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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 18 May 2007
PRESENTER: Eddie Mair

PANELLISTS: Michael Meacher
Sayeeda Warsi
Will Hutton
GP Taylor

FROM: Caedman School in Whitby, North Yorkshire



MAIR
Hello welcome to Any Questions from North Yorkshire. This week we're guests of Caedman School in Whitby, a comprehensive for pupils aged 11-14. Graham Taylor was once vicar of Whitby but is perhaps best known nationally as GP Taylor, author of the bestselling Shadowmancer. The sequel: The Curse of Salamander Street, comes out in the autumn. He's been called the new CS Lewis. Being back in a school might bring back mixed memories for Graham, his behaviour led to him being expelled from school and sixth form college and later in life, on one of his regular visits to schools, he was once asked to leave for using language deemed inappropriate for his 13-year-old audience. He blamed political correctness, adding that if the words fart and bogey are unacceptable then that's sad.

Will Hutton is chief executive of the Work Foundation, an independent think tank and consultancy on workplace and employment issues. His bestselling book of 1995, The State We're In became a seminal text for New Labour. "Tony Blair will be a tough act to follow", he says, and he credits the Prime Minister for inventing liberal Labour. He was editor and editor-in-chief of the Observer and still writes for the paper.

Had things gone differently Michael Meacher might have been in a leadership race today with Gordon Brown. But the former environment minister stepped aside on Monday to allow a fellow left winger, John McDonnell, to try to garner enough nominations from Labour MPs. He has accused Tony Blair of running a presidential style of government and will probably not have seen this week's final joint news conference of the Prime Minister and President Bush as a meeting of equals, he's described Britain as America's glove puppet.

Sayeeda Warsi is vice chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for cities. She's a British born Muslim of Pakistani origin and when she stood at the last General Election in her home town of Dewsbury she was the first Muslim woman to be selected for the Conservatives. During the campaign an Asian man asked her: "Why isn't your husband standing?" She's a solicitor by profession and has worked for the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service. And as our audience here in Whitby are already aware - and I should make you aware of at home - Sayeeda Warsi is still on her way to the venue, despite her best efforts and ours, she's still on the road, she'll join us - she's listening to all of this by mobile phone, I hope, and will join us in person before we're off the air.

So it's all to play for. Let's have our first question please.

HODGSON
Barry Hodgson. Yesterday Gordon Brown said he would build trust in politics. Today MPs voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. Are these compatible?

MAIR
Michael Meacher.

MEACHER
No. I must say that [CLAPPING] I think restoring trust in politics is absolutely critical and I think that should indeed be Gordon Brown's key objective. But I think the fact that the Commons today have spent the second Friday trying to exempt MPs correspondence from the Freedom of Information Act I think is disgraceful. I think - of course there are personal matters in that correspondence which of course should not go into the public domain but it is already covered by data information, so there's no problem about that. But it is other aspects, for example, MPs' expenses, which might be involved in that correspondence and that, I think, should be open and known to everybody. I think this is a bad day for Parliament and I hope Gordon will insist that MPs should be treated like everyone else. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Would you worry, Michael Meacher, if in future a constituent was put off from writing to you about something terribly important and personal because they feared that the information could be found out?

MEACHER
Well as I say that protection is already provided by the law. Now it is possible that certain individuals don't realise that. If that were the case I would expect a constituent to come to one of my clinics and say it to me personally and ask for any assurance at the start of the interview that this was going to be entirely confidential, which of course I would give.

MAIR
Graham Taylor.

TAYLOR
I fully agree with Michael, the first time I've ever agreed with you on anything but definitely agree with you on that. I lost faith in politics and politicians when Tony Blair came to power within about six months, I actually - I've got to admit this - I was in Whitby at the time and I'd voted for Tony Blair, the first time in my life I'd ever voted Labour, and I voted for him with great expectations of a new broom sweeping politics clean. And it became very clear, very quickly, that we had a man who was still doing what politicians do and I think this is the key thing is that we need to have trust in politicians and open access to what is going on in Parliament and to be able to see what politicians are saying and doing. And we should have a state in this country where it is all very crystal clear, we have at local level with local councillors who are very open in what they're doing and it should be represented in Parliament in the same way.

MAIR
What was it [CLAPPING] what was it, out of interest, that made you lose faith so early?

