THIS WEEK'S PANEL
DR LIAM FOX is Secretary of State for Defence. He had been Shadow Secretary of Defence since 2005 and last autumn was embarrassed and “appalled” by the leaking of a letter he had written to the Prime Minister in which he laid out his concerns in advance of a review of defence spending: “Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a “super CSR” (Comprehensive Spending Review). If it continues on its current trajectory, it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years... The potential for the scale of the changes to seriously damage morale across the Armed Forces should not be underestimated.” In May last year he was criticised for describing Afghanistan as, “a broken 13th-century country”. Fox graduated in medicine from Glasgow University and worked as a GP in Buckinghamshire and Somerset before he entered Parliament as an MP for Woodspring in 1992. He became co-Chairman of the Conservative Party in 2003 and lost to David Cameron in the 2005 leadership contest. In opposition he founded Atlantic Bridge, a campaigning think-tank that promotes closer transatlantic co-operation.
TRISTRAM HUNT became Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central last year. He is also an historian, broadcaster and columnist, perhaps best known for his television series on the English civil war. Last week he attacked the Government’s plans for sell-offs: “This is a government with little feel for the warp and weft of British life: it is rationalist, technocratic, and arrogant. It thinks it can build the ‘big society’ on the cheap when, in fact, a civil society of port trusts, waterway co-operatives and forest charities demands sustained social investment. Instead, what inspires the coalition is a programme of creative destruction.” The privately educated son of a life peer, he read history at Cambridge before a year’s postgraduate fellowship at the University of Chicago after which he returned to Cambridge to undertake his PhD on Victorian civic pride. He then became a lecturer at Queen Mary College, London. His books include Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City and The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels.
POLLY TOYNBEE is a writer and columnist for The Guardian. This week she wrote, “The low rumble is turning into a roar. Civil society is rebelling at the great ‘big society’ fraud... When a dangerous political idea is tested to destruction, we might celebrate the living proof that it doesn't work and should never be tried again.” In a wide-ranging career in journalism, she began as a reporter at The Observer before moving to the United States where she edited a magazine in Washington. In 1988 she joined the BBC as its Social Affairs Editor before becoming associate editor and columnist for The Independent, rejoining The Guardian as a columnist in 1998. Among her accolades, she has won the British Press Awards four times, the Catherine Pakenham Award for Journalism and the George Orwell Prize. She once stood as a parliamentary candidate for the SDP. She is a former governor of the LSE. She has written a number of books including Did Things Get Better? (2001, co-authored) and Hard Work: Life in Low Pay Britain (2003) where she struggled to live and work on the minimum wage. Better or Worse – has Labour Delivered? was published in 2005.
HARRY MOUNT is a writer and journalist. He is the author of Amo, Amas, Amat and All That: How to Become a Latin Lover and A Lust for Windowsills - a Guide to British Buildings from Portcullis to Pebbledash. He was not a fan of the BBC Trust’s publication this week of a review of Radios 3 and 4: “The tired assumption beneath the report is that middle-class/white/southern = bad; working-class/ethnic minority/regional = good. It’s also deeply patronising to, say, a Mozart fan who happens to be a poor, black Mancunian... It isn’t for the BBC to dictate the demographical breakdown of radio listeners. The only obligation for high-brow institutions like Radio 3 and 4 is to provide the best music and spoken word programmes in the world – excellence will always find discerning listeners, of all races and classes.” Neither does he approve of Nick Clegg’s plans for university entrance requirements: “The change he should be making is to those state schools that can’t provide the same level of education as private schools like Westminster. But then massive reform of state education is much harder to do than to make an ill-advised, off-the-cuff attack on excellent universities.” A former leader writer for the Telegraph, Harry writes about politics, buildings and language for a range of national newspapers including The Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Guardian. He has degrees in Ancient & Modern History from Oxford and in Architectural History from the Courtauld Institute.
Any Questions is the topical discussion programme chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby in which a panel of…