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ANY QUESTIONS
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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions? 24 August 2007
PRESENTER: Jonathan Dimbleby

PANELLISTS: Peter Oborne
Ian McMillan
Paul Vallely
Louise Bagshawe

FROM: The Everyman Theatre, Liverpool


DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Liverpool where we are at the famous Everyman Theatre on Hope Street. Hope is not perhaps in abundant supply this weekend in this city, which as its leaders have been saying is in shock following the killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones. Hope Street itself links Liverpool's two great cathedrals and is in a part of the city renowned for its cutting edge creativity. Names like Julie Walters, Anthony Sher, Bill Nihy, Alan Bleasdale, Willy Russell and many more have made the Everyman famous far beyond the confines of the city.

But I imagine that the thoughts of our audience here for this programme are rather more with the anguish of Rhys Jones's parents, expressed by his father Stephen with the words: "We have lost our world".

On our panel to discuss this and other issues two renowned journalists and commentators. The political columnist Peter Oborne who is now resident at the Daily Mail. And the Associate Editor of the Independent Paul Vallely, who writes extensively on social and religious issues and as a specialist on the developing world has collaborated closely with Bob Geldof.

They're joined by Louise Bagshawe, a bestselling novelist with 15 books to her name who was inspired by Jeffrey Archer to write novels, which she herself describes modestly as having, I quote: "No redeeming literary merit at all." She's also a would be politician who's been selected to fight a seat for the Conservatives at the next Election as one of David Cameron's A list candidates. Which is more important to you, Louise, the books or the politics?

BAGSHAWE
The politics but don't tell my publishers.

DIMBLEBY
Very well, we'll keep that to ourselves.

Ian McMillan was born near Barnsley where he still lives. After college he worked as a labourer on a building site and in a tennis ball factory but he always wanted to write. He's now highly regarded as a poet and as a performer. He's been Barnley Football Club's poet in residence, he's done the same for the Humberside Police and he's now Yorkshire Planetarium's poet in space, mercifully he's here as well. As the presenter of the Verve on Radio 3, a weekly cabaret of language, he calls it, he's been the described by one critic as a writer who conjures words with the same dexterity as a magician, producing handkerchiefs and doves from his sleeve. He's also the fourth member of our panel. [CLAPPING]

Our first question please.

GILBERT
David Gilbert. In the light of the murder of an 11 year old boy, probably by another boy who was not much older on Wednesday night, what decisive action would the panel take to tackle this growing problem of young people and on crime?

DIMBLEBY
What decisive action would you take? Peter Oborne.

OBORNE
Yeah it's terribly moving to be here in Liverpool tonight actually. And I - and this awful murder tells us something not really about Liverpool but about the world we live in, the world - the country that Britain has become. The question is very, very difficult, I don't think there is any immediate action, I felt that calling a meeting in Downing Street has nothing to do with it at all. And sort of Jacqui Smith's sort of A, B, C initiative you know this is not there at all, it's much, much deeper, it's much, much more profound. I think there are two things, one is fairly short term, one is much longer term and much graver and the ultimate solution. The short term thing is I think is that we must have police on the streets. I believe that the local communities here have been asking for that for some time and they haven't been there, the failure of policing - and it's not the failure or the fault of the police it's the political failure, the masses of bureaucracy, the keeping them in panda cars, really if you're going to fight the gangs - and this is the problem, the gangs - you have to be on the streets to discipline them. The long term solution is you've got to analyse the problem itself. And what has emerged - the barbarity of what has emerged - has been the collapse of family structures in the last decades and the replacement - the absence of fatherhood, the absence of figures of respect that young boys, in particular, but also young girls to look up to. And instead of going to families they've gone to gangs, barbarous feral, increasing armed with weapons and financed by drugs. And we have to look at a way of rebuilding the family structures which have been destroyed in recent years and recent decades. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
What decisive action would you seek to take? Paul Vallely.