TAYLOR
I was fronting a radio show on independent radio and my job was to actually try and interview Tony Blair on the radio, so I rang Downing Street and got through to a man called - you might have heard of him - called Alistair Campbell who .. I said: "Hi, it's GP Taylor here, I'm the host of Daybreak on independent radio." He said: "Oh yeah, that's great," he said, "where are you?" I said: "I'm in Scarborough, in Whitby." He went: "Goodbye." And the phone went down and I thought yes, we have a man here who doesn't know where Scarborough is or Whitby is. And it was then that the spin started and the distrust in politics started and we were sold a story everyday, it was everyday New Labour was coming up with a new story - Look how good we are, look how good we are - and it just got to the point where I thought I can't believe this anymore.

MAIR
Will Hutton, should MPs exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act?

HUTTON
Well I mean you heard the audience clap Michael Meacher, I mean I think everyone agrees, violently in agreement, an extraordinary vote in the House of Commons. It was a majority of 70, which means MPs from all parties must have voted for this. [AUDIENCE NOISE] Take your point but nonetheless there were Labour MPs voting for this too. And to excuse MPs and to keep legislation intact for officials who are advising ministers seems an extraordinary privileging of MPs over officials. The Times recently using the Freedom of Information Act got that very interesting disclosure about the advice that Gordon Brown got when he was - when he eliminated the tax credit on pensions. And you can be pro or against that but it was great to have it in the public domain. I'd like to do a Freedom of Information on - I'd like to see it being used, for example, on why doctors got this extraordinary deal with the Department of Health. I mean let's get at the dynamics of what's happening in government. And it's great that it's taking place. And actually Lord Faulkener, having flirted with the notion of qualifying freedom of information recently kind of held the line and now we find the House of Commons voting to privilege itself. I find it extraordinary. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Now this is fun - I was just about to ask Sayeeda Warsi if she was listening to all of that on her mobile phone and she's walking into the hall now, which is excellent. Vice chairman of the Conservative Party and obviously taking a great interest in what MPs might get up to. Can you hear those heels? She's coming up to the stage now with almost perfect timing. [CLAPPING] Welcome - welcome to Any Questions and the question, in case you didn't catch it, said yesterday Gordon Brown said he would build trust in politics, today MPs voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, are these compatible?

WARSI
No. [CLAPPING] That was the right answer. Yeah well we're talking about trust and I think that at a time when trust in politicians is at an all time low we need to be more open about what it is that we do. I mean a lot of people say you get paid a lot of money, we pay you a lot of expenses from the taxpayers' fund, what exactly do we get back in return for that? And I think that if we start saying well we're not going to tell you what we're spending your money on we're creating even more distrust. So I think we need to have an open policy and I don't think we should be exempt from it. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
That's what our panel thinks, what about you? If you'd like to take part in Any Answers after Saturday's edition of Any Questions here's the number to call, it's 08700 100 444, that's 08700 100 444 or you can e-mail any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Let's have our next question.

FERGUSON
Ian Ferguson. Is Gordon Brown's coronation evidence of a completely unified Labour Party or simply an indication of the left's impotence following 10 years of the third way?

MAIR
Sayeeda Warsi.

WARSI
I think it's quite sad that there is no competition. I think it is quite sad because it shows - I don't think a unified Labour Party but I think a Labour Party which is no longer a broad church. And I remember during the leadership election that we had within the Conservative Party there was an element of real choice for people to be able to decide and listen to the two contestants. And I think what's even worse is that we have a situation now where we know who's going to be the next prime minister, we know that Tony Blair is going to go and yet there's this period of weeks now where quite important decisions are going to be taken about Britain. We have an NHS which has severe problems but we can't get rid of Patricia Hewitt because there's no point appointing anybody else until we get the new prime minister. We have an EU summit where serious questions about the future of Britain are going to be decided. We have a G8 summit where again serious issues including climate change are going to be dealt with by a prime minister who's not going to be around and not by a prime minister who will be around for a number of years. And therefore I think it's a really sad indictment of just how much of a clone culture exists within the Labour Party now. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Graham Taylor.

