name was called out first. I’d actually submitted two questions. The first was one I’d thought about all week, edited and and re-edited, the second I thought up on the spur of the moment on Friday – and that was the one they chose of course! It was the untimely death of Michael Jackson which made me ask my question – Is being a child star a curse or a blessing? All the members of the panel agreed with me that it is probably a curse.

My question was first, but it was another person’s question later in the programme, asking the panel what public spending they would cut, which has hit the news headlines this morning. Theresa May (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Shadow Minister for Women) was the Conservative MP on the panel and she got a huge round of applause for saying that Conservatives would cut Labour’s proposed National Identity Card scheme.

Labour’s Hilary Benn (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)was more honest than I suspect Gordon Brown would have been, explaining the Government faced “real choices” and that his department’s budget was going down and he would have to “prioritise”. The Chairman, Jonathan Dimbleby, pushed him several times on the issue, and Hilary Benn did not deny there would be Labour public spending cuts. So there we have it! Gordon Brown can lie all he wants. No-one believes him, not even Hilary Benn – as Edgbaston residents and the public at large heard last night.

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