Friday, June 24, 2011

Sophie Bridger gets #Inverclyde Tory to admit Lib Dems make Government fairer

"I think it probably is fairer than a minority Tory Government." 

So said Inverclyde Conservative candidate David Wilson in response to close questioning from Liberal Democrat candidate Sophie Bridger on last night's STV debate.

David Cameron had already said this week the benefit reforms weren't as severe because of the Liberal Democrats.

When I was 18, I made my first speech at an SDP Conference, in Paisley, in 1986. It was a reasonable effort, about drugs. However, later that weekend someone from STV shoved a tv camera in my face and I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. That's when I knew I was destined to be a backroom girl.

Sophie Bridger's destiny is very different. In the intense format of a tv debate with a former MSP and two prominent councillors, she was assured, reasoned and forensic in her questioning.  I think the bit where I was most impressed with her was when the Tory asked her a question, about a decision made months ago by the Inverclyde Council group, that she didn't know the answer to. Rather than dig herself into a hole, she simply admitted that she didn't know and moved on, not letting that put her off course. That showed good judgement and maturity that you don't always see even in seasoned campaigners.

She managed to trump the SNP's Anne McLaughlin on the SNP's cuts in regeneration funding too. I have a whole load of time for Anne - she was one of my Top Ten MSPs for her tireless work to help asylum seekers and other victims of our cruel immigration system. And, certainly, if she were elected, she would be a complete and utter pain in the backside to the Home Office. That seems unlikely, though, given the SNP's track record of failure in Inverclyde - terrible roads, funding cuts and having lots of young people leaving the area because they can't find work. This is a seat they couldn't win at Holyrood on their best night ever, so I doubt they're in with much of a chance in the by-election, especially with Alex Salmond's and Kenny MacAskill's dogmatic constitutional grandstanding since. It was also shocking to see yet another SNP candidate flounder at being asked about how an independent Scotland would defend itself. They've had long enough to get their line straight on that one. I despair.

As for the Labour Party, their candidate, Iain McKenzie, was toe curlingly awful. You'd think that they would have learned on knife crime after the fiasco of the election campaign. In a few short words, Labour talk mince, No Knives Better Lives get it right.  Anyway, Mr McKenzie asked Sophie about knife crime and then proceeded to harangue and heckle her before she answered. Sophie showed that she has a very effective "Don't you mess with me" look and said, "Do you want to lecture me, Iain, or do you want me to answer your question?" And then she did - and she completely won the argument on policy too. She has this way of using very few words to make her point, something, surely, to be welcomed in a politician.

Bernard Ponsonby questioned Sophie on the Coalition and more specifically, tuition fees. That's been one of the biggest mistakes we've made. Not delivering a fairer policy than Labour left us with, but signing that NUS pledge and breaking it. Especially as by the time the issue was discussed in the Commons, NUS no longer believed in their own pledge. Sophie made it perfectly clear that if she had signed the pledge, she would have kept it and voted against the policy. That drew her the second "that's clear" of the night from Bernard Ponsonby. These are not words journalists often use to politicians.

Sophie got the message across that we had done lots in Government to help those on the lowest incomes, to help boost the State Pension far more effectively than the Scottish Liberal Democrats have done recently.

Her performance last night showed good judgement, a sharp intellect, an ability to scrutinise effectively and a very pleasant manner. She proved herself to be well worthy of the job of an MP. Want to see for yourself? Watch the whole thing here.

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