Question Time


Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Monday, 12 January 2009

Last week's panel

Shaun Woodward MPChris Grayling MPBaroness TongeWillie WalshStephen Pollard

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, was in Leeds on Thursday 15 January.

The panel included Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward, Conservative shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge, British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh, and author and commentator Stephen Pollard.


Shaun Woodward MP

Career: Shaun Woodward is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

He entered Parliament as the Conservative MP for Witney in 1997 and went on to serve on the front bench under William Hague, before famously defecting to the Labour Party saying, "I am not leaving my party, my party has left me."

He served as a minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport before being promoted to Gordon Brown's first cabinet in 2007, succeeding Peter Hain as Northern Ireland Secretary.

He is married to the supermarket heiress Camilla Sainsbury and does not claim his ministerial salary.

Last week he joined colleagues for a cabinet meeting in Liverpool. This is the third cabinet meeting to be held outside London since September, a strategy which the government says is aimed at bringing the business of politics to regions outside London.


Chris Grayling MP

Career: Chris Grayling is the Conservative shadow secretary of state for work and pensions.

He worked as a BBC producer before entering politics as a councillor in 1998.

He was elected to Parliament as the MP for Epsom and Ewell in 2001, and was promoted to the shadow cabinet by Michael Howard in 2005. When David Cameron took over in December 2005, he became shadow transport secretary, and has been shadow work and pensions secretary since June 2007.

Reacting to a pledge this week by the prime minister to create 100,000 new jobs to tackle rising unemployment, he said: "I'm extremely sceptical about Gordon Brown's job announcement… there is no substance behind it. The forecast for unemployment is so gloomy I don't think this plan would barely cover last month's unemployment increase."


Baroness Tonge

Career: Jenny Tonge is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

She was the Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park in London from 1997 to 2005. In May 2005, she became a life peer, becoming Baroness Tonge of Kew.

She is a former doctor and is known for her outspoken views, in the past arguing that cannabis should be legalised and heroin "medicalised", to treat more addicts on the NHS.

She was sacked from her Lib Dem front bench job by the then leader Charles Kennedy in January 2004, when she said of Palestinian suicide bombers: "If I had to live in that situation - and I say that advisedly - I might just consider becoming one myself."


Willie Walsh

Career: Willie Walsh is the chief executive of British Airways.

He joined the aviation industry as a cadet pilot for Irish airline Aer Lingus in 1979, and worked his way up, becoming chief executive in 2001.

Known for his uncompromising style, he reinvented Aer Lingus as a profitable no-frills airline and slashed costs by 30%, shedding more than a third of staff and saying: "We make no apologies for focusing on profit".

He joined BA in October 2005. In light of the global economic downturn and increasing pressure on the airline industry, he has said that the next financial year "is going to be one of the toughest we've ever faced... We need to plan for a protracted downturn. It's going to be extremely tough."

He has been one of the most vocal supporters of the controversial plan to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, saying it is "critical".


Stephen Pollard

Career: Stephen Pollard is an author and commentator, and is the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. He describes the paper, which has a circulation of over 32,000, as "Israel's candid friend".

He has written for a number of newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, the Times and the Daily Mail, and wrote a blog for the Spectator before taking over at the Jewish Chronicle in November 2008. His biography of David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, was published in December 2004.

He was president of the Centre for the New Europe (a Brussels-based think tank) from 2001 to 2008, and was founding chairman of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism from 2007 to 2008.

From 1995-98 he was head of research at the Social Market Foundation, and from 1992-95 research director at the Fabian Society.

An outspoken supporter of Israel, he has accused the BBC's Middle East editor of "hopeless bias" and said of the current Israeli action in Gaza: "You have to understand why the Israelis are acting as they are, in defence."

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