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Question Time Vote 2001


May 30, Milton Keynes

You can join Question Time's internet debate by emailing your views on the topics discussed in the latest programme to: questiontime@bbc.co.uk

The topics discussed this week were:

Policies instead of personalities

Audience question: Your recent advertising campaign mockingly depicted Hague as Mrs Thatcher. Isn't it time you credited the electorate with intelligence and in your own words discussed policies instead of personalities? You said:

I found it quite refreshing to see the Thatcherisation of Hague on a poster. Of course elections are about policies, but these days it's also down to who has the best gags - since both main parties are essentially right wing anyway.
Neil Constable, Halifax

I strongly agree with the question on this site stating instead of laughing and altering Mr Hague's image to Baroness Thatcher surely Mr Blair should be concentrating on his manifesto. Does everyone seem to forget what exceptional work Lady Thatcher did? What has Mr Blair to show for his four years in office except to state what a 'shambles' the Conservatives left the UK in?
Phillipa Parry, Oxford

Down the ages Great Britain has always had a fine and proud tradition of lively and decent political debate with politicians like Disraeli, Gladstone Margaret Thatcher. Is the Prime Minister proud today of the personal and frankly insulting advertisement which features Hague's face as a caricature of Baroness Thatcher or is he hanging his head in shame this evening by taking British politics a step closer towards the gutter?
Philip Webb, Manchester

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Europe and the euro

Audience question: When will you begin to argue the case for Europe and the euro? You said:

Mr Blair mentioned that the euro Yes and No campaigns will receive funding based on the size of the supporting parties' number of seats. This seems to be grossly unfair - two choices, the funding should be exactly 50/50. It appears an attempt to rig the vote.
Gordon Hickley, Stratford

We all understand that we should only adopt the euro when and if the economic conditions are right. Why does this not imply that we should leave when the conditions become unfavourable? I would prefer to see the exchange rate vary than the economic conditions we have to operate in.
Gavin Murray

If we join the single currency when the economic conditions are right, what happens if the conditions subsequently become unfavourable? Do we suffer in silence, unable to alter our own destiny?
C Pearce, Gautby, Lincolnshire

It is very strange that nobody has asked any questions on foreign policy throughout this election campaign except about the euro and the American missile defence scheme. What about the rest of the world, does no one care?
Daniel Rowland

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The health service - why should we trust you again?

Audience question: Your manifesto echoes the promises you made for the health service four years ago. Given this is a recognition of your failure to achieve the results you wanted why should we trust you again? You said:

I wish Tony Blair would admit to the people that we are never going to get the kind of health service we need without an increase in income tax rates. Not acknowledging the real funding crisis that exists in the NHS is making the prime minister look disingenuous.
Mark Rennie, Dundee

Regarding the NHS. It is true that you do get what you pay for. Britain, per-cent wise, puts less public money into health than the United States. People need to start realising that the NHS cannot do everything, and nor should it be expected to. In effect charity is a voluntary tax, whereby an individual decides for themselves whether they want some of their money going there or here.
Nathaniel, London

I completely agree with Mr Blair`s comments that `it all comes down to money`. When his party came to office there was a huge national debt left by John Major`s government that had to be repaid which is why public spending over Blair`s first two years was low. It is unreasonable to expect a huge transformation in the NHS overnight. I think that he deserves another chance.
Fiona Macpherson, Glasgow

I work within an acute trust as a discharge co-ordinator. For this winter 2000/01 the community was given additional funding to manage delayed discharges and also to introduce 'partnership' working within the community. Why is it that any funding provided is non-recurrent?
Kim Goddard, Doncaster

Labour is making huge news of reducing the number of patients awaiting operations in the NHS, but doctors working within the NHS are becoming disillusioned with the government because essential operations are being neglected in favour of simple operations in order to reach manifesto targets. Is this not ethically unacceptable?
Duncan Shaw, Cambridge

People seem to forget that Labour introduced and defended the NHS while the Conservatives opposed and undermined it. The NHS is a creation of Labour, and despite its shortcomings owes its very existence to people voting Labour.
Stewart Leary, Croydon

Some people don't seem to know how long it takes to train nurses, doctors, teachers policemen & that is after you have created the training facilities for them. Hospitals take years to build. Perhaps some folk would be prepared to be treated by a half trained surgeon. We need patience.
Terry Clinch, Bedfordshire.

