Question Time


Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 14:56 UK

This week's panel

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, was in Salisbury on Thursday 21 May.

The panel included Health Minister Ben Bradshaw, Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague, Lib Dem chief economic spokesman Vince Cable, former independent MP Martin Bell, treasurer of UKIP Marta Andreasen, and columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.


Ben Bradshaw MP

Career: Ben Bradshaw is a health minister and MP for Exeter.

He worked as a journalist before entering politics, covering the fall of the Berlin Wall as a reporter for BBC radio, and winning the Sony News Reporter Award in 1993.

He was elected as the MP for Exeter in 1997 and became parliamentary private secretary to the minister of state at the department of health, John Denham, in 2000. After the 2001 General Election, he entered Tony Blair's government as the parliamentary under secretary of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and became a minister in the health department in 2007.

Last week he dismissed claims in the Telegraph newspaper that he had switched his second home allowance to cover the full mortgage interest on his London terraced house instead of his home in Exeter as "factually wrong". His spokesman said: "Ben's expenses claims have consistently been much lower than any other MP in Devon and Cornwall because he has always been acutely aware that this is taxpayers' money and his constituents would expect him to keep his costs down."


William Hague MP

Career: William Hague is the shadow foreign secretary and former leader of the Conservative Party.

After his first foray into politics, aged 16, with a speech at the 1977 Conservative Party conference, he was elected to Parliament in 1989 as the MP for Richmond, North Yorkshire, and was promoted to the cabinet as secretary of state for Wales in 1995.

He succeeded John Major as leader of the Conservative Party after Labour's 1997 election victory.

On the morning of Labour's second landslide election victory in 2001, he announced his resignation, admitting: "We have not been able to persuade a majority, or anything approaching a majority, that we are yet the alternative government that they need."

He spent some years as an active backbencher, notably speaking in favour of Tony Blair's proposal for military action in Iraq in 2003. He returned to frontline politics in 2005 when David Cameron made him shadow foreign secretary.

William Hague this week pledged to give up all his outside interests by September. He said that criticism of the Commons speaker, Michael Martin, had reached "crisis point". However, he stopped short of echoing calls for his resignation from Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, saying: "It would be wrong for the opposition to start saying, 'Oh this is wrong with the speaker, that is wrong with the speaker' - that makes it a political issue rather than a House of Commons issue."


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 became 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. Earlier this year he stepped in as acting leader again, when Nick Clegg was on paternity leave.

A highly respected economics expert, he was one of the first politicians to call for the nationalisation of Northern Rock in November 2007, calling it the "least worst option".

This week he has been touted by some journalists and MPs as a potential replacement for the Speaker, Michael Martin, who has announced that he will step down next month. However, Vince Cable has dismissed the speculation, saying he would rather remain as Lib Dem economics spokesman.


Martin Bell OBE

Career: Martin Bell is a former journalist and was the independent MP for Tatton from 1997 to 2001.

He made his name as one of the BBC's pre-eminent foreign correspondents, broadcasting from war zones such as Vietnam, Bosnia and Northern Ireland. He won the Royal Television Society's Reporter of the Year award in 1977 and 1993, and was awarded an OBE in 1992.

In 1997, just 24 days before the General Election, he announced he was resigning from the BBC to stand as an independent candidate in Tatton, the seat of Conservative MP Neil Hamilton, who was embroiled in sleaze allegations. He was elected, overturning Hamilton's majority of 20,000, becoming the first successful independent candidate since 1951. Having pledged to serve just one term, he stood down at the 2001 election.

Last week he condemned the MPs' expenses scandal, saying: "They are treating their expenses as if they are entitlements - if these people worked for private companies they would be out on their ear immediately… I'm looking for prosecutions for the most extreme cases and I hope there will be by-elections."

He confirmed that he "wouldn't rule out" standing for Parliament again, saying: "I'll never say never - I'm as outraged as anybody… It would take extreme circumstances for me to stand again, but I made a mistake in saying I would only serve the people of Tatton for one term, and I regret that every day."


Marta Andreasen

Career: Marta Andreasen is the treasurer of the UK Independence Party, and is standing for the party in the South East of England and London in next month's European elections.

She began her career as an accountant in her native Argentina and, after working for the OECD, was appointed as the chief accounting officer to the European Commission in January 2002.

She made headlines when she publicly raised concerns about the Commission's accounting systems. Her refusal to sign off the 2001 European Commission accounts led to her being suspended from the post and later losing her job. She has since said: "Investors make up their own minds where they want their money. But taxpayers are not even asked this question…The EC should set the example for private companies, but it is the opposite. It issues directives, but doesn't follow them."

In 2007 she accepted the role of treasurer to UKIP, which is committed to withdrawing the UK from the European Union.


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Career: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a columnist for the Independent and the Evening Standard.

She was born in Uganda, and left for England in 1972. After working as a teacher, she began her journalistic career at the New Statesman, before going on to write for many publications, including the Guardian, the Observer, the New York Times, Time Magazine and the Daily Mail.

She has received a number of awards for her writing, including the George Orwell Prize for Political Journalism in 2002.

She was awarded an MBE in 2001, but decided to return the honour in 2003, writing that the imperial connotations meant that she "had begun to feel that to hang on to my MBE would be dishonourable. I could never again respect myself."

Last week she wrote of the "startling dissolution of moral boundaries experienced by those of principle when they touch power". The MPs' expenses scandal showed, she said, that "those who should have known better have exploited and degraded their own testimonies of poverty, want, racism, exclusion, and lived socialism. That makes their corruption worse than avaricious toffs who always were amoral."

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