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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 17 August 2007
PRESENTER: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY

PANELLISTS: MATTHEW TAYLOR
TIM MONTGOMERIE
LORD (DAVID) RAMSBOTHAM
BONNIE GREER


From: Kingston University (Penryn Road Campus) in
Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey


DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Kingston upon Thames one of Britain’s four Royal Boroughs where a thousand years ago they used to crown Saxon Kings and now where among many other things they crown hundreds of students each year with degrees not least from Kingston University our host for this programme. The University has over 20,000 students and according to the Sunday Times ratings has I quote a teaching record that is the envy of many other institutions. On our panel Matthew Taylor was Tony Blair’s Chief Adviser on political strategy before standing down last year to become Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement for Arts, Manufacture and Commerce better known as the RSA. David Ramsbotham served in the British Army for 35 years ending up as a General. In 1995 he was appointed Chief Inspector of prisons where as it were he soon put the cat among the pigeons. Instead of playing safe as had been expected he openly expressed his dismay at the state of the prison system and infuriated the government with his passionately argued calls for reform. Now in the Lords he has maintained steady but rapid fire against one Home Secretary after another each of whom, he has argued, has done even worse than his predecessor. Tim Montgomerie used to work for the Bank of England. He moved on to Conservative Central Office where he was Chief of Staff to Iain Duncan Smith during the latter’s ill fated term as leader. He now edits the Tory grassroots website called Conservativehome.com. Bonnie Greer is a playwright, author and critic. She was born in Chicago and grew up in the American South where her grandparents were share croppers in Mississippi but she has lived in this country for some 25 years. She writes, adapts and dramatizes plays amongst other things for BBC Radio and earlier this year she came third in the battle of brains on the BBC TV programme Horizon. Only third?

GREER
No I won it.

DIMBLEBY
You mean it was a fix

GREER
No (LAUGH) No I was joint

DIMBLEBY
You were joint winner.

GREER
Yes

DIMBLEBY
Congratulations

GREER
Thank you

DIMBLEBY
You are the fourth member of our panel too
(APPLAUSE)
Our first question please

SIAN BASSEY
Should I feel that my A levels are worth less than those of my parents?

DIMBLEBY
Have you just got some A levels?

SIAN
Yesterday

DIMBLEBY
I will come back to you and leave them teetering with how you did in just a moment.
What do you think about that? Matthew Taylor we know that’s in the context of an increase in those getting A’s. 25.3% I think the figure now is.

TAYLOR
Well I think it is fantastic that so many young people did so well. I think they are working harder. I think they are being taught better and I think that we are seeing better results as a consequence of that. I think there is a terrible tendency for those of us who are older to imagine that young people are doing well and it must be because the standards are falling. I have an inclination to think that the A levels must be getting easier because I failed mine so that is the only possible explanation for my failure back at the end of the 1970’s.

DIMBLEBY
You failed your A Levels?

TAYLOR
I failed my A levels the first time absolutely. I think it is also important to remember when we look at the results that only 40% I think of 18 year olds are taking A levels so when we talk about 25% of them getting A’s. That is 25% of that group of young people who are taking A levels and many people are taking vocational qualifications and still too many although it is fewer than it was 10 years ago, it is still too many young people are not staying on for education to 18. So I think we should be delighted that so many young people are succeeding. There is obviously an issue when so many people are getting A’s how do you distinguish between those people and that is something that the government is going to enable the universities to see the individual scores of students. But I think it is a good thing and we should be delighted.

DIMBLEBY
Tim Montgomerie?

MONTGOMERIE
Well first of all congratulations on HOWLING NOISE

DIMBLEBY
Don’t worry about that horrible howl. It will be sorted Start your answer again.

MONTGOMERIE
First of all congratulations on your results and also to children of friends of mine who all got excellent results yesterday and their joy was wonderful to hear about and I am going to get in trouble with Jonathan now but congratulations to Hilary and James. Having said that I think there is a problem. I think the fact that there are twice as many people getting all A grades as there are places in the top 5 universities in our country means that the A level at the moment isn’t doing its signaling function well enough to tell universities and other employers who are the absolute best performers

DIMBLEBY
Will the star system make a difference to that?

MONTGOMERIE
Well the A star system is good but I think it is only going to cause future problems ahead. For example I can’t remember the percentage but I think it is something like if you hit 90% you get an A star I am not sure about the percentage but that will mean that as the years go by I think the grade inflation will continue and we will have the same problem with the A star. I think it would be better if you were actually in the top 5% or a top defined percentage only ever you got the A star rather than hitting a percentage and that would sort out the problem of universities having to have supplementary exams now in order to do the job of signaling that the A level is no longer doing.