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Tax increases - how many more?

Audience question: With 40-odd tax increases since the last election how many more can we expect in the next parliament should you be elected? You said:

I agree with the woman in the audience who wondered why taxes could not be raised to improve services. That said, I would have been grateful to hear from some more concise questioners, or to view a programme with a more discerning boom operator. These people that drone on and on and....
Martin Smith, Croydon

Tony Blair keeps denying that his party has put up taxes. So why is it that 35% more people pay a higher rate tax, why is it that those of us who are married pay more tax, so where are the trains that run on time, the teachers, and the doctors? Face it. Even the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that New Labour takes more in tax than any previous government so where are the benefits?
Andy Smith

I thought Blair performed admirably tonight. I respect his reiterated statement that everything requires investment and that he is not prepared to undermine the programmes of investment underway with quick unsustainable but electorate-swaying tax cuts. Finally a politician that admits this!
Sarah Brown, Macclesfield

For those who heckled Mr Blair for his comment to the property developer: Do you want a robot as PM or a human with a sense of humour? He is after all human and even as PM is allowed to make a joke or comment.
Mark Rhodes, Morley, Leeds

How come Labour are promising to spend huge sums of money on health, crime, education etc. as part of their re-election pledges. Why didn't they spend it whilst they were in office?
Bob, London

Tony Blair stated that the taxpayer is not paying higher taxes than ever before. I retired on a police pension 3.5 years ago. I have seen my pension eroded by more and more taxes. I am married and have lost the married couples tax allowance. I now pay taxes on insurance premiums right across the board and my personal tax allowance has been reduced.
Tony Sharman, Hove, East Sussex

It amazes me how the people of this country cannot stop whinging about taxes and spending. Do the people of this country not realise you cannot accumulate without speculation. Politics are like the foundations of a house, you can only build once the foundations are strong.
Philip Young, Aberdeen

The prime minister gave a commendable performance in today's programme. My only criticism was that maybe he should have gone on the offensive when answering questions on tax. On one hand people are complaining that they pay too much tax and then they say there is no investment in the health service. It is about time people woke up and smelt the coffee, it's either short term tax cuts or long term investment.
Dr Ace Cool, Harpenden

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Handling of foot-and-mouth a complete shambles?

Audience question: Do the recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Lancashire and Yorkshire prove that this epidemic is far from under control and that the government's handling of the crisis has been a complete shambles? You said:

I was interested to hear the farmer on tonight's programme suggesting that the government had ignored the interests of farmers to support the tourism industry in the foot & mouth crisis. Last night's BBC 'Frontline Scotland' programme suggested that the government had ignored the interests of the tourist industry to compensate farmers! It seems that whoever you are, the government is on someone else's side!
David Brown, Stirling

I thought Tony Blair answered the "rural" vote very well. There are no other industries that are subsidised and assisted more so than farming. Anyone else who is at risk of losing their job then they have to re-train and move with the times. What about the shipbuilders and electronics industry?
Chris Stephenson

The PM is quite right about the farmers. A cursory glance at the political map of Britain shows an overwhelming support for the Tories in most of these constituencies. His remarks were in response to a question about his handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis and the help government is giving to farmers during these terrible times. He wasn't saying that he has no interest in seeking to only help them to gain their vote.
Alex Birchley, Birmingham

I am very much a Conservative supporter, but I would like to say that T Blair has handled himself very well, especially over foot-and-mouth. When will people understand that politicians cannot do everything for everyone!
Brett Stanion, Exeter

We continue to hear the farming community complain about the governments handling of the foot and mouth outbreak, without any credible alternative proposals ever being put forward. It's time the agricultural industry was brought into the present and woke up to the harsh realities of life without massive government subsidies, just like coal, ship building, steel making, car production have all had to do during 18 years of Tory rule.
J Cherry, Nottingham

What baffles me is that nobody is asking Mr Blair why, with foot-and-mouth and other difficulties, he is wasting valuable governing time by holding an election one whole year before he needs to. I am very much in favour of a fixed five year term so that politicians cannot rig the election and con the electorate.
Robin, Torquay

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More important issues than banning hunting?

