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50 minutes
First broadcast:
Friday 23 April 2010

Jonathan Dimbleby chairs the live debate from the William Ellis school in north London with questions from the audience for the panel including: the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw; Caroline Spelman, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; the former Liberal Democrat leader, Ming Campbell; and Justine Roberts, the founder of the parenting website Mumsnet.


    JACK STRAW is Secretary of State for Justice. He was appointed to the role of Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor by Gordon Brown in his first cabinet and he ran Brown’s leadership campaign in 2007. He has declared his loyalty to the Prime Minister but is regularly described by commentators as one of the "men in grey suits" who would tell Gordon Brown to step down if they thought it necessary after the election. He has not been a fan of proportional representation, writing when he was foreign secretary, "Those who favour PR must face this truth: you can have proportional voting, but you cannot have proportional decision-taking". He entered government in 1997 as Tony Blair’s first Home Secretary and was made Foreign Secretary in 2001. He played a leading role in the attempt to secure a second UN Security Council resolution on going to war in Iraq. Earlier this year he appeared twice in front of the Chilcot enquiry and said that "My decision to support military action in respect of Iraq was the most difficult decision I have ever faced in my life... I believed at the time, and I still believe, that we made the best judgments we could have done in the circumstances; we did so assiduously and on the best evidence we had available at the time." He joined the Labour Party at the age of 14 and by 1969, with a law degree from Leeds University behind him, became the leader of the National Union of Students at the height of student unrest. In 1974, the then-Social Services Secretary Barbara Castle took him on as an adviser and in 1979, he contested and won her Blackburn parliamentary seat which he has held since.

    CAROLINE SPELMAN is Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Before that she served as Chairman of the Conservative Party and was only the second woman to hold this role. She came into parliament in 1997, and was tipped for a shadow cabinet post in 2003 when Michael Howard became leader in 2003 but became spokesman for the environment and shadow minister for women - both non-frontbench positions. She's also served as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. Before entering Parliament, she worked as a commercial negotiator for the food and pharmaceutical industries, including a spell as deputy director of the International Confederation of European Beetgrowers in Paris.

    Sir MENZIES CAMPBELL is the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and, while he was leader, in 1997, he ruled out any member of his party joining Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. It emerged soon after that Brown had offered Paddy Ashdown the post of Northern Ireland Secretary. Last year, Campbell said that the Liberal Democrats may be forced to work with Labour. "If Armageddon happened and we were faced with a Tory government, then the argument for increased cooperation with the centre-left might not be a matter of choice but a matter of compulsion." He became leader of his party in March 2006, but stood down after just 19 months in the role, saying that questions about his leadership were "getting in the way" of the party’s progress. Before that he had been deputy leader to Charles Kennedy and his party’s chief spokesman on foreign affairs. After studying law at Stanford University in the United States, he qualified at the Scottish bar, and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1982. He entered the Westminster parliament in 1987 after winning North East Fife. As an athlete, he became Britain’s fastest man, holding the UK 100m record. He also competed for Britain at the Tokyo Olympics and Commonwealth Games.

    JUSTINE ROBERTS is co-founder and managing director of Mumsnet.com, an online community of parents, founded ten years ago to share advice, support and product recommendations. Both Gordon and Sarah Brown spoke at the forum’s tenth birthday party last month and some commentators have declared the 2010 campaign, "the Mumsnet election". Justine has dismissed the idea that Mumsnet represents a coherent block of votes, saying that the online community – in political terms – is "ike an octopus with pre-menstrual tension". She understands, though, why politicians are so keen to court its members: “"n an election where there's a lack of ideological difference between parties, talking about the family is a way for politicians to make themselves seem warm and cuddly and give the impression they're interested in voters' lives." When Gordon Brown did a Mumsnet webchat, he dodged questions about his favourite biscuits but admitted a day later that he liked chocolatey ones. Before starting Mumsnet, Justine wrote about football and cricket for the Daily Telegraph and before that she was a strategist for SG Warburg. She studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford and is a mother of four: eleven-year old identical twins – Lola and Scarlet – Jake who is seven and Jesse, four.


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    Any Questions and Any Answers

    Any Questions is the topical discussion programme chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby in which a panel of…

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