DIMBLEBY
Bonnie Greer

GREER
Well not having been educated here A levels are very mysterious to me so my first answer to your question would be of course no you shouldn’t feel bad, you should feel very proud of yourself. I am very proud of you and your parents should be proud of you. I have taught in this country er and so what is interesting to me is why are A levels so narrowly defined. Why do universities define what they are or job places, why can’t they be broader? And why does more mean worse? Why are we addicted to that? Why do we think that is true? So I think we need to ask ourselves what they are for. They have got to be more than getting you into university, they have got to be more than about getting a job, they have to be about becoming a human being. Perhaps we need other categories, perhaps we need a vocational baccalaureate. Something to define the way people really really live. I think it is too narrow. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
David Ramsbotham. Should Sian feel that her A levels are worth less than those of her parents?

RAMSBOTHAM
Well I am very glad that people are congratulating those who have got them. I mean having congratulated my own grandchildren in recent years and congratulating their friends I realize that they have made a considerable achievement. But I am very glad that Matthew mentioned the point that this only represents a minor proportion if you like of the number of people of this age group and I have to declare an interest as a member of the Advisory Board of the City and Guilds Institute which is very interested in vocational training and we were enormously disappointed that the vocational training is not receiving the same recognition as the academic and I rather regret that there is so much attention paid to A levels and not enough to the vocational training which is actually going to be the future of many more of our people than those who have an academic one.

DIMBLEBY
Were you in favour of the Tomlinson report’s urge to bring together the vocational and academic so that they were both appreciated to the same degree in terms of success.

RAMSBOTHAM
I was hugely in favour and I was enormously disappointed that the decision was taken to reject that advice. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Was that a cop out by….Matthew Taylor was that a cop out by a government frightened that some middle class voters would feel that their kids were being down graded in some form?

TAYLOR
I think there was certainly that concern but I think the other worry was that until the vocational diplomas which are now being implemented were in place to remove the A levels there was a real danger that if this thing didn’t work out it was a very high risk strategy and I actually think that what is going to happen now is we are seeing the development of 14 to 18 diplomas and as long as 14 to 18 diplomas, as long as schools really go for this opportunity, work collaboratively and the diplomas succeed and if middle class parents see that even if they are not A levels they are of real value to people and they take the broader view that Bonnie has described then I think that we can eventually see a move away from A levels to a broader type of qualification and we are also seeing a growth in the international baccaulereate which is a different way of trying to have a broader education at that age.

DIMBLEBY
Sian you have patiently listened to these voices. How do you feel about your A levels in relation to those of your parents?

SIAN
Well my dad didn’t actually take A levels so I am glad to be doing them to be honest. No I know myself that I worked very hard and I know that I am going to university and to a university that I am going to like.

DIMBLEBY
And may I be impertinent enough to ask what you got?

SIAN
I got an A and 3 B’s. I decided to do 4 A levels.

DIMBLEBY
Congratulations I think APPLAUSE And one more question to you Tim arising out of this the evidence in the last five years the improvement in private and grammar schools taking A levels is double that of state schools. What if any conclusion should one do you think draw from that?

MONTGOMERIE
Well I certainly don’t approve of the action to lower the excellence that we are seeing in the private schools. I think that certain teaching methods that they are using, certain approaches to training their children perhaps should be imported to the state sector.

TAYLOR
I do think that this is a huge issue. There is great concern in society about inequality and about growing disparities but yet the fact of the matter is that more and more parents are choosing to spend their resources on enabling their children to opt out of the state system. And the most simple reason why independent schools succeed is that if you are educated amongst other pupils who are motivated and who are resourced at home you have got a much greater chance of success and the more people who opt out it means that those who are being educated in the state sector are educated in schools where there are too few people who have that sort of background and aspirations. I think that as a society, I don’ think the government can do anything about it. The government couldn’t ban private education even if it wanted to but as a society I think we have got to ask why it is that so many of us are so keen to segregate our children from each other.

DIMBLEBY
In terms of achievement you are asking people to put the general good before the individual.

TAYLOR
I think people need to be, to realize that most of the success of a child is to do with their background and to do with the abilities that they bring and yes it can be tougher if your child goes to a state school but if we want a cohesive society I think the choice you have to make is to keep your children in the state sector and give them the extra support that they might need because if our children are segregated at an early age into schools where it is very difficult to fail and schools where it is very difficult to succeed we will pay a heavy price in the future.


