PRESENTER: Nick Clarke
PANELLISTS: Jacqui Smith
FROM: Hanbury, Worcestershire
Welcome to Hanbury in the heart of rural Worcestershire. We're the guests of the ancient church of St Mary the Virgin. First records of Christian worship on this hilltop site date back to King Wiglaf of the Mercians in AD 836. Rather shamefully, however, my eye was also caught by another titbit of information - this is also St Stephen's Ambridge and the bells, were they to ring, would be familiar to all listeners to the Archers.
Our panel: Jacqui Smith is Labour's chief whip, instead of enjoying a quiet summer recess with troublesome MPs safely away on holiday she's found herself dealing with the more or less open warfare amongst her own bosses. She warned ministers the leadership wrangling had caused confusion and anger in the party and the country. Her background as a disciplinarian, incidentally, includes a schools' minister and originally she was a teacher.
Education is Boris Johnson's bag these days as well. He's back on David Cameron's front bench as Shadow Minister for Higher Education and no longer trying to do that job jointly with running the Spectator. That should ease a problem which he described as riding two horses drifting further and further apart. Ease but not end, he is still writing and found himself in trouble again when he compared Labour's infighting to Papua New Guinea style cannibalism and chief killing . The Papuans were not amused.
Chief killing hasn't disappeared altogether of course, Liberal Democrats had a bout recently and one of those who fought to replace Charles Kennedy was Chris Huhne. He didn't win but he is Menzies Campbell's spokesman on the environment and joins us fresh from the leadership's successful campaign to change the party's tax plans. He is an ex-MEP and an ex-journalist too.
And finally a journalist never tempted to join the journalists he observes, as far as I know. Quentin Letts has been the Daily Mail's sketch writer since 2001, doubling as theatre critic. I probably shouldn't mention this but he has been very impolite about Chris Huhne. During the Lib Dem leadership contest he expressed the hope that the cliché spouting Mr Huhne would win - We could have such fun with him - he sighed.
Ladies and gentlemen our panel. [CLAPPING] Let's have our first question please.
Claire Shinnock. Does the panel think that the United States needs to bring its diplomacy out of the Stone Age?
CLARKE Thank you. This is obviously a reference to Richard Armitage from the State Department, quoted by the President of Pakistan as saying that Pakistan would be bombed into the Stone Age if it didn't cooperate after the 9/11 attacks. Chris Huhne.
HUHNE Well the US a professional diplomatic outfit is in my experience is extremely good, there's some question about the leadership from the White House and indeed also the ambassadorial level, which of course are political appointees. I think there's no doubt that the current US policy is extremely antediluvian in its attitudes towards the freedom of manoeuvre that countries can have and has been pretty heavy handed in throwing its weight around. And I certainly wish we'd been a little more independent in drawing to the attention of the White House the long term damage which I think American foreign policy towards Iraq and more recently on the Lebanon has caused.
CLARKE Boris Johnson.
JOHNSON Well as far as I know the quotation has been denied by Mr Armitage. But the fact is it's the kind of thing you can well imagine someone from the Bush administration saying and that's the terrible truth. I'm afraid this kind of thing does feed into anti-Americanism, which is on the rise, alas, in this country, I think it's a great shame. I think it's a great shame that the Bush administration by the use of that kind of cowboy language, you know at the very beginning of the so-called war on terror did provoke a great deal of international disquiet and in the minds of a lot of sensible people in this country it is, as I say, starting to feed suspicions and anxiety about America. I think that would be tragic, and be a great mistake if we were to become more anti-American. But there's no doubt at all that some of the things that do come out of the Bush administration feed into that caricature and if they want our support, and in many ways they do deserve our support, America does deserve our support, I think it's quite right that we stood shoulder to shoulder with America after 9/11, but they've got to be a little bit more diplomatic in the way they engage the rest of the world's sympathy.
CLARKE Jacqui Smith.
SMITH I actually agree with Boris's points about the danger of becoming anti-American, the dangers of wanting to distance ourselves from a partner that I believe to be very, very important. And one of the things I think we've got to be careful about is distinguishing between a country which has been and needs to remain, in my view, a very important partner to the UK and people's concern or views about the political leadership at any particular time in that country. And of course, you know, President Bush won't always be the leader of the US and I do think it's important that we don't in making political critiques of foreign leaders, and in particular with respect to the US, throw out that very important relationship or damage it in a way which in the end would be detrimental for our important role in both our relationship with the US and the way in which we're able to work with that both with our European partners and more widely across the world.
CLARKE And what about this particular remark, were you shocked to hear it, I mean it's been denied, but presumably the President of Pakistan, maybe he did make it up, but were you shocked that this sort of language should be used at the time?
