Alan Milburn MP: You Ask The Questions

'Candidates should put their ideas on the table, not just their hats in the ring'
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The Independent Online

Why did you really resign as Health Secretary? ESTELLE MAXWELL, Brixton

For the reasons I gave - my family. There are things I still miss about it but I've never regretted for a moment the decision I took. I feel better personally - and oddly enough, as a politician. A bit of perspective is a good thing.

Should Gordon Brown face a challenge from a Blairite candidate to ensure a proper debate about Labour's future? MORWENNA GRIFFITHS, Hereford

There should be a full debate about policies for the next 10 years regardless of who stands for leader. This is what the Labour Party wants and the public would expect. Any candidates should put their ideas on the table, not just their hats in the ring. Debate isn't divisive. It will renew our purpose and policy and help Labour reconnect with the public.

Why don't you stand against Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party to keep the Blairite flame alive? LUCY HARRISON, Islington

Thanks for the offer.

Do you have any ambitions to lead the Labour Party? S SHAH, Bristol

Sometimes, mainly after a few drinks.

Do you like Gordon Brown? SARAH MCCARTHY, Leicester

Particularly after a few drinks.

When should Tony Blair stand down? KEITH ROBERTS, Bath

When he's ready to. Tony, uniquely for a Prime Minister, has made clear he's not going on and on and on - and that he'll leave ample time for his successor. Setting a timetable, as some want, might help the Opposition but it wouldn't help the Government or the country. The important thing is not when Tony stands down. It's what happens when he does. That discussion needs to start now.

Is David Cameron the true "heir to Blair"? JESSICA HARDING, Leeds

No. That is David Cameron's spin.

If Brown is the next Labour leader, aren't you closer politically to the new-look Tories under David Cameron? TERRY O'BRIEN, Glasgow

Absolutely not. And Cameron's problem is just how old-fashioned and out-of-touch his party really is. Hence the lack of detailed policy.

Why on earth are you a Labour MP? What distinguishes you from a centre-right Tory? DUNCAN HARDY, via e-mail

My background, values and fundamental belief in social justice.

Does it disappoint you that Tony Blair has not achieved more after winning three healthy Commons majorities? HEATHER GOVAN, Cumbernauld

I'd always want us to do more but with poverty falling, prosperity rising and public services improving I'm proud of what New Labour has done. However, politics is about the future not the past. There are new challenges to face - demographic and environmental, challenges such as immigration and inequality. And perhaps the biggest of all - the desire people have to take greater control over theirlives. Political success will go to those who can best meet these future challenges. Labour is in the best position to do so. We need to get on with setting out a new New Labour agenda for the next 10 years.

Will Tony Blair be remembered mostly for his foreign policy rather than his domestic reforms? BRUCE KEMP, via e-mail

In truth he'll be remembered for both - and I hope for being Labour's most successful leader. Tony Blair hasn't just made Labour electable - and won three elections in a row. He's changed the political landscape. Policies such as the minimum wage, gay rights and investment in public services are the new mainstream. They wouldn't have happened without him.

Do you think George Bush is crap? DIDI MOORE, New York

I dislike his politics - but that's not the word I'd use.

Do you agree with me that John Prescott is crap? S NOLAN, Denver

No, I don't.

Tony Blair is George Bush's puppet and thus a laughing stock around the world. Do you agree? T SPILLANE, via e-mail

No.

Where should Mr Blair be tried for his war crimes, and who should be tried with him? I CRAWFORD, via e-mail

The right person is on trial in the right place - Saddam Hussain in Iraq.

Who is your favourite Tory? FINLAY MARTIN, Kingston

So many to choose from it's hard to say.

What does long hair say about a man of a certain age? JANICE MARKHAM, Redcar

That's it's time to get a haircut?

Do you feel guilty that the Private Finance Initiative has been such a disaster for NHS finances? BILLY HIGGINS, Clapham

No, I know PFI has been controversial but it's delivered new NHS hospitals - on time and budget - that otherwise wouldn't have been built. NHS patients and staff have both felt the benefits.

You were cheered by the nurses at their annual conference; Patricia Hewitt was booed - why? LESTER CUNNINGHAM, Exeter

Timing!

As a junior doctor, I am delighted with your generosity. But isn't it time to admit that you cocked up over our pay deals and awarded us far too generous a settlement? JEREMY SMITH, Birmingham

Can't win can I? The pay deals have helped rid the NHS of many of the problems in recruiting doctors, nurses and clinical staff we had in the not-so-distant past. And I bet you aren't offering to give it back in any case.

Why is the NHS still in such a mess after all the investment and reform under Labour? RACHAEL BLOOM, Chichester

There are problems but what strikes me most is progress - on improving health outcomes, cutting waiting times, increasing staff and modernising facilities. It's not so long ago that people could wait years for a heart operation. Now they wait weeks - and get choice over where they are treated.

Have you smoked cannabis - and did you inhale - or taken any other illegal drugs in your life? CHRISTY TURPIN, Lincoln

Drugs aren't my cup of tea.

Who are your heroes? KATHY MORLEY, Cambridge

I have several, but my top three are my mother, Nelson Mandela and Alan Shearer - in that order.

What was your biggest mistake in politics so far? M HALL, Camberwell

As a young minister, being too cautious. You only get one chance (generally) to change the world - and it takes time to do it.

Now that you no longer hold a cabinet post are you a better MP for your constituents in Darlington? STEPHEN BRENKELY, via e-mail

That's for my constituents to judge - but I have always loved being Darlington's MP and still do.

I'm told that you don't live in Darlington, which has been your seat since 1992. So, what's so wrong with Darlington that you can't be bothered to come here? TONY PATTISON, Darlington

I'm not sure it matters where I live. It's what I do that counts.

Do you regard yourself as a socialist? BELINDA ST CLEMENTS, Tonbridge

Yes.

Should inheritance tax be scrapped? FREDRIK OLOFSSON, via e-mail

It certainly needs to be reformed.

What three reforms would you bring in if you were in charge of the country to make it a better place? SIMON HOUSTON, Orpington

One, universal flexible childcare and working hours, two, choice for the elderly over care in old age, and three, local communities having more say over local services. What unites all three is the idea of giving people more control - and therefore more responsibility - over how they live their lives.

What was the first record you bought? P CLARK, via e-mail

"Where do you go to my lovely" by Peter Sarstedt. But I promise my taste has improved with age.

When were you last drunk? LAURA COOK, Windsor

When I last thought about leading the Labour Party (see above).

You always come across as a bit of a spiv on television. Tell me something that would make me change my opinion of you? RASHMI PATEL, Coventry

I'm kind to animals and children. Does that help?

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