November 25, Birmingham

November 18, Durham

November 11, Maidstone

November 4, Glasgow

October 28, Southampton

October 21, London

October 14, Sydney

October 7, Manchester

Thursday 30 September, Bournemouth

Thursday 23 September, London

Thursday 15 July, Belfast

Thursday 8 July, London

Thursday 1 July, Birmingham

Thursday 24 June, Leeds

Thursday 17 June, Manchester

Thursday 10 June, Birmingham

Thursday 3 June, Norwich

Thursday 27 May, Bath

Thursday 20 May, Belfast

Thursday 13 May, Birmingham

Thursday 29 April, London

Thursday 22 April, Glasgow

Thursday 15 April, Cardiff

Thursday 25 March, Sheffield

Thursday 18 March, London

Thursday 11 March, Manchester

Thursday 4 March, Maidstone

Thursday 25 February, London

Thursday 17 June, Manchester

On the panel:

  • Charlie Whelan, journalist and broadcaster
  • Gerald Kaufman MP, Labour
  • Theresa May MP, shadow education and employment secretary
  • Don Foster MP, Liberal Democrat education and employment spokesman
  • Sheila McKechnie, director, Consumers' Association

    Labour's Euro disappointment

    Audience question: Does the very low turn out rate for the European elections reflect the fact that the public is quite satisfied with the status quo?

  • Can Tony Blair now afford to risk his political career by pushing for a 'Yes' vote in a euro referendum?

    Don Foster said: "It was a very disappointing turn out, and one of the reasons I would argue why that happened, was that the political parties did not engage the public in the vitally important debate that should have taken place about the importance of our membership in Europe and, of course, the big issue of the single currency. The main criticism I would lay at the door, frankly, of the prime minister ... really he didn't grab this particular issue by the scruff of the neck ... a major major lack of leadership from the prime minister."

    Charlie Whelan on the euro: "I think Labour's policy on the euro is the right one ... I don't think we could win a referendum on this issue tomorrow, the argument hasn't been put."

    Sheila McKechnie said: "I think this was a tragedy for democracy ... On the euro: "The idea that you sit and wait until you hit the bull's eye ... I think we should be having the debate now."

    Gerald Kaufman said: "People felt it didn't count, nothing was going to be changed. This country is simply having too many elections - we should have fewer elections."

    You said:

    Pundits are placing too much importance on the European election results. The Tories came out to vote, (a few of them, anyway) to make a desperate point. Labour supporters stayed at home because "it's only Europe". There is no lessening of support for Labour overall, but the future importance of the European Parliament must be brought home to the general public.
    H. Hesketh

    The European elections are totally different from any internal national elections. For the Tories to say that they are on their way back is laughable. They are disorganised and split right down the middle. To win the next General Election they would have to overturn a majority of 179! The Tories are dead in the water and they know it.
    Ben Lloyd, Swansea

    The European election turnout was almost as bad in Holland as it was here. The fact that the European Parliament shied away initially from bringing the commission to book and only acted when their "compromise" backfired on them, is indicative of the low esteem the parliament is held in. My generation never voted to become part of this mess and my parents' generation were lied to when they did. I have no reason to trust any pro-European politician of any party.
    Geoffrey Sturdy

    I unfortunately was not able to vote as I was delayed at work. But if I would have voted against Labour as the euro is not a winner. We are seeing the problems of the low interest rates over the whole of euroland, which are designed to help Germany come out of its recession, but is causing high inflation in countries like Ireland. I cannot see how the European Central Bank will be able to cope with all the different requirements of the different countries' economies. The euro was a political fudge to accommodate the various countries who never met the economic criteria. I would also like to have protested against the IR35 budget 1999 proposal which attacks small service companies. It has far ranging implications especially for the IT industry and is unlikely to raise the tax revenues that it proposes to do. In fact it will lead to a brain drain of IT personnel and other highly qualified professions such as vets, doctors, etc. Tony Blair keeps saying how his party is pro small business, how they wish to lower bureaucracy, lower business taxation. He has just been supporting the Princes Trust on starting up 30,000 businesses. Yet his party is about to close down 66,000 small businesses next April and these are their estimates. I reckon it will be nearer 200,000.
    Ketan Shah