VALLELY
It's interesting that this is not really a party political area, a lot of what Peter said I would agree with, although I'm much more of the left than he is. It was interesting that Iain Duncan Smith wrote a piece today in which he said that gangs are the new families, I think there's an awful lot of truth in that. I was in Croxteth yesterday walking the streets, talking to people, it was an unbearable experience. The most poignant thing was having written the story that I filed I got in the car and was on the way home and stopped for a coffee at the motorway services and the interview with the parents was on. In the coffee bar everybody stopped what they were doing and stood and watched this anguished tale unfold from the parents. And there was a really interesting moment when people couldn't take anymore, the camera lingered on Rhys's mother and it was almost as though they were waiting for her to break down and I turned away and I noticed that everybody else had turned away and it was an unbearable moment. And if it's unbearable to watch, it's just unthinkable to think what it must be like to go through. And I think what we do need to do is we do need to have police on the streets. Here in Liverpool in the inner city area in Kensington police were put back on to the streets and it worked, local people started to talk to the policemen, they've started to feel safer, them being in panda cars is no good, they have to be able to form a relationship with the lads on the street who are prone and vulnerable to joining the gangs. I think that is important. It's important that there is provision for youths. If you look at Croxteth Park it's an estate of 3,500 houses, there is one pub, about four shops, no youth clubs. It's thought that the trouble came in from other parts of Croxteth where there are also no youth clubs. There were youth clubs until 1998 local councillors told me and they were good youth clubs and they were cut as part of financial stringencies. And it's essential that we start to rebuild some of those things. One of the things that struck me about Liverpool over the years is what a great sense of solidarity there is here and yet that is something that is breaking down here, as it is throughout the country. All the old institutions of solidarity - the church, the trade unions, the working men's clubs, the bowling clubs, American's talk about bowling alone - all of these things have begun to dissolve and we have to find new ways of binding communities together and making people care about one another. And I think one solution here would be, as well as restoring youth services, would be - I understand tomorrow at Everton Football Club there's going to be an appeal for - through the loyalty of the club to overcome the loyalty of the streets, the fear of grassing on people, and to say you owe it to this community, you owe it to this club, this boy who was such an ardent of this club, to do something. And it's finding these new ways of making us feel together that will actually take us forward. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Louse Bagshawe.

BAGSHAWE
Yeah I have to agree with the previous two panellists. I watched that horrendous interview with the parents and I was in floods of tears. A mother myself - I have two boys - and I can only say I am so sorry for the unimaginable loss that that family and the community has suffered. As to the decisive action we can take. Absolutely right, we have to strengthen families and we have to strengthen communities. There are things that governments can do, we can strengthen the tax system, for example, to help families, we can give powers to schools to expel unruly pupils. But again it is a question really of the community coming together, there is only so much that politicians can do with the best will in the world. Communities are going to have together to fight this sort of deep seated malaise. Yes we do need more bobbies on the beat but it's more than that - we need a comprehensive reform of the police so that they're not bogged down by targets; we need to make them accountable to their local communities. And we also do need, as a last piece of the puzzle, we do need some effective deterrents. ASBOS might have been a good idea but the trouble with them is that they're never enforced, two out of three are breached. As for anti-acceptable behaviour contracts, where youths are asked to sign a piece of paper that basically says I will not set things on fire, I don't think this is the way to go. You've got to give real deterrent sentences and if that means increasing prison capacity then unfortunately that is what is going to have to be done. But ultimately it's the community coming together that will solve this sort of thing. And the worst thing about it is that we see on the news week after week we see that it's children doing this to other children, children are our future, they're our hope, how did we ever come to this pass? We have to look at what we used to be and what we're losing and we have to put a stop to it. And I am hopeful, I believe we can put a stop to it. But communities and families primarily will have to be the ones that do that. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Ian McMillan.

MCMILLAN
Well I was on me own in the house when I first heard this and it was - I had two overwhelming reactions. The first one was shock, like everybody else, but then a real kind of visceral anger, a real kind of fist clenching anger, I thought I'm angry at the boy killing the other boy but I'm also angry that somehow we've let this happen, that it's all of our responsibilities. And the decisive action should be the difficult route of engaging with people who perhaps aren't that easy to engage with and that's a difficult thing and we should celebrate the community heroes - the police, the teachers, the community workers, the Sure Start workers, the local councillors, the family members - let's celebrate them and get them together and maybe it could be that the year of culture next year could be a decisive thing in this, that we could get writers' workshops, we get art workshops all over Liverpool so that as well as maybe commissioning a brand new opera, let's send 10 writers into this area, let's get people talking about their thing. This theatre could be very much the [indistinct word], this theatre could be part of the moral and cultural rebuilding of the way people are thinking because you could commission new plays written by the people of Liverpool for the people of Liverpool that would make them think let's go to the Everyman Theatre and use that as the focal point to help us rebuild ourselves. So I think that's the decisive action - commission one or two plays by Liverpool people about what's happened.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. [CLAPPING] I - I suppose I should just say that we don't know whether it was a boy or what boy, who was responsible for or who was responsible for this killing, although there have been, as we speak, no charges brought. David Gilbert you put the question.

GILBERT
I know there's no elected politicians here tonight but I was at a forum in Croxteth earlier on this year and the forum was actually held just opposite where the boy was killed and a lot of parents in the forum predicted some sort of stabbing or shooting months - in February of this year. I feel a lot of what Peter Oborne, I mean I'm not that old, but I'm old enough to remember whenever something happens like this you get the same sort of thing wheeled out every time but nothing ever seems to change. [CLAPPING] And that's why I used the word - sorry decisive because a lot of stuff what you say does make sense but nothing ever seems to happen and we just seem to be going by degrees and becoming closer and closer to the gun culture of America.

DIMBLEBY
When you use the word decisive do you in your own mind have a possibility of what might be done that you would regard as decisive?

GILBERT
I just think Jonathan that somebody should think of something - something different, we shouldn't just try and follow what the Americans have done or whatever, we should just try and do something different.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you very much. Lots - lots of people in this audience I can see would like to come in on that but we don't actually have the resources technically to bring you in, so please bear with us. When we go to what is our panel [indistinct words] related question, next question.

FARRER
Val Farrer. Is gang culture a reflection do you think of an increasingly divided society?

DIMBLEBY
In all your answers the - this sort of division, divided, didn't actually come up, although on the radio the local priest in Croxteth said that he regarded it as an issue of division, as if there were false gods being worshiped which he saw in terms of capitalism, he wasn't using that in a derogatory way but simply as a description. Paul Vallely.

VALLELY
Well I think that again we have to - we have to look back in detail at the history of our times and we have to go back to look at the revolution that happened in the sixties, which we felt was a liberation but which we now perhaps might - may see was a focussing very much on me as an individual and me and my fulfilment. And then we had Thatcherism which was about that - translating that into the economic realm, it was about promoting self interest, it was about individualism, greed is good, no such thing as society. We have made this creature, this Frankenstein creature, for ourselves. And we have to actually - I disagree with the question in one sense, I don't think there is a decisive action, I think there are lots of small incremental actions. The Bishop of Liverpool I bumped into yesterday on the streets and he came up with an idea which I thought was a good one, which is that parents of young children in their first year of the child's life should have their child benefit doubled if they will go on a parenting course where they will learn some things like how to manage conflict with your child, how to raise your child's self-esteem because some of these basic things about how do we grow a rounded human being who won't seek for these insubstantial and flimsy kinds of satisfaction are about the very beginning of how we bring our children up. Now I think - now you may or may not agree with that particular recommendation but I think we need lots of recommendations like that, that will try and change the way that we have this ...

DIMBLEBY
Can I just - I want to - because the particular focus of Val Farrer's question is do you regard division in society as being an element in this, whatever the solution may be - the gap between the haves and the have nots?

VALLELY
Well there is clearly division - there is clearly division. If you go to Croxteth there are two Croxteths, there's Croxteth Park which is middle class and respectable and nice, the family of the child who died both in employment, nice house, two cars outside. And then you look across to the other Croxteth where it is assumed the killer came from and you see a dysfunctional breakdown. And these two worlds cannot exist separately because what happens - what we see in this case is that they collide, the one violates the other. There is division but what I'm trying to say is that the division is not just between gangs, it's within the relationships between individuals and society. And it seems to me that the hoodie is the perfect symbol of this - the hood - you put a hood over your head, you can't see, you cut the world out, it's the ultimate kind of solipsistic thing, it's like being involved in a video game - you cut yourself off from other people, from reality, from community - and that's the division, it's not division between gangs, it's division between individuals and society.

DIMBLEBY
Okay thank you. Louise Bagshawe. [CLAPPING]

BAGSHAWE
I think the answer to this question goes back to something else Paul said in response to the first question and that is that gangs are fake families, that's what they are. When they define themselves as our gang versus your gang, it's like I'm in my family, you're in your family and now we're going to have a war. And you only get these fake families, based on violence and everything that is the antithesis of love, springing up when you don't have enough strong families, real families. These poor lads obviously they are not getting at home what they seek on the streets, that is an absolute fact. We've got a system now that in many ways penalises families. We've got a terrible situation where violent crime's doubled in the last 10 years and knife crime has doubled in the last two years. And I think if we look at divisions we've got to look - you can't just say this is wrong, you need to offer a positive alternative, a positive replacement. And that is strengthening families and communities.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you. [CLAPPING] Ian McMillan.

MCMILLAN
There is a division though ain't there, there's a division of wealth, a huge division of wealth. There are vastly wealthy people in this country who [CLAPPING] who will dodge tax, who won't pay tax, so there are hugely wealthy people in this society who seem to lord it over the rest of us and yet somehow there's a poverty of aspiration, an intellectual poverty, where that seems to be all that we're supposed to be striving for. [CLAPPING] And to me if we could get some of the suited yobs to give some of their money back that might help a little bit. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Peter Oborne.

OBORNE
I fundamentally reject the idea that social and economic - that economic division, disparities of wealth, are behind the terrible events. [Audience noise] Can I just explain why I think that? If you go back to the 1930s or the 1950s there was far more poverty, there was far less affluence than there is today. [Audience noise] I don't even accept that, I think if you look at the 1950s there was far better education and far less affluence. Now let's [Audience noise] ...

DIMBLEBY
Carry on Peter Oborne.

OBORNE
I don't agree, I think that - there's something else - you're never going to find a solution to this if you look at blaming differences of wealth. The real division is not about wealth, it's about the situation in which people are brought up. In particular - in particular the state I think has waged a war against the families of this country. What they have done is made it - what New Labour in particular but also the Conservatives beforehand - have made it far more fiscally worthwhile, far more profitable, to dump your wife and children, it's far more sensible financially if you're a young mother to have three different kids by three different fathers. It's far more sensible for a father not to - just to do a bunk on his kids. The traditional figure we all know, we were brought up by many of us, most of us I suspect, of the earnest hardworking embattled father, doing the right thing by his family is virtually being persecuted by the British state because he is - a whole system of taxation regime has been created which makes it impossible for him to work. And that has created or helped to create the situation where we have no fathers and that leads, as we've been describing tonight, to gangs because who are the role models - and not the father, they are the gang leaders. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
We need to move on but Paul Vallely briefly respond.

VALLELY
I think that the - we need to find structures and incentives to make life better. And it's about - that's where the politicians come in, that's where the policy comes in. Because what Peter is talking about is an old way of life which doesn't obtain anymore, we have to find ways of bolstering that but also of replicating it within modern circumstances. And it's no good just harking back, we've got to find ways of trying to make that work. It is a fact that we have far more single mothers in this country than they do in other European countries, we need to ask why, we need to ask whether our benefit system is structured in such a way that it creates a perverse incentive. But to say that isn't to say we should go back to some kind of 1950s golden age where our granddad's were all, you know, fine men in braces and - it doesn't work like that Peter.

DIMBLEBY
Okay we will - we will leave that there with an invitation to you to ring Any Answers after the Saturday edition of Any Questions if you have thoughts about that or any of the other issues we come on to discuss. The number is 08700 100 444 and the e-mail address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Our next question please.

BURNS
Stewart Ian Burns. Does the panel agree with Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman's sentiment that the television industry is suffering from a catastrophic loss of nerve?

DIMBLEBY
That phrase "a catastrophic loss of nerve" is apparently judging by the pre-release of some of the things he's meant to be saying in the Mactaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival. Do you agree Ian McMillan?

MCMILLAN
I think television possibly is suffering from a catastrophic loss of nerve because it's getting a bit nervous of things like U Tube and My Space and it's finding that the old certainties aren't there anymore. To start with we had one channel, then we had two, then we had five, then we had hundreds but it was always still the television professionals in charge who told us how to do it. And then suddenly we have U Tube, which can create films instantly, not always the most fantastic of films obviously but then it takes away that idea that somehow the television professionals will tell us how to do it. And I think that that's the catastrophic loss of nerve, not just to do with phone-ins but to do with the idea that they're losing the top down system and that's probably a good thing.

