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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 06 October 2006
PRESENTER: Jonathan Dimbleby

PANELLISTS:
Peter Hain

David Willetts
Julia Goldsworthy
John Sergeant

FROM: Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Romsey, Hampshire


DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Hampshire where we are just outside Romsey at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, which contains one of the most important modern plantations in the world. Established by Sir Harold in 1953 it contains more than 42,000 plants from temperate climates from across the planet. We're the guests here of Hampshire County Council, the trustees of this fine venture. At this time of year the trees are looking wonderful, ablaze with the shades of autumn, the fruits are wild and flourishing though we are safely inside in the state of the art auditorium.

On our panel: Peter Hain is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and as he likes to remind those of us who may forget for Wales as well. He's also ambitious to be elected as the next Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, the first of the candidates openly to throw his hat into the ring.

David Willetts backed David Davis in the Conservative leadership contest but is nevertheless a leading member of David Cameron's sunny side up tendency, as the Shadow Secretary of State for Education.

Julia Goldsworthy started her political career as a researcher for the Liberal Democrat MP Matthew Taylor. In the last General Election she squeezed into Westminster herself and at the age of 28 is one of the youngest MPs in the House, where she's already in her party's treasury team.

John Sergeant has been in or around Parliament longer than any of his fellow panellists. Formerly as Chief Political Correspondent for the BBC, then as Political Editor at ITN and now in all manner of ways, not least as a star of the News Quiz and Have I Got News For You. He's the fourth member of our panel. [CLAPPING]

May we please have our first question?

ING
Janet Ing. Was Jack Straw right to ask Muslim women to remove their veils?

DIMBLEBY
David Willetts.

WILLETTS
I think Jack Straw was right to raise the whole question and if he had reached a judgement in his own constituency surgery that he wished to invite a Muslim woman to remove her veil because he felt that it helped communication, he's entitled to ask. But of course she was entitled to refuse and we shouldn't be looking at any kind of regulations or requirements or legislation, this is not the kind of area for any government ruling, we're a free country. But I do think he's raised a very important question. And I have to say that it is very difficult if people don't feel that they can properly communicate, and I think he's raised a very important issue which we need to debate. Because it's so important that we communicate with the Muslim community in Britain, we don't find ourselves building barriers between different parts of the British community.

DIMBLEBY
Would you like, as he would like, veils to be discarded completely?

WILLETTS
I think that is asking too much, I think it is clearly important for some Muslim women as part of their identity that they consciously choose to wear the veil and I don't think it would be right to expect them to shed that part of their tradition. But I do think that - and I've never had this issue arise in my surgery, I have had the issue out canvassing - and I do think that it's such an important part of communication in Britain today and also building a sense of community, building a sense of neighbourhood, that you recognise people, you know who people are, that you gradually get to know the people in your neighbourhood because you see them in the street and you start to know who they are. That if it's very hard to recognise people it makes it very hard to create that sense of neighbourhood and community, that's why I think it's very good we've got this debate. And I have to say I was shocked to hear the news that there was - a poor Muslim woman had actually had her veil forcibly removed, that is absolutely shocking, it would be terrible if we went down that route.

DIMBLEBY
Does it not show the danger of raising an issue which hadn't at that time been a nationalist issue, so far as one could tell, that they were ….

WILLETTS
I think the fact is that we all know this is the kind of issue that is bubbling in the background and it is better that it's out in the open and debated and I hope all of us can debate it in the mature way in which Jack Straw has started the debate. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Julia Goldsworthy.

GOLDSWORTHY
I think it's right to have a debate about how we can make our communities more cohesive but I would question why Jack Straw raised this issue through an article in a newspaper and not with his local Muslim community leaders. Surely language is as much of an issue as dress and I can only reflect on my own experiences in surgeries where very often you have people who are incredibly nervous, they've got terrible personal circumstances, that they've come to you as a last resort. And I would imagine I see my role as doing anything I can to make them feel as comfortable as possible, it's not for me to feel comfortable with them but to do anything that I can do to make sure that they can feel comfortable enough to share their problems.

DIMBLEBY
Does it follow from that that you wouldn't ask someone whether they'd be kind enough to take off their veil?

GOLDSWORTHY
I think Jack Straw also has to remember that he's an authority figure, so if you request if someone feels comfortable taking off their veil, do they see that as a request or do they see that as something that they would have to obey?

DIMBLEBY
Peter Hain, Number 10 has made clear this is a personal issue not a sort of governmental question, what's your own feeling about it?

