The programme was recorded in Gateshead. Question 1 asked if the Chancellor was right to sell the RBS shares at a loss of £7 billion to the tax payer. Chris Bryant of Labour argued that it was wrong and that George Osborne had not met the criteria he set two years ago. Matthew Hancock of the Conservatives said that it was the right decision and one supported by the Governor of the Bank of England; he also blamed the deficit on Labour, to which Bryant responded by pointing out that Royal Mail had been sold at a loss. Douglas Carswell of UKIP said he was worried that the longer the government held onto RBS, the bigger the loss there would be for the tax payer. Cristina Odone of the Legatum Institute believed that there was a re-visiting of the suspicion of big banks and that smaller banks could be the future. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh of the SNP argued that there was too big a loss for the tax payer and that similar losses had been incurred with sales in the past. Hancock supported there being new, smaller banks and that they should be there to serve the economy. Carswell agreed that changes are needed.
Question 2 asked if 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote in the EU Referendum. Carswell said he was pleased there was a referendum, but believed that the current voting age of 18 is correct. Odone was in favour and believed that they would generally vote to stay in the EU. Hancock agreed with the status quo and that many other things are set at the age of 18. Ahmed-Sheikh was in favour of 16 and 17 year olds being allowed to vote, but argued that there was no way of knowing how they would vote. Bryant was in favour, arguing that people can become parents at the age of 16 and that there is no greater responsibility, so they should be allowed to vote. Hancock said that he was in favour of the debate about the EU. There was an even split across the audience over whether 16 or 17 year olds should be allowed to vote.
Question 3 asked if David Cameron was using dirty tactics in the campaign ahead of the referendum. Carswell argued that it is clear that Cameron wants a ‘Yes’ vote and that he will achieve reform as he is not asking for little. Bryant said he would be campaigning ‘Yes’, primarily because it is in the interest of his constituents. Odone agreed that he was using some dirty tactics and that was motivated by members of the Conservative Party. Hancock said there would be a free and fair election after Carswell accused him of not wanting a referendum. Ahmed-Sheikh’s point was that that EU nationals should be allowed to vote. Carswell argued that it was hypocritical of the SNP to have been in favour of a referendum over Scotland but be against one over Europe.
The fourth question asked if the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ would benefit the North-East. Ahmed-Sheikh wanted to look to make links between the North-East and Scotland and that too many decisions are made with the focus being on London. Bryant argued that there are major problems in the North-East with funding and jobs and that the focus and the economy is too centred on London and the South-East. Hancock appeared to be in favour of regional devolution and that the plan would connect areas in the North as a whole as opposed to just the North-West. Carswell agreed that there is a London-centric economy and that the plan was probably generated in London. Odone believed that investment was going to be on infrastructure, but that funding is also necessary for training and skills, including apprenticeships. Hancock agreed that more local people needed to have a greater say in their own communities.
Question 5 asked why Britain is becoming a surveillance state akin to Orwell’s 1984. Bryant made the point that the digital changes in society allow this because more people are making more information about themselves available, although government protection needs to be proportional. Hancock agreed and said that as technology changes, so do criminal methods and that the laws need to continue to change to offer protection. Carswell argued that on the anniversary of the Magna Carta, a new bill of rights is needed in recognition of the digital changes and that judicial oversight is needed. Ahmed-Sheikh agreed that judges should make decisions over politicians and that further discussion is needed before a firm decision is made. Odone was concerned that a blanket ‘Snooper’s charter’ would not be beneficial as it would be collected and stored by many different companies in different locations; she also argued that a balance between surveillance and privacy is vital.
The sixth question asked when ISIS fascism would be stopped. Odone argued that it would be when the West is secure in it’s beliefs. Carswell agreed with Odone and that great progress has been made in liberal, democratic societies and that past support of tyrants has damaged the reputation of the West. Ahmed-Sheikh favoured education as the best approach to countering it. Hancock agreed that values were of greater importance than weapons. Bryant was in favour of a better understanding and greater opportunities in a respectful society.