SMITH Of course, if that had been the case I think that would have been shocking. But as we heard I think it has been strongly denied and of course what I saw this afternoon was President Bush and President Musharraf actually having had in their words a very useful and important meeting, then talking about it in public and actually focusing on the constructive relationship that there is both between the US and other Western countries and Pakistan. Which you know let's not forget is absolutely crucial for ensuring that we're able to continue tackling terrorism and continue building on that relationship in the way that we have previously. And I did note as well of course that President Bush finished that news conference by identifying that I think, if I'm right, that President Musharraf has recently written a book and I don't doubt that there might be reference to some - and actually President Bush suggested that we should buy that book. So I suggest there might be a bit of that involved in this particular story as well.
CLARKE Shocking - no one on this panel would do that, no one would promote a book here either. Quentin Letts have you written a book - no. Quentin Letts, what do you think about the United States and this diplomacy?
LETTS As far as I recall this man Richard Armitage, if I remember him rightly, looks a bit like one of those wrestlers who used to appear on ITV on Saturday afternoons. I remember you used to see television pictures of him and it seems that his diplomacy was about as delicate as his physical physique. It seems an incredibly stupid thing to have said, if he did say it, because I think that President Musharraf has been extremely brave in the way - in the position that he's taken in supporting the West pretty much during the so-called war on terror. And I think there is a misunderstanding in America quite often or they don't reflect a proper understanding anyway of the pressures faced by some foreign politicians particularly in what - I don't know if we're still allowed to call it the third world - and this misunderstanding of the mob and of the pressures of the mob which can sometimes overwhelm a foreign ruler, in a democratic society like America it can be very hard to really understand quite the sort of things that people like Musharraf are up against. So I hope he didn't say it but I fear it rings true doesn't it.
CLARKE Thank you very much indeed. Let's have another question please.
Andrea Hammersley. Is fear of offending the Islamic community negating the long accepted principle of freedom of speech for the vast majority of British people?
CLARKE Did you have in mind this recent confrontation between John Reid and Islamic activist - I think is the word to be used?
HAMMERSLEY Yes I did.
CLARKE Boris Johnson.
JOHNSON Well I certainly think that John Reid wasn't mincing his words, was he? And he - I wonder whether Jacqui wants to comment on this, the fact that he's parading his wares for any future Labour leadership - Labour leadership bid and that may be why he spoke as forcefully as he did. It strikes me that what he was saying was of course elementary - he was saying that if you know that your children are extremists, obviously I check my children regularly to see if they're extremists or whatever, then it's your job as parents to discourage from any extremist actions and if you think that they're about to commit a criminal act then it's your job, if you can't dissuade them from this, which you should be trying to do as parents, it's your job to enlist the help of police. And so what he was saying was no more than robust common sense. I don't think he necessarily had to direct it at the Muslim community [indistinct words], at all of us, but there's no reason at all in my opinion why people should take huge offence at this and start shouting him down.
CLARKE And what about the question itself - is fear of offending the Islamic community affecting the freedom of speech principles of Britain?
JOHNSON Well we know that there's been a bill passed by the Labour government, introduced by the Labour government, to stop anything which could be construed as encouraging religious hatred, if I remember. I think it was extremely poorly drafted piece of legislation, I think it captured all sorts of pronouncements, all sorts of things that we might not want to say and religious prejudice - religious hatred or religious prejudice Jacqui? What was your bill?
SMITH Religious hatred.
JOHNSON Religious hatred. [TALKING OVER] All sorts of things that people might or might not want to say - quotations from the Bible, from the Koran were captured by this bill, would be in theory prescribed and there's no doubt at all in my mind that this attempt to erode free speech arose from a desire not to anger the Muslim community. And indeed a desire to appease the Muslim community. Or rather - when I say the Muslim community I mean those people who take it upon themselves to claim that they represent the Muslim community.
CLARKE Thank you. Jacqui Smith.
SMITH In answer to the question I mean I very much hope not and I don't believe that it is and it absolutely mustn't be allowed to. And John Reid was, I think, completely right and in fact was pursuing something that we've taken very seriously in the government in going to talk in and around a mosque to members of the Muslim community about the values that we share, the need to ensure that we maintain a discussion and an open debate. And the idea of being heckled by somebody who claims that the British Home Secretary can't visit an area because it's a Muslim area I think is out of order. And what I think was very interesting was it was clearly out of order to quite a few of those from the Muslim community who were at that meeting as well. And that has been very much my experience. On Monday of this week in Reditch near here I was meeting, as I do frequently with members of the Muslim community in Reditch, and what we were talking about was yeah we had a lively discussion about things that we disagree about but actually we were sharing concerns about what was happening locally and in the country and we were doing that on the basis of a common view of what it mean to live in Reditch, what it meant to live in Worcestershire and what it meant to live in Britain. And I think that's where the vast majority of members of the Muslim community are. Of course there are tensions, those things need to be talked about, we mustn't be afraid of doing that, it's when we back away from each other as communities that we will bring difficulties into this country.