TAYLOR
Well actually I actually believe that there is a party in this country that is out for the benefit of the people, I think it's a good and wholesome party, I think it's called the Liberal Democrats and I say that as a Tory. We don't have a Labour Party anymore. I remember the days on the hustings in the 1970s where you could stand there toe to toe with Labour politicians and you knew who you were and they knew who they were. Now I can't tell the difference. Gordon Brown, Cameron - they're just so much the same, they're saying the same things and I think the public are getting sick of them, that's why so few people are turning out. We want politicians who are credible, who are upfront and not who are into the soundbite. And I'm sorry Brown should - Brown should face the people of this country as soon as possible, he should put himself to a national vote and we should decide whether he has a mandate to lead the Labour Party because I don't think he does. And I think this country's sick to death of New Labour and its new ways and its spin and we should allow other people in and let them say what is right for this country. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Will Hutton.

HUTTON
Well I'm a bit more forgiving than that. I think - I think that the fact that 313 Labour MPs for a variety of reasons, some noble, some less noble, are prepared to rally to Gordon Brown's cause is actually proof. You talk about the third way - in a slightly derogatory way - I like to think of it as kind of a liberal labour tradition. Which is actually broadly - and I'm sure we'll discuss things we don't like about Labour during the course of the evening - for me I mean Iraq is a huge issue, I find some of the attraction of the Prime Minister for riches and right wing European politicians unpleasant. But in the main the country hasn't been badly governed the last 10 years. ..

MAIR
But the questioner is really asking I think where is the left - where is the left.

HUTTON
But the point is - the point is that the - is that the majority of Labour MPs want the tradition and Gordon Brown is the co-architect, with Tony Blair, of New Labour, to carry on a formula that's succeeded. I don't think that's - and the problem is there isn't a coherent left position to get enough Labour MPs to cohere around, that's the heart of Michael Meacher's and John McDonnell's problem - they couldn't get a unified position because actually these days there isn't a common critique of capitalism, there isn't a solid militant trade union movement, there aren't great causes for the left to cohere around. And in its absence we have liberal Labour who hasn't done that badly. And Gordon Brown got the mandate, he did get the mandate from his party, he might not have got it from the country but he got it from his party. [CLAPPING]

WARSI
It's not - I mean it's quite unusual that you say that Will because actually in 1990, when the Tories were having a leadership discussion, and at that time it was actually Gordon Brown who said that we don't need a leadership contest we need a general election for the people of Britain to decide who should be the next prime minister. And it seems rich now that 17 years on he's not prepared to follow his own advise, I think it's hypocritical and he's that type of - it's that type of comment and then subsequent behaviour that actually means that the general public do not trust politicians.

MAIR
Michael Meacher.

HUTTON
In that case - it's silly because [CLAPPING] Sayeeda in that case the kind of the rot set in, in 1990 when the Tories didn't oblige Gordon Brown by having the election he calls for.

WARSI
And now Brown will not follow his own advice.

TAYLOR ?
I think it's a slightly unfortunate point to make.

MAIR
And I do want to bring you in Michael Meacher.

MEACHER
... I think she should be careful in glasshouses not to throw stones. The fact is in 1990 when John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher there was not a General Election.

WARSI
No but Gordon Brown was calling for one though and it now seems rich, 17 years on, he's not prepared to follow his own advice.

MEACHER
Well there has not been, in these circumstances, in our constitutional history, a General Election. What I really regret about this and I do really regret about this is that there was not an election within the Labour Party for the leadership. That I think is a tragedy. [CLAPPING] And I say that for two reasons. One is I think for all major political parties - or any political parties - I think should have a choice as to who their leader is and not have one imposed on them. Now amongst MPs in the House of Commons it was absolutely overwhelming but I think if you went out into the constituency parties and the membership you would get a very different picture. And I do think it is a great pity - I'm sure Gordon - I'm sure Gordon Brown would have won but I do think it would have been a great, great deal better, both for the party, for the electorate and indeed for Gordon Brown when he takes over, if it was on the basis of an election. Now can I just something about the impotence of the left? I don't think that's quite fair. We actually did field a candidate, we actually fielded two - the right didn't field anyone, which I think is a significant point. Now why didn't the left do better? I agree with Will that the real problem I think for the Labour Party in the last 10 years is that we took over from the Tories in 1997 after the hegemony of particularly Margaret Thatcher of course, with a colossal majority, with a bigger opportunity to transform British society than probably any political party's had in the last 200 years and I'm very, very sad and upset that we didn't challenge that right wing hegemony, we didn't use the opportunity to develop the kind of ideals and aspirations the overwhelming majority of Labour Party people feel. And unfortunately many people leftish inclined in the Labour Party, as a result of that, have slowly walked away, that's the problem which the left now has. I think they're there in the electorate, I think we represent a very significant part of the electorate but it is going to take some time to build that alliance, that solidarity again. I'm sure it's going to happen and it's going to happen for this very good reason, that we represent values and principles in British society which desperately call out over inequality, over the problems about affordable housing, over means tested poverty and requirement, over an independent foreign policy that isn't subservient to the United States, an end to this presidential style of government, restoration of democracy ...

