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Question Time Vote 2001
David Dimbleby
May 17, Newcastle

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:

Defend John Prescott's actions?

Audience question: Can John Prescott's actions yesterday be defended in any way, shape or form? You said:

I feel that he had every right to react the way he did. I was a very lowly civil servant for over 10 years and was verbally abused on frequest occasions and know of many colleagues who were physically abused by claimants. Our instructions regarding this verbal abuse were to just 'take it'. The minority of the public need to be shown that they too have a moral responsibility to conduct themselves in a proper way. If this means giving as good as you get, then so be it. More power to your elbow, Mr Prescott!
Sharon, Valencia, Spain

I think John Prescott's actions yesterday were totally unacceptable. Someone in his position should know better than to react to such provocation. It certainly shows he has no future as a possible Labour leader if he is unable to restrain himself. In my view this just shows his weakness and frustration that Labour have finally been exposed as a mediocre outfit, incapable of controlling themselves, never mind the welfare of their country.
David Young, Bath

I think it makes a mockery of justice in this country when if you are the deputy prime minister you just have to apologise and it is forgotten. If you are some uneducated, unemployed man on a sink estate you would be sent to prison because you are not powerful enough to do anything about it.
Sue Evans-Avlonitis, Dedham, Essex

How diminutive an office must a public official hold before they become subject to the rule of law? I certainly condemn the egging of the depute prime minister, however if someone was to throw a drink over me in a public house, and I turned round and hit the person nearest me without knowing they were responsible, I should have no complaint should I later be arrested for assault (or such other charge as the police may deem appropriate). Why then is it acceptable for Mr Prescott to do precisely the same?
Sandy Henry, Penicuik

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Obsessed with raising taxes?

Audience question: I'm far better at spending my money than any government of any colour. Why are the Liberal Democrats so obsessed with raising taxes? You said:

How refreshing to hear a politician being practical and honest about taxation. Nobody has a birth right to better healthcare or a better education than anybody else, so take an extra 10 a week off me and others like me who can afford it, and plough it into better public services for all.
Liz, Hull

Liberal Democrats' penny on tax - what happens to the money that we already pay for tax? Why do you need more public money?
Natasha, Manchester

You have been clear on tax for high earners what about those who are middle ground, traditionally we are hit hardest - what will you do for us?
Rob Kelly, Worthing

I agree with the member of the audience who felt he was a better judge of how to spend his money than any government. Whilst I respect the ethical and moral position of Charles and the Lib Dems the pro-active redistribution of wealth coupled with huge investment in the nanny state is all to much Old Labour for me. I'd rather choose my own schools and hospitals thanks - I am convinced the extra money taken from me in tax will not deliver an iota improvement in service from education, health or basic government.
Dominic Dinardo, London

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Pay for further education?

Audience question: Do you believe that students should pay for their further education? You said:

Regarding John Yeoman's comments on continual testing at university. As a parent and student, I find annual examinations stressful enough. Term based examinations would deter many mature students with home and family commitments from entering higher education. We don't all go to university for the continual partying and cheap beer, chance would be a fine thing!
Jane Cotton, Coventry

As a 17-year-old A-level student about to enter the university education system, I would like to side with Charles Kennedy. I recognise that the general public would prefer not to foot the bill for students in tax, but as students do become ordinary tax-payers, the government can afford 0.6bn to ensure a bright future and equality of opporunity.
Adam Bell, Middlesbrough

As a teacher, I am naturally very interested in the Lib Dems' proposal to use tax increases to fund education. Having watched 'Question Time' I must say how impressed I was by Charles Kennedy - his honesty and integrity shone out for me, and I don't believe I'm easily impressed by politicians' blandishments. I have to say that many of my colleagues felt the same way. Many of us wish the Lib Dems all the luck in the world.
David Smyth, Preston, Lancashire

Surely student funding must be restored if we expect our young people to keep up with the other young people in Europe.
K McReynolds, Belfast

Why shouldn't university students be accountable for a small proportion of the fees required for them to gain their degrees? Should those who opt to begin work and not go to university be asked to pay for some of it? In my opinion people who gain degrees also gain a distinct advantage in the job market. Is it not fair that when they begin to earn the kind of salaries a degree demands that they should be asked to pay a little back?
Jason O'Neill, Cheltenham