CLARKE Quentin Letts. [CLAPPING] Yes please don't stint yourselves.
LETTS There's a terrible black satire here and I think it's been evident certainly since the Pope made his apparently controversial remarks. And the satire is that these people seem to be saying if you don't apologise for saying that we're violent then we're going to kick the mints out of you. And it just - it somehow proves the point. I think the answer to the question is yes, I think some of us do feel very uncomfortable about talking about this issue and in fact speaking to you now I'm worried in case I put my foot in it and the thought of having a Fatwa pronounced on me ...
SMITH You're never usually bothered about being offensive Quentin.
LETTS No but I think on matters to do with the Middle East, actually has to be said to do with Israel as well, you have to be incredibly careful because people are so quick to take offence. Perhaps understandably, perhaps not. And I'm also uncomfortable about the use of the word Muslim in this when it comes to Muslim extremists or whatever because as far as I can discern there's very little that's religious about some of the people who get up and profess to represent the Muslim constituency on this. And so instead I sometimes wish that the media wouldn't say Muslim extremist, a more accurate term quite often would be bearded nutter but you can't quite get away with that either. [CLAPPING]
CLARKE Change the BBC headlines wouldn't it.
LETTS But the last thing I'd perhaps just quickly say is I wish on the Muslim side of things, and this also applies to the Jewish side of things as well, I wish we as a country heard more in our radio broadcasts and in our television broadcasts, I wish we'd see more of those religions actually - as the religions as they are being practised. So I'd like to see services from mosques and synagogues being broadcast so I could understand a bit more about the Muslim faith rather than the Muslim [CLAPPING]....
CLARKE Thank you. Chris Huhne.
HUHNE Well clearly as we become a more complex multicultural society if we're going to rub along together we need to be tolerant and more sensitive perhaps than traditionally have been about each other's own sensitivities, so that's very important, I think that's something that the newspapers certainly woke up to very much with the controversy over the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed for example. But having said that I'm worried about trying to put this into legislation, I think that the experience we had with the Religious Hatred Bill doesn't go the same road that we had, for example, with the government's injunctions not to have demonstrations within a mile of the House of Commons, which led to the arrest of young lady Mya Evans for doing no more than reading out a list of Britons war dead in Iraq in front of the Cenotaph or indeed the prevention of terrorism provisions applied to Walter Wolfgang for sounding off at the Labour Party conference. And the problem is coming in with a sledge hammer to crack a nut we risk undermining what is the most precious freedom of all in our society which is the freedom of speech, without freedom of speech every other freedom is at risk and what worries me is that the government has been far too cavalier frankly with the protection of freedom of speech in order to [CLAPPING] concern itself with some sensibilities.
SMITH I mean I think Chris, to say the least you're going slightly off the point of the question here, I mean just to take us back to the Religious Hatred and Religious Offence legislation, I mean let's be quite clear about this, this was not some massive attack on free speech, what it was about was about trying to put the Muslim faith in the same position that the Christian faith and other faiths in fact have been in under the law for a very long period of time. And an [TALKING OVER] overstatement ...
HUHNE .... I think they're crazy and I think we should have situation where you are able to criticise any religious, that's been a robust tradition in fact in this country for a long time. [CLAPPING] If the government had come forward with a measure to repeal the blasphemy provisions I would have wholeheartedly supported it but it didn't.
CLARKE Okay, thanks a lot. And yes sorry Boris.
JOHNSON Well I just think Jacqui should realise how - she says it doesn't - it's not going to inhibit freedom of speech in this country and it's perfectly true, apart from Quentin feeling a bit nervous about offending bearded nutters, we as a rule say whatever we want to say. But the way these things are construed in other countries is very, very important. There are plenty of countries in the world which do not have our freedoms and governments in - more despotic governments look at this kind of thing and they say hey well listen, whenever British charities complain to them about abuses of human rights they say well you've got this stuff saying you can't attack religion, you've got laws against freedom of speech, why shouldn't we close down a radio station if we choose to? We're eroding our ability to export our most precious asset which is what we stand for - Queen's speech, liberal democracy and all the rest of it.
