This week's big questions: Is the economy on the mend? Would you eat a lab-burger?

This week's questions are answered by former Home Secretary Alan Johnson

Share
Related Topics

Do party political strategists such as Lynton Crosby or Jim Messina make a real difference to election results? And why the sudden fashion for hiring big-hitters from abroad?

The hype over Jim Messina is extraordinary. He is not the Gareth Bale of political strategy. Recruiting him will not give the Conservatives any better or worse chance of victory. Messina is newsworthy because he has some of Obama’s stardust sprinkled over him but it was good organisation on the ground, thousands of energetic activists, plenty of money and, above all, the candidate himself who won the election not a back-room strategist

Is there a need to rethink the law on dangerous dogs? Should an owner whose pet kills someone face life in prison?

When I was a postman, the cartoon caricature of a dog biting a postman’s backside was still rife. In reality the experience of being attacked was terrifying and hundreds of delivery staff were seriously injured every year. When children became the victims the laughing stopped.

As a union official I was involved in the lobby for legislation that led to the discredited Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991. The Government is now beginning to put in place the kind of measures that the Communication Workers Union has long championed – ensuring that a dog owner can be prosecuted for attacks on private as well as public property and a sensible sentencing policy (which I believe should be 14 years for the worst cases not life imprisonment). However, they need to go further and introduce micro-chipping for all dogs and other preventative measures such as Dog Control Notices.

Are zero hours contracts just a licence to exploit workers?

Vince Cable is right to launch an investigation into the use of zero hours contracts. Before the ’97 election Labour was committed to outlawing this practice. However, in government we found that it suited many workers who wanted to be tied to a company but with the ability to work as needed and when it suited the worker. My suspicion is that they became a licence to exploit by rogue employers.

Given the slew of positive economic statistics in recent weeks, is it safe to conclude that the worst is over?

I don’t think that recent good news should make us complacent about the economy and from his recent comments neither does Mark Carney.

I hope our economic situation does improve but it will not detract from George Osborne’s abject failure as Chancellor. He inherited five successive quarters of growth from Alistair Darling with annual growth of 2.5 per cent and promptly placed us back in the danger zone.

Osborne promised growth of between 3 per cent and 4 per cent by this year. Instead, after spending almost £6,000 for every man, woman and child in the country on quantitative easing it’s less than a quarter of that.

Should social networking site users learn to take the rough with the smooth, or is it up to law enforcement and companies such as Twitter to clamp down on abuse?

It’s up to companies such as Twitter to clamp down on abuse just as it was for BT to deal with anonymous phone calls and for Royal Mail to prosecute those who send illegal material through the post.

For all the obvious satisfaction that social networking brings to its users there is a dark side. The idiots who used to write foul graffiti on the cubicles of public toilets now have a fancier outlet for their vile thoughts. This isn’t about freedom of speech, it’s about misogyny and, in the case of poor Hannah Smith, the very worst kind of bullying.

Is there any way to avoid future troubles over Gibraltar without giving it back to Spain?

When this crisis fades the Foreign Office should return to the question of joint sovereignty of Gibraltar as pursued by Jack Straw, who almost succeeded in 2002. Spain will never be content to see a piece of its land permanently designated as a British Overseas Territory. It’s like Spain claiming ownership of Spurn Point near my constituency. Because of its history and the wishes of Gibaltarians, shared sovereignty has to be the solution. As for the current dispute, I have seen no acceptable justification for Gibraltar’s action in dumping those concrete blocks into the sea thus depriving the fishermen of La Linea of the livelihoods they’ve pursued since we took over in 1713.

Would you eat a burger made from lab-grown meat?

I’m not really a burger eater and I’m certainly no expert on GM foods. But I was at the old Department of Trade and Industry when the Frankenstein Foods storm broke. It was around the same time as the MMR jab was being discredited and in both cases we struggled to raise the scientific arguments above the media scare stories. There are important questions to be answered about whether the bacteria and viruses used to alter the DNA in these plants can also affect the bacteria in our gut but this is not an argument to stop the process.

The call for the return of grammar schools is being heard again. What is your view?

David Willetts gave the best reason for not returning to the tired old arguments about grammar schools. Selection, he said, doesn’t spread advantage, it entrenches it. I constantly hear from people who failed that test at 11 and their appreciation of night school or the Open University to make up ground. And from those who never recovered and whose bloom was born to blush unseen.

Alan Johnson is a former Labour Home Secretary. His memoir ‘This Boy’ is published by Bantam Press. He appears at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 20 August

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage