Douglas Alexander: You Ask The Questions

The Secretary of State for International Development answers your questions, such as 'Did the G8 summit do any good?' and 'Who was the greatest Labour leader?'
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The Independent Online

Did the G8 summit do the developing world any good? Can we expect to see any of this promised aid finally reach developing countries? KEN LEWIS, Oldham

The climate change agreement is an important stepping stone on the road to Copenhagen. A deal at Copenhagen is vital for developing countries because for many of them dangerous climate change is not a future threat but a current crisis.

Isn't governmental aid basically discredited as a means of helping Africa? What will you do differently to ensure such aid is spent effectively? ALEXANDRA GRAY, Southampton

In some quarters it's fashionable to knock aid, but it can play a vital role in helping poor countries lift themselves out of poverty. Of course, internationally, some aid has been badly directed, but just last month the One Campaign's data report declared that the UK "remains the clear leader" among the G7 on aid effectiveness.

What on earth is the point of rebranding Dfid as UKaid? Wouldn't the PR costs be better spent on helping people directly? How much is it costing, by the way? DAN FOWDEN, London

At the moment Dfid is just about the best kept secret in government. Given the scale of the resources we spend on its behalf, the British public deserve to know more about our work. I also think as more people hear of our work it will help sustain support for that work. The rebranding cost about £130,000, which included extensive research and consultation with the public and came out of the existing communications budget.

Should Andy Coulson be sacked from his job with the Conservatives over phone hacking when he was editing the News of the World? HELEN PAULTON, Dundee

Ultimately that's a decision David Cameron has to make. There certainly seem to be unanswered questions about his role in the affair.

Gordon Brown has made you Labour's general election coordinator. That's a bit of a hospital pass, isn't it? GARY NAYLOR, Bristol

I've done it before, working with him and Tony Blair. Sure it's tough at the moment but I remember being well behind in the polls during the summer of 2004 but when it came to polling day, people chose a Labour government. I also remember William Hague leading the Tories to 44 per cent in the European elections followed by a second Labour landslide in 2001. Even on the difficult days – and there have been a few – Labour Party staff, candidates and activists keep you going.

Have you ever consulted Clare Short on international development issues, considering she did such a brilliant job in your department? GORDON SMITH, Lincoln

Of course. We haven't seen eye to eye on every policy but I think she will be and should be long remembered for the determination with which she made poverty reduction the defining mission of the department after 1997. Dfid is one of Labour's greatest achievements. But the global economic downturn has left no continent untouched and threatens to drive millions of people further into deprivation. At the same time, we are facing up to the consequences of climate change and the conflict and instability which means more than a billion of the world's poorest people live amid violence and lawlessness. So there's a real risk that the progress we have made could be reversed, and that's why we published a new White Paper last week. See

Do you think there's a case for fixed-term parliaments? And don't you think it's about time we had an election, considering how unpopular this unelected Prime Minister is? KERRY DEAN, Macclesfield

Yes – I think it should be looked at. From what I see it seems to work pretty well in the Scottish Parliament. Last time I looked, Gordon was elected, just like every other MP. I don't support the direct election of prime ministers and anyway there will be an election soon enough... which for the avoidance of doubt means in less than a year.

What did you learn from Scarlett MccGwire, the media consultant you paid using your expenses budget? How did the training benefit the taxpayer, rather than the Labour party? VARUN CHADHA, Kettering

She worked with me on the drafting and editing of speeches and articles which is pretty normal work for an MP of all parties.

The fury over expenses has abated a little now. Can you describe the atmosphere in Parliament, and how it's changed since the storm began? KATHY LAWSON, London

I sense there is a widespread recognition right across Parliament that the old system was badly broken and needed to be changed. What the understandable fury changed was the willingness to agree on how to change the system and get it done quickly.

Have you read Vince Cable's The Storm? If so, what did you think? JAMIE STONE, Chandler's Ford

Afraid not. I usually take a pile of books on holiday so, prompted by your question, maybe it'll make it on to my summer list. It would make a change from the rather worrying habit I've developed of reading and really enjoying the books of that other liberal thinker Roy Jenkins.

You were selected as a Labour candidate when you were a student. You joined the party as a teenager and you studied politics at university. Don't you think some other interests would make you a better MP? NIGEL DOBBS, Westonbirt

Actually, I was working as a lawyer representing people injured at their work when I was elected. But I've been interested in politics from an early age. It was the issue of unemployment during the 1980s in Renfrewshire that sparked my interest in finding progressive answers to poverty. As for life beyond politics, being a father is much more important to me than being a politician, but I'm not sure if the consequential knowledge of Shrek and High School Musical has made me a better MP.

Is the epithet 'wee' likely to be a hindrance to your career, do you think? GEMMA TEAL, Farnborough

Maybe a wee bit, but a life spent in the front row of photographs didn't seem to hold Robin Cook back or stop President Sarkozy making his case at the G8 last week.

Who do you fear more, Boris Johnson or David Cameron? ALEX BARNES-MORRIS, Exeter

I don't fear either of them, but at least for the time being, David Cameron has more capacity to mess up the life chances of my constituents in Paisley than the Mayor of London.

What did you think when you heard Caroline Flint's resignation statement? Was it sour grapes, or was she right about sexism in politics? SARA LIVINGSTONE, Warwick

I have always been comfortable around strong and capable women, and they have helped me to have some sense of the continuing challenges that women face. When I heard Caroline's resignation statement I thought "Ughh?" but I admire her and am sorry she left the Government.

On Question Time recently, David Starkey said Scotland suffered from small country syndrome. Do you think he had a point? PAUL MCKEE, Lairg

No. Isn't education supposed to broaden the mind?

Who is your biggest influence? SIMON CARTER, Liverpool

Perhaps like most of us, my parents. The things I get right, I think I probably get from them.

Who was the best ever Labour leader? Who was the worst? CHRISTINE COOPER, Ipswich

I'm torn between Keir Hardie and Clement Attlee. I'm not a great fan of Ramsey McDonald.

What were the last works of fiction and non-fiction that you read? LAURA FINNIMORE, Birmingham

Richard Sennett's The Craftsman, and Mairi Hedderwick's Katie Morag and the Big Boy Cousins.

What would you do if you lost your seat as an MP? EVE WILSON, Winchester

Right now I'm trying to avoid that particular outcome so I haven't given it much thought, but probably something completely different.

Do you think Scotland should have joined the Great Britain football team for the next Olympics? GUY WYKE, Cardiff

I'd have enjoyed watching Scottish players in a British Olympic team. But I know and admire the guys at the SFA and I can understand their concerns about what it could mean for the Scottish national team in the future.