DIMBLEBY
He's also reported as saying that the leadership in television needs to have greater moral purpose and drive and that television is generally driven by the need for ratings which is destroying its sense of values - I don't quote precisely but that's the drift as I've read it.

MCMILLAN
It is a problem when television chases ratings. I mean I work for Radio 3 which isn't a company that always chases ratings but tries to do the very best it can and maybe that's what television should do, maybe television should always be trying to do the very best it can but on the other hand ITV has to chase ratings, Channel 4 has to chase ratings, at the BBC we're lucky that we don't have to chase them and if we did we'd just catch 'em.

DIMBLEBY
Louise Bagshawe,

BAGSHAWE
I think you want a happy medium honestly - you want some of your public service broadcasters and others to provide intellectually challenging programmes that hold politicians like me to account and you also want shall we say Celebrity Big Brother, or maybe not Celebrity Big Brother, but you want a few crowd pleasing programmes. When we get into trouble is when the pendulum swings too much one way or the other. If you look at the television schedules and you think that everything's been dumbed down then you have genuine cause for complaint, we do have public service broadcasting in this country, it's got a long and proud tradition and that should be there to offer programmes that are interesting and may not be the top rated thing on a Saturday night at 8.00 p.m. But it's not all doom and gloom, we have wonderful, wonderful television and radio in this country. My husband is an American, so I had to suffer a couple of years in New York and let me tell you if you want rubbish television you go over to America, when you come back to Britain you'll be grateful for what you've got and that's the truth.

DIMBLEBY
[CLAPPING] In fact Channel 4 has said that it's going to dispense with Celebrity Big Brother on the grounds of the need for, what I think they call, creative renewal. Paul Vallely.

VALLELY
I think there's a bit of a moral panic around about the BBC and it's got several roots. I mean the Hutton Inquiry dissed the BBC in a fairly disgraceful way. [CLAPPING] There are commercial pressures on the BBC to cut corners, make programmes more cheaply, get ratings, which produce these kind of phone-in type programmes where all the scandals have been - even touching Blue Peter - trying to get fake phone-ins and so forth. But having said all that I think that the absolute core of the BBC is still a benchmark of good journalistic values, the corporation puts money into documentaries which can take six months to make, unlike newspapers which take six hours to write their pieces, it's still got the old kind of core values. And there was an interesting survey done today, I'm not sure if it's been published yet, but it said that 73% of the British public trust the BBC to be able to fix its own problems and I think I'd go with the good common sense of the British public on this. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Peter Oborne.

OBORNE
I'm not quite clear that I think you're underestimating the shock which when we all learnt that the BBC and other stations had been systematically stealing from their viewers on a massive scale. I hope actually that there will be a class action by British television viewers who have been systematically defrauded by all the major networks to get their money back because it is a fantastic betrayal of trust. And I would link it to the way in which the BBC and other networks, but I do think particularly the BBC, has shown over the years a systematic contempt for its viewers and listeners by treating, for instance, people who had any doubt at all about the European Union as if they were sort of mad people who didn't deserve to live on this planet and are uncivilised and barbaric. Anybody who questioned multiculturalism on the BBC were regarded as some sort of vicious racists. Now of course that's become the conventional opinion.

DIMBLEBY
What makes you lay that charge - is it how you see - cos those particular terms, I don't suppose you've heard used by the BBC - what makes you lay that charge?

OBORNE
You saw a systematic, I felt, exclusion of anti-European or Euro sceptic views from BBC channels. To give you an example actually, in the 19 - 2004 European elections I think I'm right in saying that it was a catastrophe for all the main pro-European parties but that UKIP, not that I support UKIP I hasten to add, they got 18% and that 18% was classified by the BBC as others because people who voted against Europe were not human beings, they were other people, they didn't fit into the Euro federalist paradigm of the BBC news networks. And these examples are very common. And I think it's based on a systematic contempt for ordinary people held by the metropolitan elite which run organisations such as the BBC. And I do think - and I know of course we had the Hutton Inquiry which led to the BBC news and current producers being utterly cowed and sort of shamed and unable to say anything which criticised the government for some time. I think it is a terrible crisis for the BBC and for other channels and much greater than is widely realised. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Paul Vallely.