MAIR
It's a long list.

MEACHER
It is a long list and who is going to represent that except us - the left of the party? [CLAPPING]

HUTTON
But you could only get 29 Labour MPs to rally behind that, I mean that's the point. And why wouldn't they listen to this rallying call if it's so evidently true?

TAYLOR
Because they were frightened about their jobs, they were frightened to stand because they knew that if they went against Brown they would not be selected for junior ministers or whatever. And if there'd have been the slightest hint that Michael Meacher could have got the candidates you would have seen people flocking to his cause within the Labour Party because I know Labour MPs who are just as sick of Tony Blair as the country is and just as sick of Brown as the country is.

MAIR
Will Hutton.

HUTTON
There's only whatever it is 105/110 MPs actually are members of the government, so you've got over 200 which are still coming in for Brown. So I don't think ...

TAYLOR
Hopefuls.

HUTTON
... the arithmetic of it doesn't stand. There might be a hundred who would do that but not 300.

MAIR
Alright I want to go back to our questioner, what did you think of the answers?

FERGUSON
I'd just come back to Graham Taylor because I don't think Brown does need to go to the country, after all the electorate chose a government not a prime minister.

TAYLOR
I actually disagree with that. I think when Tony Blair came in we chose Tony Blair, I voted not for the Labour Party, I voted for Tony Blair, he was supposedly the saviour of the country, he has now gone, let's have an election and choose the next person we think is going to lead this country out of the state it's in at the moment.

WARSI
And also Brown keeps talking about how this is going to be a major change and how there's going to be a new direction and all of this stuff and if there is going to be this major change, which he keeps talking about, then that's not the government that surely the people voted for.

MEACHER
Well I think it is ...

MAIR
Alright, thank you for all of that.

MEACHER
I think it is. I think - I think Gordon Brown will make changes, I hope he will, he's going to continue to be pressed very hard by a section of the party to do so. But it is, I think, right that he has two years till the next General Election in order to begin to put those into place and then people will be able to make an informed choice within the electorate.

MAIR
Thank you very much for that and let's take our next question please.

FREESTONE
Chris Freestone. Should Prince Harry give up his army career, if he's not being treated equally surely he's just playing at being a soldier?

MAIR
Michael Meacher.

MEACHER
I think this was a very difficult decision for General Dannatt to make. It was his decision, it was made on military criteria. I think it was the right decision. The fact is he would have been targeted, al-Qaeda made it very clear that he would have been targeted and it isn't just Prince Harry but all of those who serve with him would also have been unusually at risk. And I think it is just folly if we had gone ahead and insisted that he should take his place along with everyone else. I don't think anyone has any doubts about the courage and the determination of the Royals - Prince Andrew in the Falklands and here Prince Harry - there's no doubt he wanted to go. And that is a pretty courageous decision - going into Iraq or Afghanistan at the present time, I don't think anyone doubts that. But I don't think he should give up his military career, I think there are very special circumstances that apply here and it was the only sensible decision to make. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Sayeeda Warsi.

WARSI
Yeah, I would have to agree with Michael. And I think that we must credit where credit is due. Prince Harry didn't need to join the army, Prince Harry didn't need to insist that he wanted to be on the front line, Prince Harry didn't need to insist that he wanted to be there with his men and with his colleagues. And I think that we should give credit to Prince Harry for taking that position. And I think as Michael has said I think the decision that was taken by General Dannatt was not just for Prince Harry but it was for the troops that would be serving alongside him, there was a real threat for the people who would be serving with him. This was a military decision and I think that we need to agree with that decision. But to turn this round - I think on Prince Harry or the Royals I think would be terribly unfair.