    Since the age of 18 I have voted in every election at every opportunity, sometimes travelling across the country just to vote - except for this European election. The simple reason is the changes by the chancellor which affect small service companies (IR35). I have worked in IT for 12 years - the last four years running my own small service company. I simply could not vote for a government which could be so short-sighted about the country's high-tech industry. I have invested in training, software, hardware, networks at the rate of about £4,000 per year to keep pace with the increasing pace of change in the IT industry, with the result that I now consider myself an expert in Internet technology - the biggest growth area in IT. This is an investment in my future which would NOT have been made if I were an employee of company, and I could not afford to make out of personal funds. However, the Inland Revenue now say that the decision I made to control my own future was done merely to avoid tax. The simple fact is that I now pay over double the amount of tax now than I did when I was an employee. The new rules suggested by IR35 would make me an employee again - taking away my access to funds which could guarantee my future at the forefront of technology. This applies to many tens of thousands of small service or knowledge-based companies. This change could change the employee status of hundreds of thousands of our most innovative and skilled workers and cause untold damage the IT sector, driving many small companies out of business.
    Simon Griffiths

    Like all my contractor colleagues I voted Conservative in protest of the damaging legislation proposed within IR35. I am trying to provide for my family's future. By taking the risks involved in running a limited company I can better do this. I strongly object to the government imposing working conditions upon me.
    Sean Boyd

    I also registered a protest vote about the IR35 proposals. This campaign was also noteworthy for its total lack of canvassing, coupled with the closed list system and its consequence that no-one knew the MEP they were being asked to vote for.
    Robin Monks

    I did not vote because I was on holiday! However, had I arrived in the UK on time I would have voted against the government by voting for an alternative party in protest at the proposed Inland revenue legislation IR35 which is about to kill 66,000 businesses in this country.
    Gerald Williams

    I voted at the euro elections specifically to vote against Labour. Why? Because their inept handling of the IR35 proposals look set to crust tens of thousands of legitimate small businesses and destroy the competitiveness of the UK's important IT sector. Of course, I realise it is 'unfair' of me to vote on a non-Euro issue in a Euro election, but I figure that if Labour can be unfair to me, I can be unfair to them. The really sad part is, that for various reasons, they will raise LESS tax from me after they have stopped my alleged avoidance than before! Ironic, isn't it?
    Ian Cargill

    The result of the European elections is certainly difficult to draw any conclusions from. The low turnout etc. undoubtedly make any substantive assumptions very difficult. However, there are a number of key messages can be gauged from the results. The Conservative Party was the most focused and active party in the elections. They ran a campaign that did focus on the positive benefits of being members of the European Union, but it was quite clear about where the limits to this were to be found. Their principled stand must now be repeated in not allying themselves with the European Peoples Party in the parliament and more importantly by taking a similar approach on issues of domestic concern. For Labour, the message is clearly that they cannot rest on their laurels and must take notice of the people who did vote. After all, if the Conservatives were able to motivate their supporters this time, who is to say they cannot do so in a General Election if the focus remains on the euro as William Hague seems to be suggesting it will?
    Simon Eardley

    I can't believe the number of quite ridiculous explanations put forward for the low turnout and the low Labour vote at the European elections. The reasons seem, to me, to be quite simple. Firstly, the European Parliament has little real power and rarely features in our current affairs agenda. Secondly, in the absence of any real motivation to vote in these elections, a compensatory reason in the past has been the opportunity to register dissatisfaction with the government. With such high (or maybe apathetic) satisfaction ratings with the present government, this reason does also not exist - hence the result. The turnout could have been even worse if the Tories had not mobilised the anti-euro vote, which in effect made a mockery of the whole process, as the European elections have little to do with British involvement in the single currency.
    Oliver Knight

    Sean Fear's comments looked like they'd been written by Conservative Central Office! The low turnout was because people have not seen a healthy debate about the benefits of being in the European Union and because they feel alienated by its institutions which the vast majority of them know little about. Yes, Tony Blair should come off the fence, but in the sense that he has to ignite a sense of understanding about what we may be entering. It worked in most of the other EU members states. Are we suggesting that the German or the French electorate are somehow more gullible than we are? I don't think so. Newspapers like the Sun have at the same time offered a shamefully distorted view about European issues which panders to old fashioned views about Britain's national identity (the Union Jack flag, the Pound, the monarchy). None of this is relevant to the modern day and frankly exploits the limited intellect of its readership.
    Darren Young

    The Government and the Lib Dems are saying that they haven't got their message across. BUT politicians are elected to represent the view of the people. The clear message from the people is that we do not want to join the euro and we do not want any further integration - get it!

