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Journey of a Lifetime
Transcript: Any Questions?  17 October 2008

CHAIRMAN: JONATHAN DIMBLEBY


PANELLISTS:

Rt Hon JACK STRAW MP: Secretary of State for Justice

GRANT SHAPPS MP: Shadow Housing Minister

PROFESSOR BRIAN COX: Physicist at the University of Manchester

JUDE KELLY: Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre


From St. Christopher’s C.E. High School, Queens Road West, Accrington,

Lancs B5 4AY .

DIMBLEBY
Welcome to Lancashire and the town of Accrington which is renowned amongst other things for its history as a 19th Century textile centre in which the workers fought for their rights with some ferocity. Today Accrington is a long way from that but it is stricken still by high unemployment and has deep anxieties about the likely impact if the recession is long and deep. To comfort their concern though they have Accrington Stanley the famous football team which so our hosts tell me, I could not possibly comment, is frequently invoked as an example of a plucky but hopeless cause. We are at I am sorry that is what I was told. We are at St Christopher’s Church of England High School which is over-subscribed because its results at GCSE are so good and the school is celebrating its Golden Jubilee. On our panel Jack Straw entered the government in 1997 as New Labour’s first Home Secretary, he later became Foreign Secretary and now he has a pivotal position in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for Justice. He also has just been appointed the Governments anti-corruption supremo, a role previously fulfilled by Peter Mandelson’s predecessor, as Business Secretary, John Hutton. Grant Shapps didn’t much like school but set up his own business in the printing industry when he was 21. He soon went into politics entering the Commons in the 2005 election. He made a name for himself by sleeping rough last Christmas to draw attention to homelessness he explained, and he is now Shadow Minister for Housing. Jude Kelly made her name as a theatre director with award-winning productions of The Seagull, The Tempest and Singing in the Rain. She is now the Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre where she has said she is like Joan of Arc defending it until the day of her death. Didn’t you say that?

JUDE KELLY
Not at all.

DIMBLEBY
That is what you are said to have said it’s journalism yet again. At the moment though, in any case, an auto da fe of that kind seems unnecessary. The South Bank Centre was as it happens the venue for Labour’s victory celebrations after the 1997 landslide where those who stayed up for it may remember the campaign anthem was the hit record “Things can only get better”. One of the group responsible went on to become a brilliant physicist: Professor Brian Cox as he now is has a Chair on Particle Physics in the University of Manchester School of Physics and Astronomy. He is also a leading member of the team involved in the Big Bang experiment at CERN which for reasons way beyond my comprehension is delayed until the spring when I suppose Professor things will only get better?

BRIAN COX
They will indeed and more interesting.

DIMBLEBY
That is our panel. (APPLAUSE)

Our first question please.

PETER BRYAN
What does the panel think about the fact that we can find the funds to bail out a bank yet struggle to find enough funds to adequately pick up a wounded now dead soldier in Afghanistan?

DIMBLEBY
The Coroner in this case has said that those responsible for the failings that lead to the death of the soldier in an Afghan minefield should I quote “hang their heads in shame”. The soldier in question was Cpl Mark Wright the Ministry of Defence has said that they don’t agree with that conclusion. Jack Straw?

JACK STRAW
Well if this is alright I would like to talk about the banks in other questions if they come

DIMBLEBY
Yes that would be very sensible

JACK STRAW
What I would like to do is to try to respond to the very strident criticism by the Oxford Coroner in respect of this case and all of us and that includes me who have had friends or relations fighting in Afghanistan or in Iraq know first of all of their fantastic courage and professionalism and also of their extraordinary commitment and bravery. And this town of Accrington has reason to know that when it honoured not very long ago one of the soldiers from Accrington who had lost his life. On the particular criticisms I mean the Ministry of Defence always take these criticisms very seriously. The, what is the case, and I heard what the Coroner had said and I also heard the response from one of the, the Rear Admiral who is in charge of the joint helicopter fleet is that there is a debate including the Americans about whether or not you should make helicopters available when there are land mines on the ground and it was true that finally the soldiers were extracted by American helicopters which did have winches available but what was also said that it was a very dangerous operation and helicopter pilots neither in America nor here are trained for that. They were just lucky to extract them in that way and also all British helicopters now have winches. We have put a great deal

DIMBLEBY
That is the key thing of the Coroners’ conclusion isn’t it you say now you say that his finding was strident there was not an available helicopter with a winch and it was only when after what he described as an administrative failure that an appropriate helicopter arrived.

