The Year in Review: People

You asked the questions and they answered...
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The Independent Online

Each Monday, readers of 'The Independent' have the chance to put their questions to politicians and public figures. These exchanges, an integral feature of the newspaper for almost a decade, regularly produce eye-opening copy. This is a selection of 2007's highlights.

Martin Amis 5 January

Are you an Islamophobe?

Alisdair Gray, Edinburgh

No. What I am is an Islamismophobe. Or better say an anti-Islamist because a phobia is an irrational fear, and there is nothing irrational about fearing someone who professedly wants to kill you. The form that Islamophobia is now taking the harassment and worse of Muslim women in the street disgusts me. It is mortifying to be part of a society in which any minority feels under threat. On the other hand, no society on earth, no society imaginable, could frictionlessly absorb a day like 7 July.

Now that Saul Bellow has passed away, who do you regard as the greatest living American novelist(s)?

Philip East, by email

John Updike, and then your namesake, Mr Roth. With Don DeLillo coming up on the flank. That's just my opinion. One of the extraordinary things about Bellow was that his pre-eminence stared you in the face. As someone or other said of Shakespeare, "Others abide our judgment. Thou art free."

Arnold Schwarzenegger 22 January

My favourite line from your movies is when you tell Sub-Zero to chill out in The Running Man, but what does the Governor of California do to chill out?

Bobby Bobson, by email

I like to ride my motorcycle on Sunday mornings with friends when I have the time, but it's hard with all my responsibilities. I love to hang out with my wife, Maria, and our children, but I am not the type who likes to "chill". I have always preferred action to sitting around.

Do you think the world will ever take credible action to reduce CO2 emissions?

Steve Crawford, Lincoln

Absolutely. The Kyoto treaty was a great first step, but unfortunately the United States has been unwilling to participate. We are trying to lead on that issue in California, setting the most ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reductions ever and working with other states and even other nations, such as Britain, to inspire the rest of our country and the world to follow suit. The world needs a model of how to reduce CO2 and grow the economy at the same time and that's exactly what we're doing.

David Miliband 29 January

What aspect of the Government's record most embarrasses or disappoints you?

Mark O'Neill, Manchester

Why aren't I ever asked what I am most proud of? There are obvious ones starting with the Dome, but for the long term, I wish we had made more progress in creating vibrant city government around the country. I am a great believer that if we could develop 100 cities then the country would really be flying. Good local government is fantastic for the country.

What are the differences between you and your brother, Ed Miliband?

David May, Bromley

He has the talent.

Robert Winston 16 April

Do you believe a woman is born with an innate 'human right' to have a child and a family?

Elizabeth Charles, Manchester

Nobody has a right to have a child. However, in a society boasting of free treatment at the point of entry for all diseases, a women has a right to have responsible and sensitive treatment for the pain and suffering of the disease process which causes her infertility.

Which do you consider the greater achievement: developing pioneering fertility treatment, or appearing on The Archers?

Hugh Jones, Cardiff

I loved being on The Archers because there was no publicity beforehand and listeners were left uncertain about who was doing the doctor.

Patricia Hewitt 23 April

Why did you allow the GPs, consultants, etc to get such cushy pay deals?

Pete Barry, Surrey

We have more GPs - and more trainees than ever before. And with the new performance-related pay system, GPs' increased earnings are a result of doing more preventive work. Thousands of people at risk of a heart attack are alive and well today because of the new contract.

Have you ever seen the file that MI5 compiled on you when you were a radical young activist, and if not, would you like to see it?

Pete Davies, by email

No, I haven't, though I believe it still exists. Yes, I'd like to see it, one of these days.

Alastair Darling 21 May

You are a pal of Gordon Brown. Have you ever heard him listening to the Arctic Monkeys?

Belinda Grade, Hackney

He doesn't usually listen to his iPod while I am speaking to him! Anyway the Arctic Monkeys are hardly the best background music for a chat. Now Leonard Cohen on the other hand...

Your imminent ascension to the post of Chancellor suggests you were right to feather your own nest by supporting the decision to rain death and destruction on the people of Iraq, but is there ever a moment when you feel bad about the whole thing?

Michael Cassidy, La Rochelle, France

The present destruction is being caused by terrorists willing to murder to overthrow a democratically elected government. The people responsible for the killings today are not the British or other UN forces.

Sir Menzies Campbell 4 June

Can and should a man in his 70s be Prime Minister?

Fiona Wilkins, by email

There is no reason why not. Experience, judgment and energy are what is required for public office. Look around you in Britain today, age is increasingly irrelevant.