VALLELY
I think that's overstating it, I mean I think a lot of what you're saying Peter is correct but I think it's peripheral and I think the vast majority of what the BBC does is of very high quality and we're very lucky to have it. [CLAPPING]

OBORNE
And there are all sorts of splendid programmes on the BBC, I do accept that, and I contribute to the BBC but I just think ...

DIMBLEBY
I thought you were going to say you contribute to the splendid programmes for a minute.

OBORNE
No not very often. But I just - I just - Lord Reith left the BBC this fantastic legacy of being a public service broadcaster, he taught them about the public domain, there's a link here, I think, between the terrible barbarism on British streets and the readiness of BBC producers to pander to populist opinion and populist ...

VALLELY
It's not a link I see or I detect that there's anybody else in this room sees.

OBORNE
I'll carry on. The BBC and other broadcasters are happy to celebrate the empty materialist culture which has done so much to debase our society. That is particularly the case with the BBC which inherited that great public service mantel which it seems all too ready to relinquish.

DIMBLEBY
You may have thoughts about what you've just heard, if so, or any of the other contributions, the number to ring for Any Answers is 08700 100 444. Our next question please.

HAGGERTY
Peter Haggerty. Given that next year is Liverpool year as capital of culture what do the panellists think is the most important aspect of our culture?

DIMBLEBY
Most important aspect of Liverpool's culture. You touched on this a little bit earlier in a context of what should be done but what do you think is the most important aspect of Liverpool's culture Ian McMillan?

MCMILLAN
I think it's just the vitality and I think the voice - I think the voice of Liverpool, the accent of Liverpool, the way that Liverpool thinks. There's a great poet from Birmingham called Roy Fisher and he says Birmingham's what I think with and I think the great thing about the people of Liverpool is that Liverpool is what they think with. And I think Liverpool - the speech of Liverpool, the thinking of Liverpool, the forward thinking of Liverpool - that's the great culture. And that's where - going back to that first question - that's where the city of culture can be a catalyst in these terrible events because it can begin to start people talking to each other in fantastic scouse accents and from there the pieces of art will accrue and that's the great culture of Liverpool - the way they speak and the way they think and the way they act because of the way they speak because as soon as they speak a scouse word behind them is hundreds of years of history, hundreds of people peeping over their shoulder. And that - I'm [indistinct word] on the radio - people peeping over their shoulder because the words they're using and older words that are true, in my humble opinion, as a man from Barnsley, not from Liverpool. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Paul Vallely.

VALLELY
I would go back to what I said earlier that solidarity is one of the great characteristics of this city, it always has been. And that's something you need to build on. There's a paradox about Liverpool of course because as well as this great sense of solidarity you're always having rows - you're having rows about the city of culture and people are being sacked and resigning left, right and centre all over the place. But if you look at the programme for the year of culture it's really strong - the mainstream arts stuff. And that with the community programmes as well I think will produce a great year - a great year to come. And even if it is true that sometimes you drop the ball you always win on penalties. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Louise Bagshawe.

VALLELY
Unless you're playing Chelsea.

DIMBLEBY
Boot in at the end. Louise Bagshawe.

BAGSHAWE
Obviously Liverpool has a reputation as being a city with great community spirit and I can't believe I'm the first person to mention the Beatles when we've been asked this question. But it is an absolute - it's a crying shame and something the government should address after cash for honours, that Andrew Lloyd Webber as a peer of the realm but Paul McCartney as only a knight, so somebody needs to get that sorted soon as possible. You do have an opportunity I think, going back to what Ian was saying, to do something that could mend the community a little bit with the opportunity that being the city of culture presents. I hope that they're going to go out and offer these workshops to young people because if you get young people involved in the arts, whether it's stand up comedy, whether it's getting into a band, whether it's doing a play, whatever it is, authors, poets, doesn't matter, doesn't matter at all, then you offer them a future, you offer them hope of something more. And it's an opportunity to show that the human spirit is greater than violence and is greater than death, you know, and art can always triumph over these things. And I really hope that local politicians and community leaders use it as an opportunity to reach out to the young people of the city because it could put the focus on them and their talents in a very, very positive way.

DIMBLEBY
Peter Oborne.