JACK STRAW
I understand that and as I say the exact circumstances I have not had a chance to study the detail of the case self evidently. Of course it will be taken very seriously and nobody let me say takes more seriously the unnecessary loss of life in the military than the military themselves. There will always be a debate about the resources which are put into the armed forces but what I can say and this is not a moment for making sort of debating points is that whenever there has been a request for additional funds for frontline troops that unlike other requests in civilian areas of government has been very readily acceded to.

DIMBLEBY
Grant Shapps

GRANT SHAPPS
This is a very sad and tragic case and it is not the first time that the same Coroner has picked up on what is essentially a problem with equipment shortages which is driven by overstretch in the army. I think the specifics is that they needed a Black Hawk but there was only a Chinook available and those on the ground actually reported seeing the Chinook arriving and trying to wave them away because they knew what might well happen and we have seen repeated failures and if it is not the radios it is the guns and if it is not that it is lack of heavy lifting equipment or the wrong kind of helicopters to come in and rescue and I think we have to make a decision as a country that if we are going to commit troops to war it is absolutely our responsibility to look after them when they are there and indeed to look after them when they are back (APPLAUSE) housing and to sort of thing. So the first thing we have said if we win the election we will have a defence review and we will make sure that we decide where we are going to be committed in the world and that we properly back up our troops in those arenas.


DIMBLEBY
Jack Straw says that the comment the coroner made was strident he said “hang their heads in shame”. Do you share Jack Straw’s view that it was strident or do you share the coroner’s view that they should “hand their heads in shame”

GRANT SHAPPS
You know as a nation we have to be very sensitive to the fact that there are people out there fighting for this country and not being treated well out there but actually not being treated well when they come back. We have all heard the stories about how they have been treated in hospitals, my particular area is housing and as a constituency MP and as Shadow Housing Minister I have had people coming to see me who are unable to get any housing or who are bottom of the list and we just have to do better as a nation. These are people who are risking their lives for us and they deserve better from us.

DIMBLEBY
Jude Kelly

JUDE KELLY
When I first thought about Accrington, when I read the Accrington Pals which was a famous and wonderful play by Peter Whelan about really the slaughter of young men in war and I have a 19 year old son and it is impossible to hear of a child’s death in any context and not think about your own children and when you think about the death of a professional who is powerless to create circumstances where they could succeed in something and if you like save their own life or to be at the mercy of incompetency at that level I find it so distressing. Recently there was a wonderful display by the Imperial War Museum which we then mounted by an artist called Steve McQueen where he has made a series of stamps of every young soldier man or woman who has been killed recently and he has been trying to make those stamps something which the Post Office should use and I really believe we should because I feel that we mustn’t let these deaths be invisible and they are largely invisible because we talk collectively about troops about soldiers etc and they are individuals and so it is not too much to give them what they need and it is tragic that we haven’t

DIMBLEBY
Do you think that the very strong language because I think there has been a consensus that it was very strong language that the Coroner used helped by drawing attention to the problems that are faced or do you think it distorts the challenges?

JUDE KELLY
No I think it helps because I think we have got to take seriously the fact that we have got all kinds of ways in our society that we have divided up our responsibilities and some of those responsibilities lie with the armed forces and some of us may choose to blank that out for most of our lives because we didn’t want to be in the armed forces ourselves but it brings it home to you that we actually are all connected and that child’s death is to our shame.

DIMBLEBY
Brian Cox

BRIAN COX
I think there is very little I can add. I agree entirely with Grant that it is, if we put people in harm’s way in our name, irrespective of what we think about the war, then we must make sure that they are equipped properly and they are as safe as they can be in those difficult situations. (APPLAUSE) I know this is a complex case. I heard the Rear Admiral on the radio earlier as well. He said that in fact that the regulations state that you can’t rescue people from minefields at all with helicopters winch or no winch because of the danger of setting off the mines with the down draught so I am not qualified to comment on that. This is clearly a tragic situation. If it turns out to be the case as the Coroner said that this tragedy could have been avoided by equipping the troops better than that should surely be done and if we can’t afford to do that then we shouldn’t be in those situations unfortunately.

