Yvette Cooper: You Ask The Questions

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford answers your questions, such as 'Shouldn't Brown pay his own cleaner?' and 'Can you see any green shoots?'
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The Independent Online

Regardless of whether it's his brother he pays the money to, isn't the real question: "Why on earth should Gordon Brown get a cleaner on us?" VICKY HARDING, Chute, Wiltshire

Let's be clear, the allowance system is a nightmare: it's 30 years out of date and in need of a complete overhaul. We should have reformed it years ago and Gordon Brown was right to put forward interim reform plans. You can't get round the fact that in order to properly represent constituents, MPs need to spend considerable time both in their constituencies and in Westminster and that often means living in two places with two sets of bills. But the current system has no public confidence and needs to be radically changed.

Are you embarrassed by how hopelessly Gordon Brown misread the public mood on the Gurkhas? GREG MACKAY, Southampton

This is the first government to support the Gurkhas, raising their pay and pensions and helping more stay in Britain. The Home Office is looking at the issue again but it isn't simple because there are wider costs and consequences for other groups too.

Do you feel bad that my children are going to pay off government debts for years because of your fiscal irresponsibility? PHIL KEANE, Godalming, SURREY

That's David Cameron's line, Phil, and I think it completely misunderstands what's going on in the economy. The worst thing for your children and mine would be for government to refuse to support the economy and to slash public services instead. That would make recession last longer, run deeper and cost our children and us all far more in the long run.

One thinktank says taxes will have to rise by 8p to 10p in the pound to get the finances back in balance by the time Alistair Darling says they will be. That's a disastrous state of affairs, isn't it? ANNE SAMPSON, Wigan

I don't agree with those figures. The best way to get borrowing back down is to get the economy growing strongly again. We are bringing in tax increases for the very top earners, but that's a fair way to bring borrowing down while protecting public services.

Aren't your predictions for the economy's recovery wildly optimistic? Every independent observer seems to think so. NINA HUGHTON, London

I think it is reasonable to expect growth by the end of the year. There's lots of uncertainty at the moment. But the support for the economy – lower interest rates, tax cuts and extra public investment – is on a far greater scale than in previous recessions when governments did little. That will have an impact over the course of the year.

Isn't a 50p tax rate hopelessly ineffective? Surely such a high rate will put people off working that bit harder and make the economy less productive, not more. DEAN JESSOP, Poole, DORSET

The top 2 per cent of earners have seen their incomes go up by an average of £5,000 a year compared to £600 for the average taxpayer. The idea that they will all leave the country or stop working just because they have to pay 10 per cent extra tax on part of their earnings is absurd.

Can you see any green shoots in the economy? I certainly can't. SAM JOHNSON, Boston, LINCOLNSHIRE

Peter Mandelson mentioned green seedlings in a speech last week, but it's a bit too early for us to talk about green shoots. Retail sales have held up more strongly than many people expected, but manufacturing is being heavily affected by credit and world trade. I'm still worried about people losing their jobs or seeing their homes at risk this year and that must be our focus right now.

How can it be right to spend your way out of a financial crisis? Is that the advice you would give to the ordinary person if they were close to going broke? MOLLY LAMPORT, Cheltenham

You can't cut your way out of recession; that only makes things worse. In the Eighties, unemployment stayed over two million for nearly a decade because the Conservative government turned its back on people on the dole. But that meant higher social security costs for longer too.

Is it uncomfortable to see your husband Ed Balls' political star on the wane, when there are rumours of promotion in the offing for you? THOMAS BARR, Grantchester, Cambridgeshire

Never take seriously the media speculation about who is up, down and roundabout. The only thing you can guarantee is that it will be completely different tomorrow.

Would Harriet Harman or Jacqui Smith make good leaders of your party? GURINDER JOSAN, Leeds

Leadership speculation always ends in tears. Plenty of people in the Labour Party would make good leaders, but we've got a very good leader in place and he should stay there.

Why did Harriet Harman take so long to knock the rumours of her ambition on the head? KERRY DOUGLAS-PRINCE, Exmouth, DEVON

It seemed to me she made it pretty clear, pretty quickly.

Is Gordon Brown the right man to lead the Labour Party into the next election? DANIEL IRWIN, London

Yes. This is an incredibly difficult time in the international economy, and he's shown he can take tough decisions to lead Britain through.

Do you think YouTube videos like the Prime Minister's are a waste of time, as Hazel Blears does? MARION HARDING, Nottingham

With three children under 10, we fight an ongoing battle to prevent Youtube infiltrating our home. But suggesting politicians shouldn't embrace the internet is like telling Winston Churchill he shouldn't have gone on the radio.

What's your favourite YouTube video of late? IAN PERRY, Taunton, SOMERSET

The "Mom Song". It strikes many chords.

Have you seen In The Loop (or The Thick Of It)? Does it ring any bells? And have you ever seen a spin doctor as ferocious as Malcolm Tucker? JANE MOHAMMED, Whitstable, KENT

I saw the television series and thought it was very funny but I haven't seen the film yet. Nor have I met anyone who can rival Malcolm Tucker for swearing.

Do you have any sympathy for Derek Draper or Damian McBride? SIMON PARR, Worcester

Those emails were deeply unpleasant and should never have been sent, so they were both right to resign.

How did you view politicians when you were a journalist? Did your politics ever get in the way of reporting objectively? ED BAILEY, Rochdale, LANCASHIRE

So you think journalists report objectively? I mainly did leader writing, where the whole point is to be opinionated, so it was less of an issue.

What are your biggest shortcomings as a minister? HELEN WHITAKER, Cardiff

Oh there's loads of things I could do better. I don't do as many meetings and events as most ministers because I'd always rather do the school run or put the kids to bed than do breakfast meetings, dinners, media interviews or foreign trips.

How would you feel if your children decided they were Conservatives? JENNY GUNTER, London

Depends whether you think having strong views and arguing for them are the hallmarks of politicians or the basic attributes of all children. Like most parents, we'll love and support our kids however mad we think their views turn out to be.

Your husband said in an interview that you have an ongoing argument about whose job it is to put wet towels away. So whose job is it? IVAN NICHOLL, Ayr, AYRSHIRE

His. He always cracks first.

Apparently you like portrait painting. Have you ever done your husband? GARY PHARR, Blackpool

0nce, about 15 years ago. It is recognisably Ed. But it certainly isn't art.