DIMBLEBY
Thank you if you have thoughts about that (APPLAUSE) Any Answers the number is 08700 100 444 and the email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. We will go to our next

LISA WILLIAMS
This week we have seen two people get killed as a result of them trying to curb anti social behaviour. One of these people was a first class graduate from this university. Has our society lost its grip on anti social behaviour?

DIMBLEBY
David Ramsbotham

RAMSBOTHAM
I am very interested that you should ask the question. Has society lost its grip on social behaviour? I remember that a number of us were very excited I think when Mr Blair came in saying that he wanted to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime because the causes of crime and where the antisocial behaviour is are in society and by saying that and focusing on where it happens he actually began to involve all of us in the solution. The identification of the problem and the solution to it and what happened unfortunately since then is I think that rather than focusing on the causes of crime he tended to focus on the causers of crime which is not the same thing at all. As a result what has happened is that we built up this well of things like anti social behaviour orders and the overcrowding of prisons and so on as a result of dealing with the causers rather than going to the causes. And what are the causes of anti social behaviour and what is it and what does it represent and you then get into the whole business of the home and the education and the system around us, the support mechanism for youngsters and what worries me is that we seem to have lost our grip on the way of developing people so that they concentrate on a social or a lawful or useful life rather than the anti social and I rather agree with the people who say that the anti social behaviour order is a sign of failure because it endorses precisely what you have said.

DIMBLEBY
Bonnie Greer

GREER
I think,I grew up in a gang neighbourhood, I lost family members to street violence so it is very close to me and first of all I think we are caught up in a collective memory and our memory happens to be Victorian and Edwardian. We don’t remember as a society how violent cities are. They have always been violent. They always will be violent so we mustn’t think that there as a time when they weren’t. They always were. What we have now is the media, we have a faster society, things are happening to people faster so we have to put it in that kind of context. Whether things are more violent or not well it depends on what kind of gauge you want to use. The young man who was murdered, and he was murdered is an example of the kind of change that cities are going through and these are city changes. What we do? I think we have to be counter intuitive. I think we have to go against common sense and we have to look at people in gangs and separate out the criminal element which is a very small percentage of the gang and look at really the rest of the boys and girls who are in them. Why they are in them and what they are about. To take the skills that are used in gangs and some are highly organized and this has been proved in Chicago where I am from where you take these skills and you use them for the benefit of the community and it can be done but it does take us standing back a little bit and looking at what is going on. It is a very complex picture, it is telling us a lot about how rapidly our city is changing and I think if we take a collective breath and look instead of reacting I think we can come up with solutions. I am very optimistic about it even in the midst of the tragedy.

DIMBLEBY
Has our society lost its grip on anti social behaviour Tim Montgomerie?

MONTGOMERIE
One of the most controversial things that has been attached to David Cameron’s leadership is an expression hug a hoodie? Which he never actually uttered but behind that sentiment which was used to summarise a speech he gave on the causes of crime and anti social behaviour was an idea touched on by both David and Bonnie that there are a lot of people growing up in our society who end up as these people who the media describe as thugs etc who have never known any love in their lives. They don’t have someone at the end of the day to go home to, they don’t have someone who asks them in the morning what they are going to do at school, they are alone in the world and they go into the sort of gangs that Bonnie has described and I think that until we start looking at the root causes of crime in the breakdown of the family, in the breakdown of the social organizations that we rely on to civilize people, we will never, ever get on top of the crime that so disfigures our national life. Now I am a conservative, I still believe we need proper policing, I am very worried that when there are incidents of people when they are tackling anti social behaviour, the police often seem to side with the people who act against that anti social behaviour rather than the people guilty of the anti social behaviour. I still believe that prison works for many people at the end of the conveyor belt to crime but we do need to do much more by supporting families and other institutions to ensure that far fewer children end up on that conveyor belt to crime that sends so many people into a life of despair.

DIMBLEBY
Matthew Taylor?

TAYLOR
It is very difficult to have rational conversations about crime because how do you balance the terrible tragedy that you have described by talking more broadly about what is going on in society without sounding appallingly complacent. The reality is that violent crime is down. It is also the case that if you go to poorer neighbourhoods and estates where ten years ago there was the sense that there was no way of fighting back and there was no police presence at all, if you go to those places now, communities are fighting back and there is a stronger sense whether it is wardens or community safety officers that there are people there, there are eyes on the street, there are people there ready to respond so I don’t think that despite these terrible tragedies that we should assume that society is falling apart.

DIMBLEBY
Do you with Bonnie Greer, do you take these two cases - Bonnie was saying that there has always been crime in cities and that we now live in a faster media world. Do you believe that that kind of crime has always been there?