    I'm overall in favour of Europe, and have personally benefited from it while a student, in the form of a year in France on the ERASMUS scheme, so it worries me that people vote less in European elections. Perhaps we could do with some proper debate rather than the anti-European hysteria we get from the British media. While we have the single-minded hate campaign of The Sun and most of the Conservative Party against anyone who even hints that there might be some good points to a single currency, nobody spells out the advantages in a clear and balanced way. No wonder a referendum seems unwinnable. I also think Adrian is wrong when he says politicians are to put forward the views of the population - they're meant to represent our best interest (not always the same thing).
    Andy Diamond , Coventry

    Why is the result of the Euro elections seen as such a triumph by the Conservatives, when an even lower turnout in the Welsh Devolution referendum was seen by the same party as invalid due to its low turnout? I believe that you cannot have it both ways.
    Gareth Phillips

    The results indicate that the next General Election will be fully competitive, something few thought realistic a week ago.

    If Labour had won last week, then William Hague would have been kicked out. This would be disastrous for Labour, as the Tories might elect someone popular instead. The Euro-Elections don't matter, and now Labour will face Hague at the next General Election. Now we know why they didn't bother to campaign.
    David E Flavell

    I, like a large number of other self employed people, used the Euro elections as the first electoral opportunity to protest against the IR35 proposals published after the last budget. The Inland Revenue's own estimates show that at least 66,000 businesses will close by next April as a consequence.
    Ron Chennells

    There has been much talk about the low turnout but the published figures are wrong. The actual turnout, the number of returned ballot papers, is higher. By how much we will never know until we can pressurise the Home Office to divulge the truth. The published turnout figure is just the sum of the votes for each party and completely ignores those like me that care enough to go and vote but are unable to support any of those standing. Our democratic voice has been silenced. I registered a spoilt paper because I refuse to condone the party list PR system by voting for a party. Whatever the reasons for spoiling a paper, the numbers of such protest votes MUST be counted and published if we are to get a true picture of public opinion. If you stay at home, it can only be assumed that you accept the system and accept any majority decision by those that did vote. Spoiling a paper is the only democratic way we have to register disapproval. What use is that if the returning officer just bins them and ignores our dissent? Headlines in the media are the only way we can generate a consensus for action in our community. If we cannot generate headlines by peaceful protest voting we are only left with civil disobedience and criminal action.
    Brian Shaw

    The main reason for Labour's losses in Europe was the low turn out. The main reason for the low turn out is that very few people know what the European Parliament does. In these situations, protest or anti- voters are more likely to be in the majority, for although they don't know what they are voting for they know what they are voting against. If Labour really wanted to do well in the election they needed to emphasise the powers that the European Parliament has and how they affect our lives. By then setting out how a Labour and left-of-centre influence in Europe would influence these powers and their effects, they would have been able to motivate the vote more. People just think about Europe in tabloid headlines. They think the European Parliament just decides on what shape bananas should be, and what can and can't be called champagne and that "they're going to take our pound away".
    Alan Johnston

    I think the government's poor showing in the Euro elections are a blip. If there was a general election tomorrow the government would sweep to power because the country is in the best shape it's been in for more than twenty years.
    Mr E Heaton

    Perhaps Labour's disastrous results at the Euro Elections have by default given the Labour leadership two good outcomes:

  • 1. It guarantees they will be fighting William Hague as Conservative Leader at the next election
  • 2. It has almost certainly finished off those in the Labour Party who were advocating Proportional Representation.
    Andy Moffat, Rutherglen

    Taking into account the general apathy towards voting, how does Labour think that a referendum will give a clear picture of what the public want in Europe? My concern is the mastery adopted by the spin doctors in achieving results by masquerading the real issues and events that occur.

    The EU elections were a travesty against democracy because the government of this country could not be bothered to educate people of the election's dejure and defacto importance.
    Jeffrey Sackett

    Poor turnout for the Euro election is probably due more to the distrust the British feel of Europe, and the likelihood of further "Red Tape", and less autonomy, than any excuse the politicians can come up with. If the vote had been a referendum on European Federalism which, face it, that is what we all fear, the turn out would have been 100%, all putting our cross in the box saying "No". Education on Europe should be addressed, but presently everyone is aware that commerce and trade are the main issue: to the man in the street, who feels that he is used to a certain amount of choice, Europe poses a threat. The lack of votes, I think, can be interpreted as "voting with your feet" i.e. staying at home and showing utter contempt.
    Sue and Richard Day

