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Question Time Review – Thursday 5 October 2012

It was quite an interesting Question Time tonight. Not necessarily the most relevant to the course, although a few good points were made, but it seems that there were quite deep moral questions being put out there too. On the panel tonight: Willie Walsh CEO of British Airways, Liberal Democrat Baroness Kramer, Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander and broadcaster Janet Street Porter.

The first question about whether the government is right to scapegoat civil servants for the west coast rail fiasco generally got the same reaction that of course the civil servants shouldn’t be scapegoated. There were however varying responses. Willie Walsh referred to the situation as “a mess on a monumental scale,” while Douglas Alexander seemed more concerned with the fact that ministers have the ABC (Anyone But Cameron) rule and the inquiry was being chaired by a member of the board of the department of transport. As pointed out by a member of the audience, it was clear the civil servants couldn’t cope with the process so why wasn’t the work outsourced to people who could complete it? Competence seemed to be another issue with Kramer stating that ‘anyone who is responsible must be held accountable whether civil servant or minister.’ Walsh touched on this again saying that those responsible have to be held to account yet all too often “ministers will take praise and shift blame.” Janet Street Porter however, went off on a tangent about how the government is increasing rail prices by demanding more money from the franchise holders.

The second question about whether British police should be armed like the Americans drew quite a quick unanimous decision from the panel. Kramer said that the notion that it makes people safe is disproved by the violence people live with. She would,’ rather live in a society where police are confident enough to not be armed and enforce the law.’ Ken Clarke made a good point that police carrying guns would introduce a casualness that suggests weapons are okay. He says, ‘our approach is better and guns can’t protect police any further.’ The debate somehow went into the topic of bringing back the death penalty, which the minority consisting of about two people agreed with.

The third question about Ed Miliband ‘finding his voice’ was certainly an interesting one. One wouldn’t normally expect to hear Labour’s rivals praising the opposition leader, but with 46 repeats of the line ‘one nation’ in one speech, who couldn’t? Ken Clarke however remarked that Miliband was talking a ‘load of jargon and said Labour ‘keep pinching slogans.’ What’s also interesting is his comment of Ed not being a ‘one-nation politician’, which surprisingly seems quite relevant after the Labour leader refused to talk about his £5million fortune in an interview. Willie Walsh praised the strong performance but now hopes he can follow up his big ideas, while Kramer also gave Miliband  ‘some credit for a good speech.’ But tonight seemed to be the night of the audience members who made some good contributions to the discussion.  One was saying that now Ed Miliband is beginning to speak to the millions of working class people who didn’t vote in the last general election and if he carries on like that people are likely to vote for him. However, Janet Street Porter argued that most people are out of touch with politics and don’t connect with any of the political parties. She also added that how the public regard politicians is at the lowest point ever and Ed was speaking to his ‘faithful and adoring’ in the conference hall because of course, who watches party conferences other than supporters and politics students? Her last point is however quite relevant, stating that she laughs when Ed Miliband talks about ‘co-operation rather than competition’ and that the whole point of a political party is that you don’t agree with the other parties. This could be linked with voter fatigue.

The question over whether it is right to investigate Jimmy Saville’s past now he’s dead is quite interesting, with the unanimous decision that it is the right thing to do. Clarke, Kramer and Alexander all said along the same lines that ‘we need to get rid of the culture where things (especially sexual abuse) aren’t taken seriously.’ The general consensus was that it is your duty to come forward if you know what is happening and the victim should never be blamed. A nice separate point from Kramer was that this event could justify the need for constant CRB checks, as ‘we owe it to the children to do virtually everything we can do to make them safe.’  But Janet Street Porter came out with a shocker – she and virtually everyone else at the BBC apparently knew that the abuse was going on – YET THEY DID NOTHING ABOUT IT?  She makes the point that in a male dominated environment in the 80s it is very hard for a woman to have her say. That is fine, but if ‘everyone’ heard the rumours why did no one do anything about it? Street Porter blamed it on the fact that it was a culture of inappropriate behaviour that no one could do anything about. She did however say it was good that it was being investigated.

With all the drama of the previous question, only 5 minutes were left for a quick discussion on airport expansion/ new airports/ new runways. The most note worthy and probably true statement came from Willie Walsh who said that ‘ we will debate this issue but nothing will be done. Nothing will happen because there is no cross party consensus or political will to tackle difficult issues.’ Amen to that.

Alexandra Goldsmith

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