HAIN
Well I think Number 10's quite right to do that. Jack was quite entitled to say this, he has a proud and large Muslim community in his constituency of Blackburn and unlike me, when I don't in my South Wales constituency meet, he regularly has women seeking his help wearing a veil and he's taken that view, he's said he finds it uncomfortable. So I think he's absolutely entitled to do it and I do think he's raised an important issue. Shahid Malik in the news, you heard my Muslim colleague, the backbench colleague, saying that he supported Jack Straw's right to do that. I think we've got to be very careful about this whole issue and I agree with what both Julia and David said, though they made different points, this is an incredibly complex issue. I, for example, if a woman with a veil came into to see me I would not ask her to remove her veil because I believe that women, like everybody else, are entitled to dress as they choose to dress. I equally think Jack's raised an important question about the discomfort and in a sense David made it, of if you can't actually see somebody and relate to them as an MP, and yes Julia, you're right, people are quite nervous when they come in, you've got to make people feel at home, it's not easy to do if you can't actually see them.

DIMBLEBY
Why wouldn't you ask someone to take off their veil then under those circumstances yourself?

HAIN
Well because I think people are entitled to wear what they choose to wear. And I mean we could take this to all sorts of lengths - we could go back in time when a lot of traditionalists would have said that women wearing very short skirts or today's fashion for bare tums would be offensive to people. There are some people in some societies, you go to Turkey or wherever, where sometimes wearing a bikini on the beach is seen as offensive. So we've just got to get this in proportion and just work it out and make sure that we're tolerant about things but also make sure that people understand that they are living in Britain and Britain has a way of life and a set of values and respect and tolerance and people ought to abide by that.

DIMBLEBY
John Sergeant.

SERGEANT
I think that's obviously right, I mean we've got to impress upon everyone that we're a tolerant country and that people can decide on their own. I think the problem about an eminent member of the Cabinet suggesting to a woman - oh by the way, would you mind - that to me sounds like an instruction. And I think Jack Straw saying oh well they don't do deference in Blackburn and they treat him just like an ordinary bloke, well I find that hard to believe. I think the problem will be and we will find out won't we, will more women - will more Muslim women - in Blackburn attend these surgeries with Jack Straw with or without the veil as a result. Now the danger is that they may in fact find that there are more women wearing veils attending Jack Straw's surgeries and that I'm afraid will be the test of his remarks and they will then in fact have failed. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Political commentators have drawn attention to the fact that it is thought that Jack Straw may be seeking to be elected the Deputy Leader of the Party and that he wants to demonstrate that he is as tough as they come. We've just heard someone who is definitely a candidate - Peter Hain - making it clear that he wouldn't behave in the same way as Jack Straw in this circumstance behaved. Do you think that this is a …

HAIN
I'm not disputing his right to …

DIMBLEBY
No, no absolutely no absolutely. Do you think that there is, from your own judgement, is there a bit of politics going on here or is it just Jack Straw simply deciding that it's appropriate to have this public debate?

SERGEANT
I'm afraid there's always a bit of politics in it Jonathan, I mean that's the trouble about being a political correspondent, when you think surely they're not going to argue about this on a political basis they always do. Yes it does affect it, he wants to give the impression that he can talk tough about these issues, he can talk about issues that matter to people. And John Reid inevitably affects the debate by upping the anti. It's a pity, I think all these matters should be rather personal, certainly shouldn't be issues in a deputy leadership campaign.

DIMBLEBY
Let me ask our audience here: Do you think that Jack Straw was right to raise this issue publicly as he's done? If you do would you put your hands up? If you think that he was, although entitled to, not wise to have done it, would you put your hands up? Well there's a large majority which suggests that he at least touched a public nerve with this issue by raising it. If you want to discuss that the number to ring in Any Answers 08700 100 444 and the e-mail address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. I just want to go back to Janet Ing on this, what's your own view?

ING
Well I think it's very good that it's been brought out into the open because I think it is a difficult problem and it's good that it's going to be debated.

DIMBLEBY
Okay, thank you. We'll go to our next.

ORCHID
Bruce Orchid. Should police officers be able to decide which jobs they want to do?

DIMBLEBY
Julia Goldsworthy, it's another issue relating to Muslims, we know what the issue is, everyone is familiar with it, at least with some of the facts of it, what's your own view?