DIMBLEBY
Peter Bryan you asked the question do you have a view yourself

PETER BRYAN
It just comes across in quite a lot of things that quite rightly obviously we are bailing these banks out and yet there will probably be a bigger debate and a longer debate we have been short of equipment in the past i.e. the protective jackets or have they got enough proper land rovers there or strong enough land rovers etc and there will probably be another thing. The thing that frightened me was it said an administrative error and if somebody was in industry, I don’t know who the Coroner said was it the Ministry of Defence at fault or the Government?

DIMBLEBY
He said an administrative error I think an administrative error on the ground

PETER BRYAN
Yes but whose fault was it there was if there was lack of funds was it the MOD or was it the Govt that somebody said bugger it we don’t need to, they don’t need as good equipment was it the Government or the MOD who is causing this?

DIMBLEBY
Can you comment on that Secretary of State?

JACK STRAW
I think ultimately it is the Government who has to take responsibility for this of course we do and I am not clear precisely where the error took place but we as Ministers take responsibility for it of course we do.





DIMBLEBY
We will leave that there and move on to our next question with a reminder of the Any Answers number after the Saturday broadcast of this programme. It is 03700 100 444 and the email address any.answers@bbc.co.uk. Our next please


BILL HOLDEN
Accrington already has high unemployment, low wages and a benefit culture. Will we notice the coming recession? (LAUGH AND APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Grant Shapps

GRANT SHAPPS
You know the, it is very difficult to predict what is going to happen so I don’t want to sit here and make predictions about how it is going to feel in each part of the country we simply don’t know. What we do know is the recession which is going to much worse than it needed to be here in Accrington and everywhere else in the country because during an astonishing 14 years of global growth during which time this economy benefited tremendously there was no money put aside so we get to a problem albeit that it is a big problem. Nobody denies that it is of a global nature but it is a fact that in this country we are unable to react to it in a way that for example they are able to in Australia, or in Spain where they didn’t allow the banks to be so indebted and actually where all of us didn’t become so indebted to the tune of something like £1.4 trillion and the problem comes down to a decision that was made to give the Bank of England independence and nobody the responsibility of calling time on the Banks for irresponsibly lending. So we have ended up in a situation where there was simply no control and when the bubble burst it hurts and you know that is why we have said we would back the government on the bank rescue plans because banks matter to us all our homes, our companies whatever we do in life but actually that, we said doesn’t mean there is a moratorium on pointing out where thing went wrong and the point at which things went wrong was when this so called tripartite system was put in between the Treasury and the Bank and the FSA and nobody had the responsibility of simply saying enough is enough, you have lent too much money we need to rein this in and we now have a big hangover as a result.

DIMBLEBY
Given that the leader of the Party called a truce does it help to rebuild confidence some 10 days later to go to war again against the Prime Minister?

GRANT SHAPPS
You know it is like this if your house was burning down you would get all hands to the pump you pour the water and you try and put out the fire and that was the case two weeks ago at our conference actually as it turned out when the Congress had failed to put through the $700 billion plan because of partisan politics and David Cameron I think quite rightly said you can put politics aside we are going to do what it takes to get this rescue plan in place. We are going to work with the government to do but he said at the time and he has repeated today that doesn’t mean that we suspend all of our criticism of how we ended up in that position. Actually at the end of the day you want to know how the fire started and that is where we are today and why it is absolutely critical that we hold the government to account. (APPLAUSE)


DIMBLEBY
Will Accrington notice the recession? Jude Kelly

JUDE KELLY
Well I think that was a very interesting question because they way you put it obviously Accrington hasn’t necessarily gained as much from a growth in economy as other places and there are places in the UK that have actually not moved forward as fast and the divide between those who have and those who haven’t is actually wider so I think there are two things really. One is I think it will have a devastating effect on all of us but those who have less already I think it is going hit them hard because it could mean that the snatches of entrepreneurialism the kind of consolidation that moves societies forward that Accrington has been involved in it could be that that becomes much less easy to sustain which would be terrible and particularly terrible for the young people because as you say if you have had a couple of generations of unemployment you have to get that third generation into work because otherwise it is so endemic it is almost impossible to shift. I think that the thing that I have been worrying about actually are small businesses, tiny businesses you know where two or three people have worked out how they can get a bank loan how they can do something on their own, built up a bit of initiative and if we have a situation where they can’t sustain those small businesses then the independence that comes in a place like Accrington to change the way it lives that would be shattered so I just hope that doesn’t happen but then it could be that there are bigger lessons that a place like Accrington can actually provide other people with about how community matters more than wealth. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Prof Cox