Audience question: Why are the government so intent on banning hunting when there are so many more important issues? You said:

To the lady asking why parliament bothered about banning fox hunting when there were other more important issues: Why bother asking about banning fox hunting when there are other more important issues?
Shiama Balendra, Plumstead, Greenwich

I was incensed to hear the issue of hunting once again described by a questioner, and the prime minister, as not important. To me it is extremely important, and I have been campaigning for two decades to se an end to this savage bloodsport. How come that my concerns are valued lower than those of any other voter?
Penny Little, Oxfordshire

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Why are the railways in the worst state ever?

Audience question: Why is it that after four years in office the railways are in the worst state that we've ever seen in this country given that your policy is to discourage us to use our cars? You said:

While everyone accepts that this is a Tory-caused problem, Labour have done nothing about it. In Hatfield, we had the manifestation of Labour¿s predictions of the results of disjointed management. They promised to rectify this in opposition and haven¿t and therefore I think they are partly responsible.
David Peilow, Southampton

Railway problems are not new. I find it bizarre that people automatically equate this government with the PRIVATE Railtrack company that has mis-managed the railways. Since re-privatising is clearly a bete noir to Mr Blair, can I suggest transforming the companies into not-for-profit private concerns, thus allowing the high salaries, but dissuading the get-rich-quick monkeys from asset-stripping the whole system.
Bill Preedy, Sutton Coldfield

Tonight on Question-time Tony Blair stated he needed money for trains. I thought this was a private concern and did not come under the domain of public money. He also stated the fragmentation of the railway - is he not doing the same thing to the underground?
June Boon, Barnet

Given that Mr Blair claims to place so much importance in our transport infrastructure (taxation motives aside) why is it that Britain, a nation once universal proclaimed to have the finest railways in the world, now have amongst the worst in Europe? Furthermore, given that monetary resources are 'finite', how can we believe that this will not remain an excuse for carrying out the much-needed work, in the (regrettable) event that Labour stays in power.
Vincent, Basingstoke

Increased investment in a public service such as the railway system is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for its improvement: the organisation in charge of the service must also have the capability to spend the new funds efficiently. Railtrack's response to the rail-failure problem appears to be crude, and devoid of any input of engineering knowledge on the process of fatigue failure.
DA Campbell, Mechanical Engineer

I personally thought that Mr Blair handled the questions put forward very well. I do believe that more money needs to go into the transport system.
Kris Wallace, Belfast

How can Labour, who in opposition, was so steadfastly opposed to all manner of Tory privatisation of public services, in power so totally embrace it to the point of throwing good sense to the wind in the case of the PPP of the London Tube, repeating the error of history? Is this a cheat on the voters?
I Ehrlich, Ealing

When questioned on the railways, Mr Blair repeatedly said the only answer is to get more money in. But surely Railtrack always had enough money to repair the section of track at Hatfield. I believe the government would serve us well if it uses its next term to turn attention on senior management performance. We should not be experiencing such tales of woe in a large, developed first-world economy.
Stephen Roots, Surrey

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Why take away maintenance grants?

Audience question: I know that buying books and paying for accommodation is part of getting a good education. So why on earth did you take away maintenance grants from poorer students?