HUHNE There is no doubt that he was a nutter though because anyone who voluntarily goes along to listen to John Reid must have something wrong with them. [CLAPPING]
CLARKE The freedom of speech is available on Any Answers after the Saturday edition of the programme, 08700 100 444, 08700 100 444 or you can e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org. Another question please.
Mark Bishop. Menzies Campbell or Charles Kennedy, whose star will burn brighter and longer?
CLARKE Thank you. Mr Campbell has just ended his Liberal Democrat conference week, including a speech from his predecessor Charles Kennedy. Jacqui Smith.
SMITH Well it's all been thrown slightly into confusion I think, following Charles Kennedy's appearance on Question Time yesterday evening when given the opportunity to proclaim his loyalty to his leader, when asked whether or not he would consider becoming leader again, he gave a resounding vote of confidence to Menzies Campbell by saying - Well never say never. I mean Chris what's your view about whether or not you'd ever want to be?
CLARKE I normally ask the questions.
SMITH Oh sorry, sorry Nick.
CLARKE But honestly it's fine. I bow to a chief whip, as who wouldn't. Chris Huhne.
HUHNE I think - I have to tread very carefully here because clearly it seems to me that Menzies has had an extremely good conference and that his speech yesterday was absolutely excellent, it laid out crucially most of the key issues that we care passionately - freedom certainly, fairness and our whole new tax package, the environment and dealing with the problems of global warming - and making sure that we are actually putting forward proposals, real plans, not like the Conservatives just going and hugging the huskies - it's time for David Cameron to stop posing and start proposing ...
JOHNSON What's that to do with Menzies Campbell?
HUHNE Well I think ...
CLARKE That's my job too.
HUHNE I think Menzies Campbell's speech was absolutely excellent. But on the other hand I think that people have underestimated the achievements that the party made under Charles Kennedy's leadership, particularly the last election where we have in many ways redrawn the fundamental electoral map of Britain, in a position now to gain as many seats from the Labour Party as from the Conservatives and in a very strong position as most of the commentators are clearly pointing out to make further advances in votes and seats next time.
CLARKE You wouldn't like to answer the question head on - which star will burn longer?
HUHNE I'm not a historian and I'm certainly not a future historian but my guess is that both of them will burn extremely brightly.
CLARKE It's the way you ask them.
HUHNE And that's my whip's answer, maybe not Jacqui's.
CLARKE Quentin Letts.
LETTS I think Menzies will probably last longer as far as history goes because I think Kennedy was a terrible missed opportunity. He made an extremely boring speech this week I'm afraid and what struck me about it wasn't just the boredom but also the fact that he offered not scent of apology for having landed his party in the trouble that he did. And it was completely self-inflicted and I think if he had done that then he could have perhaps had a way of coming back. The one thing I'd say about Menzies, who I think did have a good week, was that I do hope he doesn't try and sex himself up and there was a little bit of that going on. Not only because I think it would be physically dangerous for him but also I think he should make a great merit of the fact that he's old, he's come through some difficult times health wise, he's got a good story to tell, as the advertising people say, but for goodness sake don't try and talk to us about Coronation Street, which he obviously hadn't seen for ages. And instead of trying to talk about the Arctic Monkeys, a pop group Boris, he - instead of trying to talk about the Arctic Monkeys he should be heard whistling something from the Ink Spots or something like that because that's his era and he should just be honest and true and the electorate I think would like that even more.
CLARKE Boris Johnson.
JOHNSON Well I'm rather with Quentin. I was very worried when Menzies took over because he's a very - he's an ardent Spectator reader, Menzies, and he often used to discuss some of the more frothy and right wing articles in it and so I was terribly worried when he took over that the Lib Demos were going to lurch, that the crucial thing about the Lib Dems is that they've got to be able to believe two things at once and it's absolutely vital ...
CLARKE As opposed to three in your case Boris.
JOHNSON As opposed to 15 in your case Chris. And it is a very, very important they should be both pro-cutting taxes and increasing them and their policy on cake is pro-having it and eating it at the same time. And so they appeal to the great - there's a great mass of us let's face it who can't quite work out whether we're right wing or left wing and we want to have two ideas on our heads at the same time. And Charlie Kennedy brilliantly instantiated that sort of character and I was worried that old Menzies would lurch - not that he's that old, as Quentin rightly points out - quite old, not that old - I was worried that the thing would split - the atom - this tiny party would split like a hydrogen atom into a proton and an electron and the right and the left would diverge in the Lib Dems and Chris and his free market lot would go off one way and the tofu munching sandal wearing people under - what's the guy called - Hughes - would go off in another direction. But thankfully Menzies continues to incarnate muddle. And those who want to believe two things at the same time can safely do so under the great Menzies. [CLAPPING]
CLARKE Chris Huhne's decided wisely not to try and answer that. Another question please.
