As I promised, here is the blog of Question Time tonight. I'll be updating this post throughout the night as it works better than posting lots of separate thoughts.
You can find my pre show comments on the panelists here. By the way I was once in the Question Time audience in October 2003, when it came from Stratford and the panel contained Boris Johnson, Clare Short, Susan Kramer, David Aaronovitch and an evangelical Christian reverend. All audience members were asked to submit two questions on current events and we were told that the topics picked would reflect the number of questions submitted on them, making the show audience driven. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for my nerves, my question about whether the Anglican Communion is worth keeping together (I think so) was not called to kick off the show.
I've also noticed that Mars Hill has decided to do a live blog of the show, so people can compare a Conservative and Labour take. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
So here goes:
22:35 - Initially my screen is unstable but it rapidly clears!
22:35 - The move to London is blamed on "the turmoil" and "the reshuffle".
22:35 - Question 1. Blair has made his Cabinet Ministers pay for their mistakes. When will he pay for his mistakes?
Michael Heseltine - He thinks Blair is down to his last fifteen months and has made unrecoverable errors. "No recovery scenario." He didn't sack all his Cabinet members. Hezza gets confused as technically Clarke was dismissed as Home Secretary but withdrew himself from the government.
Hazel Blears - Tries to answer a different question. Then makes a weak attempt to claim Blair is a successful Prime Minister to much booing - "we'll have to agree to disagree" - before rattling off the usual statistics. This is the woman Blair trusts to rebuild the party? (Dimbleby: How long do you give him?) She's wandering around the point and has Hezza trying to draw her out.
The audience - "Blair doesn't think he has done anything wrong, will never say sorry, will never admit a mistake."
Piers Morgan - The funniest moment in politics was the Labour line on the local elections - that voters are angry with losing Blair too early! "He reminds me of Basil Fawlty... 'am I the only sane one left around here?'" He thinks Blair's legacy will be the Iraq War.
Menzies Campbell - Ducks the issues around the war and intelligence at this point - a good move to stop him looking like just a foreign affairs expert. He expects Blair to go on his tenth anniversary. Then he drifts back onto foreign affairs to raise the issue of Iran and question just why the Foreign Secretary was moved. He also reminds us of how Geoffrey Howe was moved from the Foreign Office to be Leader of the House and went on to help bring down Thatcher.
Morgan points out that Blair's backbenchers were very quiet at PMQs yesterday.
The audience - One refers to "Tony Brown"! He suggests usurping Blair will put Labour back into control by the Left of the party and confine it to opposition for generations.
Another thinks Brown will just be the same as Blair. Another, a Labour member, speaks up to remind that many Labour members will not campaign whilst Blair is still leader. Blears nods. Dimbleby raises Blair's comments about finding support in the party when going round the country but the member hasn't met Blair yet! Blears acknowledges concerns but tries to downplay them and play the "this doesn't concern the public" card. But Morgan asks why has nearly every Cabinet post now got a new face? Blears responds with the "things are better than they were ten years ago" card rather than actually answer the question. She can't answer the question about the reshuffle.
Another audience member is a lifelong Labour voter wondering why the Labour leadership is so blind to what the public want and why the Cabinet can't realise they must replace Blair or lose the election.
None of the audience who've spoken so far seem to be pro Blair staying.
22:54 Is it right a man past retirement age should keep his salary, house, title and Jaguars without his job?
Campbell first! He thinks age is not an issue! He thinks the only reason for keeping Prescott was that sacking him would have led to a Deputy Leadership election (I'm not convinced this is the case - George Brown was a Deputy Leader outside government) and that might lead to a Leadership election.
Heseltine bats aside Prescott's silly attacks. He compares Prescott to a head of a public company or permanent secretary who would have to resign if they brought their companies/departments into ridicule.
Blears again tries to answer a different question. On the job she claims there is one there, with Prescott chairing a range of Cabinet committees. Interestingly she claims the party not the government pays her salary - is she wrong or has there been a change from earlier post holders? She also claims Hezza and Prezza have a lot in common. But Dimbleby, to wide applause, points out that she's not answering the question at hand about Prescott's current lack of job!
The questioner - He thinks Prescott needs to spend more time with his family.
Another audience member wonders if Prescott knows something about Blair that the latter doesn't want revealed.
Morgan: "What Prescott's been regenerating certainly isn't housing!" He tries to suggest Prescott's actions are those of a Conservative, and that Prescott should remember he's the one Socialist in the government. He thinks Blears' toughest job is defending Blair but defending Prescott, and calls for a sacking.
