David Cameron’s long-awaited political grilling saw him blunder through issues with Paxman and kick back with audience questions.
Covering every issue from the economy to immigration, the Prime Minister was hit with constant questioning from a particularly driven Paxman.
Opening on the topic of food banks, Mr Cameron blamed economic difficulties for the significant rise in food banks. With 900,000 people using food parcels last year, Paxman pressed the Prime Minister on the worsening situation.
Cameron began to stumble when Paxman asked about zero hour contracts.
Asked whether he could live on a zero hour contract, Cameron avoided the question until he was pushed by Paxman. Mr Cameron said: “Some people choose a zero hours contract”, before conceding that he could not.
Questioning then turned to HSBC with Cameron admitting for the first time that he had not spoke with Lord Green about HSBC’S tax avoidance before appointing him.
With the economy now dominating conversation, Paxman presses for an answer on how much the Coalition had borrowed. Cameron said “I know we have borrowed a lot of money” even admitting to not having sufficiently cut the deficit.
With the topic turning to immigration Cameron defended his stance saying: “We cut immigration from outside the European Union, that is down by 13%…. but inside the EU, immigration has increased”.
Paxman began to quiz the Prime Minister on his 2010 pre-election promises which included ruling out a rise in VAT.
Cameron said: “You’ve got a choice: bare down on waste and get public spending under control, or up taxes under my opponents.”
Next on the agenda was welfare cuts, with Paxman asking where the £12 billion of cuts were planned to be sourced from.
“We’ve identified, for instance, freezing in-work benefits,” said Cameron.
When Paxman asked why he ruled out serving a third term earlier this week, Cameron replied: “I think people need to know that sort of thing.”
Cameron’s next task was to be quizzed by audience members.
Questions on representatives of the elderly in Parliament, cuts to public services, privatisation of the NHS and the European Union were asked.
With plenty of suggestions that austerity would be a continuing theme should the Conservatives secure a second term in office, the Prime Minister was asked how severe any further cuts would be. Continuing his rhetoric, Cameron insisted that reducing the deficit by half was a realistic aim, and that savings of £1 in every £100 – with similar cuts in departmental spending and welfare reductions in the next term – was a realistic and manageable target, although he did concede that they were tough decisions to make.
The NHS has been a contentious issue for the Prime Minister throughout his premiership, but Cameron stressed that the majority of the service remained in public hands. 20,000 bureaucrats had been removed from the service since 2010, with 9,000 more doctors now employed and pledged to continue investing in the organisation if re-elected.
Reflecting on his five years in office, Cameron said that he wished that schemes including ‘Help to Buy’ had been brought in sooner, but stressed that nothing would work without a strong and growing economy.
Next, Ed Miliband took to the stage to be grilled by audience members.
The audience wasted no time in probing the Labour leader on the budget deficit, zero-hour contracts and his stance on the European Union.
A more personal question took Mr Miliband by surprise, as one audience member questioned whether his brother, David was more suitable for the role of party leader.
Miliband held firm, saying: “I thought I was the best person to move the party on.”
His plan to tackle the deficit was met with enthusiasm, while he continued to argue the benefits of reducing tuition fees to £6,000.
He said the Labour government would inherit £75 million and wished to balance the books by the end of Parliament, cutting the deficit in three ways – fair taxes, spending reductions in areas not seen as a priority such as education and health, and raising living standards.
With the topic turning to the European Union, Mr Miliband said that it was not a priority of his to hold a referendum.
“When I look at our country, I know what my priorities would be as Prime Minister – to tackle the cost of living crisis, to rescue our NHS, to build a future for our young people. I think leaving the EU would be a disaster for our country.”
Then came Paxman’s turn.
Leading with immigration, Mr Miliband held firm as he said he did not think Britain was “full” of immigrants.
Paxman persisted, asking, “Is there a natural limit to how many people should be in this country?”
Miliband responded with, “I’m not going to get drawn into a speculation on a number, of course there are limits but the limits are expressed in the decision you take year by year.”
Government spending was next on the agenda, followed by the speculation into a possible raise in energy bills if Labour are elected.
Miliband said: “I always said when I was energy secretary there would be upward pressures on bills as a result of the need to transition to a greener economy. You can’t use climate change as an excuse to rip off the consumer.”
Paxman then put it to Ed Miliband that he is a “north London geek”.
The Labour leader did not back down: “Who cares? Who does?”