TAYLOR
I think Bonnie is right to identify the emergence of gang culture as a particularly problematic thing but I don’t know about these individual cases. There are always going to be certain individuals in society who are psychopathic or deeply disturbed or simply evil and you can’t draw generalizations from that but there is certainly a problem around gang culture and young people which I think concerns a lot of parents and is particularly an issue in London. I find the other thing that is interesting about this debate is that we wouldn’t have had this debate in these terms10 years ago. Where the government and the establishment was 10 years ago was that they had come out of kilter with where the public was. The public was desperately worried about crime. They felt politicians didn’t understand it and yes we have had a generation of politicians who have been very strident in their rhetoric, very hang em and flog em, let’s have more asbos, let’s have more laws. I think that people feel that in a sense that strategy has run its course because why it is on this mixed platform you have such a liberal response to this problem. Attitudes change and I think there is a mood in the public now which is that we probably have got the laws, we probably have got the prison places and we do now need to address the causes.

DIMBLEBY
I will bring in Bonnie in just a moment but just on that Tim Montgomerie, on this panel, these liberal views you are very closely associated with the grass roots views of the conservative party often very in opposition with David Cameron’s stance on a number of things. On this do you find yourself at one with Matthew when you heard him saying what he said just now or not?

MONTGOMERIE
I still think grass roots conservatives, I think most people want more police on the street, I don’t think there are any where near enough police on the street despite of what I think Matthew was suggesting we need many more beat police officers getting to know these gang members that cause problems, identifying them and taking them off the streets and into youth clubs and other useful activities. I think the grass roots conservatives would also say, I would say that there aren’t enough prison places, we still need to ensure that we incarcerate people who are a threat to the community but they would also say that we have to look at these root causes. Tony Blair did get it right with that expression “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” I just don’t think he was ever very serious and he didn’t have a serious plan of being tough on the causes of crime

DIMBLEBY
Bonnie Greer?

GREER
The other thing I wanted to say quickly is that we the more dangerous situation is that we despise our young, we distrust them, we envy them, some of us hate them and if you don’t think the kids don’t feel that in the presence of adults, they don’t feel that in adult society you are wrong. The other side of that is that we don’t honour our elders it is the same piece of the pie and I think we have got to step back, we have got to give young people a place in the culture, we have got to give them something to do, we cannot continue as middle aged people and older to hang on, we need to let the young come, they feel left out, they feel not able to find their place and that is one of the problems that they are facing too.


DIMBLEBY
David Ramsbotham

RAMSBOTHAM
I think it is very dangerous to assume that this anti social behaviour we are talking about, when we are talking about the young because when I look around at what they are facing and who are their role models and what is given to them as being examples of anti social behaviour. Now I am very fortunate at having seen in the army some absolutely magnificent young men and women come from the background that some of these people who have been demonized come from and it shows that Sir Winston Churchill was absolutely right when he said that there is a treasure in the heart of every man if only you can find it and it seems to me that it is on us, society as a whole, and we should not only depend on policing as being the way of enforcing antisocial behaviour

DIMBELBY
Thank you we will leave that there.APPLAUSE Perhaps next a not unrelated question

RAMAL SINGHADI
Does the panel agree to increase the age to 21 for alcohol usage

DIMBLEBY
This is the Chief Constable of Cheshire’ s proposal that the age should be increased to 21. He cites as others that since 24 hour drinking there has been a surge in crime particularly between the night time hours of 3 and 6 in the morning. Bonnie Greer?

GREER
Well what the French call anglo saxon culture which is all of us who live in the English speaking world we seem to have a problem with alcohol. I don’t quite understand what it is. My husband and I live partly in France and you see young people drinking all the time, they start drinking very young and they are not falling out on the streets I mean they are starting to, they are starting to emulate us but they don’t fall out on the streets so it is a problem that we have within this society and I think that we need to look at that before we do anything else. I suppose if it helps people not to be anti social, to stop them at 21, to wait until they are 21 to drink I suppose so but it just delays a much more acute situation. A much more acute problem. We can’t hold our liquor, we don’t understand how to drink and that is the problem

DIMBELBY
Matthew Taylor would it help to increase the age?