MAIR
Will Hutton. [CLAPPING]

HUTTON
I mean it's absolutely plain that had he gone any number of insurgents would have come to Basra to try to kill a royal prince, a British royal prince, and that there would have been a young men and women who'd have been injured or killed because of him being there. And the army has quite rightly asked him to step to one side. And actually this should never have got out, we should all have learnt about Harry's tour of duty in Iraq after he'd been. [CLAPPING] And I think once again the armed services have to ask themselves some hard questions about news management. He can serve surely in other parts of the world. He will be asking himself questions about what does a royal do these days. I mean even 30 years ago it was perfectly okay for a member of the Royal Family to pursue a military career and expect to be in combat. These days, in which actually it's as much about using soft power, just imagine the success that the insurgents would feel if they managed to take out Prince Harry, that would be a huge capital gain for them and war is fought that way these days, it's not actually massed armies fighting across massed fronts. It's as much about scoring points in public relations. And in that kind of context I don't think that actually our Royal Family can serve in the armed forces anymore particularly, it's going to be very difficult for him to do so. And then you have to say he'll be asking himself what am I to do next and what should a member of the Royal Family - these two young men - do these days - work in charity, go in the city and work in private equity, go and become a member - join Graham in his former profession of being an Anglican priest? I mean it's not easy to think of things that they can do and a career that might actually take them right up until they're 60 or 70. And I think - I've always thought this - I thought that it won't be pressure from below that leads to a weakening in the monarchy, it will be the Royal Family itself asking itself whether it's any longer worth the candle, in terms of the personal sacrifices you have to make. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Graham Taylor.

TAYLOR
I don't think Harry should be there, I don't think any British soldier should be there. [CLAPPING] This is Blair's war and Bush's war, it is not a British war. And I just feel sad for the parents of all the children who have gone out there and given their lives fighting against terrorism.

MAIR
But on the question, which is asking should he be treated the same as all other soldiers in essence, what do you think?

TAYLOR
Well I agree with Will, we should have known when he came back, and this has been badly handled by the army, they were saying yes he's going, yes he's going, of course he's going, he's a British soldier, he's going to go and then we suddenly hear no he's not.

MAIR
Although I should ask Will Hutton, General Dannatt when he was making his statement all of this suggested the media had a part to play in giving a great deal of information.

HUTTON
Well the British media shouldn't be a surprise to the general. I mean where's he been the last three weeks, just watching what's been taking place with Maddie, which I'm sure we'll also be talking about this evening, the British media is like the weather - I mean there it is, it's a force of nature. I think the army has to smarten up and the military has to smarten up in the way it deals with it.

MAIR
Alright thank you for that. Let's have our next question please.

VIELMA
Barbara Vielma. Metaphorically speaking do you think that Gordon Brown will hop right into bed with George Bush once he becomes prime minister?

MAIR
Am I detecting an accent?

VIELMA
I'm from Texas but I did not vote for George. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
So metaphorically speaking will Brown hop into bed with Bush? Let's start with you Graham Taylor.

TAYLOR
Well I notice actually with Gordie that he's had a makeover, he's looking very much the reptilian Bush type figure now, I noticed his teeth are whiter and his chins are smaller and his hair is darker - it seems to me like he's just becoming a clone of Mr Bush already in his appearance and I think yes I think he will, I don't think he will be as strong or as tough against Georgie as we think he's going to be. And within six months he'll just be as big a poodle as Blair was.

MAIR
Michael Meacher.

MEACHER
Well - he's made perfectly clear several things. First of all, that he has going to do more with regard to the environment, with regard to eco towns, which I think is a good thing. He's concerned about democratic accountability. And he's made it perfectly clear that he wants to see a more independent foreign policy. I think at this stage we have to take him at his word. Of course there can be no guarantee. I did, I have to say, in the debate, which I had with him last Monday, the only time when the three candidates were together, specifically ask him what would he do if we woke up and found that there had been an attack by American planes on Iran the night before, would he support George Bush or would he support the UK. And what he said was that he thought that this wouldn't happen, that we were building a multilateral solidarity and involving Iran in negotiation. Now all of that is I think actually true, if that is what's happening. I desperately hope that he means what he says and I think to rubbish him - as Graham has done - even before the man has had a chance I think is wrong. I think he wants to get more to the heart of the British people and he knows that he can't do that if he becomes a puppet of the American administration, particularly Bush, so I'm hopeful.

TAYLOR
But he's got friends in - Brown has got friends in high places in America just as Blair has and I don't think we're going to see anything different Michael, I think he's just going to go down the same lines and mix with the same people. And I think it was the last president of America who told Blair - hug them close - and that is what he will do.