Alvin Bingley. Does the panel think the Labour Party now have control of its leadership battle and that a deal has now been done between Mr Blair and Mr Brown?
CLARKE Quentin Letts, do you think all is calm?
LETTS I haven't got a clue really because I don't think anymore than three people in the land probably know. I think perhaps Tony Blair knows, Gordon probably knows and I suspect that Cherie knows. Has a deal - well she'll have decided. But has a deal been done? It doesn't sound like it at the moment, it still has the feeling of a deal yet to be done. But the scenario that really interested me during the week was this cabinet meeting at which by all accounts - I mean Jacqui can perhaps correct us here because she was present - but they sat around like a sort of U boat crew on the bottom of the ocean bed, not knowing what to do. And there seems to be a realisation I suspect in the Labour Party that something - for goodness sake they can't go on like this any longer because it's just all too hysterically tiring and damaging. But I don't get the feeling a deal has been done, no, I think next week could be a wonderful blood bath - I certainly hope so.
CLARKE Chris Huhne.
HUHNE Well I think the real revelation was the extraordinary depths of the personal animosity, I think when we had Charles Clarke talking about Gordon Brown in terms of psychological, strange, flawed, I mean I was half expecting to see some men's suits with the sleeves ripped off thrown out into Downing Street. I mean there's a sense in which this is a seriously problematic relationship and clearly it could explode again in a quite unpredictable manner, it's rather hard to tell but I have a feeling that Jacqui, anyway, will try and keep things on a level keel and the ship sailing merrily towards a rather clearer and easier transition than we've been seeing over the summer.
CLARKE We'll ask her when we've first done Boris Johnson.
JOHNSON I mean yeah I think Chris is sounding a bit like the Labour Party chairman there for some reason. I think the whole thing is absolutely mystifying. We've got Blair, he's off, we don't know when, all we know is he's a complete zombie politically, he's doing heaven knows what. There's going to be a Queen's speech in November, which is going to have all sorts of programmes which are going to enacted we know by someone who won't be Tony Blair, the whole thing is absolutely ludicrous, he should go at once. I don't know what he's doing there [CLAPPING]... He's said he's off, he should [indistinct words] but go at once and I don't really mind who they bring on, obviously anybody called Johnson would be good but I think - I think Jacqui - I think we need a story out of this programme tonight, don't we...
LETTS We all want to know what went on in that cabinet meeting.
JOHNSON We want to know what went on in that cabinet Jacqui and we want to know whether you agree with Geoff Hoon that Blair should go before May, do you agree Jacqui with your cabinet colleague Geoff Hoon that Blair should go before May?
CLARKE It's now a given that I have no further role, so Jacqui Smith?
SMITH Well I mean the first thing to say is I don't think the last few weeks have been very good for the Labour Party and more importantly [CLAPPING] and that's why I think actually when the Prime Minister made the statement that he made about his intention - when he intended to step down as Prime Minister, the first thing he did was he apologised to the British people for the way in which we'd behaved. Quite rightly because actually the future of this country, the future of the Labour government is not and cannot be dependent and won't be dependent on a deal, it will be dependent on us actually - as we have done up to this point - basing our policies, basing our government, basing our approach on applying the values that we bring to politics to what we think is that people are concerned about, to the sorts of issues that people are raising with us. And actually, I know this will be very boring for people, but that's what we were concentrating on in the cabinet on Wednesday, we were thinking as we go next week to sunny Manchester and our conference, about ...
HUHNE Do you want Blair still to be Prime Minister at the time of next May's elections or not?
JOHNSON Thank you Chris.
SMITH What I want - what I want Chris ...
HUHNE Come on give us an answer to the question.
SMITH What I want Chris is given a Prime Minister who has been unprecendently honest in saying [AUDIENCE NOISE] ...who will be - who has been unprecendently honest in saying that he's going to stand down and he's been very clear that this is going to be his last conference, to actually now get on, like the rest of us should, with thinking about the issues that affect the British people and governing for them rather than arguing amongst ourselves. That's what hasn't been good about the last few weeks but that has been one small part in the programme of the government. And what I was going on to say was actually there has been now a focus on the challenges that we face, the sort of issues that people are raising, the way in which we bring the values that we had as a Labour government up to date with the sort of issues - whether or not globalisation, the challenges of security and terrorism, the demographic challenge that we face, the need to carry on modernising our public services. Genuinely that's what we were serious about on Wednesday and rightly so because that's what the British people would expect of us.