    The Euro election results appear to indicate that Middle England were willing to turn out for Labour in large numbers when they wanted to reject the last Conservative Government. Now that they have achieved that task, they seem peculiarly indifferent to helping Tony Blair any further. Clearly, Tony Blair's attempts to be all things to all people has backfired spectacularly - Labour's core supporters have deserted him while its new supporters appear indifferent. Living proof that politics by spin-doctoring provides its comeuppance in the end.
    David Chmiel

    Many grass roots Labour supporters have had enough of Tony Blair's right wing domestic policies: welfare, introduction of pre-privatised education. This is of course one aspect of New Labour's failure in the Euro elections the spin doctors wish to avoid.
    John Foley

    Labour is rather less popular, I suspect, than opinion polls indicate. Its traditional supporters take the view that it has done little for them, and have either abstained or voted for left-wing alternatives. At the same time, middle-class voters are starting to realise that indirect taxes have gone up since 1997, without seeing any particular benefit from this. Above all, voters of all classes are hostile to further European integration, and the Tories successfully turned this election into a referendum on the single currency.
    Sean Fear

    The Lib Dems, the only overtly pro-European party, would have had nil seat on the old first past the post system, and yet should have had a field day and swept the board. Doesn't this mean that the public do not want Europe and do not want Lib Dems?
    Brian Singleton

    By becoming a FULL member of the European Union we would be giving power to officials who we haven¿t even voted for! I am all for free trade across boarders, but a more powerful European Parliament/commission means more red tape and less efficiency. Why not just leave it at a barrier free trading block?
    Sue McCauley

    I voted against Labour to register a protest vote against the tax changes proposed in the Budget: IR35. I also made sure that members of my family did the same. One member of the PCG, a recently formed group to represent the views of small businesses in this sector reported he had "whipped" 30 members of his family to vote against Labour and IR35. This group, from a survey carried out, represent the 10% swing that put New Labour into power. If IR35 comes in as presently outlined they have made clear they will never vote Labour again.
    Andy White

    Teenage mothers

    Audience question: Will the government plans to put teenage mothers in hostels lead to a reduction in pregnancies?

    Sheila McKechnie said: "The idea of hostel as a punishment is a complete nonsense, it's not a punishment. I think the policy's perfectly sensible."

    Gerald Kaufman said: "Young women who are on their own need support in bringing up a baby ... It may well be that they'll get that help in a residential environment rather than on their own."

    You said:

    As a teenage single parent I have mixed feelings about the suggestion of accommodating young mums in hostels. I agree that some teenage parents would appreciate the support that hostels will give them, however, I feel that this policy implies that all single mums need support and are not capable of being good mums unless they have this support - this is not so. I am in the third year of a four year degree that I began when my son was seven months old. I would not have been able to do this course without the financial support of my parents. Since the start of my course I have seen the introduction of various schemes that diminish the chances of other single parents being able to further their education. Had I not gone to university I would probably be claiming income support and my future would be that of struggling to support myself and my son working low paid jobs. The assistance of single parents to return to work includes the provision of nursery fees. This is a very welcome scheme yet as a student I am exempt from this. At university there are many single parents who, like myself, have taken the opportunity to better their futures and I am certain that other teenage mums would also love such an opportunity.
    Anita Cash

    At Last! We actually have people on TV saying it is time to address the increasing Illegitimacy rates by teaching the young morals to say no and not simply to throw the phrase 'more sex education', a euphemism for 'more condoms please'.
    Edwin Bonnerv

    Kosovo peace-keeping force

    Audience question: is it right for Nato to allow Yugoslav forces to leave Kosovo without disarming them?

    Charlie Whelan said: "To actually have had a fight with them would have been catastrophic. We've already seen on the television all the people who have been murdered and raped and just imagine how much worse it would have been. I think it was right to have this peace agreement and it has saved many many more lives."

    Gerald Kaufman said: "Of course if it were possible it would be desirable, but the whole point about what has been taking place during these months in Kosovo is to do what was possible in order to stop the ethnic cleansing. That's why we did the bombing, which a lot of people disagreed with."

    Theresa May said: "There are still difficulties to be overcome, but we must look to the future and to trying to achieve, what has been the overall objective of this conflict, which is actually ensuring that the Kosovan refugees can return home. We have to focus on that at the moment."

    Sheila McKechnie said: "I disagree with the question. The quality of any civilisation is how you deal with people you have defeated and it's a measure of the kind of Europe that we're going to want in the future ... I think we're on a powder keg. I don't actually agree with withholding economic support to rebuilding Serbia. There are many ways in which that can be done without reinforcing Milosevic."