GOLDSWORTHY
I don't think they should be able to choose what they do but I think there will be some circumstances where there will be exceptions and those are decision that have to be made locally. Now we know that in Northern Ireland some police officers would be exempted from certain duties that would take them into Protestant areas if they were Catholic for fear of their own safety and those of their families. Now what this whole issue is about is not very clear because it seems to have changed a lot over the last couple of days. So I think there needs to be an inquiry into why that decision was taken. But if that individual felt that his family were going to be put at risk, as a result of him undertaking that job, I think it's understandable. In the same way that it perhaps wouldn't be appropriate to send a police office out to a road traffic accident if he'd had a family member who'd died in those kind of circumstances. So I think there are exceptional circumstances but it has to be made on an exceptional basis by management. And the real question is why did that story end up in the public domain, that was an intensely personal issue, so how and why did it end up in the public domain, that's an issue that needs to be looked at as well. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Before dealing with the broader issue perhaps John Sergeant, as a journalist, you might speculate how such a thing does end up in the public domain on the pages of the Daily Mail and then on top of BBC News bulletins etc.

SERGEANT
I agree, I mean it's worrying because obviously it comes from a leak within the police service and there are people within the police service who would like to get at Muslim officers and that's a great shame and that's something which I think we should all deplore.

DIMBLEBY
And as to the question itself, it's being [CLAPPING] it's being presented as should officers be able to decide which jobs they will do, which obviously begs the question in this case as to whether or not the person did or didn't decide.

SERGEANT
That's right. Well of course the general point is quite straightforward, of course they can't choose, they get out there, they're in the diplomatic protection unit, they can jolly well do it, so that's quite simple. But what you mustn't do is get into a position, I'm afraid it's so often the case when people say but this is a matter of principle, when actually there are moments when you're managing complicated situations where you don't want people opening the door and crashing about saying this is a matter of principle, it doesn't help you. But you should be sensitive and aware of what the problems are and of what your officers are going to have to do. And also the point made by, I thought very sensibly, by the Muslim Chief Superintendent, who answered this question, he said look we had plenty of officers that could cover this issue, this wasn't a sort of vital moment, so we could consider it. And there are lots of time when there's a conflict of interest. I remember as a young reporter having to report on a violent demonstration involving a protest about the Greek colonels and my brother was in the middle of it dressed up as Lord Byron. And as it was - as it was a family matter I complained to my mother who immediately took my brother's side and said don't be silly, get on and report it. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Before I come to other politicians it may be useful to remind ourselves of what the Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Paul Stephenson said, because it didn't get very widely reported in the drama of this story. But he said, was reported today, that the impartial policing was non-negotiable, it would be - the principle could not be broken, it would be quite improper. But he then went on to say that in this case a risk assessment was undertaken, it was as a result of this risk assessment and not because of the officer's personal views that the decision was taken temporarily not to deploy him to the embassy. This decision was taken on the basis of risk and safety. Which perhaps put into context the question which is an understandable question, given the kind of attention that the story has had, should police officers be able to decide which jobs they will do Secretary of State?

HAIN
Well you've just made the point that I think has got rather lost in the sensational reporting of all of this and you do have to question the motive of the people or individuals, maybe another police officer, who knows, who actually put the story in the public realm, why they did it. And there are all sorts of stories that are in a sense targeting Muslims at the present time and I do question the motivation there. But the situation's very straightforward, any police officer who might be put in a risk situation, as Julia quite rightly said, is regularly a measure in Northern Ireland, would be removed from that situation. Now clearly …

DIMBLEBY
Can I ask specifically in Northern Ireland if for one reason or another, I mean the situation has evolved of course in Northern Ireland …

HAIN
It's improving massively.

DIMBLEBY
… would it be the case that if for instance a Catholic police officer found - or at least it was judged that that person was going to find him or her in circumstances that would put that person at risk, that it would be quite possible to say look no, you don't have to police at this particular event, this particular occasion?

HAIN
That has been a regular feature of policing in Northern Ireland and you might - you're absolutely right, it's improved enormously, there are now 20% of Catholics - I'll come back to the subject - 20% of Catholics in the force, whereas previously there were virtually none in years past, rising to 30% over the next four years. And it's transformed policing. But nevertheless there are sensitive situations when that kind of risk factor will be judged by their superiors. And as I understand it this is exactly what happened here, I mean the officer had family in Lebanon, it was a very, very fraught and intense debate with passionate feelings raging around what happened there and I think he took the view that he would like to remove himself from it and I think his superiors judged that correctly. So I just think we should concentrate on actually - instead of pushing this story up, saying actually we're proud of more Muslims joining the police, we're proud to have Muslims in our society and more and more should be encouraged to join the police. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
David Willetts.

