THIS WEEK'S PANEL
MARGARET HODGE is a Labour MP and was elected last month as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the first ever woman to hold that post. Backed by the investigations of the National Audit Office, the Committee, whose chair is always occupied by a senior MP from the main opposition party, is regarded as Westminster's most prestigious select committee, and its reports frequently set the political agenda by exposing concerns over spending by Government bodies. Hodge has been MP for Barking since 1994 and, in this year’s election, the BNP targeted her constituency as one of its principle hopes. Instead, her vote surged to more than 24,000, with a majority of 16,000. Earlier in the year, she had called for a new points system to determine that only migrants who have made a fair contribution to society get the same rights as local families. She said it was time to 'lance the boil' of apparent discontent over economic migrants entering Britain. Born in Egypt, the daughter of a millionaire steel trader, she has described herself as an immigrant. For two years up to the election she was a Culture Minister and she has also been Minister for Children and Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform. A former teacher and councillor in the London borough of Islington, she became council leader in 1982, a post she held for ten years. While she was leader, Islington council was heavily criticised for how it dealt with a series of child abuse cases.
JOHN REDWOOD is Chairman of the Conservatives’ Economic Competitiveness policy review group, set up by David Cameron to look at tax among, other issues. Despite being described in the New Statesman blogs as “state-slasher in chief”, he used his own blog this week to advise minsters to “tone down the rhetoric of massive cuts. They need to mobilise, energise and reform the public services.” He twice challenged for the Tory leadership, once against John Major in 1995 on a Eurosceptic platform, and again in 1997. He was a member of William Hague’s shadow cabinet but turned down a role in Iain Duncan Smith’s shadow team to continue to campaign against Europe from the backbenches. MP for Wokingham since 1997, he is also chairman of the right-wing No Turning Back group and was Secretary of State for Wales under John Major. He is a prolific writer of pamphlets and his books include Just Say No: 100 Arguments Against the Euro, , and I Want To Make a Difference - But I Don't Like Politics, which charted what he identified as the ‘growing gap’ between the public and the main parties on the key political issues.
PATIENCE WHEATCROFT has been editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, Europe since last year. She was editor of The Sunday Telegraph from 2006-2007 and she had spent nine years prior to that as the widely respected City editor of The Times, where former colleagues described her as, “emphatically a Tory”. Writing this month about the government’s cuts programme, she warned: “What is inescapable is that most of those savings will eventually have to be found by means of job losses. Efficiencies will be found through improved procurement but this is not a novel idea and successive governments have claimed that they have already made strides in that direction. A tougher approach to welfare will bring savings and will, initially, require people to implement it but, in the end, a state that does less requires fewer workers.”In 2001 she won the Wincott Senior Journalist of the Year Award and in 2003 was made London Press Club Business Journalist of the Year. She started out at the Daily Mail. where she became its Deputy City Editor.
JOHN HARRIS writes for The Guardian. He admits he never thought a Conservative-lib Dem coalition would ever happen but warns that, “among the party's more clued-up activists, you can now detect the same creeping realisation that hit increasing numbers of Labour party members during the 1990s: that most of the people at the top subscribe to a politics very different from that of the party mainstream.” He wrote last month about how Labour was responding to election defeat: “One myth is already doing the rounds: that Margaret Hodge's victory over the BNP in Barking was down to her strident line on somehow putting "indigenous" people ahead of new arrivals in the queue for public services, whereas Jon Cruddas's failure to romp home in Dagenham and Rainham came from his refusal to do anything similar. In fact, Cruddas's narrow margin of victory was down to boundary changes.”He began his career as a freelance music journalist and his first book The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock was a history of the phenomenon known as ‘cool Britannia’. He went on to set out a vision of a reinvented Labour Party in Fit For Purpose, a pamphlet co-written with Labour MP Jon Cruddas.
Any Questions is the topical discussion programme chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby in which a panel of…