BRIAN COX
Well it is true I am sure that the people who have got less money in many ways will be more seriously affected by this recession so I suppose the answer must unfortunately be that the poorer places in the country could be hit hardest as always. I want to pick up on the point about irresponsible lending though because I was thinking about this and I was thinking about mortgage lending and I have heard all sorts of suggestions like we shouldn’t lend people more than 75% of the value of their houses for example which sounds sensible and I think back to when I came out, I got my degree and PhD and got my first wage as a student and I bought a house. I was fortunate at the time it was £60,000 which was you can’t do that now and I had a 95% mortgage and actually as a student I ha\d to borrow the £3000 which was the 5% off my mum and dad who fortunately lent it to me and I thought you know it seems sensible don’t lend people too much money, don’t lend more than 75% of the value of the house but that means you know in a £100,.000 house you are going to have £25,000. People don’t have that so I think it is a very difficult problem because I think that house ownership to me seems to be a way of redistributing wealth in a very powerful way because that allows you to share in the proceeds of the growth of the country. That is how working people can actually benefit when the economy grows. You can’t if you are renting because you can’t afford a house then you never get any money, you always stay there and you pay out and you don’t notice when the economy grows so I don’t know what the answer is but I think we have to be very careful what we do with mortgage lending because it is a way out of, out of poverty for people to own a house. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Bill Holden, our questioner Jack Straw, clearly believes that Accrington hasn’t benefited from the years of the boom what used to be referred to by the Prime Minister as the golden age. Will Accrington notice the recession?

JACK STRAW
Well first of all we don’t know precisely whether there will be a recession what we do know (LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
Jack I am just going to stop you there how many people in this audience think there will be or we are in recession? Who doesn’t think so? The audience here not far from where you live and have your constituency a pretty clear, overwhelmingly clear.

JACK STRAW
I understand that and I was about to say what we do know is that things are self evidently much more difficult than they were and everywhere across the country is going to feel the pinch as a result of the effects of what is a world financial crisis. What is also the case and I can speak with more authoritatively for just 5 miles down the road my constituency of Blackburn but it also applies here Mr. Holden is that over the last 10 or 11 years there has been a significant improvement in job levels in Accrington, unemployment has been significantly lower than it was in many previous periods and I see you nodding as you say that, and in addition in terms of low wages people in this area across East Lancashire not many years ago were getting £1 per hour and just a few years ago were getting £2 per hour now because we have introduced the minimum wage3 which is £5.70 per hour there is a guaranteed minimum for people in work and more over the introduction of measures like the working tax credit means there is a cushion for people which is much better than it was if people do lose their jobs and need to move on and those things have significantly changed what has happened in this kind of area. Now on this issue that Grant talks about about we should have saved money as it were to ensure that we could repair the roof while the sun was shining was the phrase, we were spending money to repair the roof because the roof really did need repairing (APPLAUSE) and there was, everybody in Accrington knows. There was a school bang next door to this school which we are in tonight called Moorhead School which was in a terrible state. People had been calling for years, and years and years for that to be replaced. I have to say that since Grant wants to make partisan points that it was never possible to get money for school building in East Lancashire or virtually anywhere across the country. We have got that. It is a brand new school building. We have had new hospitals in the area, new health centres and

DIMBLEBY
Members of the audience are saying it was sold off

JACK STRAW
Well it is brand new go outside and have a look at it so there is no argument about that and what

DIMBLEBY
Because some people can hear what members of the audience are saying at home? They are saying it has been sold; it is now an independent school, this school. It is an Academy that is different.

JACK STRAW
It is built with public funds with just a marginal, very small element from the private sector and moreover it is becoming a popular school and this is an illustration of the additional money which we the Government, on behalf of the electorate, because you asked us to do this have put into the economy over the last 11 years. Let me just deal with this issue that Mr. Cameron has raised that somehow this economic crisis is all down to Gordon Brown. That is frankly an absurd idea. Are the conservatives now saying if they weren’t saying two weeks ago that it has been the additional investment on schools in Accrington on hospitals in East Lancashire, hundreds of millions of pounds on other public services on renewing housing across East Lancashire that somehow that has caused the economic downturn because that is were the money has been spent including I may say and not withstanding the problems we still have in the armed forces of defence as well

DIMBLEBY
OK let me just put one brief thing to you and then Grant Shapps wants to come back in again. Lord Turner, the new boss of the Financial Services Authority, has made it very clear that in his view there was an unsustainable level of debt over which because he was Chancellor Gordon Brown presided as well as a great need to tighten up on regulation what Gordon Brown now calls the age of irresponsibility that I referred to earlier he used to refer to as the golden age.