TAYLOR
No I don’t think it would. The government has taken out a whole number of steps over the last few years to tackle this issue, increase the penalties to people selling alcohol to people under age. It has made it easier for the police to close down pubs that are serving people, it has created areas in most towns and cities where public drinking is not allowed. The fact is that younger people have more money, they are choosing to spend that money on drinking more, and I think that Bonnie is right we have a cultural issue here, there is an implicit approval given to getting out of your head and it is big brother culture, phenomenon, it’s very funny for people to get so drunk they can hardly stand up and we have a drinks industry which makes a huge amount of money selling its product and lets face it selling the idea that if you have enough of this product you can get out of your head so I am not sure if this is something where the government can make a huge amount of difference. It is going to be cultural change. Society is about families, it is about business but it is about asking why it is that we have got to the stage where so many young people think that getting completely out of your head is a definition of a good time.

DIMBLEBY
David Ramsbotham

RAMSBOTHAM
I agree with you and I think the cultural issue is very important. I am interested in one particular aspect of this because one of the organizations that I am in touch with is an organization called Adaction which is one of the organizations trying to deal with drug and alcohol abuse and one of the things they are finding enormously difficult in their work is that an enormous number of youngsters are actually drinking and getting drunk at home before they actually go out on to the streets to buy drink and therefore they start off in the home with completely the wrong attitude to the subject and that then makes it impossible for the drug treatment or alcohol treatment organizers, mentors and others to work because they are working against the culture in the home and I think that it is no good passing laws or anything to do with it because laws will be ignored because the parents are buying the drink, they are getting round the prohibition anyway and I believe that it is a cultural thing and somehow we have got it in us that the real thing is that it is macho to drink too much and behave appallingly and look at the amount of drinking and bad behaviour one sees thrust at us on the media all the time.

DIMEBLEBY
Tim Montgomerie

MONTGOMERIE
I was recently in America and they do have in many states a limit of 21. This is radio so listeners won’t be able to see that I am a lot older than 21 but I was stopped at numerous bars and clubs and asked to prove my age when I was in fact over…

DIMBLEBY
It is because you are not as over 21 as you might think. How old are you?

MONTGOMERIE
36 37

DIMBLEBY
LAUGH


MONTGOMERIE
So apart from my ego I am not sure that I see any other benefit to the rules. David hinted at it in his answer is that I think that if you criminalize people under 21 drinking you will force people into the homes where they will drink. I don’t think you will stop drinking. I think the same danger is that if you put up alcohol prices in pubs and clubs you will force younger people to use more powerful drinks at home again so it is a very difficult area. I think alcohol abuse is a massive problem. In many ways it causes more problems to the economy and to public safety than banned drugs but I think that a lot of the issues that we discussed in answering the previous question, I think it is more about family, it is more about policing, it is more about finding alternative places for young people to find safe pursuits. It is not about raising the age at which you can drink alcohol.

DIMBLEBY
Our audience here who thinks it will be a good idea like the Chief Constable to raise the level at which you can buy alcohol to 21. Do you think it is a good idea put your hands up? Who is not with the idea? Who thinks it is not a good idea? Well it gets a massive thumbs down from this particular audience. If you have thoughts about that or anything else we are discussing that number once again for Any Answers is 08700 100 444 and the email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Our next question please.

JOHN HIBALL
Should inheritance tax be abolished?

DIMBLEBY
This is one of the proposals put forward as a possible programme for a conservative government by John Redwood. Tim Montgomerie?

MONTGOMERIE
Yes (LAUGH) The reason why I think it should be abolished is because it is a tax on something that you have already paid. People spend huge portions of their life paying for their home, out of heavily taxed income and then to have a large part of their inheritance that they want to pass on to their children taken away from them I think there is something morally questionable about that. So I am pleased that John Redwood has made that recommendation. Inheritance tax is the second most unpopular tax in Britain after council tax and Britain at the moment is labouring under the highest tax burden in its history. Our tax burden is rising above that of Germany. All the good that was done during the Thatcher years is slowly being undone. (LAUGH) (APPLAUSE) The British economy was transformed during those years and slowly but surely it is being gummed up by the taxes that Gordon Brown has imposed. I am a tax cutting conservative and I would like to see taxes reduced progressively. I would like to see taxes reduced on poorer citizens which is why I have a little bit of nervousness politically about inheritance tax being the one issue that the party stresses more than anything else but over time I do think we need to cut the tax burden or we won’t be in a competitive economy and we won’t be able to afford investment in our public services.

DIMBLEBY
And you don’t see if I understand you correctly that cutting the tax burden should be contingent upon delivering the public services first. You would do it willy nilly.


MONTGOMERIE
On the Today programme this morning George Osborne said he wasn’t a supply sider. I am a supply sider I do believe that if you cut taxes you unleash economic growth which powers the potential for further tax cuts and for greater investment

DIMBLEBY
Which is much what John Redwood has been saying as well.

