Hilary Benn: You Ask The Questions
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs answers your questions, such as 'What's your least green habit?' and 'Do you ever wish your last name wasn't Benn?'
Monday 14 July 2008
What's your least green habit?
Flying, including to climate conferences, but at least the flights are offset.
Why do you think the Government is doing so badly in the polls?
Because times are tough, and people are anxious that the future may not be better than the past. The choices we make will determine what happens.
Has Gordon Brown ever shouted at you or thumped the table in your presence? And do you think he might be a bit over-tired?
Why don't any of you face the facts: Gordon Brown is a disaster and we voters don't want him?
I don't agree. Gordon is a strong leader for difficult times, and give me his seriousness over opposition shallowness any day. As for what voters want, they'll make their choice at the ballot box.
If things don't get better soon, how long can Gordon Brown and the Government survive?
Governments around the world are finding things difficult. What we must do is give help to those who need it and take the right decisions for the future. And that's what Gordon has always done.
Where are all the conviction politicians?
Have a look at the minimum wage, the Human Rights Act, the climate change Bill, civil partnerships, Sure Start, huge investment in a better NHS, and rising overseas aid; these are all things that happened, not by accident, but because of conviction.
You were the bookies' favourite for the deputy leadership. What went wrong to be thrashed by Harriet Harman?
I don't bet, and Harriet got more votes than me. She's doing a great job.
Do you ever think you'd rather be the future Viscount Stansgate than a politician?
No. And I wouldn't be anyway: I have an older brother.
If one of your children wanted to be a politician, would you encourage them?
Of course. But the most important thing we can do as parents is encourage our children in whatever they want do.
Do you ever wish your last name wasn't Benn?
Of course not. And before you ask, the same goes for being called Hilary.
You are a vegetarian. Can you understand why the farming community is suspicious of you?
I asked to be judged by what I do and not by what I eat. In my experience, that's exactly what farmers have done.
What's your favourite vegetarian dish?
Tea, toast and marmalade.
Apart from persuading your father to be a vegetarian, have you won him over on any other issues?
I am working on it.
Which Tory MP do you get on best with, and why?
I have always got on very well with John Bercow. I respect him a great deal, and he's not afraid to say what he thinks or, on occasion, why he has changed his mind.
What inspires you?
People. Last year in the Congo, I met a doctor who set up and runs the Panzi hospital. It treats women who are the victims of sexual violence. His determination and quiet compassion were humbling. It's meeting people like that, and playing a part in helping them,that shows we can change things if we put our minds to it. And what an answer to cynicism in our society.
Will Leeds United ever get back to the Premiership?
I hope so, but the 15-point deduction last season was a terrible blow.
You seem a trifle dull to me. What are your vices?
Being a bit dull sometimes is much underrated, Steve. I suggest you have a go.
People say the era of cheap food is over. Is it? What can the Government do to keep food prices down?
Some of the pressures – the high price of oil, a growing world population, and more better-off people in the developing world – are here to stay. The best things we can do are: help those in other countries who cannot afford enough to eat, increase agricultural production (especially in Africa) and tackle climate change. At home, many families are feeling the pinch although we spend a lower proportion of our income on food than we did before. I want a strong, successful farming industry that is responding to demand, and an open world market so we can buy what we cannot grow ourselves.
France, Spain, and Italy all give fuel subsidies to fishermen. Why don't we?
UK fishermen, like many others, are facing the pressures of rising fuel costs. That's why we are working closely with the industry to agree how best to spend £97m of European grants to help with the strain. But ultimately, we all need to adapt to the high cost of oil, and a short-term sticking-plaster isn't really the answer.
If last summer's floods were repeated this week, would we be ready?
Nothing can stop the consequences of huge amounts of rain falling out of the sky, but we would be better prepared. But yes, we are already better prepared and will continue to get better. The Environment Agency is extending its flood warning system to all properties at risk making it an "opt-out" scheme so that everyone would automatically receive a warning. Local emergency planners are working to identify critical national infrastructure in their areas so that protecting it is a top priority. And we are working with the EA to understand more about surface-water flooding, the type of flooding that affected so many last year. I have committed £5m to helping local authorities to develop surface-water management plans which will be the way local leaders come together to manage the risk.
If you could impose one policy on every country in the world to combat global warming, what would it be?
It's not for me to impose on other countries, but one of the most effective measures we have is carbon trading. By putting a limit on emissions, they help deliver cost-effective reductions, while encouraging low carbon growth and technologies. Experience in Europe has shown this can work.
Was it right that the G8 emphasised emerging economies' role in fighting global warming? If the West caused the problem, shouldn't the West take the lead in solving it?
The truth is we need both. The science tells us that even if every developed country reduced its emissions to zero tomorrow, it still wouldn't be enough to stabilise the climate. So we all need to play a part, with developed countries, who have an historic responsibility, leading the way.
Do China's rocketing emissions ever make you feel depressed about what a British minister can do to combat global warming?
They certainly show what a big task we have on our hands. But all countries know that dangerous climate change will affect them, including China. So we need to give emerging economies the right support to help them as they tackle emissions. The $120bn fund agreed at the G8 last week to help emerging and developing economies do that is a good example.
Do you ever take advantage of buy-one-get-one-free offers at the supermarket?
Yes, of course. And as long as we use the food that's fine. If we don't, then we waste money and the landfill methane from what we throw away adds to climate change.
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