Tessa Jowell: You ask the questions

Culture Secretary on mortgages, women's tennis and the Olympics?
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The Independent Online

Why should women at Wimbledon get paid the same as men, when they do much less work?



Does anyone really believe that women players at the peak of their prowess should be rewarded with less prize money than men? Women's tennis is highly competitive and entertaining. So a "prize gap" is unfair and unjustifiable. Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Venus Williams and many others want Wimbledon to change its practice - each of them is easily the equal of their male counterparts.

You have said you didn't understand your husband's manoeuvrings over your joint mortgages so do you consider yourself competent to be in charge of such a large budget as the Olympic Games?


I wonder if you are the same Roger Poulet I went to university with? There has been a lot of nonsense talked about my personal life and my finances in recent months, but none of it has any bearing on how I do my job.We have put in place world class leadership in the Olympic Delivery Authority, and the whole project - including costs - is being managed robustly.

How much thought has London given to the content of the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2012 Olympics?


Ripon, North Yorkshire

A lot. It is too early to have firm plans, but we want the ceremonies to be more than just fireworks and glitz. They will be a chance to capture the dynamic and diverse nature of London, and one of the key ambitions for the Games - to inspire young people to get involved in sport.

I am a taxpayer who doesn't care for sport. Why should I pay for the Olympics and for east London's new gentry to see their house prices rise?


Notting Hill, London

For the same reason, in essence, that people with private health insurance still have to help pay through taxes for the NHS. The whole of London - and the country more widely - will benefit from the Games. Even if you hate sport, that's worth spending public money to achieve.

Will you ensure McDonald's has no part in sponsoring anything at the London Olympics?


by e mail

No, I am afraid I can't give you that assurance. McDonald's is already a sponsor. Big sponsors put an awful lot of money into the Games, including a sizeable chunk of the operating budget of the London Organising Committee. Without this money, it would be taxpayers footing the bill.

If you were to compete at the Olympics, what would be your sport?



In my dreams, the 10k.

Do you reckon you would have handled the situation with your husband's financial investigation in the same way had you not been a cabinet office-holder?


Camberwell, London

I am not entirely clear what you mean, but I place enormous importance on integrity in public life, both as an MP and a cabinet minister.

I'm thinking of taking out a second mortgage, can you offer me any advice?


Blackheath, London

I love my job as Culture Secretary and Olympics minister, thank you, and have no plans for a second career selling mortgages.

Are you still on speaking terms with David Mills? And what are the chances of a reconciliation?


Hammersmith, London

Even politicians are entitled to a private life, so I am sure you will understand that I would like to keep mine private.

Isn't it little wonder people despise politicians when you separate from your husband to save your political career?



If that had been the case, then I would agree.

Is there anything you wish your husband had told you about his relationship with Berlusconi that he didn't?



These matters are currently before the Italian courts, and I do not intend to comment on them.

There are some very nice houses in Dulwich. Why don't you live in one of them?


Dulwich, London

I agree, but when I was selected as Labour candidate for Dulwich I told the committee that I couldn't move my family home from north London as my children were at school there. The committee accepted that happily. My children still live in Kentish Town and they very much want me to live near them. As I hope you will accept, that has not stopped me being an active, involved and committed local MP for more 14 years.

I often see you coming from the gym. What is your fitness regime?


Tufnell Park, London

My goal is to work out four times a week - swimming, cross-trainer, weights and flexibility exercises.

Have you ever taken performance-enhancing or recreational drugs?



I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs. I tried a joint once at university - don't ask me if I inhaled, it is too long ago to remember.

How important is your faith to you?


Streatham, London

I am a confirmed Anglican and, yes, my faith is important to me.

When was the last time you took advantage of extended drinking hours?


Chiswick, London

I have to confess I am not much of a drinker. But the point is people shouldn't be badgered into a race to down their last drink before the 11pm curfew. That is why we have brought in more flexible opening hours.

Can anything be done to change the binge-drinking mentality in Britain?



Yes, I believe it can. Look at drink driving - socially acceptable 20 years ago, but not now. And the smoking and safe-sex campaigns have done much to change attitudes too. We need to educate young people to drink more responsibly, and take action against irresponsible licensees who encourage such behaviour with cheap drink promotions.

Is your job the best one in politics with free tickets to every match and arts event?


Hornsey, London

I certainly have the best job in government, but there is less time to see matches and shows than you might imagine, or I might like.

Do you regret begging Blair to stay on, given the mess he's making of everything now?



Tony Blair is an outstanding leader who is making a real difference - for example, with more children doing better at school, people getting the health treatment they need more quickly, crime down and record numbers of police officers on our streets.

What was going through your mind when you picked out that hat to wear to Ascot?


West Norwood, London

I love it - sorry if you don't.

Do you think you're more or less patronising than Patricia Hewitt?


Clapham, London

Neither of us would ever intend to patronise anyone. I think we would both like to see a different style of politics, where politicians listen more and talk less.

Buckingham Palace is asking for an extra £1m plus inflation per year for maintaining the palaces. Do they need an increase?



The palaces are major tourist attractions and need the resources to continue to attract visitors. But, of course, this spending round will be tight.

Given the scale of personal debt in Britain, why are you determined to build casinos?


Ralston, near Paisley, Renfrewshire

Whether you approve of gambling or not, 70 per cent of people in this country do gamble. My aim is to ensure the industry is properly regulated. Through the Gambling Act we are putting in place the toughest regulatory regime in the world. And there will be only one so-called "super casino", subject to careful controls.

What research has been done on problem gambling in the UK?


The most recent research from 1999 suggests about 0.6-0.8 per cent of adults are problem gamblers. We will conduct a new gambling prevalence study overthe next 12 months before the Gambling Act comes into force in September 2007.

Are you a gambler?


Canterbury, Kent

No, but I did have a bet at Ascot this year and won £30 which I gave to charity.

How may times have you met Rupert Murdoch in the past year? Do you like him?


Cobham, Surrey

Once, for a few minutes at a party. I'd never spoken to him before. We had a brief and pleasant conversation.

New Labour seems to have betrayed the disabled voice in the media (unless homogenised in mainstreaming banality). What is your explanation?



The nearly nine million disabled people in the UK are right to expect representation in broadcasting. But it's rightly up to the channels how they go about meeting the needs of the disabled. The Government should not and will not pick a preferred option.

Was 'Blair's Babes' a demeaning term?


Ealing, London

It is not a term that I would particularly use, but it is not the worst thing I have been called.

What do you want to happen to Stonehenge?



Stonehenge is possibly the most iconic of the UK's world heritage sites. The challenge of re-routing traffic and providing visitor facilities are difficult. We arereviewing the options and I expect to receive a report shortly.

Do you really believe Gordon Brown listens to the Arctic Monkeys? Do you?



I have never listened to Gordon's iPod, but have no reason to think he doesn't. My own selection doesn't contain Arctic Monkeys. It includes James Taylor, Wagner and Britten - an eclectic mix I have to admit.