You said:

The removal of student grants is surely returning us back to the time when if your parents couldn't afford the cost then you couldn't continue with your education. Back to the time when a good education was a privilege of the rich?
N Jones, Penkridge

I am an AS student shortly about to make university applications. I will be forced to borrow and be thousands of pounds in debt. As a potential languages/arts student I do not have any scholarships available to me. Surely if Labour is doing its job properly then they should be able to include student grants and fees within their plans? If Mr Blair himself was able to benefit then why can't my generation also have the same advantages?
Miriam Dyer

Why does Blair still defend his decision to implement tuition fees? I'm 15 and I know full well that University 2.5 years ahead will be hard enough without no grants and £3,000 of fees. Isn't Labour supposed to be the party of the Working Classes?
Neil Pickup, Cleethorpes

I am now retired from being a university Lecturer. I am alarmed that the enthusiasm for much more extensive 'University Education' is endangering the quality of the graduates. If the quality of the graduates is endangered then the quality in the performance of their duties is also endangered. We must have top quality engineers, surgeons, and those in many other professions.
Kenneth Wilkie

I didn't feel that Mr Blair gave an adequate enough answer to the question about university education. Are children with hopes of a career who just happen to come from families on income support going to be denied opportunities oferred to others?
Sue Crookes, Sheffield

Karen Harris the primary school teacher states ''teachers need more pay,'' and I agree, so therefore I hope she is not planning to vote Tory because if they get in she will not get more pay and can also wave goodbye to all the extra funding the government is putting into education, because Tory tax cuts equals public spending cuts as sure as night follows day. NEVER has the choice been so STARK.
E Spinks, Kensworth

I am disappointed that the Labour party is not addressing the issue of student finance. How will parents be able to finance children at university without depriving themselves of basic human needs? Given that the prime minister prefers not to raise taxation in order to provide an incentive to tax-payers to work I fail to see what incentive parents will have to work when they will gain very little benefit from it.
J Heath, Harlow

Tony Blair implied that as university graduates are likely to earn more when they start work they are therefore able to pay back loans etc. As they will also be paying more income tax etc they should not be penalised twice but should be entitled to free further education as did Mr Blair and his colleagues.
CS Kennedy, Hampshire

Mr Blair seems to think that it is reasonable for a top class 'poor' student to choose not to go to university because he or she would not be able to afford the tuition and maintenance costs. A second rate 'rich' student, however, could drift into a university with low minimum grades anticipating no financial problems. There is no longer a cap on student numbers but how has this affected the quality of students accepted and the true value of a degree qualification?
Lucy Collier, secondary school teacher

Mr Blair says that there has been a big increase in funding for education. Why is it then that schools are so reliant on the general population's snacking habits to provide books and equipment when these should be funded for by the state.
Tim Warburton

I am a primary school teacher who works 12 hours a day, five days a week and six hours on Sunday. Standards have risen in schools due to the dedication of people like me and my colleagues. Investment in education needs to come in higher wages for the normal class teacher.
Karen Harris, Stevenage

Mr Blair talks of huge improvements within primary schools. Can he then explain to me why my daughter is sharing her primary 2 class with 35 children. This class has been given 1.5 teachers to teach in the same classroom. Every time we approach the Education Authority we are told that the number of teachers allocated to a school depends on the total school roll.
Gillian Wilson, Avoch

So Tony Blair's slogan is: "We have to spend money to make it better". (I think he pinched it from my children.) Last year we moved our son from the local primary school where his class of 31 had two teachers under Mr Blair's vaunted investment-in-primary-schools scheme. The organisation in the classroom was hopeless, the discipline worse. I suggest a new slogan: "We have to stop wasting money to make it better".

Since we now pay school fees we can't afford higher taxes.
Kate Davis, West Sussex

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General comments on the programme:

I pity the poor girl who cannot get to work on time because of the trains. Imagine all the extra time she must be forced to spend reading books. Is it possible that the only sane man in the room tonight was Mr Blair. Puzzling, but he was the only one who seemed flexible enough to adapt to a line of questioning, whereas most of the questioners were sticking to the "yes, but you're wrong..." kind of argument that started World War One.
Millicent Ottery, Honiton

I enjoyed Mr Blair's performance. I believed honestly and fairly with all the questions. I hope he will continue to be prime minister after June 7.
LA Spaine, Leicester

Blair appeared as a shallow, superficial type, flustered and easily annoyed with people contradicting him. He has no ability to warm to people, his facial expression brings to mind a dodgy second hand car dealer or an insurance salesman, he does not come across as a trustworthy man, very lightweight indeed. Very ratty!
Mrs Lauchlan, Redhill

