April 27, Newcastle

April 13, Edinburgh

March 30, Belfast

March 23, Maidstone

March 16, Truro

March 9, Nottingham

March 2, London

February 24, Leeds

February 17, London

February 10, Birmingham

February 3, Brussels

January 27, Southampton

January 20, Liverpool

January 13, London

December 16, Leeds

December 9, Manchester

December 2, Cardiff

November 25, Birmingham

November 18, Durham

November 11, Maidstone

November 4, Glasgow

October 28, Southampton

October 21, London

October 14, Sydney

October 7, Manchester

September 30, Bournemouth

September 23, London

July 15, Belfast

July 8, London

July 1, Birmingham


November 25, Birmingham

The panellists were:

  • Clare Short MP, International Development Secretary
  • Sir Edward Heath MP, former Tory prime minister
  • Germaine Greer, feminist writer and academic
  • Steve Jones, professor of genetics
  • Ivan Massow, entrepreneur and chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts
The topics discussed were:

The Tories' Archer gamble

Audience Question: Did the Tory party take a calculated gamble selecting Archer as London mayoral candidate?

Edward Heath: I don't know whether they thought they were having a gamble. It's very perplexing to me because they were well informed about Archer's problems. They were first brought to notice as far back as 1969. Aside from his qualifications he had disqualifications which were known to people in authority in the party.

Germaine Greer: If you're as lacking in charisma someone like Archer might've seemed like a glamour boy. You can strip someone of a knighthood but you can't strip them of a peerage.

Ivan Massow: Everyone's distancing themselves from Jeffrey now. I was policy adviser to the London Assembly. I do like Jeffrey, he knew everything about London policy. Without proof that he had done something wrong I can't see we could have taken that away from him. The conservative party may have made a bad choice but it was democratic. The mayor has so little power and money that he has to be a showman to get anything done.

Clare Short: The Tory party have lowered their standards over the years. He's the one who took the biggest gamble of all. He did all these illicit things and came crashing down. When the government has a large majority a strong opposition is good for democracy.

Steve Jones: There seems to be an element of fox-hunting going on. The Labour party has not been squeaky clean. Now that most of the power has been taken to the centre the mayor attracts self-publicists.

You said:

Honest, upright Conservatives are being dragged through the mud by the antics of Archer. I believe the old boy network kept the lid on the pan until Francis lifted it off.
Mr R Clifft, Wakefield

I cannot condone the Jeffrey Archer fiasco but I believe that the candidates for the Mayor of London must be 'down to earth' people that have had 'real' life experiences and they should not expect the candidates to be some sort of 'superhumans'. Do any of us know anyone that has never made mistakes? I believe that it is the media that controls this country these days and not the people that we put in Parliament.
Dave Headley, Scunthorpe

Jeffrey Archer has always, in my mind, been hubris personified. His arrogance and recklessness are unparalleled in modern politics.
Andy Lehrer, Toronto, Canada

Is it possible to remove a peerage, or to deny a peer the right to enter the House of Lords? This must be justifiable in Archer's case since he wouldn't have been given a peerage in 1991 had it been known that he had engineered a lie told under oath five years earlier. It must be wrong for this proven liar to remain in the position of influencing the passage of legislation through Parliament.
Anonymous

Mary believes Jeffrey, is "more human than most." Most what? Human beings? They must be the most insulting couple alive in England today!
Eric Giblin, Helsingborg, Sweden

Tony Blair has taken great delight in the downfall of Jeffery Archer, so if he is so "outraged" how does he not condemn Clinton for much greater "Crimes".
Anthony Sorace, Houston, Texas

I am sick & tired of the (left) media resurrecting a Tory "scandal" when a by-election comes up. To blatantly damage any Conservative campaign, with "our" money is nothing short of vile & grotesque to say the least!
Roger Taylor, Halifax

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Inaction in Chechnya?

Audience Question: With regards to Chechnya do the panel consider inaction and ambivalence to be an ethical foreign policy?

Steve Jones: Foreign policy is always the balancing of two evils. The evil that would arise by direct intervention is unimaginable. If there was an uprising in New Mexico we wouldn't intervene. It's not clear we did the right thing in Kosovo.

Germaine Greer: We're at the mercy of the way the media report the war to us. We now know the number of deaths in Kosovo is not as many as we were led to believe. The Russian people opposed the war in the first place. We should support the indigenous moves to peace. War is not the solution. We need to be as well informed about peace initiatives as we are about war initiatives.