WILLETTS
Well it looks as if the accounts of this case are indeed changing fast but I think we can all agree - we have all agreed - you can't have police officers putting their personal views, even their personal conscience, before their professional duties. Although we live in an age where the personal is celebrated so much, this is an areas where clearly sadly police officers have to accept that that is not part of their job when they are out on police patrol. And I have to say that when I do go out on police - on patrol with the Hampshire police I am always very impressed by the incredible way in which police officers combine clear sort of understanding of the distress of the people they're dealing with and also that element of professional detachment, which they do need as part of their job. This question though is really of course - behind it - like the previous question about the issue of the integration of Muslims into our community and I think there is something here very important which is the things that we share as citizens of Great Britain, regardless of our religious background, regardless of where we may have come from, regardless of our ethnicity. And it's so important that when these debates are going on we remind ourselves of what we share. And I have to say the values of the police forces around Great Britain and the way in which they function and the way in which they're making a real effort to reach out to recruit from so many different communities, is something that we do all share and that we can be incredibly proud of. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Let's go back again to our questioner on that.

ORCHID
The only problem I have with that is obviously the people in the police, the presence of the armed forces, of which I do have some sort of experience in, are called to do …

DIMBLEBY
Have you been a police officer?

ORCHID
I was in the army and the prison service and you are called to do things which members of the public would turn away from. And I think if you start going down the road of people - political or religious reasons - saying I don't want to do it, the next thing it'll be in the armed forces not wanting to do that because it's my religious and my political belief and I think it's the thin end of the wedge if we start with this sort of nonsense.

DIMBLEBY
In this case having - having heard what the assistant head of the Met said and what the panel has said about this do you still hold the view that he should have been required to stand in front of the Israeli Embassy under those circumstances or do you recognise that there are particular circumstances?

ORCHID
I think absolutely he should have stayed at his post, there is no excuse for taking him off, in my personal opinion.

DIMBLEBY
Very well, we'll leave that there, thank you. Our next question please.

SMITH
Sandra Smith. Why do we send so many people to prison when there are often other ways of dealing with criminals which have better outcomes?

DIMBLEBY
This comes in the context of the shortage of places which has led the head of the Prison Governors Association to say the situation is desperately bad. Peter Hain.

HAIN
Well it's a serious problem this. Society quite rightly demands that we are tough on people who commit especially violent crimes and crimes of hate of one kind or another and prison is often the only way of dealing with that. And I think any government who was soft on that would be quickly run out of town. On the other hand we've got a serious problem - which I think we need to look at again and I've done this in Northern Ireland where I'm in charge of the prisons - in charge of everything in Northern Ireland and the prisons is one of them. And I think there's a strong case for looking at how people have not committed violent offences whether they should be in prison or not and whether we have too many women in prison. I think there's another question to be asked there.

DIMBLEBY
On the sort of practicalities of the matter do you agree with the head of the Prison Governors Association that the situation, were you minded to agree with him, that it's desperately bad at bursting point with only 200 places at this moment free?

HAIN
Well he said what he said, he knows more about the detail than I do.

DIMBLEBY
You wouldn't wish to differ from him?

HAIN
Well all I can say is take at face value what he said and the facts seem to speak for themselves Jonathan.

DIMBLEBY
Well the reason I put it is that this has come up again and again in the past, this issue of coming up against the ceiling. And last year the then prisons minister said - we're facing a spike in the prison population, we do always have an operating margin in our prison places. You don't have an operating margin do you?

HAIN
No, that's one of the issues that John Reid is addressing. But the question behind …

DIMBLEBY
The point is, is there a competence issue here, if the government minister says we've got the space, we've got an operating margin last year and this year you're at bursting point, isn't something wrong somewhere with the management and the governance of the service?

HAIN
I think it's much more complicated than that, it's down also to the type of offences that are being committed and the people find themselves in prison as a result. But I think we do need to look at the fact that Britain has per head of population more people in prison than in comparable societies in Europe and elsewhere. And look at the reasons for that. And as I say I'm looking at exactly this in Northern Ireland, of whether you can look at different forms of punishment for non-violent offenders but you deal with violent offenders - because the first government that lets a violent offender out of prison and we know some of the cases that cause tremendous furore and understandably so, you get absolutely pilloried for not locking people up who threaten the community or threat to life or to people's safety. So we have to be careful not to jeopardise that either.

DIMBLEBY
David Willetts.

WILLETTS
Well the simple answer to the question is because sadly more and more people are committing serious offences and crimes of violence arising. And the police are having some success in tackling and identifying the criminals. So that's the straightforward answer. But there is a deeper answer to your question as well about why we're using prison more and it's because so many of the informal arrangements that help to keep people in check and help to care for people who might, for example, have mental issues are breaking down and we are in a society where so many - and I see it myself with some of the crimes I come across in my constituency. Some of the things that in the past might have involved anything from assistance in a mental institution, though I know how unpopular they were, through to an extended family, through to sort of informal social control in a neighbourhood, all those have broken down. So sometimes these people who really are quite hopeless and find it difficult to manage their lives and difficult to link their actions to consequences are left on their own until they do something terrible and then they commit a crime and then they're put into prison and that is what's going wrong with our society and that's what we've got to tackle. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
As you very well know that process, if you've accurately described, has been going on for a very long time and you say that's something we've got to tackle is not saying very much is it?

