Nick Clarke chaired this week’s Any Questions from Hanbury, Worcestershire
JACQUI SMITH MP, Chief whip
BORIS JOHNSON MP, Shadow Higher Education Minister
CHRIS HUHNE MP, Lib Dem Environment & Rural Affairs spokesman
QUENTIN LETTS, Daily Mail parliamentary sketch-writer
Does the panel think that the United States needs to bring its diplomacy out of the stoneage?
The Chair clarified the question as referring to Richard Armitage from the State Dept., quoted by the President of Pakistan that Pakistan would be bombed into the stoneage if they didn’t co-operate after the 9/11 attacks.
CH thought that US diplomatic outfit “extremely good” but there was a question as to the leadership from The White House. He thought the current US policy extremely anti-diluvian towards the freedom of manoeuvre that countries can have. He wished we’d been more independent in drawing to the attention of the White House the long term damage US foreign policy on Iraq and, more recently, the Lebanon, had caused.
Boris thought that, as far as he knew, the quote by Mr Armitage had been denied. He stated that the fact is, it’s the kind of thing you can imagine someone from the Bush administration saying and that “that is the terrible truth”. This does feed into the kind of anti-Americanism which is sadly on the rise. Boris thought it a “great shame” that the Bush administration, by the use of that “cowboy language” at the beginning of the War on Terror did provoke international disquiet, and in the minds of a lot of sensible people in this country is starting to feed suspicions and anxiety about America. Boris thought that would be “tragic”. But there’s no doubt that things that do come out of the Bush administration do feed into that caricature. “If they want our support and they deserve our support” said Boris, “they have to be a little bit more diplomatic in the way they engage the rest of the world’s sympathy.”
JS agreed with Boris and reminded everyone that Bush wouldn’t always be President.
QL thought Richard Armitage looked like a wrestler and that his diplomacy seemed to match his appearance.
Is fear of offending the Islamic Community negating the long accepted principle of freedom of speech for the vast majority of British people?
Boris thought John Reid “wasn’t mincing his words” and could be parading his wares for a leadership bid. It struck Boris that what Reid was saying was elementary, that if you know your children are extremists (Boris informed a delighted audience that he “obviously checks [his] children regularly”) then it is your job to discourage them from any extremist actions. If you think they are about to commit a criminal act and can’t dissuade them then it’s your job to enlist the police. Boris thought that what Reid said was no more than “robust common sense” and could have been directed at all of us.
When prompted by the Chair, Boris reminded us that there had been a bill introduced and passed by the Labour government to stop anything construed as religious hatred and that he thought it a very poorly drafted piece of legislation which captured all sorts of pronouncements we might or might not want to say. Boris asserted that this attempt to erode free speech arose from a desire to appease those who claim to represent the Muslim community.
JS hoped not.
QL alluded to the Pope’s controversial remarks and thought the reaction to them satirical – ‘if you don’t apologise for saying we’re aggressive, we’ll kick the —- out of you’. He thought there was very little religious about the people who shout about these things. He wished the media wouldn’t attach labels to such people as he thought “Bearded nutter” rather than religious more appropriate. He also thought services from mosques and synagogues should be broadcast to allow us to better understand them.
CH remembered Miss Evans, who was arrested reciting a list of names outside the Cenotaph, and Walter Wolfgang, the pensioner forcibly ejected from the Labour party conference. He thought the Religious Hatred Bill far too “cavalier” with the protection of freedom of speech and that the blasphemy provisions should be repealed.
Boris questioned offending ‘bearded nutters’ and thought that “the way these things are construed is very important” especially when charities complain about infringement of human rights – there is the possibility they can call us hypocrites.
Ming Cambell or Charles Kennedy – which star will burn brighter?
Boris revealed that “Ming is an ardent Spectator reader”, that the Lib Dem’s have got to be able to believe two things at once – their “policy on cake is pro-having it and pro-eating it. Kennedy brilliantly portrayed that character.” He was worried that Ming would split the atom as such but added that thankfully, “Ming continues to incarnate muddle”.
CH thought that Ming had a good conference, and made a good speech. Their policies on tax and global warming were not like the conservatives hugging huskies. He asserted that the Lib Dems had re-drawn the political map of GB and that both stars would burn extremely bright. QL thought Kennedy made a boring speech and made no apology for history. Also that it would be physically dangerous for Ming to try and “sex himself up” – he explained by referring to ‘The Arctic Monkeys’ and immediately informed Boris that this was a pop-group.
Does Labour have control of its leadership battle?
Boris declared that “the whole thing is mystifying, the whole thing is absolutely ludicrous – he should go AT ONCE. I don’t care who they bring on but anyone called ‘Johnson’ would be good” He then asked JS: “Do you agree Jackie, with your cabinet colleague Jeff Hoon, that Blair should go before May?”
JS chose to turn this and similar questions into a party political broadcast for the Labour party and answered “Given a Prime Minister who has been unprecedentedly honest” but was interrupted by a loud flock of laughter from the room and was forced to end with ‘The Prime Minister will make the decision when he thinks it is right’.
Panel, panel, in the hall, who is the greenest of them all?
CH started with an indictment of the government: “If setting targets is the way to solve problems, we’d be the best run country in the world” which gained loud applause. He went on to state that green taxes in Nordic countries ease income tax and that carbon emissions are up under this government. He then questioned whether Cameron had any significant policies on this issue.
Boris answered that David Cameron had put this issue at the top of the agenda and that the broccoli tree-doodle was “worth every penny” (laughter). Boris thought it had turned into a “greenier than thou competition” and asked Chris why he had reneged on their agreement in the gas-guzzler on the way there? (laughter) CH claimed that the Tories hadn’t produced one single idea. Boris countered by stating that George Osborne had put together a program which basically increased taxes on bad things.
JS attempted superiority by declaring that Labour had put into the Climate Change Levy “what you’ve just started talking about”. She continued by stating that the energy review in the summer considered sustainable energy and investing in renewables generally but was reminded that David Milliband actually cut budgets on things like flood defences.
QL thought we were all hypocrites – we talk about it then use more fuel. He stated that we can’t change the world by changing our own behaviour and that it’s down to China and India.
Boris tried to highlight this important point: “no, Quentin’s on to something here, we need to get the Chinese and Indians…” but was cut short by the Chair and moved on to another question.
Truancy – In a week when truancy rates reached record levels, how would the panellists identify and tackle the causes, instead of the symptoms, of truancy?
QL thought the problem was down to poor teachers and a lost sense of order.
JS countered that Ofsted say we have the best generation of teachers, that truancy is falling and that it’s the parents responsibility to ensure children are in, and stay in, school. The government prosecutes parents as a way of dealing with the problem.
CH thought that the school system is poor at engaging children with practical issues.
Boris agreed that the Tomlinson suggestion should be supported and thought that teachers don’t feel they can exert authority, that they’ve lost respect. He also suggested that the Education Bill could include anonymity until any accusation against a teacher had been decided. Also that middle classes shouldn’t take children out of school for holidays.
The last question asked the panel, as they were sitting in ‘St. Stephen’s, Ambridge’, which character in the serial The Archers they would be.
QL wanted to be Eddie Grundy, much to Boris’s dismay as he wanted to be Eddie Grundy but Boris then asked to be Eddie Grundy’s tearaway truant son and set an example by turning up for school.
Authors: Edmond Dantes & MCW