23:02 - Does the lack of clear Conservative policies mean Labour will win the next election?
Heseltine talks about the need to change the party, starting by first ensuring that it has changed so that people will actually listen to it. He's also flagging the "A-List" of candidates as another stage, and the production of policies is another stage. He's strong that policies cannot be produced overnight and that the job of Opposition is to expose the problems of government.
The questioner notes Cameron doesn't seem to have anything to say when pushed.
Campbell is asked if Cameron is a threat to the Lib Dems, given the poll ratings. Campbell tries to go with "Cameron says different things to different audiences" and suggests eighteen months may be too long to come up with policies, suggesting that oppositions should suggest alternatives now. He seems to be relishing a fight against Cameron "on Liberal Democrat ground". Do other Lib Dems share this? He says that to offer yourself as a serious alternative government you should offer serious policies. So where are the Lib Dem ones?
An audience member claims that Cameron is just like Blair. The Lib Dem watching with me thinks this is a Lib Dem member... until they say the Lib Dems will never be in power! Another, clearly Conservative, is glad about a realignment that will put Labour back on the left and the Conservatives on the centre right.
Morgan is surprised to be agreeing with a lot of what Cameron is saying and what he is doing. Morgan is an avowed Brownite and tries to claim the economic record for his hero. Doesn't he remember that Brown handed over interest rate control to the Bank of England.
Blears goes with the need for policies to be taken seriously, but gets interrupted by Morgan with "how big a wake up call do you need?" She's rattling of a load of things that don't inspire me.
Another audience member asks how one can trust Cameron without knowing what he's about.
23:11 - Dimbleby announces future venues. Next week they're in Canterbury, my old stomping ground.
23:12 - Dodgy intelligence led to the Iraq War and relates to the 7/7 bombings. Having been out all day I'm totally out of the loop on this story.
Campbell makes some informed points and raises concern about financial priorities given the numbers of people sympathetic to Al Quaeda in the UK. It's a good contribution but Campbell is not thought lacking on defence matters. This alone is not going to reassure people.
Blears points out that much of this is "in the benefit of hindsight" which is a difficult term. She points out the amount of spending has increased heavily since 9/11. However she's yet again being asked directly by Dimbleby in an attempt to focus her on various points such as whether she resents what the committee say. Campbell points out that hindsight helps people learn for the future.
Going to the audience one member calls for an end to the Iraq occupation and no invasion of Iran. Another calls for a public inquiry into the circumstances.
Morgan, "I don't know how intelligent you have to be to work in intelligence services"! He asks Blears directly if the invasion of Iraq may have made 7/7 happen, and the above audience member shouts out for her to answer. She says the evidence is not there that it would not have happened. Things are getting heated. Another points out that huge numbers opposed the war and the government ignored the will of the people in the name of imposing democracy.
Heseltine points out that Blears was a minister at the Home Office before quoting the report published today being harsh on that department, citing the excuse of insufficient resources, before asking Blears directly if requests for more resources were asked for and whether requests were turned down. He seems to have found a crucial point. As a former Defence Secretary he points out that the issue of Muslim fundamentalism was known about in the mid 1980s.
Going to the audience one suggests the tabloid press have stirred up problems.
Campbell reminds the audience that Blears was once set on an exercise to reconnect the government with Muslim communities - and nothing was heard about it again. He suggests it's not hindsight but precaution needed.
23:26 - Is hijacking the planes a legitimate way to claim asylum.
Morgan says no, this is unacceptable. He says that this is raising resentment and the British citizen has a right to ask why they are not receiving all the benefits of the hijackers. He has sympathy with those fleeing the Taliban but cannot accept hijacking the planes.
Heseltine wonders what would have happened in the 1960s and 1970s if Russians had hijacked a plane to flee to the west. Morgan feels it cannot be condoned under any circumstances, and also that Afghanistan is now a very different place from when they fled.
Blears thinks the government took the right action despite the judicial criticism as a balance of rights. When asked what will happen if the government wins the appeal they will deport the hijackers.
Morgan continues to dominate the show by pointing out that accepting any hijacking sends a message that hijacking is acceptable.
One audience member asks "if human rights have gone too far".
Campbell takes a self-confessed potentially unpopular stance and argues that human rights can never be devalued for any individuals without leading to others' rights being undermined.
Heseltine points out the human rights convention dates from the 1940s as an encouragement to eastern countries. He argues most asylum is economic migration not fleeing persecution and suggests that this needs dealing with.
And that's it. I think Piers Morgan came out best and Hazel Blears worst tonight. Maybe Morgan will one day find popularity to rival Ian Hislop!