MEACHER
Well you're a cynic and you're a Tory. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Sayeeda Warsi, you are a Tory, I don't know if you're cynical.

WARSI
The thought of Brown and Bush in bed together just makes my stomach turn. But ...

MEACHER
It would make a heck of a video though wouldn't it.

WARSI
It would still make my stomach turn. But it's interesting when Michael is saying that we've kind of condemned Brown before he started but it was actually in his conference speech, when he was talking about foreign policy, when his words were: never anti-American. It was a very, very strong phrase to use - never anti-American. And yes we are friends of America, we always will remain friends of America, but the whole point of being a friend with someone is to tell them and guide them when you think they are wrong, that's what honest friends do. And unfortunately we haven't done that. I think that our foreign policy, as well as many other polices, but specifically our foreign policy needs to have much more patience, needs to have much more humility, needs to have much more of a multi-national approach and I don't think that Brown has got the strength of character to see that through.

MAIR
Will Hutton.

HUTTON
Well British prime ministers - both Labour and Tory - have a good record of being - of challenging American presidents. It was Harold Wilson who refused to offer Lyndon Johnson even eight Scots Guards - a platoon of Scots Guards - in Vietnam, just said no. Margaret Thatcher had her moments of criticism of Ronald Reagan and I think that the Tory Party and the Labour Party have watched the fall out of Tony Blair's uncritical acceptance of what goes in Washington and they will return to form. I think that no British prime minister in future will ever be as uncomplaining about every twist and turn of American foreign policy as Tony Blair has been. It's been a very, very salutary lesson for our politicians and for the British people.

MAIR
Alright. If you have a view on the views you've heard the number to call for Any Answers after Saturday's Any Questions is 08700 100 444 or you can e-mail any.answers@bbc.co.uk. The number again: 08700 100 444. Our next question please.

JEPPLES
David Jepples. Will the decision by the Conservative Party not to create any grammar schools lead to better social integration of society?

MAIR
Sayeeda Warsi.

WARSI
Yeah, it's never been Conservative policy to create more grammar schools, it's always been Conservative policy to support the ones that we already have and that remains the case, we still support grammar that exist and that do a very good job. And I think that the discussions that David Willetts has been having and what the Conservative Party have been saying is that grammar schools do a fantastic job and have done a good job at a time when they were the answer but now in today's Britain we need more answers, it's not just about working with the kids that do well, who can sit their exams and get into the grammar schools but it's about improving schooling for all children and looking at different methods, including the supporting of city academies. So I think - I mean personally we have a fantastic grammar in the constituency that I come from - Heckmondwike Grammar School - parents fight to get into that school. But there are issues in relation to house prices around grammar schools, whether people from poor backgrounds can buy such houses and whether that automatically then excludes them when they come into issues around catchment areas. And therefore when social mobility is a real concern because there's lots of evidence to show that social mobility has become much worse under the current government, I think we must start looking at solutions whereby we don't just provide good schooling for the kids who do well at tests but also good schooling for all children, who may not peak at 11 but may peak at other periods in their life.

MAIR
Are you sure it's never been Conservative policy to expand grammar schools?

WARSI
Certainly over the last 20 years it's never been our policy to say we will have more grammar schools but we have always supported the grammar schools that we have had. Even under Margaret Thatcher we didn't make anymore grammar schools but what we have always clearly said is that we will support the grammar schools that we have now.

MAIR
Michael Meacher.

MEACHER
I think Sayeeda's reinventing what happened this week. Let's be quite clear. On Monday David Willetts told us that the Conservatives were unveiling a new policy which was to drop grammar schools on the grounds that they were colonised by the middle classes and as a result there were not fair and equal opportunity for working class children. A remarkable change. By Wednesday, no doubt as a result of ructions within the Tory Party, which partly became visible, we learnt that that wasn't true at all, that they were going to be maintained and in addition the Tories were going to embrace academies, despite the fact that academies of course destabilise other schools in the area, risk creating a two tier education system and have the very odd idiosyncrasy of putting in charge business men who may know nothing about education but at the same time may have odd views about creationism. And the fact is if [CLAPPING] - and I have to say if academies did turn out to be successful I am sure they would be equally colonised by the middle classes. But I would just like to say this to the Conservative Party - if they're seriously thinking about getting rid of educational privilege and equality of opportunity for working people why don't they say that they would abolish or integrate the private independent schools, that is the main cause of educational privilege in our country?