Charles Kennedy tried to peddle the line that the Lib Dems have abolished tuition fees in Scotland. In truth, they have replaced it with a graduate tax which is virtually the same. A huge blow for his pledge of 'honesty'.
Darren Hector, Poole

As a future student and a new voter I think that the policy of fee abolition in university is a good one. Even though there will be a price to pay when earning a wage, it is better than going into a huge debt for something that is improving the level of education in England.
Andrew, Pedly

I want to know how Mr Kennedy would deal with the issue of the disabled in education. They too should have choice.
Sharon, Radcliffe, Manchester

Politics is not taught in schools. Ninety per cent of those I speak to haven't a clue how to make an informed decision. Any plans to include this into the education system?.
Dawn, Eltham

On the question of further education, why doesn't the government make it mandatory that each term students have exams and failure means expulsion. This would cut out all the failures and wasters. Then allow free places to all.
John Yeoman, Dorchester

I was surprisingly being impressed by the Liberal Democrat leader on his views on higher education when we came onto the point about the Lib Dems attacking the government. Now I'm confused. Why are we trying to attack are government exactly? What purpose does it serve? Can't one party rise above the pointless name calling and keep there politics and manifestoes based on what is good about what they propose rather than what is bad about the others.
Tom Ives, Fleet (Nr Guildford)

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Views on Europe out of touch?

Audience question: Are your views on Europe out of touch with those of the majority of the population? You said:

I believe that in a democracy, it is unethical to score party points on an issue that has clearly not been sufficiently debated. A decision cannot be made until both sides of the argument have been scientifically evaluated. I believe that for the good of the country, all parties should agree to a referendum and get on with discussing policies that do immediately affect all of us.
Damian Levins, Milton Keynes

Charles Kennedy raised a very important point in regards to the euro. He talked about the way Britain stays out of European agreements, making no contribution to the way in which they are structured. Then, years later we sign up to the agreements and complain about the fact they are not suited to us. In my opinion, Britain entering a single currency with either Europe or the USA is inevitable. It is important to get involved in the formation of such a currency at the outset, to avoid joining later and facing the same old problems.
Joe Cooper, Cheltenham

The average working person does not know the in's and out's of the Euro debate, and whether we would be better off in or out of the Euro. What interests them is if the price of a tin of beans will be the same - or more, if we enter. It needs somebody to explain, in simple terms, forgetting Party politics, and enlighten the public.
Rob Matheson, Oxford

Once again the debate on Euro turns into a debate about the debate with the "printed media" being attacked by Charles Kennedy for bias. Which of course Charles Kennedy is not. It seems to me that the pro-euro lobby is trying to gather support on the euro by pandering to anti-American feelings, i.e. xenophobia of a different flavour. Although I don't think Kennedy referred to the citizenship of the newspaper owners, he didn't condemn or disown the anti-American views expressed by an audience member. Believe me, the Americans don't care about the Euro. The papers adopt an anti-euro stance because they want to sell papers, by mirroring public opinion.
Gordon Lewis, Reading

It was good to hear a sensible debate on relations with Europe and the euro. It is unlikely there will be anything as constructive over the next few weeks from other parties. Although I am not a fan of referenda, they can too easily be hijacked as a vote on the general performance of the governing party, but with many people apparently being disenfranchised, it might re-engage more of the population in the political process.
Steve Walls, Wootton Bassett

Well done Mr Kennedy. Having a party leader who is honest about the real issues affecting every day people makes a refreshing change. A proper debate about Europe and the long term effects of the Euro on the future of the UK is long overdue.
Louise Charman, Lincoln

I agree with Mr Kennedy on the issue of the euro in that we need to hold a referendum but we also need wider access to relevant unbiased information on the pros and cons. I for one am against a super state but I feel that it will be necessary to join the single currency so Britain can trade in the currency of the majority of the countries that it trades with. I believe that people are grossly misinformed on this issue!
Debbie, Helston

