Question Time Review – Thursday 12th October

So on the panel tonight we have the Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps, Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats Simon Hughes, Daily Telegraph Columnist Christina Odone, and the poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah.

So lets get straight into the first question, which following on from last week is about the late Jimmy Saville, the question being ‘is the BBCs reputation about to be blown away by the Jimmy Saville debark?’ Grant Shapps points out the case is very worrying as the abuse didn’t take place over the last few years, but over the last few decades, which means a lot of people must have been aware of what was going on. He also adds that the BBC were about to air a ‘Newsnight’ about the case but never did because there were three separate tribute programmes due to be aired.  The BBC is aware that there are questions to be answered and they want an independent body to look at the case rather than their own enquiry.  It is disturbing to see how people at a senior level in the BBC must have known about what happened because of the ‘Newsnight’ interviews conducted, yet chose to cancel that and air tribute programmes instead. It seems that the BBC were trying to protect their own reputation? Christina Odone adds that it is shocking that it happened in the ‘hallowed halls of the BBC’, which is a trusted place. A very prompt independent investigation with an apology and compensation for the victims in needed, but the BBC are dragging their feet.  Interestingly, Benjamin Zephaniah said when he first heard the allegations, he jumped up and said, ‘I knew it’ because he had no emotional intelligence and he didn’t seem to care about anybody, which is a very dangerous person. When people are put on a pedestal they become untouchable. The culture at the time allowed them to get away with it. The last quick point from Simon Hughes is so true; how did no one go to the police within 40 years?!

On to the second and potentially very interesting question; ‘is George Osborne discriminating against the under 25s with his proposal to remove their housing benefits?’ Zephaniah begins by saying it is discrimination and it is dangerous because young people need a hand especially if you are pressurizing them to get a job when there aren’t any. Grant Shapps then adds it is just a proposal for the future, not for right now and because of the difficult spending environment, there needs to be savings in the future. The total benefits bill at the moment is £200billion, which is an enormous amount and if you are a young person who has studied and now living at home while you save, you will probably not get enough money for a flat until you are 25 so you shouldn’t be at an advantage, things should be fairer. The taxpayers are picking up the tab for this and there will be sensible exemptions to make things fairer. Throughout his whole argument I was just thinking, “how incredibly Tory – but a good point made.” My favourite point comes from the an audience member who asked ‘why are you taking money way from this country and people that need it, and spending vast amounts overseas on foreign aid and wars?’ Exactly!! Quick fact for you that the British government is still giving foreign aid to Brazil even though it overtook us as a bigger economy. Is there no common sense left? The Lib Dem Simon Hughes then states it is not a done deal across the coalition and he certainly wouldn’t agree to it. He then gives the remarkable figure that 10% of people in the country own 50% of the wealth, and he is all for taking money from the most wealthy who can afford to pay. Caroline Flint of Labour takes the opportunity to have a dig at the Tories, saying that their economic plan is failing so they are having to find £10billion from somewhere. Well played.  Grant Shapps makes a comeback saying Labour will never agree to even a penny being cut from benefits. They are apparently all SPEND SPEND SPEND!! Simon Hughes of the Lib Dems then waffles about Mansion Tax for a while but ultimately, the Conservatives are seriously unlikely to agree to it, it would mean they get taxed even more!

Now my favourite question of the night, ‘Should Boris Johnson challenge David Cameron for the leadership of the party?’ My first thought is yes! Team Boris! But let’s see what the panel has to say about it. Zephaniah says that Boris Johnson may seem a buffoon but he is a dangerous person. He also says, “could you trust Boris with his finger on a nuclear button?” Well that certainly makes you think hard and is a good point to raise. Could you really trust him? Christina Odone starts by saying he is witty, funny and brilliant. Johnson is a force of nature and we would always be on the edge of our seats. Another good point is raised when she says the Olympic Games was an impressive event and as the Mayor of London, Boris made it happen, but she says that through the troubled time, they should stick to their leader. Caroline Flint says he should either ‘put up or shut up’ and he is clearly a thorn in David Cameron’s side. But she also raised the point that Boris is the messenger for more right wing policies and whenever he appears, Cameron has to start moving more and more to the right to feed the need within the Conservative party. Very interesting. But she concludes that both Johnson and Cameron represent a type of politics that isn’t good for Britain. But that is Labour speaking. Simon Hughes comes outright saying he shouldn’t challenge Cameron, the nuclear bottom question is the bottom line. Hughes will judge him on his actions rather than his words. I think that is probably the best thing for everyone to do. Politics may be a personality contest but is it right to be that way?

Last question: ‘Shouldn’t the abortion limit be a matter for the morality of individual women rather than Jeremy Hunt?’ This could be a rather controversial topic. Caroline Quint ponders, ‘when does it matter that you override a woman’s decision that she wants to make?’ Quint is worried by the fact that the information in the public domain doesn’t bare any truth to reality. Less than 1.5% of terminations are between 20 and 24 weeks and these can arise for any number of reasons or even just a change in circumstance. This is not an easy issue and it is worrying that the picture is portrayed of women having ‘casual’ abortions but on the science side Jeremy Hunt said the evidence suggested it should be reduced to 12 weeks. But according to various medical boards there is no evidence to suggest the viability of a foetus has changed when at 12 weeks or 20 weeks.  Zephaniah agrees he should have no say in an abortion unless he is attached to that woman. He makes his final point that this is Jeremy Hunt’s own opinion so we should therefore not listen to it. Hughes raises the issue that there should be an evidence led decision, not a prejudice led decision. Exactly right!

Alexandra Goldsmith

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