This week's panel
Deborah Meaden is a business woman best known for being a fearsome judge of hopeful entrepreneurs’ often useless ideas on BBC Television’s Dragons’ Den. Earlier this year she was also one of four business mentors helping public sector workers facing redundancy in Newsnight's Job Market Mentors. At the age of 19 she ran a ceramics import business, then a footwear franchise and a prize bingo concession in Butlins, before joining her parents' holiday park business in 1988, and, over time, expanding it from one holiday park to five. After two decades in charge, she sold her final stake in the business in 2007 for £83m. She now splits her time between investments and her farm in Somerset where she and her husband aim to become self-sufficient. On job losses and recession she once said, “We’re often too quick to blame government or external circumstances. I’d like to see us all take a bit more personal responsibility.” She published her first book Common Sense Rules: What You Really Need To Know About Business in 2009 and received an honorary degree from the University of Exeter last summer. When asked by a Daily Mirror writer what scared her, she replied: “Fear scares me… The minute I feel that little adrenaline thing, which makes me think, ‘Oh God, this is going to scare me’, I have to go and do it, because I can’t stand the thought that I’m too scared to do something.”
Shaun Woodward MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a post he retained despite not winning enough votes in the elections to Shadow Cabinet last October. He was a junior minister in the Northern Ireland office in 2005 before moving to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport a year later and becoming Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 2007. In 2008 he decided to de-specify the Ulster Volunteer Force or UVF after it had announced it was assuming a “non-military civilianised role”. This week the chairman of the Police Federation of Northern Ireland said that active UVF members freed from prison on licence under the Good Friday Agreement should be returned to jail. Terry Spence said the NI secretary of state should make the move due to the UVF's involvement in riots in east Belfast last week. Before entering Parliament, Shaun worked for the BBC and advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. He then became Conservative Director of Communications and oversaw their surprise election victory in 1992 before being elected as the Conservative MP for Witney in 2001. He defected to Labour two years later and won the safe Labour seat of St Helens South in 2001.
Billy Bragg is a political activist and a musician. He spent yesterday rallying with strikers in Exeter and at last week’s Glastonbury Festival he was curator of a programme of pop and politics at the Left Field tent. In last year’s election, he helped campaign against the BNP in Barking & Dagenham, the constituency where he grew up, while also calling for change to the electoral system. In the previous two elections, he had run a tactical vote-swapping campaign to keep out the Conservatives in Dorset. “He was “hugely disappointed” the Liberal Democrats “entered into a coalition with Cameron”. Last year he announced would withhold his tax until the Chancellor acted to curb the bonus payments to investments bankers at RBS. In 1981 he joined a tank regiment of the British Army but bought himself out three months later. It was, he has said, the most wisely spent £175 of his life. As a musician his songs became overtly political in the 1980s particularly during the miners’ strike in 1984 when he played regularly to political rallies and benefit concerts. More recently he set up Jail Guitar Doors, an independent initiative to provide musical equipment for prison inmates and the Featured Artists Coalition, which campaigns for the protection of performers' and musicians' rights.
Steve Webb is a Liberal Democrat and Minister of State for Pensions. Last year he told a journalist: “Working with the Conservatives has perhaps made me question…some of my kneejerk reactions," He began work as an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, specialising in the workings of the personal tax and benefit system and publishing widely on trends in poverty and inequality. He acted as a Specialist Advisor to the Social Security Select Committee, then chaired by Frank Field, and was a member of the Commission on Social Justice. In 1995 he became Professor of Social Policy at Bath University and entered Parliament at his first attempt in 1997, gaining the Northavon seat from the Conservatives. In the years before the election he was his party’s spokesman on work and pensions, climate change, and health. He is actively involved in the Christians in Parliament group.
This week's questions
Iain Duncan Smith this week said that employers should employ British young people over foreign nationals. Is this right for our economy?
Does the panel think that the private sector tax-payers should unite to march in protest at the public sector's advantageous pensions?
In light of the LibDem collapse in the Inverclyde by-election, should the party reconsider its role propping up the Tory-led coalition?
If the panel were all Dragons, and Greece walked into the Den, how long would it take for you to say "I'm out?"
Any Questions is the topical discussion programme chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby in which a panel of…