JACK STRAW
Well Lord Turner certainly didn’t make any pejorative comments about Gordon Brown whether as Chancellor of the Exchequer or as Prime Minister.

DIMBLEBY
He did make it clear as you will acknowledge that, he made it very clear that there had been unsustainable level of debt he wrote it

JACK STRAW
We all understand that now, the question is did people understand that before and yes there has to be a tighter level of regulation but I just remind the audience here today that as we were tightening regulation and seeking to tighten regulation the response of the conservative party in an official report welcomed by David Cameron in August 2007 was to cut government regulation I quote also from this “ we see no need to continue to regulate the provision of mortgage finance” that was the conservative position just over a year ago. They were pushing for deregulation they weren’t pushing for more regulation and I really do regret the fact that David Cameron having shown some statesmanlike qualities just two weeks ago has now gone for this flip flop and he is now, one moment he is bi-partisan and the next moment he is partisan. You can take opposition or another position you can’t take both. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
On that specific point Grant Shapps…

GRANT SHAPPS
As you know the report was a report to the Party not of the Party and on the same day it came out the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said that he didn’t accept the further deregulation side of things but I want to just mention you said that Gordon Brown was fond of saying boom and bust has ended that the reality was it wasn’t going to come back again but actually in reality we go into this potential recession with the highest budget deficit of any country in the develop world and you cannot argue with those facts Jack. The highest credit, the built on financial services and borrowing and debt if this is the end to boom and bust under this Prime Minister then he must think that we are all stupid.

DIMBLEBY
Before you move on I am going to bring in our other two who have not yet had a second chance. Jude Kelly

JUDE KELLY
Well I was just thinking about a question I put to Andrew Marr a couple of weeks ago when I said why are you, why don’t you have one of the Chief, Head of the Banks of any of these companies that are going down why aren’t they in a chair being as humiliated as the politicians. (APPLAUSE) And he said because they won’t come on the programme. And this morning on the Today programme the same question was put why is there nobody who if you like has to stand there and take the flack why won’t they be in a chair taking it? Separately from what the Conservatives and the Labour Party want to say to each other I actually think there are other people, matters of the universe want who really should be talking to us directly as humans about why this has all happened and how they feel about it. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Any banker who wants to have a say can come to Any Answers. 03700 100 444 and I will give you a free glass of water if you do it. Brian Cox

BRIAN COX
Yes I just, I have Wikipedia as well actually. I just had a look there’s interesting facts I find. You said we had the largest deficit in the developed world it is the largest current account deficit but I looked up the government debt, as a function of GDP because I thought that was going to be terrible it actually it isn’t it is about 40% or something Germany and France are 60% and the USA is 60%. So bizarrely, interestingly the debt from the government is really low I think it is only Spain

GRANT SHAPPS
I think the problem is that we are very ill prepared….

DIMBLEBY
The problem is let Professor Cox finish his point and then we will move on. Because otherwise we will stay with this

BRIAN COX
That was it, I was must making the point that debt as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest of any developed countries which is quite interesting it shocked me but (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Next question please.


WILLIAM YOUNG
How would the panel explain to my year 9 classes that the key stage 3 tests which were an important part of their education on Monday, on Tuesday were abolished as an irrelevance?

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
How would you set about that task Jude Kelly?

