Douglas Alexander: You Ask The Questions

Did the G8 summit do the developing world any good? Can we expect to see
any of this promised aid finally reach developing countries?
KEN LEWIS, Oldham

The climate change agreement is an important stepping stone on the road to
Copenhagen. A deal at Copenhagen is vital for developing countries because
for many of them dangerous climate change is not a future threat but a
current crisis.

Isn’t governmental aid basically discredited as a means of helping Africa?
What will you do differently to ensure such aid is spent effectively?
ALEXANDRA
GRAY, Southampton

In some quarters it’s fashionable to knock aid, but it can play a vital role
in helping poor countries lift themselves out of poverty. Of course,
internationally, some aid has been badly directed, but just last month the
One Campaign’s data report declared that the UK “remains the clear
leader” among the G7 on aid effectiveness.

What on earth is the point of rebranding Dfid as UKaid? Wouldn’t the PR
costs be better spent on helping people directly? How much is it costing, by
the way?
DAN FOWDEN, London

At the moment Dfid is just about the best kept secret in government. Given the
scale of the resources we spend on its behalf, the British public deserve to
know more about our work. I also think as more people hear of our work it
will help sustain support for that work. The rebranding cost about £130,000,
which included extensive research and consultation with the public and came
out of the existing communications budget.

Should Andy Coulson be sacked from his job with the Conservatives over
phone hacking when he was editing the News of the World?
HELEN
PAULTON, Dundee

Ultimately that’s a decision David Cameron has to make. There certainly seem
to be unanswered questions about his role in the affair.

Gordon Brown has made you Labour’s general election coordinator. That’s a
bit of a hospital pass, isn’t it?
GARY NAYLOR, Bristol

I’ve done it before, working with him and Tony Blair. Sure it’s tough at the
moment but I remember being well behind in the polls during the summer of
2004 but when it came to polling day, people chose a Labour government. I
also remember William Hague leading the Tories to 44 per cent in the
European elections followed by a second Labour landslide in 2001. Even on
the difficult days ? and there have been a few ? Labour Party staff,
candidates and activists keep you going.

Have you ever consulted Clare Short on international development issues,
considering she did such a brilliant job in your department?
GORDON
SMITH, Lincoln

Of course. We haven’t seen eye to eye on every policy but I think she will be
and should be long remembered for the determination with which she made
poverty reduction the defining mission of the department after 1997. Dfid is
one of Labour’s greatest achievements. But the global economic downturn has
left no continent untouched and threatens to drive millions of people
further into deprivation. At the same time, we are facing up to the
consequences of climate change and the conflict and instability which means
more than a billion of the world’s poorest people live amid violence and
lawlessness. So there’s a real risk that the progress we have made could be
reversed, and that’s why we published a new White Paper last week. See
www.dfid.gov.uk.

Do you think there’s a case for fixed-term parliaments? And don’t you think
it’s about time we had an election, considering how unpopular this unelected
Prime Minister is?
KERRY DEAN, Macclesfield

Yes ? I think it should be looked at. From what I see it seems to work pretty
well in the Scottish Parliament. Last time I looked, Gordon was elected,
just like every other MP. I don’t support the direct election of prime
ministers and anyway there will be an election soon enough… which for the
avoidance of doubt means in less than a year.

What did you learn from Scarlett MccGwire, the media consultant you paid
using your expenses budget? How did the training benefit the taxpayer,
rather than the Labour party?
VARUN CHADHA, Kettering

She worked with me on the drafting and editing of speeches and articles which
is pretty normal work for an MP of all parties.

The fury over expenses has abated a little now. Can you describe the
atmosphere in Parliament, and how it’s changed since the storm began?
KATHY
LAWSON, London

I sense there is a widespread recognition right across Parliament that the old
system was badly broken and needed to be changed. What the understandable
fury changed was the willingness to agree on how to change the system and
get it done quickly.

Have you read Vince Cable’s The Storm? If so, what did you think? JAMIE
STONE, Chandler’s Ford

Afraid not. I usually take a pile of books on holiday so, prompted by your
question, maybe it’ll make it on to my summer list. It would make a change
from the rather worrying habit I’ve developed of reading and really enjoying
the books of that other liberal thinker Roy Jenkins.

You were selected as a Labour candidate when you were a student. You joined
the party as a teenager and you studied politics at university. Don’t you
think some other interests would make you a better MP?
NIGEL DOBBS, Westonbirt

Actually, I was working as a lawyer representing people injured at their work
when I was elected. But I’ve been interested in politics from an early age.
It was the issue of unemployment during the 1980s in Renfrewshire that
sparked my interest in finding progressive answers to poverty. As for life
beyond politics, being a father is much more important to me than being a
politician, but I’m not sure if the consequential knowledge of Shrek and
High School Musical has made me a better MP.

Is the epithet ‘wee’ likely to be a hindrance to your career, do you
think?
GEMMA TEAL, Farnborough

Maybe a wee bit, but a life spent in the front row of photographs didn’t seem
to hold Robin Cook back or stop President Sarkozy making his case at the G8
last week.

Who do you fear more, Boris Johnson or David Cameron? ALEX
BARNES-MORRIS, Exeter

I don’t fear either of them, but at least for the time being, David Cameron
has more capacity to mess up the life chances of my constituents in Paisley
than the Mayor of London.

What did you think when you heard Caroline Flint’s resignation statement?
Was it sour grapes, or was she right about sexism in politics?
SARA
LIVINGSTONE, Warwick

I have always been comfortable around strong and capable women, and they have
helped me to have some sense of the continuing challenges that women face.
When I heard Caroline’s resignation statement I thought “Ughh?”
but I admire her and am sorry she left the Government.

On Question Time recently, David Starkey said Scotland suffered from
small country syndrome. Do you think he had a point?
PAUL MCKEE, Lairg

No. Isn’t education supposed to broaden the mind?

Who is your biggest influence? SIMON CARTER, Liverpool

Perhaps like most of us, my parents. The things I get right, I think I
probably get from them.

Who was the best ever Labour leader? Who was the worst? CHRISTINE
COOPER, Ipswich

I’m torn between Keir Hardie and Clement Attlee. I’m not a great fan of Ramsey
McDonald.

What were the last works of fiction and non-fiction that you read? LAURA
FINNIMORE, Birmingham

Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, and Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag and the
Big Boy Cousins.

What would you do if you lost your seat as an MP? EVE WILSON, Winchester

Right now I’m trying to avoid that particular outcome so I haven’t given it
much thought, but probably something completely different.

Do you think Scotland should have joined the Great Britain football team
for the next Olympics?
GUY WYKE, Cardiff

I’d have enjoyed watching Scottish players in a British Olympic team. But I
know and admire the guys at the SFA and I can understand their concerns
about what it could mean for the Scottish national team in the future.

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