OBORNE
I'm speaking as a Londoner here and I speak with a great deal of humility. Liverpool is outside - you're outsiders. I was listening to this - the great things I associated with Liverpool - the Grand National, the greatest horse race in the world; the Waterloo Cup which the Blair government abolished about five years ago; the Beatles; fantastic poets, terrific lot of bishops - David Shepherd, who played cricket for England and John James, top man.

DIMBLEBY
James Jones. But he won't mind being called John James he's an easy going fellow.

OBORNE
Amazing stuff. But you see you are excluded. I mean the Andrew Lloyd Webber example was given. I mean when Manchester United won the European Cup instantly sort of medals all round, peerages, knighthoods given to the Man U team. When Liverpool won the European Cup absolutely nothing. There is a neglect and that was symbolic of the way that the nation at large does somehow not treat Liverpool quite right.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you, let me [CLAPPING] this audience here, are you optimistic about the - being the capital of culture next year, is that good news for Liverpool? Those who think it is put your hands up? Those who are indifferent? Well there are two, three, four, five indifferences which means that about 97%, 98% of this audience is looking forward to being Liverpool City of Culture. [CLAPPING] Our next question please.

BARLOW
Peter Barlow. With the opening of such museums as Liverpool's International Museum of Slavery, is it really necessary to hear apologies from civic leaders for the country's part in the slave trade, aren't these just hollow gestures?

DIMBLEBY
Ken Livingstone said: As Mayor I offer an apology on behalf of London and its institutions for their role in the transatlantic slave trade. Is it necessary to hear these kinds of apologies or Peter Barlow asks are these just hollow gestures? Louise Bagshawe.

BAGSHAWE
I've got to say I do think it's posturing I really do. Obviously the slave trade was absolutely horrific and there are things this country has done in the past that we can be ashamed of as there are many, many things that we can be proud of. But you can't apologise for something that you didn't do and really have it mean anything. None of us were born when Britain was engaged in the slave trade and I think it's just cheap point scoring and party political posturing to go back and say we're sorry for something that our ancestors did. It was for them to apologise, it was for them to look themselves in the mirror and be ashamed of what they did. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Ian McMillan.

MCMILLAN
Well I had a bag of chips the other night and it was wrapped in the Guardian and there was a great piece in the Guardian by Tristan Hunt that says that in fact we don't - the apology is hollow and the great thing is that rather than apologising let's build these museums instead, the museums can be a focal point for the community to look and work out for themselves what the history was, rather than just standing up and apologising [CLAPPING] - the creation of museums. And then it leads to all kinds of things, so what do we apologise for next? You know are we going to - every year something goes wrong, so next year we all stand up and apologise for it, shall we have a kind of apology culture? It could be a new game show on Channel 4 - Celebrity Apologising, that would be an interesting thing wouldn't it.

DIMBLEBY
There aren't many - many of those who regard themselves [Audience noise] I'm afraid the audience at home won't hear you but if I heard you right, as a member of the audience, you said that it's a waste of time to have an apology because - because? [Audience noise] Okay I'll just because I think your voice is just not quite loud enough to be heard at home that it's a waste of time and you're saying you've got black blood, as it were, in your family and they don't care about the past they want to go to the future. There is - thank you very much - just with you, Ian, there are those in the black community or those who feel that they are the offspring of those who suffered who do ask for an apology. If it is the case that it made them feel better to have the apology does that change your mind or not or do you still regard it as inappropriate?

MCMILLAN
It does make sense, I mean recently I was involved in that programme on BBC 2 - the Museum - where Maori people from New Zealand came back for an apology and for the bodies of their ancestors. And so yeah I can see the point of that. If somebody wants an apology than yes I guess we must give it to them.

DIMBLEBY
Peter Oborne.

OBORNE
I agree entirely with what Louise Blag - Bragshawe said on my right that you know there's no end to these apologies. But let's just ...

DIMBLEBY
It wasn't Blag or Brag but she's like the bishop, she doesn't mind either.

BAGSHAWE
I've got to be careful that'll stick.

OBORNE
I'' try to get her name right now and that name is William Wilberforce. Now I think he came from round here, I'm not absolutely sure, and let's just think what he achieved. What he did was Britain was the first country to abolish this monstrous activity. We patrolled the high seas in the 19th Century hunting down slave traders from other nations. I agree that we should feel ashamed of our national role in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries but by god we should feel proud that we were the first country and this was the first city to confront this monstrous evil. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Paul Vallely.