MONTGOMERIE
I am more a Redwoodite than an Osbornite I think on this and I think there are plenty of examples around the world not least in Ireland where low taxes has produced one of the most dynamic economies in Europe

DIMBLEBY
Matthew Taylor?

TAYLOR
Well it is quite refreshing to see a real Conservative at last

GREER
Yes it is

TAYLOR
It’s like red pillar boxes and things you thought had gone over time….I don’t think that abolishing inheritance tax is a very good idea. John Redwood said in the report, the extract that I read, that inheritance should go because it is an unpopular tax which is presumably a way of distinguishing it from all those popular taxes(LAUGH)
that we pay . And of course if you look at inheritance on its own, and you’ll say it‘s not fair people save up and they pay tax, why should they have to pay tax again and if people’s homes are suddenly worth a lot of money well they shouldn’t have to pay tax on their homes but there are arguments against all taxes. Income tax is a tax on employment and enterprise, council tax is a tax upon the house in which you live. Well the list can go on.

DIMBLEBY
Well it isn’t double taxation in the way that you just yourself described inheritance tax, income tax is it?

TAYLOR
No it’s not and I think the argument on double taxation is a tough one but on the other hand no tax is popular so let’s look at inheritance tax. It is paid by 6% of the estate, the government is committed to raising the threshold so that figure doesn’t rise above 6%. Now the conservatives have said today that the key issue is economic competitiveness and a couple of weeks ago with Iain Duncan Smith’s report they said the key issue was fairness. I have to say that you know as a tax does inheritance diminish competitiveness, do we think that people in their 50’s, they are not going to work so hard today because in 30 years time I might have to pay some tax on the element of my estate above £400,000 or whatever it will be at that stage. I don’t think so so I don’t think it inhibits productivity and does it contribute to unfairness? Well no it doesn’t and as far as taxes go it is a reasonably fair and redistributive tax in a society where generally speaking people are worried about the levels of inequality so no taxes are great and we would all love to be able to abolish all taxes but I don’t think inheritance tax is the worse tax and if I was cutting taxes I would start with income tax paid by low income workers because one of the biggest issues particularly in an area like London is there are massive disincentives for people to work. If you live particularly in rented housing you pay housing benefit you have to earn a huge amount of money to make work pay so I would abolish income tax for low income workers if I had money to spend I wouldn’t be abolishing it for 6% of the most well off people (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
David Ramsbotham.

RAMSBOTHAM
Well I am not a conservative or a labour or indeed a liberal. Somebody described a cross bencher as being a radical of the extreme centre which allows you to lash out in every direction. Am I in favour of the inheritance tax? No I am not and I am very glad it should be abolished but I also agree with what Matthew said about the tax on the lower paid. I think that my reason for both of them is exactly the same. Are they taxes which are acting as incentives or disincentives and I think the inheritance tax is an unnecessary disincentive. I don’t it is as major an issue for so many people of course as the lower end of the income tax scale but in principal I am against it and I would like to see it abolished.

DIMBLEBY
Bonnie Greer

GREER
I agree with that and to add I think that inheritance tax is rather old fashioned. It does hit middle class people who have homes, the property is going up, it hits them. I would like to see these non dames pay some tax. These guys who work in the city 5 days per week and go and .live in Monaco on the weekend, who switch their money to their wives so they don’t have to pay any tax. I would like to bring some of these off shore people on shore to give us some money. That’s where I am coming from and I think if we got money from those people we wouldn’t have to worry about taking it from middle class home owners in inheritance tax. (APPLAUSE) Oh I forgot the the Hitch Fund people they definitely need to pay their tax as well.

DIMBLEBY
Tim Montgomerie just to pick up on a couple of points that were made by the others, including Matthew Taylor, that it only affects 6% of home owners and it is also not a disincentive for a productive economy

MONTGOMERIE
I agree on the disincentive issue. I don’t think that if you are really top priority in competitiveness this isn’t really the first tax that you would cut but that shouldn’t be the deciding factor for every tax cut. I think that people do feel a great sense of injustice with the tax and that is the main reason why I think in due course it should be abolished. On the 6% issue part of the problem I think here is that it is a huge increase already in the number of people paying it. There are a huge number of taxes that Gordon Brown has imposed that have been done very stealthily. We weren’t told that they were coming but 100 taxes later Britain is a very heavily taxed economy and I think that people don’t quite know where Gordon Brown is going with inheritance tax. Already huge numbers of people have been caught in the net, the thresholds haven’t been adjusted with inflation in many years so therefore because of the rising house prices people have been caught in this net.