On the euro it is clear Mr Kennedy wants us in there, and I have no doubt that the referendum will be worded in such a way as to ensure that result is achieved. When will a politician have the nerve to be 100% honest with us?
Robert Kelly, Worthing

Like all mainstream politicians Charles Kennedy never wants to talk about globalisation and stopping the rise of big business. One lady commented that the real power was in Europe - actually the real power is in the boardroom.
Tom, Exeter

Charles performed very well indeed. In particular it was quiet refreshing to be reminded that he and others strongly advocated a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. I have long felt that all this fuss over the euro misses the point. Surely we should be more concerned about the actual devolvement of Westminster power to Brussels as it happened.
Philip S Hall, Northampton

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Are you Blair's poodle?

Audience question: How do you answer the charge that you are Blair's poodle? You said:

'I am sure my right honourable friend will agree with me that...', if he looks at re-runs of PM Question Time he will realise that he DOES appear to be the prime minister's lap dog - he very rarely challenges, only attacks Tories.
Pam Huntley, Gainsborough

Charles Kennedy tonight displayed great political maturity. His party seems to be connected to the voters and his policies are well thought-out. Dogs respond only when things are thrown!
Neil Amswych, Finchley, London

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Tactical voting immoral?

Audience question: Is tactical voting immoral? You said:

Tactical voting is not, in my opinion, immoral but it is not particularly helpful in establishing what the electorate really wants. A losing candidate can always blame the tactical voters for a poor performance. What we want is an electoral system which allows the voter to vote for what he (or she) really wants ie a PR system like the Single Transferable Vote.
Joseph, Northampton

What is immoral is that tactical voting is necessary. How can an undemocratic practice such as a "Safe Seat" still exist? Isn't this the 21st century equivalent of the "Rotten Borough"?
Colin Penfold, Southampton

Mr Kennedy was right of course when he said that our electoral system needs urgent reform to reflect the true makeup of political opinion in this country. If anybody doubts that just ask why it is expected that we will have the lowest ever turn out for a general election since 1918. Many people do feel that they are irrelevant to the political process undermining our democracy.
Tony Wells, Great Yarmouth

I would like to say that the issue about people voting tactically is a big problem. I believe that many people will be voting Labour in the desperate attempt to keep the Tories out when they really agree with and support the Lib Dems. Sadly I'm only 16 and so don't have the privilege of being able to vote for my future but want you to know that the Lib Dems will definitely have my vote in the future!
Liz Jardine-Smith, Morpeth

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Environmental policies undermined?

Audience question: As the Lib Dems refused to raise tax on fuel and say pants to the motorist, doesn't that undermine your environmental policies? You said:

I am a teenager also, 16 years old. Carrying on with Peter Singlehurst's point. He should know that lowering the petrol prices and any other tax would lead to people spending more and thus increase inflation. Rising inflation means rising interest rates. Perhaps at a time of slumping growth we should lower taxes to encourage growth in the economy whilst economies around the world are also cooling down.
Damien, Cambridge

Until public transport is effective and efficient and available to those who need it most higher fuel tax will only penalise the rural poor. Charles Kennedy is right to say that we need the carrot of better public transport before the public will stand higher fuel costs.
Ian Miller, Towcester, Northants

I am 15 years old. Charles Kennedy has just been saying how if you raise fuel prices then this will devastate the environment. Petrol has one of the most inelastic demands there is. If you raise prices, demand will not change much at all. Therefore I say that the environment is just a cover for the government to get more money to spend on their wallpaper.
Peter Singlehurst, Chippenham

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Legalise cannabis?

Audience question: Do you think cannabis should be legalised? You said:

I am yet to be persuaded that politicians should have any right to tell me which substances I am allowed to put in my body. I would love to see a party which decriminalises cannabis users but, sadly, Charles Kennedy is simply too ill-informed and disinterested on this matter. True, he's willing to discuss it (which is an improvement on the other two) but in the meantime cannabis users will continue to be persecuted and information about this herb's value suppressed.
Paul Nagle, Preston

I enjoyed the programme and felt Charles Kennedy answered many of the questions fully. However, I felt he fudged the question on decriminalisation of cannabis and did not actually end up explaining the Liberal Democrats' view on it. As he is a firm believer in referendums, would the Lib Dems consider a referendum on cannabis and allow the public to decide?
Karen Louise Manville