HUHNE But why would Gordon Brown tackle these things so much worse than Tony Blair?
SMITH I think we're in the fortunate position in the Labour Party of not only having had a brilliant Prime Minister, in my view, probably the best Labour Prime Minister ever, who I don't think the country or certainly the party would be helped by bundling out of the back door but we also have an immense amount of talent, without blowing my own trumpet, in the cabinet...
HUHNE Is that a leadership bid?
SMITH No it isn't Chris. And more importantly we now I think understand that arguing amongst ourselves gets us and more importantly the country nowhere, we need to lift our eyes, we need to focus on what people are worried about and we will do that.
CLARKE Just on that May election point that you were asked. Does it - would it be of any help, as many people in Wales and Scotland seem to think - if clarity had been arrived at before May?
SMITH No what I think is important is the Prime Minister, as he has said he will, makes the decision when he thinks it's right for the country.
CLARKE Right. Okay, let's have another question please.
Nigel Hicks. Panel panel in the hall, who's the greenest of you all?
CLARKE Thank you. We don't have many questions in verse, probably just as well. Chris Huhne, as the party's environment spokesman, you're fresh from a conference which has been full of talk on environmental taxes, I guess it must be you mustn't it?
HUHNE Well we've all agreed, all three parties, have agreed that climate change is the most impressing policy challenge of our time. So the level of rhetoric and the level of commitment to target we're all agreed. However, I have to say that if setting targets was the way to solve problems this would be the best run country in the world because one thing you can't reproach the government with is setting targets. So you do have to move the debate on to how you're going to meet them, not just setting them and agreeing that it's important but what are the practical measures. And the trouble with the government is that on green taxes, which are universally recognised as being one of the ways in which we can help change our behaviour, not to raise money for everybody - for the government - but putting up green taxes to nudge us towards a sustainable future, to give us revenue which can be used say for income tax cuts, as has happened in the Nordic countries, the government's been going in reverse, the government's actually cut green taxes by 20% and it's not surprising that carbon emissions are actually up under this government by 3%. And if we look at the Conservatives we've had tremendous picture opportunities - hug a husky, how can we forget it, the bicycle - shame about the shoe chauffeur and the car coming on behind. I did actually offer to buy David Cameron a pannier but for some reason I think Steve Hilton managed to get in the way of the picture opportunity there. But the reality is that the Tories have not come up with a single practical proposal to tackle climate change, it's all just posing not coming up with hard plans. And what we've done this week in Brighton, and you can call us brave, foolhardy, depending on your choice of phrase, we've actually come up with some serious ideas on how we begin to change our behaviour to tackle this problem through changing taxes, to raise green taxes and use the money to cut income tax, taking two million people out of income tax, cutting 2p off the basic rate and raising the top threshold.
CLARKE Thank you. Boris Johnson.
JOHNSON Well I think obviously I'm here to bat for us. I think David Cameron - and I think Chris has been generous enough to say this - David Cameron put the issue right up there at the top of the political agenda. And you can laugh at a photo opportunity with huskies and all the rest of it and our wonderful new broccoli style party logo, with this fantastic tree, I happen to think it's worth every penny of whatever it was the £40,000 we paid for the advertising. Whichever the child of the ad man doodle battery I think it's a fantastic job. And I'm being absolutely serious it does speak for me, it does sum up the kind of party I want to [indistinct words]... we don't need to get into a greenier than thou competition tonight but I'm very disappointed Chris that you have almost immediately resigned from what I thought was a very helpful pact we reached in the car on the way here - I thought - correct me if I'm wrong - but I seem to remember you saying that we were at one in thinking that there should be higher taxes on bad things like big gas guzzlers and 4x4s and all the rest of it and the saving should be ...
HUHNE Well Boris you were clearly speaking for yourself because unfortunately when I suggested that we did actually have an agreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and other opposition parties on climate change which we suspended this summer because despite ...
JOHNSON Why have you suspended ....[indistinct words]
HUHNE Because despite the fact that there are some Conservatives who are singed up to this agenda most Conservatives don't seem to be and that unfortunately includes your Treasury team. And the result of that is during the finance bill debates they were highly critical of our ideas on green taxes. And the Tories simply have not produced a single idea and I don't Boris hear one coming from you this evening.
JOHNSON All I can say is that that was not the view you came up with in the gas guzzling car ....on the way here. And quite seriously George Osbourne has made it absolutely clear that we are going to cut taxes on good things and increase taxes on bad things. The trick here is to do this in a way that is not regressive and does not penalise people who have to use their cars and actually genuinely deters people from producing too much CO2, that's what we want to do. And I think - and to answer the question who's the greenest of them all - I think you should pay tribute to Cameron for putting the subject right at the top of the agenda.
