Two politicians put in very assured and impressive performances on Marr this morning - if you can include nimbly dodging questions that you don’t want to answer ‘impressive’. of course, within the parameters of the way politicians are expected to behave, Caroline Flint and Philip Hammond did very well because they didn’t give anything away that they didn’t want to, and they’d clearly practised rather a lot in order to stop themselves giving away that information.
Flint was asked to rule out a pact between Labour and the SNP. She didn’t, but she also survived the questions rather well:
‘We are focused on winning a Labour majority government and let me say this - we do not want, we do not need and we do not plan to have any coalition with the SNP, we plan to make sure that we focus on the issues and win a Labour majority government.’
‘There is going to be a choice at this election between who will sit in Number 10 and it's a choice between either Labour or the Conservatives form a majority government. the second point I would make is this - every vote that is cast for the SNP makes it more likely that David Cameron will retain the keys to Number 10.’
Philip Hammond was questioned on the Tory failure to protect defence spending at 2 per cent of GDP in the next Parliament. Here’s how he didn’t answer the question:
‘I am a passionate supporter of the armed forces and of maintaining Britain’s military defence. We are the second largest defence spender in NATO. We led the charge, at the NATO summit, encouraging our NATO partners to make this commitment. Many of them are far, far away from 2%. We will have a strategic defence and security review at the beginning of the next parliament and we will set out our plans then. I can’t tell you what will be in the Conservative manifesto, and I cant pre-judge the outcome of the security and defence review that will take place after the next election. We will protect the integrity and the strength of our armed forces.’
He insisted that Britain was currently spending 2 per cent, but when pressed on spending in the next Parliament, said that the Strategic Defence and Security Review would address this.
Both Flint and Hammond couldn’t be more emphatic for the same reasons: their parties currently don’t want to admit the truth: Labour might need help from the SNP to pass Budgets, and the Tories have protected other spending areas which makes it extremely difficult to maintain defence spending at the current level. But neither can say that because they judge that the damage of telling the truth wouldn’t be worth sustaining. Of course, while admitting something straight up might seriously dent your party, the effect of these answers that seem so fluent they may well have been memorised word-for-word is still to corrode trust in politicians over the long-term, as both frontbenchers went into the interviews determined to tell viewers nothing.