I felt Charles Kennnedy failed to capitalise on the drugs issue raised in the debate. He answered the question too directly, and like so many other out of touch politicians shows that he really does not realise the fear in the country as a whole that the war against drug importation and abuse in this country, which is at epidemic proportions, has long been lost.
Graham John Pilgrim, Hastings

Yes there is a conspiracy of silence in parliament about a topic that touches everyone - drugs, solvents and alcohol.
Paul, London

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General comments on the programme:

Thank you for a really good programme.
Claire Hudson, Frome, Somerset

Tonight's debate with Charles Kennedy for the Lib Dems never touched on one of this election's important issues - that of the asylum seekers. This issue must not be swept under the carpet by the politicians because they think it an explosive issue. We the electorate would like to hear their views and policy on this matter.
Dennis Owen, Acton, London

I was at the deabte last night, and was very impressed with Mr Kennedy's lack of posturing and completely reasonable stance on most issues. I am even considering (life-long Labour supporter) voting for his party, but the iniquities of the voting system mean that my vote would be lost. Apparently 31% of people questioned in a recent poll said that they would vote for the Lib Dems if they thought they had a chance. Surely this is a savage indictment on our political system.
Julie Wake, Newcastle upon Tyne

I feel that Charles Kennedy came across as an intelligent, well read and informed politician. If only they could all speak in such a coherent manner. It is a shame because of our voting system that he has less effect on the UK. Hopefully the Lib Dem's will develop into a viable opposition to Labour whereas the Conservatives can never claim this position. I look forward to seeing how the other leaders perform in this environment - they have a lot to live up to.
Neil Botlon, Reading

Some of the comments about Charles Kennedy's performance strike me as rather naive. Charles Kennedy was his usual apparently reasonable self and did come across as a mature debater (as he kept telling us). However, he didn't answer the more challenging questions very convincingly. Charles Kennedy is not going to be prime minister or even leader of the opposition. He has nothing to lose and can (and does) coast to a large extent on the activities and policies of Labour and the Conservatives. Don't be taken in.
Cathy Bacon, London

As a first time voter, I was unconvinced about which party should have my vote. However, after watching Charles Kennedy last night, I was impressed by his intelligent comments and the way in which he answered most of the questions directly. We are so used to seeing politicians dithering over answers and using every opportunity possible to bash the opposition that it was refreshing to see someone who was more concerned with explaining the policies of his party. I will almost certainly be voting Lib Dem now. Mr Kennedy, if you read this, well done!
Hannah Carr, Yorkshire

An excellent performance by Charles Kennedy being the first one in the hot seat and dealing so well with the appalling badgering by David Dimbebly and in a strongly socialist area. Excellent.
P McMenemy, Harpenden

How dare Charles Kennedy consider himself leader of an opposition party, what opposition? Having watched nearly all Prime Ministers Question Times since he became leader, I have been appalled that the party I voted for has not (as it should) held the government to account, but wasted its opportunity to attack the governmment and wasted time attacking a party that's not even in power. You can be sure I won't waste my vote again.
John Guly, Watford

Charles Kennedy's performance on Question Time was outstanding, mostly because it wasn't a "performance". He was well-informed, persuasive and clear-thinking. One doesn't have to agree with everything he says to appreciate that. He managed to engage in mature debate with the studio audience, despite several invitations to descend into the usual political slanging match, in a way that indicated his respect for their intelligence.
Peter Osborn, Kew

I may well vote Lib Dem at this election, but, going forwards, in order to keep my vote, I would want to see the party really trying to become a viable alternative to the Labour government. This, to me, somehow means trying to make decent policies appeal to a broader section of the public and (much as I might agree with the idea) being prepared to do it without Proportional Representation being in place, as, clearly, any incumbent government will not introduce it.
Martin Knudsen, Welwyn

What can be done to get the media to ask the various politicians to start their answers with the initial word "yes" or "no" in response to direct questions? I think if this was done more often the public might well warm to them instead of knowing that all they will get is more and more fudging - that is why I believe more members of the public are getting disillusioned on the subject of politics.
Jim Scott, Edinburgh

I was, however, extremely impressed by Charles Kennedy on tonight's "Challenge the Leader" and, although I don't agree with the Liberal Democrats' stance on every issue, am almost certain to vote for them this time as a result.
Andrew Choptiak, Prospective Parliamentary Voter!