I don't think our US presidents could do as well as Tony Blair did on your programme. I live in California with an energy crisis that scares our elderly. California, it has been said, if it were a country, would be the fifth richest in the world. Our president won't talk to us. Tony Blair has guts.
Tish Palombi, Sacramento, California

What surprises me is how little the people having their say on this site generally tend to understand. Instead of asking petty, narrow minded, cynical questions, it would be far more constructive to engage in research and rational thinking, and then to reach intelligent, well-considered answers. Surely this is the place for intelligent debate, not for people to indulge in and celebrate their ignorance.
Rick Thomas, Cardiff

I'm afraid I found Tony Blair terrible. Defensive, and ame across as patently insincere. To my surprise, Mr Hague last week was far more prime ministerial.
Sara Beller, Milton Keynes

There have been many comments concerning Mr Blair's "performance" on the programme. The electorate should bear in mind that one of Mr Blair's university friends described him as "a very good actor" - he is not sincere and his party is based on image versus substance. Last night the audience were expressing their frustration with Labour's failure to deliver with respect to the the promises they made four years ago.
B Hammond, Ipswich

What really impressed me about last night was how Blair focussed on answering the questions in hand honestly instead of merely resorting to side tracking and just criticising the Tories. When was the last time you saw Hague questioned for that long without continually resorting to knocking Labour when his policies are deeply scrutinised?
Henry Norman, Bristol

I loved the programme. We have nothing like this in the US and I was amazed not only at the quality of many of the questions from the audience, but also the answers from the prime minister. Excellent show.
Ken Ross, Chicago, Illinois

I thought that the performance that the prime minister gave was very effective. To me he appeared sincere and caring. He was realistic about what was achievable and was not going to be influenced by emotive arguments. It is obvious that he cares but realises that it is inappropriate for him to make off the cuff promises to individuals.
Martin Hunn, London

I though the PM conducted himself very well, unlike last week's guest (Hague). He revealed himself to be witty, sharp and humorous. He has done much for this country and we must not forget the state the country was in after the long Tory rule. His message was simple: I know I have not done enough but I have done my best given the state of the country.
Susanna Bellino, Surbiton

Blair is a nice man but he said absolutely nothing in political terms on Question Time - he kept offering excuses and vague generalities, and it's clear that he is not asking voters for a second term, but for a second chance!
Stephen Psallidas, Newcastle upon Tyne

I shall not be voting for T Blair this time after watching the programme. I found him insincere when faced with people who had genuine fears and complaints with how he has managed the country since being PM.
Siles Mairin, Potters Bar

After watching Tony Blair this evening and William Hague last week I would be extremely worried if Labour were to get in again. The reason is I believe the Labour party are again full of empty promises and keep saying wait and see, it will get better with more investment etc. Also Tony Blair always seems to get flustered and upset and if you don't agree he seems to fall out with that person whereas William Hague never seems to be flustered and accepts peoples opinions more readily.
Richard Saul

Is Dimbleby supposed to be chairing the session or interviewing Blair?
Colin Olivier

Tony Blair's performance on Question Time tonight is in my opinion his finest and most professional display I have seen him give in this parliament. I also think that on the whole he is winning the arguments without alienating the public.
Marcus Osborne, Nottingham

I would like to say that I think Tony Blair is doing a great job, and is still repairing the damage done by the Conservatives. A great "performance" on Question Time, I will still be voting New Labour.
Joanna Atkinson, Northants

Was the Labour leader's attack on the property developer by assuming he was rich and should pay more tax and also his condescending comment to the secondary school teacher by saying that primary schools mattered, a sign that he had been rattled by the questions? How damning were these slips?
Guy Atherton, Hertfordshire

Why is it always jam tomorrow with Mr Blair?
Les Clarke, Redditch

Tony Blair responded to emotional, narrowly focused questions with understanding and compassion, never losing sight of strategic issues. He emphasised the key choices facing the electorate about the need to fund public services through government income.
Eira Bowden, Northwich, Cheshire

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