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Page last updated at 14:26 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Last week's panel

Douglas Alexander MPAndrew Mitchell MPBaroness WilliamsGermaine GreerToby Young

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, was in Dudley on Thursday 5 March.

The panel included the Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander, Conservative shadow international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Williams, academic and writer Germaine Greer, and critic, journalist and author Toby Young.


Douglas Alexander MP

Career: Douglas Alexander is the Secretary of State for International Development and Labour's election coordinator.

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.

He was promoted to the cabinet when Gordon Brown became prime minister in 2007, simultaneously taking on the posts of transport secretary and secretary of state for Scotland, and has long been regarded as one of Gordon Brown's closest political allies.

This week he has been visiting Gaza, where he announced that Britain had pledged £30m in aid to the region. It was the first British ministerial visit to Gaza since Hamas took power in 2007. He said he had been "horrified by the scale of human suffering", and said the aid was "a new statement of our commitment to do what we can as a British government to alleviate the suffering."


Andrew Mitchell MP

Career: Andrew Mitchell is the shadow international development secretary and the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield.

He served in the Royal Tank Regiment after leaving university, and entered Parliament as the MP for Gedling in 1987. He went on to become a government whip, then minister for social security, and was a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party from 1992 to 1993.

After losing his seat at the 1997 election, he was re-elected as MP for Sutton Coldfield in 2001, and joined the shadow cabinet in 2005.

Last week he called for government action to save the troubled Jaguar Land Rover car plant in his constituency, saying: "My message to the government is get a grip, stop dithering and deliver." Condemning the government's approach to the ailing British car industry, he went on: "What we have at the moment is a very slow and very complex approach which isn't working. We need speed and clarity and that's what the Conservative Party would deliver."


Baroness Williams

Career: Shirley Williams is a veteran politician who was leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords until November 2004.

Originally a Labour MP, she was one of the "Gang of Four" rebels who left the party to found the Social Democratic Party in 1981, which later merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats.

She is emeritus professor of electoral politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a board member of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and a member of the International Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In June 2007, she accepted the offer of a government role by Gordon Brown, as an adviser on nuclear proliferation.


Germaine Greer

Career: Germaine Greer is an Australian-born feminist, academic and writer.

She became a household name with the publication of her book The Female Eunuch in 1970, and went on to be known internationally as a leading left-wing and feminist voice, describing herself as an "anarchist communist".

She regularly appears on television programmes such as Newsnight Review and Have I Got News For You, and was a contestant on the 2005 series of Celebrity Big Brother.

She has written a number of books, including Shakespeare's Wife, published in 2007, and is Professor emeritus of English Literature and Comparative Studies at the University of Warwick.

Last month, she made headlines when she accused the Australian government of failing to learn lessons from previous bushfires, saying: "We get taught the same lesson again and again… It's useless running around looking for arsonists. The arsonists are us. They are our government and our administrators. We have been stupid."


Toby Young

Career: Toby Young is a critic, journalist and author. He is associate editor of the Spectator, and regularly contributes to the Guardian and the Independent.

After graduating from university, he worked at the Times before founding the Modern Review magazine with Julie Burchill. His most famous book, How to Lose Friends And Alienate People, documents his experience of working at Vanity Fair magazine in the US, and was recently made into a Hollywood film.

Last week he wrote: "I'm beginning to suspect that I'm the only member of the chattering classes foolish enough to admit I want to be a celebrity… There's something cheap and tawdry about wanting to be a celebrity, as though no one setting out to achieve something so vulgar could possibly produce anything worthwhile. Such snobbery is based on a ludicrously high-minded notion of what inspires people to greatness."

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