Ivan Massow: As Eastern Europe develops lots of these problems will resolve themselves.

Edward Heath: We've reached a critical stage in international relations. We've only one superpower, the Americans, and they haven't yet decided how they're going to behave. The UN wasn't consulted over Serbia. Do we have the right to go in? The answer is "no". And ought we to go in, with all of the loss of life involved? And the answer is "no". This is a terrifying situation.

Clare Short: The fact that you should intervene sometimes doesn't mean that you should in all situations. Chechnya is a part of Russia but the force has been disproportionate. The problem is that Russia is in a very bad frame of mind. It's becoming anti-Western, poverty is growing, it has a disgruntled army. There's no way you can invade. We've tried to get in humanitarian assistance. We don't have the capacity to put it right.

You said:

I was rather disturbed by the panel's apparent indifference to the plight of the Chechens. Claire Short attempted to justify the government's inactivity by suggesting that Chechnya had a history of terrorism. Equally, Northern Ireland has a history of terrorism, so does Claire suggest that Nato bombs Belfast into submission and makes innocent civilians live in tents this winter? Children and innocent civilians are dying and it is the duty of our politicians to do more and shout louder. On the basis of last night's showing, the Chechens could be forgiven for thinking that the West doesn't care and doesn't want to get involved. On a military level they would be right. Unfortunately (and depressingly), they would also be right on a political level.
Steve Taylor, Long Compton, UK

I agree with Clare Short that we should look at each country's history and political agreements before jumping in with both feet. i.e. Russia and Chechnya versus Yugoslavia and Kosovo. We only react to what we see in and on the media.
Steven Woods, Liverpool

On the issue of Chechnya, - I think that it is an internal affair, and all you have to do is ask yourself, Would you want the entire western world interfering in Northern Ireland's affairs?
Adam Bowdin, Sheffield

Regarding Russia, 2 words: Internal Affairs.
Valera Russo

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Legalising drugs?

Audience Question: In the light of growing drug use and abuse does the panel think its realistic to legalise certain drugs to tackle the problem?

Ivan Massow: A difficult question for a young Conservative. When you go to Amsterdam you notice that amongst the indigenous population its not fashionable and usage is quite low. Having experienced the death of my partner as a result of drugs its put drugs in a completely different light to me.

Steve Jones: I survived the 60s and many of my acquaintances who stayed taking drugs came to a sticky end. It's the natural desire of young people to transcend the law and it's better they do it with cannabis than something more dangerous. The de facto acceptance of cannabis, dishonest though it is, is probably the best thing.

Germaine Greer: Banning drugs gives the wrong signal. We imply they're more dangerous than they are and glamorise them, but kids know much more about drugs than we do. The only defence is to teach them the biochemical reaction of these drugs.

Clare Short: Keith Hellawell is strongly of the view that we shouldn't decriminalising drugs. He has a serious strategy and is optimistic that over time he'll solve the problem.

Edward Heath: When I was young there were no drugs. I ask myself now why the problem began. There is no single solution and increasing the penalties isn't going to stop the problem. The whole field has got to be re-examined. Improving the situation in employment, jobs and education is vital.

You said:

I have seen friends go from smoking cannabis to taking heroin, cocaine and ecstasy. In my opinion, this progression onto harder drugs is not a direct result of cannabis smoking, but the fact that current drug laws put cannabis users in constant contact with dealers of hard drugs. Combined with the lack of concise, truthful, unbiased drug education, its very easy for someone to start taking hard drugs, when they get dragged into the seedy drug culture that cannabis is unfortunately part of. If cannabis was available through controlled channels, combined with serious drug education from an early age, kids would make informed decisions about what they take. Why continue enforcing a prohibition that turns a large proportion of the population into criminals, filling up our already crowded prison system with people who shouldn't really be considered criminal at all? In the UK more people smoke cannabis than go to football matches or church. And now 9 out of 10 police officers wouldn't prosecute cannabis users.
E B, Aberdeen

(1) Please don't lump pot in with heroin. It's a herb. Like tea.
(2) A suggestion for a sensible system (I think this is in place in Alaska): Allow over-18s to grow 5 cannabis plants for personal use at home. Crack down heavily on buying or selling and impose severe penalties for these offences. As a heavy cannabis smoker myself I object strongly to the money that I spend on grass going to subsidise international crime organisations, child pornography, heroin trafficking, arms dealing, etc. If I could grow it at home all this could be avoided, but the risks of having plants at home outweigh the risks of buying an ounce at a time off a dealer.
Anonymous