WILLETTS
Well I mean this morning - this morning I went to meet a very dignified man whose wife had been murdered and he wanted to talk to me about the circumstances in which she had been murdered and what lessons should be learnt. And the murderer has now been convicted and has been sent to Broadmoor. And the question that he wanted me to take up was why when there was a whole pattern of behaviour that indicated that this person - the murderer - was a risk to society why nothing had been done until his wife had died. And I'm afraid we should have tackled that kind of problem earlier and sadly we're failing to do so. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
John Sergeant.

SERGEANT
I think we are - we are talking about incompetence here and I think it's very disturbing. These are areas where often the general public can't get an idea of what's going on because the Home Office is often extremely secretive. What we do know is that many of the people who should have been deported at the end of their sentences they simply haven't been able to control this. I don't mean this in terms of let's be horrible about foreigners and get rid of them, I mean in terms of straightforward, what are the rules, are these people meant to be deported, have their cases been considered, have they been considered before they're due to be released or are they having to be kept in prison because only then are the immigration service considering this question of deportation? Well that smacks to me of just straightforward old fashioned incompetence. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Julia Goldsworthy.

GOLDSWORTHY
Well this is an area that the government talks incredibly tough on. In the last few weeks we've seen foetus ASBOS, we've seen the £100 on spot fines for muggers. But they're not actually dealing with the consequences of that and we're seeing an ever growing prison population, you're seeing recidivism rates at 70%, so basically prison becomes a revolving door. And the concern is that if they're not able to deal with this deportation issue in the long term are they actually going to be looking to release some prisoners early. So what people want is surely a straightforward sentences and actually fewer people serving longer sentences and dealing with this recidivism issue and stop prison being a revolving door.

DIMBLEBY
You say - Julia - you say that's what people want, isn't there a lot of evidence which is perhaps why governments respond that people want to see people locked up for longer, whether that's sound or unsound, isn't that part of the issue to which magistrates and others respond?

GOLDSWORTHY
I think ultimately people want to see lower levels of crime and they want to feel safe on their streets and if you end up with prison sentences which mean that when people come out they're just as likely to commit a crime as when they went in then are the people prepared to tolerate higher taxes to pay for more prisons with this continuing problem or do they actually want to see the problems dealt with. I mean Tony Blair said Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime, I'm not really sure he's fulfilling that second part of his phrase.

HAIN
Crime has come down substantially, absolutely substantially and the independent statistics show this since we've been in power.

WILLETTS
Not violent crime.

HAIN
Well they do.

WILLETTS
Not violent crime.

HAIN
It's come down around 40%, around half since we …

DIMBLEBY
But then doesn't that suggest that an even greater degree of incompetence in the government if you reach a situation where you've only got 200 places?

HAIN
No, no I think - I think what - and David alluded to this to be fair - what we've got is a more violent society, there's more drunken yobbery over a weekend and a lot of alcohol related offences, there's assaults on nurses and other health service staff and a lot of that kind of behaviour running through our society. So I'm not saying we've been perfect as a government, of course I'm not saying that, I'm not saying - these are incredibly difficult [AUDIENCE LAUGHING ] …

SERGEANT
It's a good thing you're not.

DIMBLEBY
I don't think anyone was under the impression that you were seeking to say that everything had been perfect on your patch.

HAIN
I'm just making that point Jonathan, anymore than the BBC's perfect. But …

DIMBLEBY
No one in the BBC ever makes that point.

HAIN
Indeed, I think I'd better get out of this hole as quickly as I can but the point - the point that I'm making is that yes people want tougher sentences, they want to make sure that violent offenders don't get out too early and in the cases where that has happened it causes rightly an absolute uproar. But on the other hand we're dealing with change in social behaviour in which the kind of offences being committed are finding people increasingly putting themselves on the tram lines that land up in prison.

DIMBLEBY
Julia first and then John.

GOLDSWORTHY
I'd just like to say that this is not a problem that has occurred overnight, you're talking about long term trends so why are we suddenly facing this crisis at the last minute when we're down to the last 200 and it could be days before we run out of spaces?

HAIN
…we're not suddenly facing it - if you look at the range of legislation we've brought in dealing with violent crime, dealing with knives, dealing with guns, dealing with a whole series of problems as they've bubbled up in society …

GOLDSWORTHY
So you're confident that people will not have to be released early in order to free up space for people - to free up places in prison?

