Author: By Kevin Rawlinson
The panellists were grilled by an audience of Independent readers in the town’s Royal Pavilion in a sometimes heated debate. Award-winning columnist Hari called for a change in the perception of what politics is. “Government does not happen up there,” he told the packed room, pointing in the vague direction of Westminster, “but among us.”
Calling for action on climate change, which he claimed is already having devastating effects across the world, Hari said: “A mass movement of citizens can affect climate change. People ask why the politicians are not changing things but in a democracy the changes are up to us to make.”
Paul Duncan, an audience member, asked if 16-year-olds, allowed to sign up to the armed forces, should also be allowed to vote. The panel was largely in favour and Michael Brown caught the mood saying that a full package of voting reforms should be considered, including a fully elected House of Lords.
Broadcaster Simon Fanshawe also reminded the audience that servicemen are not allowed to serve in combat until they reach 18-years-old and added that: “There is a huge value of young people going into uniformed service.”
However as the debate heated up Johann Hari made the point that young men and women joining up at 16 could be forced to serve at a later date. His question, “Is that right?” drew a swift response from Fanshawe. “No,” he said.
Another audience member raised the issue of two Pakistani students who she said are being held in custody but have not been told why. In response Yasmin Alibhai-Brown launched into an impassioned defence of the fundamental principles on which she said British society is built. She claimed that a number of the former detainees had accepted deportation and were now back in their home country, having been forced to abandon their studies. “It is like Guantanamo,” she said. “People are banged up without charge but are presumed to be dangerous.
“People are beginning to see that the problem is not simply us troublesome Muslims but society as a whole. Not telling people what they are charged with should not be happening in a democracy.” Alibhai-Brown also accused the government of being “naturally authoritarian”.
Amid calls for a return to ideology in politics, Michael Brown drew loud applause when he said he felt the electorate did not really know what Tory leader David Cameron’s policies were.
Replying to a question from the audience claiming that politics has become less entrenched, Michael Brown said that there used to be a party which offered policies that appealed to its hardcore supporters. Now, he said: “I do not believe that people really know what David Cameron’s policy on poverty is.”
He also predicted trouble for the Tory leader on the issue of Europe, saying that Cameron had: “Kicked the issue of the Lisbon Treaty in long grass.”
He added that the party leader would face difficulties from the back benches “when things are not going so well”.
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