    Don Foster said: "I'm very conscious of the fact that if we're going to ultimately get stability in the region it will come not from a military solution but from a diplomatic solution."

    Tobacco advertising

    Audience question: Will the ban of cigarette advertising deter young smokers? Why is it okay to advertise in Formula One and snooker?

    Sheila McKechnie said: "Banning advertising has been shown to work in other countries. It does have an impact."

    Gerald Kaufman said: "I voted for bills to ban tobacco advertising for years during the Conservative government, when they were blocked by the Conservative whips. And that being so I am very strongly indeed in favour of a ban on tobacco advertising. I am in favour in principle of certainly of an overall and total ban including Formula One and snooker."

    Theresa May: "We want to see effective ways of persuading young people either to stop smoking or not to start smoking in the first place, because it is bad for people's health. I'm not convinced that just banning advertising is the most effective way of to do that it."

    Charlie Whelan said: "Of course it's right to ban smoking advertising ... I support the government on this one."

    Don Foster said: "I have to confess I do not understand the argument that says snooker and Formula One, which are very popular sports, which I'd have thought would have very little difficulty getting additional sponsorship, are being given this leeway ... Ban the lot straight away."

    You said:

    Banning tobacco advertising is a positive step in the right direction. I do not accept the argument that attacking smokers is eroding personal choice, because smoking is not a personal activity - its noxious and dangerous fumes pollute the air of those who do not smoke. In years to come people will look back in disbelief at the proportion of the population who voluntarily damaged themselves, paying a not inconsiderable sum of money for the displeasure. I would suggest the following further measures to reduce tobacco consumption in this country:
    1. Raise the legal age of smoking to 18.
    2. Make smoking when pregnant illegal.
    3. Have school trips around hospital wards to show children patients who have been severely damaged by smoking.
    Russell Lewin

    In reference to the suggestion by student Stacey Yeomans that the government may do well to completely ban tobacco ads as at 11-12-99, how about considering the other ten steps which New Labour published around 21 months back; promising the people of the UK that it would use in its quest to gradually disarm the tobacco "Marketing Machine". As a US Marketing Director myself, I realise that using colour schemes that are imaginative enough to catch the consumers attention are ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL. So why not make the manufacturers produce plain white boxes. That way you will get the printed warning message across much more effectively.
    Kidreon Collins

    I am a regular smoker having given up two or three times. The only way I can see to reduce the uptake of new and existing smokers is to make the 'no brand' the only option for the many companies who produce cigarettes. This would make cigarettes available but with no associations to brand or distinguishing features. It may seem simple but smokers do relate very strongly to their own brand and this would make the brands indistinguishable from each other and rather like medicine, which if you are "hooked" is rather like saying that you are addicted, rather than part of a family of cool people who only smoke your brand!
    Richard Lee

    Northern Ireland peace process

    Audience question: What will Tony Blair do if the Northern Ireland issue is not settled by the June 30 deadline?

    Gerald Kaufman said: "I don't see how the newly elected assembly can function if we don't get a settlement by the 30th. Northern Ireland deserves an opportunity for peace ... I think it will be a terrible setback if Tony Blair's deadline is not met."

    Don Foster said: "The reality is that what you do in any diplomacy is you rightly set deadlines, at which you desperately try to get everybody to work to bring the solution by that particular deadline. But this is too important to ultimately say that if that deadline comes and we haven't succeeded, that therefore we give up and we go away ... Mo Mowlam, all those other people, are not going to give up."

    Charlie Whelan said: "I don't think there's any turning back. We have to implement the Good Friday Agreement."

    Theresa May said: "I think it's time the finger was pointed at the paramilitaries who have refused to decommission."

    Sheila McKechnie said: "Just keep them talking."

    General comments

    The most disappointing fact I note each week is the time of Question Time. 11 pm! Do the programme planners not realise that the majority of viewers who enjoy the qualities of Question Time are naturally falling asleep at 11 am. In particular if they have to start work in the normal work routine between 8am and 6pm. Question Time is one of the few programmes per week where intelligent people discuss current events. Yes we can video the programme but it lacks the enjoyment of the current event. Why not replace some of the "soaps" for a change?
    Donald East

    I thought that the debate concerning ground troops deployed in Kosovo was very enlightening as I enjoy hearing the views of the panel and especially, David Dimbleby, who I think is a very intelligent man. However, I think the debates should invoke a bit more controversy on modern day issues.
    Dawn Dickson

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