Appearing on Any Questions?

Friday was a long, long day! Crack of dawn start to get to York to meet various youth and equality projects. First stop was to meet the Equalities spokesperson at the Council (LibDem minority control) – Cllr Keith Aspden – who briefs me on the groups I will be meeting.

A quicke radio interview with Minster Radio and then off to meet the CVS – the Community Voluntary Sector – who have fantastic facilities where a number of local voluntary groups operate from as well as facilitating rooms for meetings. Seemed a very well-developed and properly functioning centre – and a model for how perseverance over many years can eventually pay off with proper facilities. And proper facilities, well-designed and pleasant – then in turn create the right environment to encourage all of this good work to continue. A lot of work goes on here to get young people, often the most challenging young people, into work and/or training.

Mad dash onto Castlegate Centre – which is a fantastic drop-in and one stop shop for 16-25 year olds. The downstairs is all modern and beautifully designed with the help of young people to make it an environment they feel comfortable about coming to. And they do. Remarkably successful – young people can just drop in and find help for any number of issues – be it housing, counselling, training – whatever. A pretty inspiring outfit – and again – the people who had fought for it and were running it – totally committed and dedicated.

I then visit York Racial Equality Network, where about 25 people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds have come to tell me their anger and disappointment that the vital work they do is under threat. The Council support them – but the Commission for Equality and Human Rights has, despite assurances, not funded them this year and this is threatening their very existence. Whilst it would be true to say that York is not the diversity capital of this country, nevertheless there is a growing number of black and ethnic minority residents. Add in an influx of Easter Europeans and the issues of pressures on public services, social cohesion and the rest are just beginning to arise. Better to tackle these in proper and timely fashion than wait until real problems hit us. Also there are issues that arise when numbers are relatively few rather than many – issues of isolation, exclusion and race hate incidents.

The York Racial Equality Network is the only organisation doing the work that is needed in this area. Indeed, when the Commission needs to consult or disseminate information in the York area, they themselves turn to the YREN to do this for you.

If the Commission is not minded to reverse their decision (as I have written to them to ask that they do), then I’d very much like to know how they expect the work to support individuals experiencing racial harassment, victimisation and discrimination to continue – and who would be there to disseminate information from the Commission and respond to consultations.

Last stop of the day in York is to the University to meet students who I help launch a campaign against ID cards. Outside of the usual reasons – that they won’t work, won’t stop terrorism, won’t help identity fraud etc – the students are fearful that they are now going to be pressured into having an ID card.

Train leaves York late – so I miss my connection to Maidstone in Kent where I am going to do any questions. I finally arrive and have time for a quick egg and chips with Jonathan Dimbleby and Claire Fox (another guest on the program) then off to the school for the live show. Tony McNulty and Jeremy Hunt are the other two panellists.

The questions were what I expected – 42 days detention, the sudden glut of political memoirs, 10p tax etc – but there did seem to be at least three questions that led back to – yes – you’ve guessed – Gordon Brown and his miseries. I was surprised they didn’t ask about schools testing – but I guess Gordon took precedence.

Jonathan called me Liz (again – he did it last time too) and I corrected him on air – and he said to make amends I could call him David (his brother’s name) which I did! I like Jonathan and I like Any Questions. AQ gives you far more time to answer and discuss an issue than Question Time – but they are actually quite different animals. Afterwards we have drinks and bits with the local people and the staff and students of the school the program comes from. And then finally – back to London.

Any Questions

Surgery ’til lunchtime and then – after a bit of paperwork – off to Norwich for Any Questions. I catch the 4pm train from Liverpool Street with newspapers, briefings and blank paper and pens and spend the journey trying to work out what the questions might be.

When I get up to get off, I discover my co-panellist, Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty, is in the seat just in front. A car is there to meet us and take us to the restaurant – where Jonathan Dimbleby and John Bercow (Tory) are already seated for dinner. He now bears the ‘moderate’ tag in the Tory party and is a keen Ken Clarke supporter. David Miliband (Labour, minister) is not yet there. About three quarters of an hour into the dinner – Miliband arrives with assistant in tow. We are all strictly told not to bring assistants to the dinner – but Ministers and power and status you know. The atmosphere changes immediately. There is something quite chilling about Labour automatons – natural conversation diminishes and careful phrasing and tones take over. Strangely enough, in the anteroom when we arrive at the venue for the show, the coldness disappears just briefly and the human being can be glimpsed – completely charming.

Anyway – there is a warm up question on Pinter (not broadcast, but done to get us all into the swing of things) and then we are on. First up is the judgement on the Zimbabwe asylum seeker. Although he lied in his application, the courts have found the Government wanting and in neglect of their duty as they returned people to places without worrying enough about the human rights situation in the place they’re returning them to. Shami, John and I all welcome the decision – and Milliband mutters about a rethink. Jonathan Dimbleby asks me if I am encouraged by the Minister’s concession to ‘rethink’ and I say I am always encouraged when the Government says it will rethink. Of course – later I thought of a much better retort, as one does.
Drugs and Cameron! My take was that David Cameron should have just admitted whatever he had done at college and left it there. The BBC license fee (not surprisingly) was on the menu and we all paid tribute to the hand that fed us and then went onto the real heart of the matter on civil liberties. I am not going to bang on through the whole program (because you can listen to it on the BBC’s website for the next week – and because readers of this blog will know my views well by now!).

The show always finishes with a quirky question. On the train up and looking at the papers I thought it might be who would the panel choose to play the new James Bond. I carefully hone by answer (settling on Jonathan Ross in the end) but sadly – this isn’t the question that comes up!