Panellists discuss sexism, phone hacking and cuts

KGGS was packed with people eager to hear the panellists' thoughts.
KGGS was packed with people eager to hear the panellists' thoughts.

SEXISM in the Sky Sports studio, the crisis in Egypt and the phone hacking scandal were all hot topics discussed during BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions?’ on Friday night.

Hosted at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, the topical debate show aired live before a packed audience of people keen to hear what the panel thought of current issues.

MP David Blunkett speaks.

MP David Blunkett speaks.

Panellists were Labour MP and former cabinet minister David Blunkett, historian Michael Burleigh, director-general of the Russell Group of universities Dr Wendy Piatt and Conservative MP and author Louise Bagshawe.

The debate got off to a boisterous start as Mr Blunkett revealed his guide dog Sadie will soon retire. Making reference to the Sky Sports sexism controversy, and to much laughter, host Jonathan Dimbleby said: “Without wishing to be sexist, it’s nice to see her at your feet.”

l Gary Legg asked: “How does the panel think what’s happening in Egypt will affect us?”

Dr Piatt said she hopes a democracy will be formed in Egypt so that Israel is not the only democracy in the region. She added: “Of course it could go the other way and create more instability and a regime in Egypt which could be even more difficult for us, for Israel and for stability in the Middle East in general.”

Dr Wendy Piatt expressses her views.

Dr Wendy Piatt expressses her views.

Mr Blunkett warned we should be careful what we wish for, adding: “If the Muslim Brotherhood were to come into power, and they are the only seriously organised group, I don’t know what the Israelis would do. The danger of Israel feeling their hat to intervene would be as great as the disintegration of the democracy that people have been seeking, so it’s a mess.”

Mrs Bagshawe said the western nations should try to “square the circle by leaning very heavily on Mubarack and the ruling class to make sure that they change their practices and ways to give their people some hope”.

l Linda Retberg asked: “Will Britain’s reputation overseas be damaged by the proposed cuts to the World Service, and the potential loss of 30 million listeners?”

Mr Blunkett: “I’m totally in favour of intergrating the World Service with other parts of the BBC. I’m specifically worried about places like Albania because whilst the rest of the services described for the chop can be understood to be changing in the modern world, Albania isn’t.”

Host Jonathan Dimbleby.

Host Jonathan Dimbleby.

Mr Burleigh: “The BBC is no more immune to the process of the world changing than any other organisation.”

Mrs Bagshawe said cuts will be made to the level of those in 2008 and that the services which are necessary will remain. She added: “There are no terrific solutions when you’re dealing with a budget deficit the size of the one we have inherited. The BBC must play its part.”

Dr Piatt: “The jury is out on whether the Government’s cuts are too fast and too deep but we are where we are and we need to prioritise.”

l Steve Broadley asked, on the Sky Sports sexism row: “I want to live in society where views can be heard, even distasteful ones. What does the panel think?”

Mrs Bagshawe: “Of course we’ve got to be allowed to freely express our views and have a bit of banter, but these guys are the face of Sky football.”

Mr Burleigh: “They were stupid enough to do this on air and be recorded. They are experienced broadcasters that should know the microphones are on and the cameras are running.”

Dr Piatt: “I was delighted when Sian Massey was spot-on in her decision about the Liverpool goal, not only because it did expose the crassness and stupidity of those comments, but also because I’m a life-long Liverpool supporter.”

Mr Blunkett: “I think there’s a hell of a difference between ladism and suggesting that something should be pushed down your trousers. That’s on an entirely different scale and that particular individual deserved it for that alone.”

l Referring to the recent phone tapping allegations, Paul Rushworth asked: “Should politicians expect to have their private lives subject to public scrutiny just because their job places them in the public eye?

Dr Piatt: “Of course, you have to put up with quite a bit of scrutiny but there are lines that have to be drawn. People are entitled to a private life, as long as they’re not contravening rules of their jobs, if they’re not showing integrity.”

Mr Blunkett: “I think there’s no excuse whatsoever for phone-hacking anyone, whether it’s by the media, private companies or by the Government.”

Mr Burleigh: “There’s a fundamental distinction between investigative journalism where there’s a clear public interest, like the great scoop of the decade which was the Parliamentary expenses scandal. What this is about is lazy journalism. It’s people just going on fishing expeditions because they can’t be bothered.”

Mrs Bagshawe: “I want to see a proper, thorough, complete, open investigation with all the facts laid out before the public, and I want to see if it’s a problem confined to the News of the World or if, as I suspect, it’s a problem across the British media sector.”

l Chris Quinn asked: “With regards the economy, Mrs Thatcher was not for turning. Do you think George Osborne will do the same?”

Mr Blunkett: “There’s no question that the speed and severity of what’s happening now and the downturn that’s already taken us into the highest youth unemployment in 20 years of 20 per cent, and with more misery still to come, that the Government would be well advised to rethink its strategy and put more emphasis on growth and getting us out of the problems by putting people to work rather than getting us out of one problem by putting milions of people on the dole.”

Mrs Bagshawe: “No, he’s not for turning, and there is an alternative which is what is happening across the Irish sea and across in Greece. That’s not an alternative I welcome.” She added that the budget would be growth and jobs oriented.

Dr Piatt: “I certainly think we need to cut the deficit. But the Government has adopted quite a high risk strategy cutting so fast and deep, and they probably should be a little bit nervous about some of the danger signs that that policy may be stifling growth.”

Mr Burleigh: “We are borrowing so much money that if we were to decelerate the austerity programme, the international financiers who lend this country money in the form of bonds and the such like would whack up the interest rates and so it would go on in a horrific cycle.” He added that the Government must “put their fist down” on banks owned by the taxpayer to lend money to small businesses and thus stimulate construction, and lend money to help first-time buyers on to the property ladder.

l Angela Rose asked: “When I was at school, Alderman Roberts’ advice on speech day was aim high. What would the panel’s advice be to our girls today?

Mr Blunkett: “I think the answer would be, for goodness’ sake, be yourself. Don’t be told by someone else that you are a feminist or don’t by told by men that you can’t do it, just get on and achieve. You’ve a fantastic start in life here - make the most of it.”

Mr Burleigh: “Rather than becoming a robot who passes exams, remember there’s a whole world of culture out there. Learn about the great cultural traditions, listen to classical music, read many novels.”

Mrs Bagshawe: “I cannot fail to mention Margaret Thatcher, daughter of Alderman Roberts here in her old school. I will repeat the compliment paid to her by the great socialist Tony Benn. When asked what he thought of her, he said ‘I always liked her because she was signpost and not a weather vane’. Whatever you believe in, stand for something and stand firm with it.”

Dr Piatt: “Often, women I work with have low self-confidence. Be more assertive and really believe in yourself.”

l What do you think to the panellists views on Governemtn cuts? Do you agree that Sky’s Richard Keys and Andy Gray deserve what they got? E-mail: comment@granthamjournal.co.uk