CLARKE Thank you. I was going to say I was deeply shocked by all this talk of deals done behind closed doors before the programme of which I certainly knew nothing. Jacqui Smith.
SMITH That's right and I'm the one that's coming under pressure about deals, it's not right Nick. Can I say, the important point of course about us being in government is that we've been able to put into action what others have only in some cases begun to talk about, with respect, to taking serious action when it comes to tackling climate change. Firstly of course by introducing the climate change levy, opposed, as have been very many practical attempts to tackle this issue, by the Tories and David Cameron really can't wrap himself in this green mantel if he isn't going to be willing to back the action that's necessary in order to bring about ...
JOHNSON We've got a better thing in the ....
CLARKE Let her finish please.
SMITH ... in order to bring about change. We took on, earlier on this summer, in the energy review some of the serious issues about how we will generate and ensure our energy in the future in a way that is both sustainable, in terms of energy, and in terms of the environment. In the area of transport through the obligations that we're placing on renewable transport fuel, in the way in which we're developing and investing in renewables generally, in the way in which we're investing in public transport. All of these are practical manifestations - action in a commitment to deliver the reductions to challenge ...
HUHNE Jacqui, just to give an idea of how completely disjointed the government's efforts are on climate change, the week that the Prime Minister appeared in New York to tell the world's diplomats that he cared passionately about tackling climate change, David Miliband, the environment secretary, was back home cutting £200 million out of the environment budget for the rest of this year, including flood defences, I mean this is the part of the budget most intimately related to defending us against the effects of climate change through rising sea levels and storm damage.
SMITH Chris, what you've identified of course is that the Prime Minister has been willing to use international leadership to put climate change at the centre of international discussions, making it a priority of our presidency of the G8. Now you can talk about the proposals we've put forward this week, I mean I'm a bit disappointed you didn't bring a slide show because my understanding is that they are so complicated that it would take at least until the end of this programme, if not longer, for you to be able to identify how and if those would work. The point is we as a government have put into action and are beginning to make a change and that's the difference between a Labour government that is acting and others that are talking and that's where most of the hot air is coming from.
CLARKE Quentin Letts.
LETTS I'm afraid the honest truth is that we are all terrible hypocrites about climate change and trying to stop it because we talk about it and then we go and use much more fuel and we're all guilty. [CLAPPING] And I think I'd really start believing a government about this if it took the, to me, perfectly easy step of scrapping the ministerial car pool but they'll never do that. But it strikes me that there's an element of self-delusion as well about - I mean I was down at Brighton to be at the Liberal Democrats conference this last week and there was very earnest motions - people saying we can alter - we can change the world by the decision we take today. The honest truth I'm afraid is that we can't, not in this country anyway and it's going to have to be down to people like the Chinese and the Indians and the Americans and unless they do something no matter what we do in this country the climate change problem is going to get worse. There is this terrible strong streak I'm afraid, the self-delusion.
HUHNE Quentin that's absolute nonsense, we have two examples of how we have got big international treaties through by Britain acting with our European partners, both Kyoto and previously tackling the ozone layer.
JOHNSON Quentin's on to something, you need to get the Indians and the Chinese into this thing otherwise it's hopeless.
CLARKE Alright thank you, I'm going to draw line there, we could go on but we won't. We're going to take another subject thank you.
David Goot. In a week when truancy rates reached record levels how would the panellists identify and tackle the causes instead of the symptoms of truancy?
CLARKE And I'd like you to take this question not in its broadest but in its slightly narrower sense. So nice and tight views on this rather than every possibly social ill that's ever stricken young people in education. Quentin Letts.
LETTS I suspect, this may be very unfair, but I suspect the main reason for truancy is boring teachers and poor teachers and unless we can teachers perhaps who spend a little less time training and a bit more thinking and inspiring their pupils I don't think that truancy rates will improve.
CLARKE It's never the kids faults or the families faults?
LETTS It can be but I think a really inspiring, terrific teacher can make the world of difference and also a disciplined classroom in which all the pupils, not students or learners as they're now to be called, but all the pupils can actually realise that there is a sense of order. Those sort of things have gone neglected I think.
CLARKE Jacqui Smith, the former schools minister.