WARSI
What's your answer then Michael? What's your answer - we would get rid of private schools, we'd get rid of grammar schools, we'd get rid of city academies and we'd put up with the state system that this government's delivered with some schools having 14% pass rates for GCSE A-C grades, is that the solution, is that the best way to help poor people into good education?

MEACHER
The fact is the GCSE performance rates have been improving every year for the last 10 years, there has been an enormous attempt to improve some of the poorest schools, there's been the biggest expenditure on both primary and secondary schools that this country has ever know, our educational performance is improving all the time but not - but not - not at the price of extending educational privilege.

WARSI
That expenditure has not resulted in better results for all. Come and speak to some of the children in my constituency where we have 86 out of every 100 children coming out of that school without a single GCSE, come and speak to those children. You may have pumped lots of money in, there's no doubt about that, god we've paid for it, we've felt it in our pockets but at the end of the day if you haven't delivered results you can't sit there and criticise private schools, grammar schools, city academies and then have this utopian view of just pumping more money into bad schools.

MEACHER
The performance in our schools today is in all of our schools, at primary and secondary level, considerably higher than they were under the last Conservative government.

MAIR
Graham Taylor.

TAYLOR
Michael, last year I visited 250 schools to do motivational talks for kids to get them into reading and writing, I went from the highest classed public schools in the land to schools where they had security guards on the gates and I've been to the city academies - I've seen everything. What you need is more schools, what you need is to allow teachers to teach and not bog them down with all this paperwork that they have to do. What you need is to inspire kids and not terrify them with exams every year - you are going to be tested on this, tested on that [CLAPPING]. I will tell you - I will tell you what your party has done to education in this country. My daughter is eight years old, she's in year three at a school, she's taken two days off sick this week for the stress of having two weeks of exams at the age of eight. And it's the Labour Party who've brought this on our kids and you should be ashamed for what you've done in education. And she's right - there are kids in towns in this country who are leaving school without any GCSEs, without any hope, because they've been told from a very early age that they're failures because they can't sit an exam. And you talk about grammar schools - there's a teacher in here called Michael Pitts and he worked at a grammar school in Scarborough and he will tell you that he saw children coming off some of the roughest council estates in Scarborough and going on and finding social mobility because they were picked at the age of 11 and passed the 11 plus and went on to better things. Your policies are destroying childhood in this country and soon the Labour Party should wake up and smell the coffee because that's what you're doing Michael. [CLAPPING]

MAIR
I'll let you come back Michael Meacher but first Will Hutton.

HUTTON
Well I'm rather enjoying Michael Meacher - there he is - I was just thinking that Jack Straw, who's Gordon Brown's campaign manager, will be on the phone, the 314th MP to back Gordon Brown, we'll see him tonight in action supporting a Brownite position. No I thought it was a big moment actually - Willetts and the Tory Party climbing down on grammar schools and I thought Graham made some very good points. We're beginning to have a conversation not about how you educate the top 5 or 10% in Britain, I mean actually I went to a grammar school and it was great and here I am now tonight but I mean if I hadn't gone to grammar school I'd have probably found my way and other grammar schools would have found their - boys would have found their way. The point is not the top 50,000 in every three quarters of a million who are 16 or 17, it's the others. And some kids just can't do GCSEs, they haven't got a kind of academic frame of mind. What they can do is practical stuff, vocational stuff, every kid has got something inside them that is their particular genius and the point of the education system is not actually to try and badge everybody - have you got five GCSEs A* -C, have you got your three A Levels, have you got NVQ2, have you got NVQ3, are you going to go to university, are Oxford and Cambridge going to choose you because you've got the right A Levels and all the rest of it. What you want is you want an education system that starts talking about bringing out individual talent. And actually here's the point about these city academies, there are only 60 of them, and when you go round them what you see is a new energy, a new energy, they get the same money as an LEA school, they're governed by an independent board, there's always a local authority representative on those boards, they're not completely detached and the governors and the heads and the faculty are really trying to drive those schools forward. Their formal results are getting better but there's beginning to be people who are declaring independence within paradoxically city academies from this mad world of it just being about the latest bloody qualification you've got. We must liberate our young boys and our young girls from this tyranny of having to get the next exam and that everything hangs upon having these wretched certificates. Let us unlock people's talents, let's celebrate the practical, let's celebrate the vocational. In September when the A Level results come out the quality newspapers will have which universities can take on who and what is there if you haven't got that, what is there for you if you're an apprentice - people on an apprenticeship - there's nothing? We've got to change the conversation. And it was a big moment - the Tories climbing off elitism and coming to talk about how you educate ordinary people.