TAYLOR
I think there is a commitment to raise it over the next 10 years so that that proportion that 6% of estates remains stable

DIMBLEBY
You don’t sound a passionate supporter of the governments’ stance hitherto on inheritance tax just listening to your tone.

TAYLOR
How do you mean?

DIMBLEBY (LAUGHING)
It could be thought that you felt it might be a good idea to get rid of it because it might be popular to get rid of it even though I can’t make a strong case for it remaining

TAYLOR
No look politics is about making difficult choices you know and David says he would like to get rid of inheritance tax it is horrible. We would all like to get rid of taxes but the issue is do we want public services, do we want to invest in all the things that we care about and infrastructure and if we do we have got to raise tax so which is the fairest way of raising tax and which is the way now Jonathan talked today about reducing corporation tax with the idea that if you reduced that businesses would create more profit and in the end it would be self financing. Now I have got an open mind on that argument because that is an argument about improving our competitiveness. I don’t see how abolishing inheritance tax can improve the overall wealth of the nation.

MONTGOMERIE
I agree with you on that it wouldn’t be my first priority but I think may be we are close to consensus on this that Britain could be at a tipping point where the tax burden is so high and so stealthily imposed that if we do not start to cut taxes soon the British economy is fundamentally in danger and therefore our investment in public services and welfare services is also in danger.

DIMBLEBY
It could be that the consensus might have been there if you had not used the word stealthily am I right Matthew?

TAYLOR
Well it is certainly the case there have been lots of different taxes. We live in a complex world, people talk about environmental tax, now is an environmental tax a stealth tax or not so one person’s clever tax is another person’s stealth tax.

DIMBELBY
I want to go to our audience. Who believes that inheritance tax should be abolished? Would you put your hands up? Who does not? Well in this audience there is an overwhelming support in Kingston upon Thames for the abolition of inheritance tax

TAYLOR
It reflects the house prices (laugh)

DIMBELEBY
I, I , I was not intending to draw any inference or conclusion from saying it was in Kingston upon Thames just reminding our audience listening elswehere where we are in favour of the abolition of inheritance tax. The next question please

ALLAN KELLY
In view of the current debate about whether depression is being over diagnosed and with over 31 million NHS prescriptions for anti depressants dispensed in 2006 is it time for our concept of happiness to be redefined?

DIMBLEBY
Bonnie Greer?

GREER
Well as the sister of. My sister was hospitalized for depression so it is not about happiness really. It is a disease honestly and if you have known anyone who has suffered from depression it is a pretty ugly thing. Being an American of course we have it in our constitution that we are supposed to care about happiness it is one of our pursuits so happiness is a very big thing in my agenda. I think that happiness, we do need to think about what happiness is. People who are happy are more productive and they do more for themselves and for their neighbour. I think in this country people are embarrassed to talk about happiness. I would say that of course but we need to find out what it is and is it an inner quality and has something to do with how you treat your neighbour. That’s my definition. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Isn’t what you said about your sister – a professor Gordon Parker said there is over diagnosing and in the context of anti depressant prescriptions soaring and that has caused quite a fierce academic debate between views. Is your own view that you shouldn’t worry about the fact that there has been well in terms of prescriptions one should worry about the increase but there is an underlying anxiety that if more and more people are needing such prescriptions.

GREER
Well we need more prescriptions for lots of things well in my grandmas day we all take drugs for that they didn’t take at all in those days for anything so I don’t know about that but I do want to say that depression is an illness. It isn’t being unhappy, it isn’t being bored, it isn’t feeling down it is a real illness and it needs prescription, it needs drugs.

DIMBELBY
David Ramsbotham


RAMSBOTHAM
Well I agree with what Bonnie said. I think that real depression is a really depressing and desperate thing and I could not sympathise more hugely with those people who suffer from genuine depression and I am also concerned, I don’t think enough research is being done into the actual causes of the really serious depression. What slightly worries me though and I speak with a little bit of experience as a Chairman of a hospital at a time was that sometimes I think that the drugs that were rather lobbed about had the sort of depression attached to them without really being depression itself. It was something else which got the depression label and that is what I am slightly concerned about that the real need to attack the real needs of the people who really are depressed is being slightly cheapened by the widening of this net. I always remember that the word happiness being mentioned that happiness and efficiency were the two words that you always put together when thinking particularly about soldiering. Efficient people were usually happy and happy people were usually efficient and they went together and I think that it is useful to think about that and may be that society around us is less happy and efficient for people who are not able to be efficient because there is nothing to be efficient about and there is also less to be happy about with all the gloom and doom that is pressed at us so perhaps we need to think about that as well and not let ourselves be depressed by the fact that we don’t see enough happiness and efficiency around

