Hilary Benn: You Ask The Questions

The International Development Secretary answers your questions, such as 'Should India still get aid from the UK?' and 'Why have you got a girl's name?'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Should the deputy leader of the Labour Party automatically be deputy prime minister? CONOR J MURPHY, London

No. That's for the Leader of the Labour Party, as Prime Minister, to decide.

Would you like to see a contest for the leadership of the Labour Party when Blair goes? MIKE HARRIS, Brighton

That's up to Labour MPs to decide. Anyone with 45 nominations can stand. I'll be supporting Gordon Brown.

Is the office of deputy leader in any way a useful one: wasn't it just invented as a sop to satisfy long forgotten, ambitious politicians like George Brown and Herbert Morrison? V PRYDE, Cambridge

The job does matter, above all to ensure that the views of party members get heard.

Did your father encourage you to throw your hat in the ring for the deputy leadership? DAVID BOOKER, Harrogate

Yes. He's always encouraged me, and he's given me his 1981 "Benn for Deputy" badges for good luck.

Wouldn't everyone be better off if Tony Blair quit now? BRUCE TOBIAS, Hampstead

No.

Your father gave up a title and fought for the rights of the working man. You are fighting for a criminal, discredited neocon PM who is firmly in the camp (and pocket) of big business. What caused you to discard your father's politics to embrace this disgraceful man Tony Blair? SANJEEV CHOWDHURY, by email

If introducing a minimum wage, paternity leave, better maternity leave, family tax credits, time off for family emergencies, and a legal entitlement to trade union recognition and paid holidays isn't fighting for the rights of the working man - and woman - then I don't know what is.

If you had been in the Cabinet at the time your father stood for deputy leadership, wouldn't you have opposed him and everything he stood for? BEN HARRIS, Glasgow

I voted for my father in 1981, but you can't rewind history. Things were different then. The Labour Party changed and that's how we won the people's confidence. Without it, we can't do anything.

What do you most admire about your father, both as a man and as a politician? STEVE PRICE, Hackney

His optimism, his steadfastness in the face of adversity, and his belief in saying what you think whether it's popular or not. I have learnt a lot from him and from my mother.

You, your father, grandfather and great-grandfather have all been politicians. Do you feel that such a lineage limits your relevance and connection with every day folk who follow normal careers? NIGEL DAVIES, Manchester

Being an elected representative isn't abnormal, you know. It's a job. And I try to do it - whether in my constituency in Leeds or as a minister - by listening to what people say and then seeing what I can do to help.

The only way for the Labour Party to redeem itself over the Iraq war is to elect as leader someone who voted against the conflict. Do you agree? DAVID KELLY, Morpeth

No. I don't regret that Saddam is no longer in power. But I do understand the bitterness that many people feel about the war. We should have the humility to learn from what's happened, as we support Iraq's fragile democracy against the suicide bombers and the sectarian butchers.

The biggest lesson to learn is that we have to make the UN effective in dealing with states that murder their own people. Because the more we can demonstrate that multilateralism can answer that uncomfortable question - what do we do in such cases? - the stronger we can make the argument with those who would act unilaterally that there is another way.

Why did your parents give you a girl's name, and where you teased about it at school? DAVID LONGHURST, Milton Keynes

They decided to call me Hilary whether I was a boy or a girl. Yes, I was teased - but it only made me more attached to it.

Has multiculturalism had its day? EWA KARACHOVA, Birmingham

No, but we need to make it not a source of division, but something that binds us together as a society. Instead of focusing on what Bill Clinton calls our "interesting differences" - our faiths, the languages we speak, the colours of our skins - we should ask this simple question: "What contribution are you going to make to our society?" I'm optimistic about our capacity to live together as long as we do this, uphold the values of tolerance and decency that are part of the British character, and fight poverty and injustice wherever we find them.

Why has the Labour Party membership fallen so badly? LARRY HINTZE, Ashford

Partly because being in government is difficult and not everyone agrees with the decisions we have to make. But there's also a wider reason membership of parties is lower; it's social change and people expressing their political beliefs in different ways. So Labour needs to do more to reach out to people.

Under what circumstances would you resign from the Cabinet? PAZ AKBAR, Sheffield

If there was a decision that I felt so strongly about that I couldn't stay.

Should single parent benefits be reformed? CORINNE FRANKEN, London

That's what we're trying to do.

Why should people be allowed to have sex in a public toilet - under legislation you took through the Commons as a Home Office minister? NEIL THOMPSON, by email

They're not. The Bill provided for a new offence to protect the public, complementing the existing public order offences.

What are the political issues closest to your heart? SUSAN PINDER, Guildford

The fight for social justice - whether in my constituency or across the globe - and an unshakeable belief in our capacity as human beings to change things for the better. Straightforward, honest politics is the best way to do this, and the best defence against cynicism (which I have no time for).

Who are your political and historical heroes? PHIL MACINTYRE, Endinburgh

Nelson Mandela for his grace and magnanimity, and Clem Attlee for quietly getting on with changing things, including creating the NHS - Labour's greatest achievement.

You always look a bit boring to me. Do you have any vices, and what is the worst thing you have ever done? MARK ATKINS, Manchester

What's wrong with being a bit boring occasionally? It's much underrated and I suggest you try it, Mark.

I have a dilemma. I want to help Africa, but I am worried about climate change. So should I buy mange touts flown in from Kenya EMILY DAVISON, Lincoln

Flowers flown from Africa, for example, can use less energy overall than those produced in Europe, because they are not grown in heated greenhouses. So find out the facts and buy from developing countries wherever you can.

When you see the nightmare unleashed on the people of Iraq, do you regret supporting the war? And if you don't, why on earth should anyone take you seriously as a potential deputy leader of the country if you are so myopic? V AHMAD, Walthamstow

No, I don't regret supporting the war, and what about the nightmare Saddam unleashed on his own people? Iraq now has an elected Government, and we should support it against those responsible for the terrible sectarian violence.

During the Israeli war on Lebanon last year, did you agree with your leader in supporting Israel? If so, were the actions you encouraged lawful and if you disagreed, what action did you take? CHRIS BURNS-COX, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire

Israel had a right to defend itself against attack and it took time to agree a ceasefire that would hold. So far, it has - and that's what the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary worked for. What did I do? I provided humanitarian aid to help people who suffered so much in the fighting.

You often speak to leaders of developing nations about corruption. Will you find that difficult now following the cash for honours scandal as well as the BAE-Saudi deals? WANJIRU NGIGE, by email

No. There was a very specific issue of national security in the BAE-Saudi case, but our commitment to tackling corruption hasn't changed and other investigations continue. We've signed the UN Convention against Corruption, put new legislation in place, and set up a new police unit - with the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police - to investigate corruption and bribery. We're already getting results; for example, money stolen by a former Nigerian state governor has recently been returned to Nigeria.

Why does DFID continue to invest in India, a country with a middle class of 350 million people, a 9.25 per cent annual economic growth rate, a nuclear arsenal, an advanced space technology, and a strong and growing manufacturing base? If your answer is that there are 400 million people living on less than $1 a day, what business is that of the UK's, when India has the capacity to respond itself. And why does DFID continue to fund British NGOs instead of prioritising funding of local NGOs in poor countries? GEOFF CORDELL, by email

Because - as you recognise - India is home to a third of the world's poorest people, and how can we say we are helping to fight poverty if we ignore them? The DFID funds both British and local NGOs working in India and elsewhere so it's not an "either or" issue. We fund those NGOs best able to do the job.

Comments