THIS WEEK'S PANEL
ERIC PICKLES is Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, a job he shadowed for two years until 2009, when he was made Chairman of the Conservative Party. Talking about last week’s by-election, he said: "We started third and of course we fought a very gentle campaign because that particular campaign was about the nastiness of previous Labour leaflets. The Liberals did, I think, pretty good. They increased their poll position." He has described Town Hall pay as “ludicrous” and called for council Chief Executives to take a 5% pay cut but was accused by the deputy of the Local Government Association this week of “fiddling the figures” on cuts to council grants. Before entering parliament, he led Bradford District Council for three years. Following his election as MP for Brentwood and Ongar in 1992, he became a vice-chairman of the party with responsibility for local government. In 2001 he defeated a challenge from the independent candidate Martin Bell to his Parliamentary seat. He grew up above his uncle’s grocery shop in Keighley, and last year told The Times, “I am working class from the North of England” and said he was “very proud to be super-common”.
DAVID LAMMY is Labour MP for Tottenham, a seat he won in a by-election in 2000, becoming the then youngest MP in the Commons. He once described the Liberal Democrats' role in government as similar to Andy Murray’s relationship with the English public: “When he loses, he is Scottish, when he wins, he is British once again”. Last week he attacked Tottenham Hotspur’s bid for the Olympic Stadium, which they would demolish after the Games: “It would be astonishing in these hard-pressed times if the government and Boris Johnson will approve a bid that sees over half a billion pounds of public money go down the drain after just a month.” Until the 2010 election he had been a Minister of State at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills for two years. He had also held posts in Health, Constitutional Affairs and Culture. Before entering politics, he worked as a lawyer in London and practised for a year in Los Angeles after studying at Harvard.
Father CHRISTOPHER JAMISON is Director of the Catholic Church’s National Office for Vocation, a post he took up in October last year. His task, he says, is, “to encourage all Catholics to take seriously that simple insight of Blessed John Henry Newman: ‘God has created me to do Him some definite service.” He was Abbott of Worth, a Benedictine monastery in Sussex, from 2002 until last year and he was headmaster of Worth School for the eight years before that. He was born in Australia and soon after his family moved to Britain. He was educated at Downside School, studied Modern Languages at Oxford and became a monk in 1973. In the 2005 BBC series, The Monastery, five modern lay men were filmed as they embarked on a 40-day introduction to monastic life at Worth, under the guidance of Abbot Christopher and his community of 22 monks. Since then Father Christopher has presented another series, The Big Silence, and published two books, Finding Sanctuary and Finding Happiness. In the latter he writes about the "eight thoughts" which need to be controlled to help people to discover happiness. Six of them (anger, pride, gluttony, lust, greed, and spiritual apathy or sloth) are found among the list of deadly sins. To this he adds sadness and vanity. Just before the Pope’s visit last autumn, he talked about the challenge facing Britain: “Will people be so afraid of all religion that they deny any religion a platform in the public square, or will we learn to include religious communities, encouraging them to contribute uncomfortable views?”
KATHARINE BIRBALSINGH is the teacher who spoke at the Conservative Party Conference last year, attacking a "culture of excuses" in state education and describing liberal guilt as the cause of black children's under-achievement: “If you keep telling teachers that they're racist for trying to discipline black boys, and if you keep telling heads that they're racist for trying to exclude black boys, in the end, the schools stop reprimanding these children." As part of her speech, she showed pictures of some of her pupils and, though she claimed she had gained the parents’ permission, soon after she was dismissed from her job as a Deputy Head of a London academy. She had been working - mostly as a French teacher- in the state school system in London for over a decade and says she is keen to return. She writes a blog for The Telegraph and has described how her Guyanese father gave away their television and, if she got 95% in a test, would ask “What happened to the other 5%?”
Any Questions is the topical discussion programme chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby in which a panel of…