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Page last updated at 14:02 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 15:02 UK

This week's panel

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, was in London on Thursday 10 July.

The panel included the Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, Liberal Democrat spokesman on communities and local government Julia Goldsworthy, television presenter and business woman Saira Khan and the winner of the people's panellist competition Michael Heaver.


Douglas Alexander MP

Career: Douglas Alexander is the Secretary of State for International Development.

After joining the Labour Party as a schoolboy he entered politics in 1990 as a speech writer and parliamentary researcher for Gordon Brown. Having first stood for parliament while still a student, he was elected as the MP for Paisley South in November 1997.

After holding a number of positions in government, including Minister for E-Commerce, and Minister for Europe, he was promoted to the cabinet last year, simultaneously taking on the posts of Transport Secretary and Secretary of State for Scotland. He has long been regarded as one of Gordon Brown's closest political allies.

He is the brother of former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander, who resigned last week amid controversy over donations to her leadership campaign. Douglas Alexander publicly defended his sister, accusing the Scottish National Party of bringing about her resignation through "partisan conduct" and the "politics of personal destruction".


Iain Duncan Smith MP

Career: Iain Duncan Smith was Conservative leader between 2001 and 2003, after serving on William Hague's front bench as shadow defence secretary.

He is now head of the Centre for Social Justice and heads David Cameron's Social Justice Policy Group, and has worked closely with Ray Lewis, Boris Johnson's former deputy mayor for young people, who resigned last week over allegations of misconduct.

His commitment to the regeneration of poor urban areas reportedly came about after a 2002 visit to Glasgow's east end, in which a crucial by-election will take place later this month.

Formerly an ardent Thatcherite, his recent commitment to the cause of social deprivation has been portrayed as a dramatic conversion by the press.

He says: "I guess a Conservative in that [Thatcherite] period would have said that, for the most part, these things will rectify themselves. The mantra was: it's not the state's job to interfere. But here's where they were wrong. Because the state's already interfering. My point is you're now picking up huge bills from what's going on: 20bn for broken families, and we think we can put a calculation of 100bn on top of that for crime and antisocial behaviour. And now here we are in the new millennium and we have a very divided society."


Julia Goldsworthy MP

Career: Julia Goldsworthy is the Liberal Democrat Spokesman on Communities and Local Government.

She began her political career after university, working as a researcher for Lib Dem MP Matthew Taylor.

Winning the seat of Falmouth and Camborne in the 2005 election, she became the youngest MP in the House of Commons, and was appointed a party spokesperson on health in the same year.

She remains the youngest member of the Liberal Democrat front bench. Last year, she competed in the Channel 4 series The Games, finishing as runner-up.


Saira Khan [from her series Saira Khan's Pakistan Adventure]

Career: Saira Khan is a television presenter, columnist and business woman, who was runner up on the first UK series of The Apprentice.

A successful business woman, she heads a baby-products business called Miamoo, and is the host of Beat The Boss on BBC One, in which young people compete with adult business figures to develop products for the children's market.

She regular writes for a number of newspapers and appears regularly on television and radio programmes such as Woman's Hour and Radio 5 Live.

In 2006 she launched Our Say to campaign for local and national referendums on issues of major public interest, which has received support from a number of political figures, including Baroness Helena Kennedy and MPs Lembit Opik and Michael Gove.

She is a Muslim of Pakistani origin who has written extensively about her experiences as a Muslim woman in British society, and says: "People are scared to talk about Muslim issues for fear of being classed as racist."

She says of her upbringing: "My parents were from an arranged marriage and wanted the same for me. My mother would invite young men to the house and get me to serve them tea on a tray. I didn't fancy any of them. It was just like [the film] East Is East."


Michael Heaver (Photo: James Wooldridge)

Michael Heaver is 18 and from Cambridge.

He has just finished studying for A-Levels in Politics, History, Business, Media and English, and is due to start a course in European Politics at the University of East Anglia in September.

A member of the UK Independence Party, he says he represents "a section of society that doesn't get across usually, tends not to vote and doesn't get represented in the political process".

He loves politics, but says he is not sure if he wants to be a politician as "the best politicians aren't always the ones that plan it as a career".

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