VALLELY
The point of history is to learn from its mistakes and the great thing about this slavery museum opening here in Liverpool this week is that it will teach us and our children about the kind of myopia that you can fall into where you get the Christian church defending slavery and so forth. But that's only important if you then can turn that scrutiny on yourself. And if you look at slavery it still exists in the world and we the people [CLAPPING] we in this room benefit from it. There is bonded labour in India which produces carpets which are sold here. There is sex trafficking. [CLAPPING] There are domestic servants, many of them in this country, who have their passports taken away and they are denied their rights, not told about what they're entitled to. There are chicken pluckers in Devon, there are cockle pickers in Morecambe. And slavery exists in the modern world and we benefit from it and we have to turn the scrutiny, the spotlight, on ourselves and say what are we going to do about this?

DIMBLEBY
And in relation [CLAPPING] and Paul in relation to that you apologise or not apologise for the original slavery that ...

VALLELY
Well at the risk of agreement breaking out all round the room I do think you can't apologise for something that you didn't do. You can say as a city if you look round Liverpool this fantastic architecture, you can say it was built on the sugar trade and the slave trade and that therefore we have in this city an extra responsibility to perhaps do something about fair trade or about the way that that works in our own time. So I don't think apologising works but I think rectifying the things that we do wrong is definitely incumbent on us.

DIMBLEBY
Peter.

OBORNE
It's worth bearing in mind - it's worth bearing in mind that since we haven't yet apologised for invading Iraq it may well be a little bit perverse to go round apologising for something which happened 300 years ago.

DIMBLEBY
At that point we will go please to our next question. [Audience noise] If you just go on - I'm sorry cos you can't be heard sir up in the gallery, not quite gallery, near gallery. Can we have the next question?

LEONARD
Alison Leonard. Could a poet in residence be appointed for the Houses of Parliament and if so what would he or she do?

DIMBLEBY
I'll come to the most likely poet in residence last. What could he or she do, what do you think Peter Oborne?

OBORNE
God I was so much hoping you weren't going to raise that.

DIMBLEBY
Imagine a poet in residence in that Westminster institution with which you are so familiar, what would you like that individual to do if anything?

OBORNE
I'm going to - I don't think I would approve such a figure, I think that there is enough sort of hot air there already.

DIMBLEBY
Louise Bagshawe.

BAGSHAWE
Well at the risk of sounding horribly disloyal to my colleagues in Parliament as candidates I think Edward Lear wrote a lot of nonsense verse perhaps we should get somebody like that in the Houses of Parliament. No I think poets have got better things to do with their time than write verses about politicians.

DIMBLEBY
Paul Vallely.

VALLELY
Well I think that misunderstand the nature of poetry, it's not just about fine words and phrases, it's about getting through to the truth and I think we could with a bit more of that in the Palace of Westminster. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
Ian McMillan.

MCMILLAN
Well I think the great thing about the poet in residence movement, the current one, that started in about 1999 with the Poetry Society doing this thing called Poetry Places, it proved that poets don't have to be people who sit there in corduroy suits in an ivory tower somewhere scratching away on a quill pen somewhere in the Latin quarter of Rotherham, it can be just - it can [LAUGHTER] - the idea that the poet can engage with the real world and at that time poets were put on North Sea oil rigs, there was a poet for Marks and Spencer's, I've been poet in residence in all kinds of places. And what the poet can do is act a bit like Shakespeare's fool or like Jack Kerouac's idea of the holy fool, where you turn up somewhere and you do poke fun and you do look at it in a different way. I work for business organisations as their poet in residence, what an interesting thing that is to get in with these people who wear suits all the time without irony and I can sit there and write poems about them. And in Parliament you've got people with rhyming names anyway like Ed Balls, look at that, look at that - there's a limerick for you. [CLAPPING]

DIMBLEBY
The Any Answers number Ed Balls is 08700 100 444. Next week: Max Hastings; Steve Bell - the Guardian cartoonist; Lord Giddens, former director of the LSE and the vice chairman of the Conservative Party Margot James. Join us there in Kidworth in Leicester. From here at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool goodbye. [CLAPPING]

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