Question Time


Page last updated at 07:56 GMT, Tuesday, 23 September 2008 08:56 UK

This week's panel

Hazel Blears MPTheresa May MPVince Cable MPDerek SimpsonFraser Nelson

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, was in Manchester on Thursday 25 September.

The panel included the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears, Conservative shadow leader of the House of Commons Theresa May, the Liberal Democrat chief economic spokesman Vince Cable, the secretary general of Unite Derek Simpson and the political editor of The Spectator Fraser Nelson.


Hazel Blears MP

Hazel Blears is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. She has been the Labour MP for Salford since 1997.

She worked as a solicitor before her election to parliament, going on to take up a post in the Home Office with responsibility for crime and security under Charles Clarke.

Last June, she faced five of her colleagues in the race for deputy leadership of the Labour Party, which was won by Harriet Harman. It was reported by the Times this week that a number of MPs who supported her deputy leadership bid were among the rebel Labour MPs who called for a party leadership contest last week, including George Howarth, Barry Gardiner and Siobhain McDonagh. However, this weekend she dismissed the link, saying: ""I don't think you should make anything of it."

In an interview this weekend, she warned against "a big bloodbath in the Labour Party", saying: "If the party can find another way through and face its challenges, it will be in a better place."


Theresa May MP

Career: Theresa May has been Conservative shadow leader of the House of Commons since December 2005. In July 2007 she was also made shadow minister for women.

After eight years as a local councillor, she was elected as the MP for Maidenhead in 1997 and was promoted to the shadow cabinet in 1999, when she became shadow Education and Employment secretary.

In July 2002 she became the first-ever female chairman of the Conservative Party and made headlines when she referred to the Tories as "the nasty party" in her conference speech that year.

Last week she launched a campaign for equal pay for women, saying: "This is not just a political issue - for me it is much bigger than that. That's why, no matter what political beliefs women have, fair treatment should be something we can all support and get all MPs to do the same."


Vince Cable MP

Career: Vince Cable has been the Liberal Democrat chief economic spokesman since 2003. He was elected to parliament in 1997 following a successful career in business, including working as chief economist for the oil company Shell from 1995 to 1997.

He was elected as deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons in March 2006, and served as acting leader of the party following the resignation of Sir Menzies Campbell, until the election of Nick Clegg as leader in December 2007.

Last November, he was one of the first politicians to call for the nationalisation of Northern Rock, calling it the "least worst option".

Last week he launched the Lib Dems' new tax-and-spend package with Nick Clegg, which included a pledge to cut at least 4p from the basic rate of tax. Refuting accusations of a shift to the right, he claimed that tax cuts were "progressive" and would be partly paid for by a shutdown of tax loopholes for the rich.

He said: "Struggling families are asking can you give us a bit more freedom to spend the money we have earned," he said. "Pensioners are saying can you give us a bit more freedom to spend the money we have saved."

He once dubbed Gordon Brown "Mr Bean" during Prime Minister's Questions, but declined to go further last week, stating that, "I have no wish to kick a twitching corpse."


Derek Simpson

Career: Derek Simpson is the joint secretary general of Unite, the UK's largest private-sector union.

After leaving school to become an apprentice in the tool room of an engineering factory, he rose through union ranks to become general secretary of Amicus in 2002.

At one time a member of the Communist Party of Britain, he joined the Labour Party in 1994. He was involved in the negotiation that let to the Warwick Agreement, in which the Labour Party agreed to implement some of the trade unions' policies during their third term.

He made headlines during the Trades Union Congress conference earlier this month when he dismissed Foreign Secretary David Miliband - widely tipped as a future Labour leader - as "smug" and "arrogant". He went on to say, "We might as well elect [David] Cameron. We might be better off with Cameron. Why should we elect a young, fresh face when we have already got one in Cameron with policies that are not dissimilar?"


Fraser Nelson

Career: Fraser Nelson is the political editor of the Spectator, and a columnist for the News of the World. He was previously political editor of the Scotsman and the Business magazine.

He is regarded as one of the UK's foremost political commentators, and in April he was voted ConservativeHome Writer of the Year by readers of the influential right-wing website.

Reacting to the recent economic turbulence, he has written: "Brown boasted about abolishing the cycle, 'ending boom and bust', [using] this to justify dangerously low interest rates, which opened the tap of debtů the next stage is recession, rising unemployment, repossessions and inflation. This is just the end of the beginning."

This week he wrote in the News of the World: "If you want to see Gordon Brown suffer, turn away now. Because he is going to cruise the Labour annual conference. The PM is not on trial, or giving a 'make or break' speech. He's the star of a carefully choreographed loyalty rally."

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