(live blog of event here)
Last night saw the first in a series of pre-Election Question Time specials, hosted by Total Politics magazine, and City Inn hotels, first in Birmingham then onto Manchester, Leeds and London for the next three consecutive Thursdays.
Chaired by Conservative activist and blogger, and founder of Total Politics magazine, Iain Dale (@iaindale) (who proved to be an entertaining and forceful chair), the panel consisted of MP for Redditch Jacqui Smith, MP for Birmingham Yardley John Hemming, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and Marc Reeves, former Editor of The Birmingham Post, who has made the headlines himself recently with the launch of a new venture, called The Business Desk.
This evening’s debate started with everyones favourite topic: MP’s expenses. Apart from, perhaps, Jacqui Smith who, as Iain Dale put it, has become something of a “whipping girl” after some of her husbands very private video viewing habits went public after ending up on an expenses claim. The general concensus, however, was that the expenses system is flawed and needs adressing, whilst their pay SHOULD be dealt with by an external body. There was also concern that the expenses scandal has not only damaged MP’s reputations as a whole, but could threaten future democracy if good people are put off from standing as an MP.
However the Birmingham faithful were out in force, and the discussion soon turned to more local issues, namely, Sion Simons decision to stand down as MP for Birmingham Erdington and go for the as yet non-existent Mayor of Birmingham position. This was met with some derision from John Hemming, who called him “mad” to give up everything for a job that does not exist. He did, however, say he’d happily go for it himself when it does!
A lengthy debate started over red tape and beurocracy for businesses in the region, and how Health and Safety legislation, for example, was not helping in these tough times, whilst proportional representation, hunting and public services got a good airing too.
There was banter (unsuprisingly between Jacqui Smith and Andrew Mitchell), telling-offs (Jacqui Smith for using climate change deniers, which Dale felt was too close to Holocaust Deniers for comfort) and uncharacteristic coyness from all 3 MPs (when asked to name their favourite MP from the other side).
Another question, odd yet interesting, asked the panel which bus they were going home on that night, I’m guessing a test as to their local knowledge and green thinking. Marc Reeves, ever the down to early local boy, rattled off several bus routes he takes, Jacqui Smith said the train, whilst Andrew Mitchell justified his use of a car to get home by saying it was locally produced.
He drives a Jag.
(live blog of event here)
Next stop, Manchester with Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd, Graham Brady (Altringham and Sale West MP), Mark Hunter (MP for Cheadle) and David Ottewell from the Manchester Evening News.