The Government should supply quality drugs to whoever wants them at cost price. This will break the crime/drug link, and eventually people won't want it because it's given out free.
Peter, Liverpool

The reason why most people take drugs is for fun. We enjoy a pint and we enjoy a cigarette. Now we are enjoying cannabis and ecstasy on a higher scale. You are more likely to die from eating a bay leaf than you are from taking an E. Drugs do occasionally kill people but not on the scale of poor NHS funding or careless rail organisations. Drugs do ruin lives but not as much as poor and highly biased education. Let educated drug takers talk to kids and the glamour will soon disappear.
James Roberts, UK

A very large number of young people make their own decisions about which particular drugs they will take, the law has no bearing on this decision and undermines itself by banning cannabis, they know that it does not cause any harm. The law does not reflect the opinions of the majority of young people and it is only a matter of time before it is changed.
Ben Tanner, Glasgow

Tobacco and alcohol were the drugs available to Edwards Heath's contemporaries and they continue to do as much, if not more harm than soft drugs. The latter seem to be very much part of youth culture. I can readily understand that anyone exposed to the kind of music and sound levels that are common in clubs today would need some form of medication. Culture is subject to changes in fashion. In a generation or two the problem may solve itself. The immediate need is for education along the lines proposed by Germaine Greer.
DBH, Aberdeen

To remand/give custodial sentences to drug dealers or drug users who will not accept treatment is and never will be, a solution while the availability of drugs in prison is at its current level.
M J Saunders, Hatfield

I think on the question of drugs, a lot of the people who talk about stopping people taking drugs and 'clearing up our streets' don't know the first thing about drugs. Telling people to 'just say no' has overwhelmingly failed and misses the point completely. Better education for young people and telling them the truth would be a start. As a heroin addict for six years, and one who never committed any crime or hurt anyone, I work and have a stable, long term job. Without a shadow of a doubt getting drugs out of the hands of criminals and not making people who take them criminals would be the best way of 'regulating' drug use in the UK. I believe It's my fundamental right to take what I want when I want as long as it's an informed choice and I'm doing no harm to others. The stigma should be lifted and honesty should put it's first foot forward.
Steven, Greenock

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George Cross sop?

Audience Question: Is the George Cross a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down?

Germaine Greer: The rhetoric of the peace process makes it seem that the Protestants and Unionists have lost in some way and are suing for peace at any price. That's not the case but it's how the rhetoric is being viewed. It's a tricky piece of staging. Edward Heath: It could be interpreted as staging. I would've preferred for it to wait.

Ivan Massow: It's fantastic that this award has been given. I can't help worrying it's a piece of New Labour staging. It may be a step towards getting rid of the RUC.

Clare Short: The big prize is getting peace in Northern Ireland. That's what we have to support and concentrate on. We shouldn't be cynical - there's too much at stake.

Steve Jones: It's surely time to stop dividing the community in two. A little more imagination could have been shown. The government in the South might have made an award to the RUC. Ditto the government in Britain might have recgnised the work of the Gardai in the South.

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TV Pester power this Christmas

Audience Question: Does the panel think TV advertising directed at children puts parents under even more pressure to buy even more expensive things?

Clare Short: It puts a lot of pressure on low-income families. We have regulation now and will look at tougher regulation.

Steve Jones: Children are tomorrow's consumers and that's why they're targeted. It's any government's responsibility to stop this.

Ivan Massow: It puts any family under pressure. I don't know how you'd ban it.

Edward Heath: Banning it won't work.

Germaine Greer: You have to train people in consumerism. They inculcate a desire for things kids don't need. Most parents don't know what the children watch on TV. It's much worse in America. I'd rather see them advertise expensive toys than the sort of foodstuffs they like - chocalate. Children are inducted into addiction.

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Cherie: Mother first?

Audience Question: The press have succeeded in reducing Cherie Blair QC to radiant expectant Mum. What hope is there for other women?

Ivan Massow: I'm sure that the press do respect women for what they are. This child will be the equivalent of a royal child.

Steve Jones: In these circumstance a second party, the male, is also involved. The glory goes to both of them.

Germaine Greer: It was down to her. If she was that keen about being QC she wouldn't have had so many photo-shoots. I'm quite cross with her myself.

Clare Short: Maybe women can have it all.

Edward Heath: It's going a bit far to say she's going to have it at Balmoral.

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