"the blogger whose youthful effusions have won him bookmarks all over Whitehall ... horribly compelling" - The Guardian
Monday, February 16, 2004
And now it's time for Any Questions: in the chair is Jonathan Dimbleby
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Welcome to Hull, a beautiful exemplar of British culture and civility since the beginnings of time. We are the guests of Robert Mugabe Sixth Form College, a school reknowned for its academic excellence and community ties. So fierce is the competition for places that professional assassins are alleged to move into the area from as far away as Brazil to meet the demand for their services. Twice winner of the Department of Education's coveted 'Most Diverse Floor Tiles' prize, the college ably serves parents and students across the county.
On our panel tonight;
Oliver N. Message, a hard-working Labour backbencher since 1987, he rose to the key role of Food Standards Minister after the last election, before selflessly resigning last year for personal reasons. 2003 was also a time when he reached that pinnacle of political achievement in winning the highly respected New Statesman magazine's prestigious Parliamentarian of the Year award.
Sir Percival Pyke, the Booker Prize winning novellist and playright, has written thirty books totalling over ten million words - and as many readers. This witty, anti-Establishment, literary giant reached controversy last month after describing the Queen as "the sort of filthy mess so vile that, if you step on it, you immediately throw away the shoe and walk home barefoot". (Laughter and light applause)
Baroness Blight, a Liberal Democrat Peer, speaks for her party on Local Government. Described by none other than Jenny Tonge's constituency agent as a future Shirley Williams, and a true champion of civil rights, she has long put the boot in successfully when faced with Tory and Labour opponents.
And William Hague, a little-known Tory backbencher of whom one letter to a local newspaper said "Genghis Khan would be truly appalled by how right-wing he is".
And he is also the fourth member of our panel.
Our first question, please?
QUESTIONER 1: Robert King. Is David Blunkett's proposal for minimum sentences of two years for axe-murderers yet another sign of this shameless authoritarian's desperate bowing and scraping towards the bastions of cheap tabloid populism?
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Oliver N. Message?
OLIVER N. MESSAGE: Er ... no. I think this is a reasonable measure. I personally do worry that judges have too little power in this country (Hear hear) and I do have my concerns about anyone who would propose to let tabloid editors dictate how long these people spend in jail. But I don't think this is what the bill is about. I cautiously support this measure, because I think when you're dealing with axe-murderers - who let us not forget have chopped innocent people to pieces - a couple of years is just about right. (Light groans)
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Baroness Blight.
BARONESS BLIGHT: Oooh, this just upsets me to the bones. It really is a chilling day in British justice when this sort of fascist measure - let me repeat that - fascist measure (Enthusiastic applause) can be proposed before the House of Commons. Yes, I'm sure this will get a good headline in the Daily Mail (Hiss!) but all I can think about is those poor people inside prisons who will be denied justice because of it. Thank God my party, the Liberal Democrats, is here to speak for them. (Hear, hear) Because the moment we forget about them, then the terrorists have won. (Long and loud applause)
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Sir Percival Pyke.
SIR PERCIVAL PYKE: You only need to look at Guantanamo Bay to see how much this government - and its moronic allies - care about justice. (Cheer) George Bush (Mocking laughter), George Bush ... well, he's a turd isn't he? (Standing ovation)
.... Baroness Blight is absolutely right: what we're forgetting in all this ghastly tabloid hoo-ha about 'murder victims' is who the real victims are in all of this. They're the ones sitting in prison cells across our country! (Applause) Frankly, I couldn't give a monkeys what Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Wade think about our criminal justice system. (Applause) And Paul Dacre! That compassionless squirt! (Laughter) It's because of people like him we need axe-murderers in Britain! (Laughter, then applause) What makes judges so skilled is that they are isolated from popular opinion and they don't need to worry about accountability to the people they serve. If we ever change that, just imagine what would happen - judges would have to be more concerned about the people outside the prisons than the good of those inside. It would be a nightmare, anarchy ... (Hear, hear) ... so help me God: Texas! (Laughter) Quite frankly, if the Sun, Express and Daily Mail don't think someone should be released, then there couldn't be a better reason to let him loose on the streets! Prison doesn't work, prison doesn't work: let everyone out! (Roars of cheering and sustained applause)
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: William Hague.
WILLIAM HAGUE: I think the measure is sensible, which is why my party is supporting it. Sadly, it doesn't go nearly far enough. (Mocking laughter) We're talking about criminals who have ended someone's life by cutting them up like wood, here. These people have committed the most henious crimes and they are a danger to everyone around them. To give them a two year minimum sentence is like giving someone 50p for finding the cure for cancer.
Sir Percival says we need judges to be isolated from public opinion, but that's precisely the problem: they are giving sentences without any reference to the feelings of normal people who actually have to live with crime. If the Home Secretary is needed sometimes to assert that role, then it's absolutely necessary that he does so.
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Ahh! Now let me pick you up on that very controversial point. You mention people who have cut others to pieces. Does not compassionate conservatism extend to them? Or is it as selective as your critics claim?
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, obviously compassion towards killers rather compromises compassion towards their victims. You have to put the innocent first.
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: (Chuckling) I see. And further, when you say judges aren't sentencing with reference to public opinion, is that just your way of demanding the Daily Mail set every prison sentence in the country? (Laughter and shouts of "Yes")
WILLIAM HAGUE: No, it's a reflection of the fact that judges are ultimately public servants who need to take account of the needs and wishes of the people they serve.
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Okaaaaay, as it looks like the audience will vote the way I want them to, I'll take a poll. Who thinks the two year minimum sentence for axe-murderers is, as the questioner put it, an authoritarian appeal to the tabloid press?
... Okay, and does anyone think it is right - or insufficient?
... Well, in this audience overwhelmingly the view is that the measure is a mistake. Can we have our next question, please?
QUESTIONER 2: Angela Collins. With the Government vetoing the EU's relocation of the Crown Jewels to Brussels and the Conservatives supporting them, are the Liberal Democrats the only true opposition in Britain?