HAIN
No I mean I think - I'm just saying that - you know as always if I can make a grubby party point, Liberal Democrats vote against all of these things in Parliament, whether it's antisocial behaviour measures, whether it's tougher criminal justice measures, whether it's dealing with violent crime or all of these things you always vote against them and then you won't take responsibility for the consequences.

DIMBLEBY
John Sergeant.

SERGEANT
Peter you're making a very brave attempt, as always, to defend the government, well done. [CLAPPING] And I wish you well in your struggle for the Deputy Leadership. But honestly it won't wash, it just doesn't … crime is down but the prison population has doubled during the Labour government. And then you say it's the classic - it's the wrong kind of offence, now doesn't that remind you of something? Yes it's the leaves on the line, it's the wrong sort of snow. I think it's really quite simple, you should have in fact planned for this, you knew perfectly well what was going on and you should now try and organise matters so that when people are sentenced to prison they can go to prison. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
And - and …

HAIN
That's why John's an excellent commentator and after dinner speaker but not a Cabinet minister.

DIMBLEBY
And David Willetts, your party's in much the case - you've given up, haven't you, the idea of having islands in which you send prisoners to but you haven't got anything better to offer.

WILLETTS
No I mean, first of all just let's be clear about what's been happening, I just want to get to the bottom of this issue about crime rates. Car manufacturers have become better and better at designing secure cars, so some of the crimes that used to occur like that have reduced. Serious crimes, violent crimes, sadly are going up, that's why although Peter is technically correct when he says the total amount of crime is going down, we all know that the crime that really affects the quality of people's lives profoundly and violent crime is getting worse.

HAIN
So why don't you support us in Parliament David, along with the Liberals when we actually try to take action against us legislatively, why don't you do that?

WILLETTS
I support tough measures that tackle this and there's many of the tough measures on this we have supported and voted for. But when you've passed the law you've then got to plan for the consequences, it's no good just passing the tough law, this government passes a hell of a lot of laws, if you don't then follow through and start planning for the prison population. And John is absolutely right, the failure was then to plan for the consequences of what they themselves had decided to do and we're now facing the risk that we will indeed have no room in our prisons for people who should be in prison. There are a lot of practical things that can be done now and certainly one of them is indeed that if people are due to be deported we should look at how we can improve and speed up the deportation procedures to relieve the capacity in our prisons.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you, we'll leave that there with a reminder of the Any Answers number after the Saturday edition of Any Questions, it is 08700 100 444. Our next question please.

DAVIS
Steve Davis. Is David Cameron a politician with perfect form but no substance?

DIMBLEBY
John Sergeant.

SERGEANT
Perfect form, no I'm not sure, I don't fancy him that much. No I think that the point about David Cameron, let me just cut to the chase I suppose, what we're really saying is when people shout where's the beef do we think that's a fair question, do we think in fact he should put on more policy? I happen to think he shouldn't do that, and the reason is, is that the Tories have been frankly hated for so long that is very important for people to try and like them a bit more. And that David Cameron has accepted this very simple point and I think he's carrying it out brilliantly. I think if you listen to his speech and if you listen to what went on at the Conservative Party conference even an old cynic like me had to say actually I quite like these people. And I do remember the days, the law and order debate particularly, with Jeffrey Archer shouting for longer prison sentences and [LAUGHTER] and it was a pretty dreadful week frankly. Now this is not to say things weren't bad on the Labour side, particularly during the early 1980s when we were shouting with clench fist salutes. But broadly speaking what you've got to do if you're a political party is to be liked by a lot of people, you can go on hating, you can go on being angry but if you do that under our system you will not win a General Election. So it's quite simply, you can go on shouting about Europe and going on about why can't we have capital punishment back and all sorts of other things but you will not win a General Election. And David Cameron has grasped that and he's decided that he's got to make sure that people say these are actually quite nice people. And then second point, do I agree with their policies? [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Peter Hain.

HAIN
Well he's done a very good job in trying to rehabilitate the Conservatives, it's sort of resuscitation from the dead virtually. And he's an attractive figure, I'm not denying that. But nobody actually knows what he stands for. Until you come to looking at the beginnings of the substance forming, including big cuts in Labour's projected spending plans, they're committed to that, to make way for one of the policy's announced was tax - tax cuts which will benefit a tiny minority of people on shareholdings, so we begin to see where their priorities are and we begin to see an old Conservative agenda trying to struggle out from underneath the smiles and the bikes and the trips to the Arctic and all the rest of it. And I just think that in the end this country will face a choice in the coming years - do we want a government with progressive values with using the power of good government based - financed by progressive taxation, not a big state, not over-taxing, to provide proper public services and to provide security for people in an age of incredible change, whether that's the threats of terrorism and migration or whether that's the job insecurity which comes with China and India threatening at an almost competitive rate. So I think the choices between a contracted out a government, which is I think the Cameron vision, and the vision that I believe in and Labour believes in which is government on your side to help you through tremendous process of change.