DIMBLEBY
Tim Montgomerie

MONTGOMERIE
I think it is obviously good to ask a question like this in a forum like this. Depression, happiness wasn’t a matter we discussed very much in the past Churchill famously had his black dog which used to engulf him. There wasn’t the vocabulary there wasn’t the conversation about depression in the past and I think it is good that we are talking more about it now. I worry that one of the main causes of depression, unhappiness in our society is loneliness and the number of people that live on their own now and particularly elderly people who go for days without any meaningful human contact has risen hugely in our society and I think it is one of the most shameful things I think about our modern life that old people in particular are so isolated and I think that if I have a simple, one recommendation that we tackle it is to find much more capacity within our society to visit people and befriend people who are on their own.

DIMBLEBY
Matthew Taylor

TAYLOR
I think this is an important argument and I think it is important to reject the view that the big problem here is over diagnosis. Actually there have been major advances in the
Medical treatment of depression and we know now that the right combination of drugs and cognitive and behavioral therapy can achieve very good results and achieve them quite quickly. It is still the case that there are a lot of people in society suffering with depression, worried about the stigma of depression who aren’t getting the treatment they should have so I think it is wrong for us to think that the problem is over diagnosis. In relation to happiness I am Chief Executive of a fiercely non political body so I want to avoid sounding like I am the token left winger but there is now pretty strong evidence if you look at contentment and happiness across society that societies that are more equal and have more generous welfare states generally speaking are more happy. And the simple reason for that is that money, the same amount of money means less to you if you are well off than if you are poor. So an extra hundred pounds to a millionaire is not as useful as and extra hundred pounds to someone who is on the minimum wage. I say that despite listening to your views on inheritance tax so I am taking a risk but I think if we follow the statistics we would say that a society with quite a strong public sphere and a relatively equal society does appear to be one with higher levels of contentment overall.
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBELBY
And we can squeeze in one more

KEITH BALDWIN
Will Tony Blair’s legacy be as long lived as that left by Elvis?

(laughter)

DIMBLEBY
Bonnie Greer

GREER
No. We all know the answer to that. You know. No no no we will remember Tony Blair as a footnote in history, he is going to be identified with the fiasco that he got us into and I am not a fan of Elvis but Elvis will continue to live on.

DIMBLEBY
Tim Montgomerie

MONTGOMERIE
I am a great Elvis fan too but as for Tony Blair I think one of the most remarkable things, of course he leaves huge legacies behind in some of the problems that he created but the extend to which Gordon Brown has come to dominate the – when Mrs Thatcher stopped being Prime Minister I thought whenever they mentioned the Prime Minister on the radio I thought of Mrs Thatcher for a very long time but actually Gordon Brown has established himself very quickly as Prime Minister and I think Tony Blair is off the stage and gladly forgotten.

DIMBLEBY
You sound like a grass roots conservative who thinks that Gordon Brown might win the next General Election and wouldn’t be overly distressed

MONTGOMERIE
Not at all Jonathan

DIMBLEBY
Matthew Taylor


TAYLOR
I think the great differences between the legacy of politicians and musicians is that we are kind to musicians who die in the tragic way that Elvis Presley did. We don’t really remember his awful music and his terrible films we instead we remember the one good film that he made and the really good songs that he made. Unfortunately politicians aren’t remembered in the same way. In 30 years time there will still be people who praise Tony Blair’s record and there will still be people who dislike what he did and he won’t be able to simply publish his greatest hits.

DIMBLEBY
David Ramsbotham

RAMSBOTHAM
I am interested in the use of the word legacy really because I seem to remember that the time that Elvis Presley was round he seemed to come in for a certain amount of blame for anti social behaviour which was imitating him I think they will be remembered for different things but I am afraid that the legacy of Blair and what Blair has done particularly in place like Iraq is going to live on in a different way affecting not just us but of course the people who are affected by what was done there and therefore in legacy terms as supposed to memory terms I suspect that the legacy of Blair will outlive that of Elvis
(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
On which thought we come to the end of this weeks programme. Next week we are going to be in Liverpool with the Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne, Poet Ian Macmillan, the Associate Editor of the Independent newspaper Paul Ballilee and Lousie Bradshaw who is the author and also a conservative parliamentary candidate. Join us there and don’t forget any answers 08700 100 444 is the number from here in Kingston University goodbye.

(APPLAUSE)
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