SMITH Well I would have been sorry if the Daily Mail hadn't had the opportunity to have a go at teachers during the course of this discussion but I mean Ofsted say we've got the best generation of teachers ever Quentin and actually I think that a lot of the issues do form around the extent to which families are willing to support and make sure that their children get to school. And that's why actually what the figures showed this week was that truancy in secondary schools is actually falling, the schools which when I was the minister we decided we wanted to focus particular attention on - those which had the highest levels of truancy and where in particular we introduced a fast track process of providing, yes support and guidance to parents in getting their children to school but then made it very clear that if they weren't willing to take that support and live up to their responsibilities then they would be taken to court frankly for their lack of responsibility for ensuring that their children get that most important thing and that is the opportunity of an education. And those schools the truancy rate actually fell by 27%. So that is a practical way in which government actually is impacting on some of the most difficult areas. And the government will continue that and I think that we'll begin to see that having a real impact on those truancy ...
CLARKE Chris Huhne.
HUHNE I think the key issue is to ensure that the curriculum has enough in it to interest children of whatever their particular bent and the reality is that a large number of kids in secondary schools are not interested in the academic stream, they're actually turned on by practical things like making things, mending things, designing things and our school system is very poor still by comparison, for example, with many of the school systems on the continent, at engaging the interest of children, of teenagers particularly, who are turned on by those practical issues. And the Tomlinson Agenda, the report that called for an upgrading of the commitment to vocational education, I think has a lot to offer in this debate because if we can get those kids engaged we'll be a long way down the road to solving the truancy problem.
CLARKE Boris Johnson.
JOHNSON [CLAPPING] Well - obviously I think there's something in what Chris says, I think it's mad that we try and divide the human mind into a vocational mind and an academic mind, I think it would be a good idea if we looked back at what Tomlinson had to suggest, I think that's absolutely right. But I don't think Jacqui that Quentin was attacking teachers, I think he was - I think he was defending teachers and I think that's what we should do, I think we should try and support teachers more because I think often they feel that they're not able to exert authority over kids who don't turn up. And it would be a great thing for our society [CLAPPING] I think it would be a great thing for our society if teachers felt that they were not only people that we ask to impart instruction to our children but they were also once again people of respect. And I think we're losing that and we have lost that over a very long period of time. There's not one very easy quick solution but I think one thing you could think of doing and one thing I think we recommended in the recent Education Bill, you could instance insist that when teachers get accused of some kind of discipline, some kind of infraction, with a child instead of their name being dragged through the press, in the way that it is, in a very worrying way for the teacher, that they have some kind of protection of anonymity until the thing is cleared up. I think that would be an elementary thing we could do straightaway to restore - to restore dignity and protection to teachers. There's always the other thing you can do - is stop the middle classes taking their kids out of school for holidays. [CLAPPING]
CLARKE Thank you. The panel will be delighted to know that we have time for one more question.
Edgar Harwood. As we are in what is thought of as the parish church of the Archers which character would each of the members of the panel like to be?
CLARKE Thank you. It would have been against nature not to have that question. Quentin Letts.
LETTS Oh god, I haven't listened to the Archers for years and I hate the Omnibus theme tune but [AUDIENCE NOISE] but Eddie Grundy is the only one I can think of.
JOHNSON That's not fair because I was going to say that.
LETTS I've pinched Boris's lines.
CLARKE So Boris Johnson, Eddie Grundy is right up your street is he?
JOHNSON Does Eddie Grundy have a tearaway older brother or younger brother ...
CLARKE No he - I think you'll find ...
JOHNSON Can I be Eddie Grundy's tearaway son?
CLARKE I think his tearaway son - putative son is only about a month old. No he's the one with the drugs problem.
JOHNSON Is he a truant - if he's a truant I'd like to be Eddie Grundy's tearaway truant son and I would like to set an example to the rest of the truants in this country by turning up to school.
CLARKE Chris Huhne.
HUHNE Well I'm sorry to see Jack Woolley in much reduced circumstances these days but in his time and in his pomp I think Jack Woolley certainly was the person that I identified with, somebody who as David Lloyd George used to say of business people has a certain amount of push and go and good man.
CLARKE Jacqui Smith briefly.
SMITH I mentioned the Archers in my maiden speech, not only because I'm a big fan but also because I like to argue that my constituency next door is also the basis for Ambridge. I think I'd like to be Linda Snell, I know she's a compete ...
CLARKE That'll do, no I want to stay with that picture, thank you, enough.
SMITH She's a complete and utter pain but her heart's in the right place.
CLARKE Alright. Don't forget Any Answers 08700 100 444. Next week I hope to be in Altrincham near Manchester with Will Self, Alan Duncan, Jo Swinson - Lib Dem spokesperson - and somebody from the Labour Party. Join us and find out who. Bye bye. [CLAPPING]