DIMBLEBY
Julia Goldsworthy.

GOLDSWORTHY
I think John's absolutely right that people need to like a party before they can consider voting for it. But they need to know what they're voting for. And I think people don't want a poor imitation of Tony Blair, they don't want Tony Blair mark 2, he's one of the more unpopular politicians around. And I think it is - and the language that David Cameron is using is making it very difficult to distinguish the two parties, even though ultimately they may be promoting very different policies, they're using the same language, it's getting increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two parties. And I think we've seen from the Conservative conference this week that there may be some changes at the top but certainly the Conservative Party membership and what they want and the activists are still calling for the tax cuts, we're still seeing small hints of them in the language from Cameron and George Osborne but I don't know how much longer the Conservative Party can remain a policy free zone, I mean they have to put forward some policies because people need policies to vote for. It's not everything but you can't be a political party without them.

DIMBLEBY
A quick word from John.

SERGEANT
I think it's a big mistake to assume that when you go into an election as the main opposition party that you've got to have lots and lots of policy. When Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election I remember asking her whether she'd take on the unions - Take on the unions! Why should I want to do that? - You know it's rewritten now but at the time she was very, very careful, she didn't even use the word privatisation. Worth bearing in mind - older listeners.

DIMBLEBY
Shadow Secretary of State for Education.

WILLETTS
Well I think the - I mean David Cameron is leading changes in the party and in fact just coming away from the conference, before his speech at the end there was a presentation, we saw a video of a group of delegates, colleagues of mine on the frontbench, I'd not been involved, I can't claim any credit for it, who had given their time during the conference week saying the bandwagon mustn't just leave Bournemouth leaving nothing behind, we will work on restoring and repairing a church hall so that when we leave there's something that will help this community after we've gone. That is real people doing real things and that is the kind of thing that the party needs to show, it understands is a crucial part of …

SERGEANT
It was …. on the Restoration programme David?

WILLETTS
I'm not sure about that. But what's going on is not some - is we are rediscovering something very important in the Conservative tradition, we became the economics party, we became the party that only saw every problem through economics. Now economics is important but it was Oscar Wilde who said the danger is that you become like people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Now I think deep in my party's history there was a lot of public service, a lot of people who were MPs in the Tory Party who came to the Tory Party having been involved in public service, in rather traditional forms that are changing now but they were. We are rediscovering this part of the Tory tradition which had been lost from sight and we are rediscovering it because it is so important in tackling exactly the kind of problems in Britain today that we have just been talking about. You can't simply solve these either through free market economics, important though that is, and you can't solve them simply through the power of government. Government is all fingers and no thumbs, it's just too crude and clumsy to solve some of the types of problems we've been talking about today because there's a lot of experience and wisdom out there in the voluntary sector, there's a lot of experience out there in the professions, like the teaching profession, they don't feel valued, they don't feel harnessed. That if we're to solve the kind of problems we've been talking about we need to harness them …

DIMBLEBY
But can we come to the question now against that background - the question of substance and the related issue of policies - does he have substance and does it matter if you don't come forward with policies?

WILLETTS
Yeah and they're different questions. On policies I think that - I think laundry list politics is overrated, I don't think there's any point in having a five point plan or a 10 point programme, the world changes, within six months if there is a Conservative government after the next election within six months there will be some national or international crisis of a sort that nobody has predicted, where no amount of detailed planning in advance would have been relevant and people will be judging the character of David Cameron and the character of his colleagues to know how we will handle the unexpected and the unforeseen. They don't expect us to have large amounts of policy detail, what people are entitled to expect is something much more important which is substance. And I think if you look at what David has been offering - let me just finish this point because I'm trying to answer the challenge on substance - it's a flexible market economy, it's a strong society and it's a real strong commitment on the environment. I think that is substance and we've been showing the ideas behind it.

DIMBLEBY
Julia Goldsworthy.

GOLDSWORTHY
I have a very simple question - why is David Cameron walking away so quickly from the manifesto which he co-wrote at the last General Election?

HAIN
Well why is he - also why is he committed - the one policy he is committed to - billions and billions of pounds of spending cuts on Labour's plans for the future? That's the one policy he's committed to.

DIMBLEBY
John also has a question but I'll let you - hold yours John before - and we've had those two questions from your interlocutors here, so far. Take the last one first - why is he - first of all - why is he walking away from the manifesto which he signed up to and co-wrote with such enthusiasm?