JUDE KELLY
I would probably do some role play about (LAUGH) about how long decisions brew before somebody has to break it to people and I mean actually the situation is this isn’t it that for years teachers has been saying to governments this is not working, it is not appropriate the children are under so much stress, the curriculum is too narrow, there are things that need to be done to give them genuine imaginative creative opportunities and they were demoralized into having to carry on arguing defending something which they themselves didn’t believe in so I think I would have to come clean with the children and talk to them about the real world how it can happen and then liberate them all to the park for two days to do something interesting. (LAUGH applause

DIMBLEBY
Grant Shapps

GRANT SHAPPS
Yes extraordinary turnaround actually because it was only back in May that Ed Balls who is responsible was telling us that they were going to stay in place and it must be very difficult. My children are still a bit too young for this particular set of SATS but it must be pretty difficult knowing that you are working up to that and then finding that it is scrapped literally in the blink of an eye. Actually I think that children probably have been over tested. That there are too many stages that actually the education that judging by the age of us all in this room the kind of country that we would have had which is probably in some ways at least more practically based has probably gone because much of the time in school is spent just working towards the next set of exams and the next set of exams and actually an education, a rounded education is about more than that and in any case regardless whether it is right or wrong to test at various different ages we know the facts which are that in maths we have fallen from 8th to 24th place in the world and in reading from 7th to 17th and in science which I sure Brian will want to talk about from 4th to 14th so we know the system has not been working either. So I am sure that this is the right thing to get rid of this particular set of exams and I think it probably couldn’t have come sooner. (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Professor


BRIAN COX
I am delighted these tests have been abolished. Education is not about teaching people to pass exams, it should not be about that, it is about teaching people to be functioning adults and to learn about the wonderful achievements of our civilisation and to prepare them to be inquisitive in the future. It is not about passing exams and I think it is extremely important point because if you measure the educational achievement of our country and our children by the number of exams that they pass and you set it as a political target then clearly you will put pressure on schools to teach people to pass exams and (APPLAUSE) I suspect this is a problem with targets across many areas but it is certainly true in education and I think that what we find at universities is that we end up in some sense dismantling this mind set of what do I have to learn to get a first class honors degree that is the wrong question if you ask that you might as well not be in university that is not the point so and actually in many degrees as you said in science, physics degrees are tending to be 4 years ….

DIMBLEBY
You said it is not about exams would you in fact get rid of all formal exams

BRIAN COX
No, no you can’t be absolutist. Of course you need some means to see which people are good at science and which people are good at English and whatever of course you need to do that but I think that if your goal is to increase the number of people who pass a certain exam then you will miss the point in education./

JUDE KELLY
Can I just (APPLAUSE) I have just recently come back from China and they were saying that they are going to spend the next 10 years doing creative education for their entire population because they said it there was no use thinking they can have the entrepreneurs the scientists, the technologists of the future unless children grow up creatively and they are using the statistics of Scandinavian countries where they have been able to demonstrate that maths results go up if children play music that actually creativity fuels academic results and I think that the UK has been amazingly backward at this considering we have the most wonderful creative aspect to our lives. Education has been forced to be in a silo away from this idea of intelligent exploration and China have cottoned on to it and I think we had better hurry up and do it ourselves (APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Jack Straw because you are like other Cabinet Ministers loyal to the principal of collective responsibility had you been asked this question last week you would have said how important SATs were at the age of 14 this week you are bound to say it is a very good thing that they are going. Which is your real view and how long have you held it?


JACK STRAW
I could say both. What I was going to say because the precise question was what you say to the children about the removal of formal tests at key stage 3 which is 14. If I was a teacher I have got sisters who are teachers so I know what they feel I would say not me them hey kids shock horror the government has done what the teachers have been asking them to do for many years and that is true. Now on the wider point I was Shadow Education Secretary going on for 20 years ago now when Kenneth Baker introduced SATs I supported those because I thought that is was essential that there was effective testing not only of pupils but also through that of the schools themselves and Brian if you excuse me saying I think that it is OK for some of you on the platform who have been lucky enough and it is about luck to be able to do exams but the school system was failing an awful lot of pupils because the schools didn’t know about the attainment of the pupils, parents didn’t know about the attainment of the pupils and I am perfectly happy to give credit to the conservative government between when Kenneth Baker came in in 87 and 97 and then our own government for the fact that there has been a relentless drive to increase standards and in this area I will give you the figures for the last 10 years I mean certainly in Blackburn 10 years ago just one in 3 youngsters got 5 or more good GCSEs now it is 2 in 3 but we have still got to drive it up because although we are doing well we have to compete against other countries.