MAIR
Michael Meacher, the charge from at least one of the panellists if not two or three [CLAPPING] is that your party has presided over some kind of educational tyranny.

MEACHER
Well I think this is absurd. It is a matter of argument as to whether there has been too much emphasis on qualifications and targeting. I think there is some truth in that. But the fact is how do you raise the performance of schools other than by instituting some regular monitoring, providing the extra expenditure that those schools and those teachers need, increasing the number of teachers, which we have done dramatically and testing whether you are getting the improvements because if you're not getting the improvements then you have to look again at how you actually can achieve those aspirations that you want? Now that is ...

WARSI
By trusting teachers Michael.

MEACHER
Can I just finish?

WARSI
By trusting teachers, not relying on targets, by trusting teachers.

MEACHER
I've already answered that point - I've already answered that point. It remains - whether you like it or not it remains true that the number of pupils leaving with GCSE A-C, five or more grades, has significantly increased, I can't give the exact figures, it's probably something like 40-55 over the course of the last 10 years. It is also true that those who leave without any qualifications at all has significantly reduced. There are still a number and a significant number who we are not getting through to. I agree with what Will said about the fact that their particular skills are not academic, they're more vocational and we should I think address that. The other thing that I would like to see is much closer relations between teachers and what happens in the home, in the community, because if you have parents who are not giving support, who are not interested in education, who have no books, who never ask about what's going on at school, who never attend when you have school days, of course that child doesn't get the motivation that's required and I would like to see much more emphasis on that. But to really - really rubbish the government's focus on education is really grossly unfair ....

MAIR
Graham Taylor.

TAYLOR
I don't think it is grossly unfair. I'm talking Michael, I'm sorry I got upset, but I've seen it this week and I've seen it in all the school I've been in. This education system is in crisis and you keep on saying, you know, let's have better exam results, no let's have happier children, let's have [CLAPPING] let's have teachers who are not having nervous breakdowns and as a priest in Whitby I had to minister to several who were put under so much stress by you, so much strain, that they went out of the job. And we've got to get back to letting the teachers teach because that is what they do best. And you can't find out how good a teacher is by testing the kids in his class.

MAIR
Thank you for all that. Let's take one final quick question.

DOUGLAS
Thank you. Neil Douglas. Which bookshelf should be cleared in readiness for Blair's memoirs - fact, fiction of fantasy? [CLAPPING]

MAIR
Sayeeda Warsi.

WARSI
Fact, fiction or fantasy? Oooh, probably a bit of all, a bit of all. I think if I have to be fair there's a lot of things that he's done which have been good and I think we have to give him credit for that - reformation of the Labour Party is probably one of them, which Michael won't agree with, but I think that's a start, you know, he's kind of reformed the Labour Party in a way where we're not still talking about socialism. Fiction - a lot of that. Fantasy - a hell of a lot more of that.

MAIR
Alright. Graham.

TAYLOR
Fantasy - I don't believe there's anything called the war on terror.

MAIR
Will Hutton.

HUTTON
I think probably fiction and fantasy - I think that - I don't think Blair's been a bad prime minister really and I think in - some of us are not going to forgive him readily for Iraq and I'm with Graham on that but in the main - I laughed when you asked the question and I thought - I wasn't sure - so I'll clear other bookshelves and what I'm really worried about is the cheque he's going to get actually.

MAIR
And Michael Meacher.

MEACHER
Well I think it's very difficult to make judgements on a prime minister at the point when he or she leaves. I think all prime ministers when they leave probably have a great deal of criticism which is made of them but come one year, five years, 10 years and I say this as quite a critic of Tony Blair, I think we will look back on him as having remarkable achievements and I say that as I say as someone who is pretty critical. But I have considerable regard for what he has done ...

MAIR
Thank you very much ...

MEACHER
... even though I disagree with a lot of it.

MAIR
Thank you for all of that. I just want to give the phone number one more time - 08700 100 444. Jonathan is back next week, he'll be at the Hay Festival in Hay on Wye with Bob Marshall Andrews and Jeannette Winterson among others. Thanks for joining us. [CLAPPING]
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