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Border delays. Growth and Francois Hollande. MPs, iPads and alcohol.

Leader Conference, Series 2 Episode 1 of 3

43 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 02 May 2012

Andrew Rawnsley returns to chair a new series of the live discussion programme featuring top journalists who debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the key stories of the moment. The contributors reflect the newspaper industry in London and elsewhere in the UK, the broadsheet and tabloid press and the differing political and other perspectives.

This week's panel features: Melanie McDonagh of the London "Evening Standard", Nigel Nelson of "The People", Ben Chu of "The Independent", Anne McElvoy of the "Economist" and Iain Martin of the "Daily Telegraph".

We debated: the problems at UK passport control; the future of austerity; and tougher rules on alcoholic drinks for MPs.

Open Borders
We note that the long queues seen at Heathrow airport's passport control in recent days have caused national embarrassment. Those lines need to be tackled as a matter of urgency. But we suspect they are symptomatic of a deeper problem about managing migration. That has both a short term and a longer term dimension.
We first need to deal with the immediate crisis. The prime minister should intervene decisively to require much better management of the situation by the Border Agency. His initial demand for more officials on duty has not solved the problem. We suspect an earlier reduction in staff numbers may have contributed to longer queues, although planned strike action next week by civil servants will not alleviate that situation.
The priority should be to extend a proper welcome to the visitors expected for both the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic Games. Winding lines of weary travellers penned in a soulless terminal in the small hours are self-evidently bad publicity. They will undermine any boost to the UK economy as would-be visitors are deterred from visiting. So the Government will in the short-term probably need to pay for officers of high quality and seek advice from private firms on how to improve arrival flows.
For the longer term, we urge that the mixed messages from policy makers between controlling immigration while encouraging people to come to the UK to boost the economy are resolved. Large - and increasing - numbers of visitors will want to come here which is potentially good for Britain's economy. But the Government needs to set about building a consensus on preserving open borders while providing citizens with peace of mind on security.

The Challenge to Austerity
François Hollande may sustain his lead in the French presidential campaign and win the run-off next Sunday. We have significant doubts about the merits of some of his tax and spending policies for France and do not wish to see Paris join Athens and other southern European capitals in crisis. But we welcome his emphasis on the need for policies for growth.
Far lower structural deficits in Europe are essential. But we should not pay attention to the bond markets exclusively. The growing numbers of unemployed in Europe also, legitimately, require hope. Austerity is severely testing the endurance of voters from Ireland to Romania. Without action on growth the consensus on deficit reduction is threatened and the European economy further imperilled.
We counsel the sizeable French diaspora in Britain and others that an earlier president from the left, François Mitterand, pioneered an avowedly socialist policy after his election in 1981 only to have to abandon it two years later. But the German Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, and the European Central Bank also need to learn that lesson of being too inflexible in their policies. It is a message likely to be emphasised by Greece when it too votes next weekend and, later, by the Netherlands.
Those who favour austerity would be wise to focus on a broader range of measures to improve economic health and promote growth. This is for their own well-being and for ours, one of their largest trading partners, here in the UK.

Cheers, honourable members!
We are against the idea that our elected representatives at Westminster should receive iPad tablet computers at taxpayers' expense - even on the basis that they swap one of their existing pieces of electronic equipment for an iPad. We do not oppose them working with portable electronic devices but they can readily afford to buy their own.
However, we are less sure that, as those responsible for the administration of the House of Commons have also proposed, reducing MPs' alcohol consumption is necessarily a good idea. Convivial conversation with parliamentarians helps lubricate the democratic machine - and the gossip factory that, we readily admit, supplies journalists with so many goo.

  • Andrew Rawnsley (Chairman) (with Ben Chu)

    Andrew Rawnsley (Chairman) (with Ben Chu)

  • Ben Chu (Independent)

    Ben Chu (Independent)

  • Melanie McDonagh (London Evening Standard)

    Melanie McDonagh (London Evening Standard)

  • Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph)

    Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph)

  • Nigel Nelson (People)

    Nigel Nelson (People)

  • Anne McElvoy (Economist)

    Anne McElvoy (Economist)

  • Join in the Leader Conference

    Join in the Leader Conference

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