BRIAN COX
My point is that if the government measures the success of its policies in a political sense by the number of people that pass GCSEs as you have just done then what happens you get downward pressure on standards it doesn’t follow, that you will get upward pressure on quality in school, it doesn’t follow, you may do but you naturally get downward pressure because people want to attain the targets and that is my problem

JACK STRAW
There is absolutely no evidence of that, zero evidence and what I can tell you … my children went to a very large, very mixed comprehensive school in the middle of London and I chaired the Governing body including when I was Home Secretary and some of the teachers didn’t fancy the introduction of SATs they didn’t fancy the fact that their performance, the teachers performance was then being monitored but the truth is it was one of the ways in which we raised standards in schools. Can I just say Brian I know what you mean and I also know what Jude means although the Chinese education system is much much more formal than is ours but I also say to you Brian when it comes to league tables and things you run or take part in a very distinguished Dept of Particle Physics and you are ranked and it is the way you get research money and I am sure that you are happy to participate in that because there has to be some way of judging the success of academic institutions.

DIMBLEBY
I am going to bring in our questioner because you asked what they would say Mr. Young what are you going to say or what have you said?


WILLIAM YOUNG
Well we had already started studying Romeo and Juliet so I told them that we would carry on doing it but that we would enjoy doing it much more without (APPLAUSE)

BRIAN COX
One very quick response you said there has got to be some way to judge the success of academic institutions that is absolutely right but the way shouldn’t be to force the kids to take exam after exam after exam you need to find a better way of assessing the success of the school

JACK STRAW
Key Stage 3 was important but we all accept now and this is the pressure from teachers that it was right to move away from that at age 14.

DIMBLEBY
Should we have moved away from it earlier?

AUDIENCE
Yes. Key Stage 2

JACK STRAW
No not key stage 2.

DIMBLEBY
Are you sort of recognizing that it would have been a good thing to have moved away earlier because this question has been there for several years now?

JACK STRAW
It has I am aware of that but this is one of those decisions where you can’t be say either or not least because of the position of the children you have , I mean some decisions in government you have to just announce and this is one of them. A lady in the audience is shouting out we should have abandoned key stage 2 madam sorry to disagree with you but key stage 2 is about testing at 11 and that is of fundamental importance to finding out how primary schools are doing and the parents need to know that and it is also fundamental importance for the secondary schools to know about attainment and performance of the children coming into those schools.

DIMBLEBY
And as with all these issues we could discuss them at greater length than we have available because they are so important and the thoughts so considerable can we go to our next however.


RODNEY HINDLE
On the assumption that the universe is both infinitely small as well as infinitely large can we ever know what it is really made of and given other pressing issues such as climate change should we be spending large sums of money trying to find out?

DIMBLEBY
You can touch on both the climate change and your own responsibility at CERN first of all Professor Cox

BRIAN COX
The simple answer to the first part of the question is we have no way of knowing whether the universe is accessible to our understanding. It has been so far and in a way this leads on to the answer to the second question that the point is that finding out how the universe works has been a tremendous benefit. It is the basis on which our world is built is an understanding of the way the universe works and at any point in the past you could have said well I want to stop doing this kind of curiosity driven research at this point and I would like to apply it to the problem of the day. At the moment of course it is climate change very important problem but then you would have possibly have prohibited faraday from playing around with electricity he didn’t know why he was doing that. He invented the electric motor essentially by mistake because of curiosity the examples, the transistor it was invented because people wanted to understand quantum mechanics which is actually less difficulty than economics I think (laugh) but the serious point is that scientific research leads to wonderful things. It is curiosity driven and it is very difficult if not impossible to predict where those wonderful things will come from so you can’t target it if you could you might want to do it but you just can’t.

DIMBLEBY
The amount of money that is going into the CERN project is what

BRIAN COX
It is £80m per year from the UK.

DIMBLEBY
Now would you given you say the serious problem of global warming and climate change do you believe that huge funds should be directed at that as well or how do you see confronting that challenge?

BRIAN COX
Yes significantly more. The point about CERN is it is £80m per year because although it doesn’t seem it at the moment it is a tiny amount of money compared to what I think should be invested in research to mitigate the problems of climate change. Now I am a big supporter of nuclear fusion research. I think that eventually at some point in the future nuclear fusion which is the thing that the sun does is the way to solve the energy problems of the world eventually. Now I would advocate a Manhattan project to do that I would say that is the most important thing we can do in terms of research.