Mr Kennedy, if you're reading this on your laptop on your way home, I think you came across extremely well. It is refreshing to see and hear a politician talking with intelligence and reason, treating the audience and public with respect and appearing to actually listen and react to what the public are feeling. Just because the country has swung between two parties winning elections over recent history does not mean that we cannot change for the future. I hope that more people will vote for the Lib Dem's voice of reason this time, so that a Lib Dem government will become a real possibility for the future.
Helen, Sussex

It's good to hear someone giving thoughtful considered answers to direct questions, instead of just bashing the other parties. More is to be gained in every way by co-operation, than just negative opposition. This man is turning out to be far more mature than I had ever expected. Thank you for the chance to add my voice, even though it is a small one.
Trevor Bellamy, Harrogate

This has been a most boring hour of party political broadcast endorsed by a mainly partisan group of clapping nodding donkeys. Come on, BBC, put these wannabees under the spotlight and let's test their metal. Thank you David Dimbleby for injecting some meaningful content.
Glen Davis, Petersfield

Isn't Charles Kennedy the same as any leader who knows he won't gain power ie he says what the people want to hear - he agrees with most people's points of view!
Stuart Scott, West Wickham

Some of what Charles Kennedy had to say tonight was as he put it honest, but I do feel that he is securely wrapped up in his hermetically sealed bubble. I really don't believe he will get the votes he is looking for.
Pat Mansell, Oxford

As a first time voter I was finding the continual mud flinging of the two major parties a total turn off. It was refreshing to hear someone explain their politics clearly and with conviction, without spending a large part of the time dwelling on the faults his opposition. He has convinced me!
Stacey Redpath, Preston

Charles Kennedy appears to be the most honest of all the party leaders. Let's hope that a system of PR can be installed at future Westminster elections so sensible politicians such as Mr Kennedy can have a bigger say in the running of our country.
David McKee, Glasgow

Having heard Charles Kennedy tonight I am unconvinced that his party has any policies that I agree with. The gentleman, who I believe was a farmer, was trying to make the point that the foot-and-mouth crisis has been badly handled. Charles Kennedy seems to shy away from criticising the government's handling of the situation. Charles Kennedy appears to be happy knocking the Tories.
Kay Hoyland, Sheffield

I'd like to congratulate the BBC on the success of the 'Challenge The Leader' format. I would however like to question David Dimbleby's handling of the show. I, as I guess fellow viewers did, wanted to hear Charles Kennedy's answers to the audience questions. I did not want constant interruptions and irrelevant points such as what page certain matters appear on in the Liberal Democrat Manifesto, and bickering between him and Mr Kennedy.
Daniel Darby, Student at University of Leeds

Since it is clear that the Liberal Democrats cannot win the election shouldn't Mr Kennedy aim to better the Conservatives this time and settle for being the opposition and next election they may be a serious contender?
John Bell, Sunderland

I was a 'Blue' for 20 years, now I'm with the Lib Dems, so much so that I'm standing as a in the local council by-election on June 7th. If you are thinking of voting Tory, remember the 18 yrs of debt and remember their current internal fighting. Mr Kennedy you can do it and this time the nation will see sense.
Mark Thomas, Reading

The only thing missing from Charles Kennedy tonight is his halo!
J Mitchell, Chippenham

I thought Mr Kennedy was extremely credible and the Liberal Democrats and their policies are gaining in credibility.
Tony Pickett, Bexleyheath

I feel the Charles Kennedy came over extremely well. This has boosted my already high opinion of the Lib Dems.
Matt Bannister, Maidstone

David Dimbleby said he wanted to cover many questions but spoilt tonight's programme by rudely and aggressively interrupting Charles Kennedy with his own agenda. This was disappointing as Kennedy was several times prevented from putting his case.
Patrick Whittle, Portsmouth

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