WILLETTS
Yeah, right, and we are changing and we're changing because we recognise that we had become too preoccupied with the set of problems that obsessed us that weren't the problems that the voters and citizens of Britain were worried about. And one of the good features of a democratic system is after you keep on losing eventually finally the message gets home that you've got to do something about it and we are doing something about it …

DIMBLEBY
And the second point - sorry to stop you but we've got a limited amount of time - the big cuts as alleged by Peter Hain in Labour's spending plans that you would incorporate …

WILLETTS
That's just rubbish.

HAIN
You said that David.

WILLETTS
The government - the government have not produced any spending plans extending beyond 2009, we don't know what their long term plans are, what we have said is that we believe in sharing the proceeds of growth between increasing spending on public services and reductions in the burden of tax as and when they can be afforded.

[Talking over]

HAIN
… room for tax cuts for the rich, it's the same old Tory recipe.

DIMBLEBY
Leave aside how you use the tax cuts. Is it the case that if you share the proceeds in the way that you have just described money that goes into tax cuts, which on the face of it might seem self evident, cannot therefore go into public spending?

WILLETTS
We're committed to growth in public spending, we recognise that public spending is going to grow …

DIMBLEBY
… the theoretical question but a valid question but I know - it's a simple question - is it a matter of economic fact in your view that if you deliver tax cuts that money is not then available for public spending?

WILLETTS
I would hope that over a full economic cycle, which could be long [indistinct word], but over a full economic cycle that we were able to bring down the burden of tax, that is part of what we want to do but we will only do it if we can afford it, if it can be done responsibly, if it can be financed in a way that doesn't jeopardise people's mortgages.

DIMBLEBY
That could be construed as a failure to answer a question [Talking over] …

WILLETTS
We will do it …

DIMBLEBY
I will let John Sergeant come in.

WILLETTS
We will do it if we can afford it.

SERGEANT
I think that's all wonderful - no tax cuts and all the rest of it - but I think the real problem will arise when Gordon Brown gets to Number 10 and what will he do. Well I think I've followed him very carefully over the years, I think I know what he will do which of course is to cut taxes. And then what will the Tories do?

WILLETTS
I hope that we will be able to cut taxes but we'll only do it when it's prudent.

SERGEANT
No, not that's not it David. Those would be unforeseen circumstances that can be made to look fairly silly.

DIMBLEBY
It's conceivable that this issue could run and run. But we will move swiftly to our last question, for which we just have time.

METHERALL
Jeremy Metherall. Would the panel prefer to have lunch with Jamie Oliver or Boris Johnson?

DIMBLEBY
Peter Hain.

HAIN
I prefer Jamie Oliver's food but Boris Johnson's company. I wouldn't want him running the country - I wouldn't want him running the country though, it would scare me stiff but he's great company.

DIMBLEBY
Julia.

GOLDSWORTHY
Well if Boris Johnson makes his food anything like the way he does his hair I'd be quite reluctant. I've been to lunch at a Jamie Oliver restaurant in Cornwall and with the view there I think it would Jamie Oliver in his restaurant in Cornwall every time.

DIMBLEBY
And I'm going to leave John Sergeant to last and invite David Willetts.

WILLETTS
Well of course Boris is a member of the education team and …

DIMBLEBY
Your very own team.

WILLETTS
And - exactly - and I love Boris and he brightens up British politics and you know I thought after the incident this week that …

DIMBLEBY
Which one are you referring to - there were several of them?

WILLETTS
With Boris you can't be quite sure which one, but after the incident this week I do think that what we really need to get healthy eating in our schools is if we can get Boris and Jamie Oliver working together I think that would be an absolutely unbeatable combination.

DIMBLEBY
John Sergeant.

SERGEANT
Boris is wonderful isn't he, yes Boris is unique and when people say that I think well no wait a moment, how does he fit into the unwritten British constitution? Well he's loved by the rank and file, people think how exciting, how interesting, where does he fit in? Is he really unique? Not at all. He of course is the Conservative version of John Prescott. [CLAPPING] And if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister who should be Deputy Prime Minister? Boris of course.

DIMBLEBY
You can become his campaign manager. Thank you very much. That's all we have time for, for this week. Next time - next week we're going to be at the Cheltenham Literary Festival with amongst others Harriet Harmon who is the Minister for Constitutional Affairs; the Liberal Democrat spokesman for trade and industry Edward Davey and Suzy Leather, Dame Suzy Leather who chairs the Charity Commission. Join us there. Thank you for joining us here. Don't forget Any Answers. I've just got time to give you that number once more - 08700 100 444 - and the e-mail address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. But from here at the Harold Hillier Gardens in Amptfield in Hampshire goodbye.
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