DIMBLEBY
The atomic project

BRIAN COX
Yes I would advocate a multi, there is multi billion pound project actually called ISA in France but it is something like $40m over 20 years or something $40 billion over 20 years, from the world. I would multiply that by a factor of 10 and I would get it done and I would do that but I wouldn’t take it from relatively small areas of research that may produce great benefits

DIMBLEBY
Grant Shapps

GRANT SHAPPS
I think one of the problems that scientists have is that it feels very inaccessible to the rest of us and my limited knowledge of science from when I was doing O Levels had long since left me so over the summer on holiday actually I picked up Bill Bryson’s book called A ShortHistory of Nearly Everything and it talks about all those things that I kind of missed in my classes about how atoms work and I started to get interested in just as a layman in some of these subjects and it does seem to me that when you look at a history of all science in that type of book that you realise that it is the human beings passion and capacity to go and discover things that has got us for better or for worse where we are today and there will be as Brian has said there will be the next discover which leads to something completely unexpected and actually in terms of what the nation spends on scientific research it is a relatively small budget. I think it is probably worth every single penny.

BRIAN COX
I should say it is about £3.5billion the entire science budge that is medical research, space research everything that goes to the universities everything is 3.5 billion so it really is a tiny amount compared to the sums that are banded about today.

DIMBLEBY
Jude Kelly

JUDE KELLY
I came back from a trip to the Arctic last week with 48 people scientists and artists together looking at the effect of climate change, measuring the effect of climate change. I was in awe of the scientists who seemed to me to be not only knowledgeable but incredibly ethical and very very committed to two things. They absolutely believe that there should be a global curiosity and a wonder about the universe and they absolutely believe there should be practical ways of making the world work better and I think you can’t divide that sense of wonderment and curiosity from the desire to make it better and we need to make it better from a climate change point of view and we can’t stop research as a result.

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
Secretary of State

JACK STRAW
I agree particularly with the eloquent words of Brian about this. The things that have historically made over two centuries this area of Lancashire transformed it, it was for a period in the 18th century early 19th century silicone valley of the world and this was people just having curious ideas. Sometimes mad ideas and by the way it could have been people saying well hang on we got into the Napoleonic Wars with fighting we should stop this but fortunately they carried on and they developed into what became and has now been lost a world beating technology and most of the things the drought treatments, that technology would take for granted as Brian has brought out started as a kind of mad idea of someone who is just following his curiosity so scientific research, pure scientific research as well as applied scientific research is of fundamental importance.

DIMBLEBY
Thank you and we can just squeeze in one more


BARBARA WORTHINGTON
In view of the credit crunch and its potential effect on premiership football how long do you think it will be until Blackburn Rovers are once again in the same league as Accrington Stanley?

(APPLAUSE)

DIMBLEBY
The Rt Hon Jack Straw Sec of State for Justice.

JACK STRAW
And Hon Vice President, along with Margaret Thatcher, of the world’s finest football team, Blackburn Rovers. The answer Mrs. Worthington (LAUGH) is never unless there is a miracle beyond human imagination and science and Accrington Stanley gets into the Premier League.

DIMBLEBY
Jude Kelly

JUDE KELLY
Well I have to notice that here we are yes we are talking about climate change, we are talking about science we are talking about the great things to do with education but finally of course we end up talking about football and I am sure we will all repair to the pub and carry on talking about football. I wish Accrington every luck why shouldn’t they be number one obviously we have to leave a space for Liverpool other than that it’s fine.

DIMBLEBY
Grant Shapps

GRANT SHAPPS
When I heard we were recording in Accrington the first thing I said to my wife I wonder if it is Accrington Stanley and you must excuse me I am from Hertfordshire so I didn’t know, I know and that is why I have been waiting to come up here with my team Watford all this time for a game against Accrington Stanley and it is yet to happen but we yet may be in the same league as you

DIMBLEBY
And finally Brian Cox

BRIAN COX
Did you really want Accrington to get into the Premier League though? Because when I used to support Oldham as a lad which is where I was born it was good it is a small ground you could walk up you could stand with your friends you could watch football do you really want Ronaldo et al swanning around in Accrington?

(APPLAUSE LAUGH)

DIMBLEBY
I am afraid that. The answers appear to be yes. Next week Lionel Shriver the author, Norman Fowler the Conservative Peer, Lord Digby Jones and Lord Andrew Adonis but from here close by Accrington Stanley’s football ground from St Christopher’s High School in Accrington. Goodbye.
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