You Ask The Questions: Andy Burnham, MP

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport answers your questions, including whether schools have time for culture lessons? And are you a closet New Romantic?
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The Independent Online

You've risen to high office very quickly and at a very young age. How did you manage that?

Maggie Keene


I've been very lucky. Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to work for Tessa Jowell and Chris Smith – two truly inspirational people who have played in a big part in where I am today. I fully expect the way down to be even quicker!

What got you into politics in the first place?

John Draper


The North-west in the 1980s was a politicised place. Watching and talking about Boys from the Blackstuff with my mum and dad is my earliest political memory. On the way to school, I used to go past striking miners at Parkside Colliery. I joined the Labour Party in 1984.

Culture, media and sport is an incredibly wide brief. Do you think they should all be lumped together and how can you possibly hope to be 'across' all three areas?

Tim Bannister


It is wide, but it has a genuine coherence (for instance, sport and broadcasting) and these policy areas are stronger together in the Whitehall context. DCMS deals with the things that make life worth living; people's passions. Given that, and their voluntary nature, I don't think I should meddle in every detail but only where government has a clear role.

How can schools be expected to find five hours a week in the for "culture" when they are already under intolerable pressure to deliver in so many other areas?

Margaret Wood

London W4

It's not as complicated as some have claimed. Schools already do a lot during the day but with help, we think they can offer more outside of the timetable to make up the five hours. Many young people are already in bands or film clubs. Imagine the power of a creative writing class delivered by a poet or novelist, or being coached by professional actors in a theatre. There is so much more we can do to open new horizons to young minds.

Wasn't that culture announcement typical of this government: announced on Radio 4 and then within minutes, you admit it was no more than a gimmicky "aspiration"?

Henry Glover


Not at all. It was laid out in the Children's Plan and, as I can vouch from my previous job, subject to detailed discussions in the Spending Review. We need to understand the practicalities schools will face so are starting with 10 pilots. But I'm sure they will show it pays to take a more ambitious approach to culture, enriching school life and enlivening the curriculum.

What "culture" did you experience at school? Did you act in plays?

Stephen Frank


I didn't act but I hacked my way to Grade 5 on the double bass. How it survived our school bus I will never know. I gave up before the instrument did. I regret that now.

Now that arts funding is being directed towards "excellence" how would you define "excellence"?

Paul Phillips


To me, it means work that challenges, offers a new perspective, pushes boundaries, stirs the emotions or is genuinely life-changing. In short, I agree with Brian McMaster and his report.

Isn't it time we stopped one man – Rupert Murdoch – from owning such a massive slice of our media?

Roger Munro


I'd argue that our media ownership rules have generally served us well. But the fully digital era when anyone can launch a TV channel will present different challenges, particularly how to preserve news impartiality and ensure open access to delivery platforms.

Do you agree with Tony Blair's view of the media as a "feral beast", and was he right to single out The Independent?

Martin Cooper

St Albans

Tony Blair was highlighting a trend over his decade in power where the lines between factual news reporting and editorial opinion became more blurred. The Independent's front pages are the most obvious illustration of this, but it is an up-front and honest approach to campaigning journalism, which I think is to be applauded.

Do you still think the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage – or have you changed your mind since last year?

Frances Butler

Kentish Town

My comments were misrepresented. I said then that I don't think anyone gets married because of the tax system, or stays together when they no longer want to. I did say that the tax system already recognises marriage and civil partnerships and that it was right to extend this principle to inheritance tax, as it relates to assets built up jointly. My general point was that Labour should never be neutral about marriage and commitment because it can help social progress.

Wouldn't it be better to spend the £9bn Olympics money on something worthwhile such as 25,000 new nurses or helping relieve poverty?

Alan Williams

London SW20

You can do both, as we did in the Spending Review. I don't think the country has yet felt the power of the Olympic Games in terms of transformation but it soon will. It will make our capital a more equal, socially balanced city, with long-term regeneration in the east.

If you are still in your current job, will you attend the opening of the Olympics, or will you boycott it in protest at China's involvement in Darfur?

A Yaqoob

by email

As Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, I plan to attend the Beijing Olympics. Sporting boycotts are right in some circumstances but sport is at its most powerful when it brings people together.

What's your view about MPs being allowed to spend up to £250 without having to show a receipt?

Ivor Yeloff


MPs need to see the way the wind is blowing. We need to live by the same principles at work as everyone else but in return, people must accept that MPs have perfectly legitimate expenses.

What was the last play you went to? Was it any good?

David Ellis


Othello at the Donmar Warehouse in London a couple of weeks ago. Absolutely brilliant.

Do you have any "blind spots" in the arts? What is your opinion of modern dance, for example? And grime?

Alistair Finch

London N1

I'm sure I do have blind spots but I approach this job with an open mind and a love of the arts. I'm conscious that even if something's not my passion, it is someone else's.

What's on your iPod?

F Cheah


A mixture of indie stuff, old and new: Billy Bragg, the Stone Roses, Hard-Fi, the Wedding Present, the Arctic Monkeys and the Pogues.

You seemed to be wearing a lot of make-up on Question Time the other day. Are you a closet New Romantic?

Tim Hale


I've never been a New Romantic, nor worn mascara, but can you ever live down being called the Minister for Make-Up by the Daily Mail? I'm sure my kindly parliamentary colleagues will be lying in wait for me today.

Do you think that football fans who run on the pitch should be given a lifetime ban?

Kevin O'Neill


That's a killer question, Kevin. I can only say I think there should be second chances for young lads, particularly Evertonians, who take part in good-natured pitch celebrations when they have suffered a childhood of disappointment up to that point!

If you could choose just one of these options – and don't dodge the question! – would you prefer Everton to win the Premiership or Labour to win the next general election?

Dave Harding

Lytham St Annes

Another killer. The latter is far more likely so I'll go for that. Maybe one day the two loves of my life will triumph at the same time but they haven't managed to yet. Before I die, I'd like to see us win just one trophy under a Labour government.

Should something be done about the way footballers hound referees these days? It sets a terrible example to kids.

Carol Miller


I'd favour measures to strengthen the hand of referees against this kind of indiscipline. But referees do need to be more consistent (I still haven't got over the last Merseyside derby).

Is it right that the BBC should spend £6m a year employing Jonathan Ross?

Sandy Alexander


That's up to the BBC. I'd never like to see it forced into a corner where it could only go where commercial TV won't. But the BBC does have a responsibility to bring on new talent.

Is digital radio doomed?

Michael Storer


No, but it isn't developing as quickly as I'd like. That's why we've just set up a digital radio group to find out what we can do to help things progress more rapidly.

Do you think television shows like The X Factor unlock people's potential or merely produce rubbish music and rubbish television while making millions for their manipulative svengalis?

Ken Robinson


I can't be snooty about it as we watch it at home. But I like the idea that anyone can go from their front room to ITV on a Saturday night – as my wife once did to my eternal discomfort!