Alex Massie

The Camerlegg Show

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Like James, I thought David Cameron performed well in his "Face the Audience" appearance explaining the budget yesterday. I also think the Prime Minister and his Deputy should do more of these "Meet and Explain" events and, yes, they should do them together. If Cameron was persuasive then Nick Clegg was also excellent, not least since, again, a BBC journalist did his best to find some daylight between Clegg and Cameron. [Transcript here, incidentally.]

You can quibble with some of what they said and, for that matter, honestly disagree with much of it too. Nevertheless, there was something calmly impressive about the manner - and manner counts for almost as much as matter in these engagements  - in the way they went about explaining their decisions in the face of sceptical and often quite hostile questioning. (Like Paul Goodman I was struck by the absence of many people prepared to endorse much of the budget; then again these are difficult times.)

Equally, and again, the advantages of a coalition government were made obvious. It would be much harder - and much more of a bear-pit - for Cameron to face this kind of questioning on his own. Having two politicians, from different parties, facing the music allows them to play-off one another and, of course, lends weight to their repeated mantra that "We're all in this together".

Of course one would have liked them to point out that even after this budget the government will still be spending £700bn a year by the end of the parliament and that this, by any reasonable estimate, is a hefty sum of money. And of course one would have liked them to mention the share of GDP swallowed by the state (and borrowing) this year and next. If nothing else these sums put everything else into some form of context. And, yes, they might have been more robust - and so might the budget - on some of the less obviously useful universal benefits such as the winter fuel allowance.

But, as I say, I think that there's value to these affairs even when the audience is hostile. Perhaps especially when the audience is hostile. If there's a comparison to be made, perhaps it's with Tony Blair's "Masochism Strategy" during the 2005 election. Then as now the Prime Minister was campaigning for unpopular measures; then as may be the case now he at least earned some plaudits for the nature of his campaign and his willingness to answer questions. (Obvisously one hopes the Camerlegg Duo fare a little better than poor old Tone did in the end, but that's a different matter and, anyway, a detail.)

It's possible such a strategy might have been made easier by some extra measure of clarity in the pre-election age. But there's little use in bemoaning that now. So, a small notion: they should do more of these events and they should be done in Newcastle and Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff, Belfast and Leeds and so on. One assumes local BBC or ITV stations would be interested in televising them. They should be.

Sure, there's a

propaganda

selling the message aspect to this but so what? It's also, in its way, a public service and the modern reincarnation of the great public meetings and speaking tours of yesteryear. These are unusual times and the government needs an unusual strategy -  time-consuming and energy-sapping as it may be - to explain matters and answer the public's questions.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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