Gordon Brown 11 June

In an answer of one word, and with the benefit of hindsight, was it wrong to invade Iraq?

Simon O'Connor, Liverpool


After the nightmare of Iraq, will you promise not to join any American invasion of Iran?

Callum MacIntyre, Aberdeen

There is no plan to attack Iran. We have always wanted to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear programme through diplomacy and negotiation. This means we must work through the UN and the EU as we have done each time Iran has failed to comply with the will of the international community. In turn, Iran must take its responsibilities seriously and comply fully with the Security Council's resolutions.

Do you agree with Tony Blair's criticism of The Independent?

Michael Harvey, Lincoln

As I said at The Independent's 20th anniversary party, it is a great campaigning newspaper and it always has been. It doesn't matter whether you agree with the campaigns or not.

Do you really think the public is fooled by stunts such as pretending to like the Arctic Monkeys or that your favourite goal was that one of Gazza's against your home nation? And do you still stand by these statements?

Steve O'Brien, by email

No I don't stand by them because I never said them in the first place. I was asked to choose between James Blunt or Arctic Monkeys I actually said I didn't like either, but that the Arctic Monkeys would certainly wake you up in the morning... that became: "Brown wakes up to the Arctic Monkeys." Then I was asked to choose the best England game I'd ever been to. I said the Euro 96 game against Scotland with Gazza's winning goal, because it was the best atmosphere I'd ever experienced, even though Scotland lost. That became: "Brown says Gazza's goal was his favourite ever." These things happen, and you learn as you go along not to say things which could be misinterpreted. So if some of these answers sound boring, you'll understand why.

Tina Brown 25 June

Will your friend Hillary Clinton be the next president of the United States? If not, who?

Robert Miller, by email

Hillary is a formidable force but she may also be the only Democrat who can lose the general election, since opinion still remains so divided. It is fascinating to see Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York moving towards running as an independent candidate. He would be a superb candidate but independents never have won yet. Al Gore is still my hope that he will enter the lists. After all, he won last time, he'd just be running for re-election.

Nick Clegg 17 September

Is a drunken leader better than a useless leader?

Peter Stone, Peterborough

I don't know who you're referring to. Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden?

Why is Sir Menzies Campbell such a disaster as leader? Is he just too old, or too useless?

Mike Burns, Clapham

People are crying out for integrity, authenticity and consistency in politics and Ming has those qualities in spades. He settled the nerves of the party with great authority after the acrimony and angst surrounding Charles Kennedy's departure. He's strengthened their professionalism. The party has scored some memorable by-election successes under his leadership. The Liberal Democrats secured 26 per cent at the last local elections, which put us only 1 per cent behind Labour. He's led from the front on controversial new policy issues such as taxation, the Trident nuclear submarines and Europe. And he's reinvigorated the party's policy leadership on crucial issues such as the environment, Iraq and civil liberties. These are lasting achievements in what have been difficult circumstances.

Shami Chakrabarti 15 October

What is your personal opinion of the 10 years of this Labour Government?

Matthew Smithen, by email

Mr Blair left us the Human Rights Act but denigrated it in thought and word and deed. We got the Race Relations (Amendment) Act but poisonous anti-asylum policy and legislation for ID cards. Surely Mr Brown can do better.

You are a woman from an ethnic minority, but you lead a powerful organisation. What's the secret of your success?

Rita Harvey, Sussex

You said it. It's the organisation that is powerful but not in the classic sense. Liberty's annual turnover is little more than 1m a year. It is independent of government and therefore has no statutory "power". Its strength comes from its members and staff sharing a set of principles that actually run very deep in this country. It has been a joy and privilege to be in the right organisation at such an important time.

Mark Wallinger 10 December

How did it feel to walk around in a bear skin?

Colin Reid, York

Very hot! As the performance unfolded over 10 nights it became more dignified than you might imagine. I hoped to build an audience of the curious by word of mouth and it was a strangely fulfilling experience. Sat alone in a huge Mies van der Rohe glass box in Berlin at 2am with no one around was to wonder at the places life takes you.

Are you friends with Brian Haw?

Ted O'Brien, by email

I am privileged to say I am. As I said in Liverpool, he is a remarkable man who sacrificed everything to make a stand against the folly and hubris of our Government's foreign policy. As a result of his rectitude, the Government framed the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, only to find it could not use a law retrospectively to get rid of him. This law cedes all power to the police to invent conditions on protest in a kilometre around Parliament Square.