Don’t lean out the window! A European misadventure

Don’t lean out the window follows the authors, who are in a band, on their tour of Europe via the inter-rail tickets they have bought. Whilst they can travel where they want in Europe, it’s not all plain sailing, leading to the second part of the title. For example, their plan to finance the trip through busking is not always universally popular. However, they do encounter some incredibly generous people.

It’s an easy to read, humorous book. The narration switches between the authors, so I did have to check who was writing at times, but this is a small gripe for an enjoyable book.

Rating (out of 5): ****


Question Time: 26/5/16

The show came from Ipswich and on the panel was Ed Miliband (Labour), David Davis (Conservatives), Caroline Lucas (Greens), Steve Hilton (former director of strategy for David Cameron) and Dreda Say Mitchell (crime writer)

Question one asked how public services could cope with immigration following figures released. Miliband said they would cope and that immigrants contribute to the British society and economy, citing that the Institute of Fiscal Studies have said that Britain would lose £20-40 billion pounds if it left the EU. Davis said that Britain has always welcomed migrants, but that the numbers are now being becoming unsustainable and putting pressure on public services, describing the situation as out of control and that the only way to regain control would be by leaving the EU. Lucas said that leaving the EU would result in a loss to the economy, but only the figure could be argued about; she also welcomed the ability to move freely within 28 different countries. Lucas added that public services could be funded to cope with added pressures from an increasing population. Hilton said that he is pro-immigration, but that there should be limits to keep the situation sustainable; he argued that free movement of EU members makes it more difficult for immigrants from non-EU states. When Hilton was challenged by Mitchell if he would have barred her parents (who she said were unskilled when they arrived), he said it would need to be discussed. Mitchell said that teachers are leaving schools and there has been cutbacks in the training of nurses, which has added pressure on their respective services. Davis said that the British government knows best what Britain needs, not a European commissioner. Miliband countered by saying that large issues could not be dealt with by Britain alone and it needs to remain in Europe. Hilton accused the Remain campaign of producing ridiculous arguments and statistics, which Lucas described as hypocritical. He agreed that Britain could not tackle issues by itself, but that this could be done in partnership, which is not the same as a union.

The second question asked if it would be worth an extra two years of austerity in return for leaving the EU. Davis said they were wrong and did no work to reach this conclusion. He argued that those who predicted this had failed to predict the financial crash in 2008, so doubted whether they could be trusted for accurate forecasts and predictions. Miliband argued that every respected economist has said that Britain will be worse off if it leaves Europe and that an additional two years of austerity would not be a price worth paying for leaving the EU. Lucas said that Britain needs to remain in Europe so that there would be jobs and protection for workers, focusing on the benefits for the young. Hilton said it is impossible to know what would happen if Britain leaves, but he acknowledges that there are risks if Britain were to leave before challenging the Remain campaign to acknowledge that there are risks in remaining in the EU. Davis said that after the initial hysteria of Britain leaving, European countries would look to trade with Britain. Lucas argued that Britain is more in need of Europe than Europe is for Britain with regards to trade. Miliband challenged Davis to say what country Britain would be like if it left the EU – Davis said Great Britian. Miliband said that there is no other country that has a trade agreement with Europe like that wanted by those campaigning to leave.

Dimbleby mentioned that there were also questions about if the debate over Europe was diminishing the standing of politicians and whether the Conservative Party would recover after the referendum on Europe. Davis agreed to some extent that the arguments over Europe are diminishing the standing of politicians. Hilton said that the Conservative Party would be able to recover after the referendum and that people are being turned off from politics by all the arguments. Mitchell says she has researched for herself instead of listening to arguments. Miliband said there has been too much negativity in the campaign.

Question Time: 10/3/16

The show came from Dundee. The first question asked if there would be a second Scottish referendum would be inevitable. Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Green Party felt there would be, whilst Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives felt there would not be because the SNP had described it as a once in a generation vote. John Swinney of the SNP argued there would be because the ‘No’ campaign put forward the case that voting to remain part of the UK was the only way to ensure Scotland remaining as part of Europe. Journalist Tim Stanley argued that austerity measures would be forced on Scotland. Jenny Marra said that she thought the UK would vote to remain in the EU, but if the UK did leave, it would be up to the Scottish people to decide. Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats argued that if the UK voted to leave, it would re-open the Scottish independence debate. Rennie also accused the SNP of threatening referendums on Scotland’s future on a constant basis since the result was announced.

The second question asked if we should listen to the Queen’s opinion regarding Britain’s role in Europe following the story in The Sun, in which she is alleged to have favoured leaving. Stanley said that we should only know what the Queen thinks if she wants us to. Swinney agreed that if the conversation was private, it should have remained so. Davidson said that the Queen has remained above politics and that Buckingham Palace is denying a story that has no firm claims behind it. Harvie argued that the Queen taking a side would not be in keeping with her role. Marra also agreed that the Queen has remained out of politics and that private conversations should remain so.

Question 3 asked if the economic argument for Scottish independence is now dead following a £15 billion gap.. Davidson agreed that it was and the figures support this and that all countries benefit from Scotland being in the UK. She added that it was known that oil revenues would drop, which would have affect the economy. Swinney argued that Scotland needs to make the most of the resources it has and favoured looking at Scotland’s economy over a period of time longer than one year and that there are good signs for the Scottish economy. Marra countered that Scotland’s defecit is higher than the rest of the UK. Rennie said that Swinney had said in the past that Scotland’s economy would be volatile due to changes in oil prices. Harvie argued that the SNP’s economic plan was reliant on oil, something opposed by the Greens for both economic and environmental reasons and that oil and gas are not the future. Stanley said that the SNP had gambled with the oil price staying high and that Scotland is stronger as part of the UK.

The fourth and final question asked if the panel would increase taxes to secure the future of the NHS in Scotland. Rennie said there does need to be investment in the NHS and that the Liberal Democrats would increase taxes to improve public services. Morra agreed there is an issue with finance in the NHS and they would put a penny on income tax and protect health spending. Stanley put forward the point of view that raising taxes would not help because the NHS needs to change to reflect the changes in the country since it was introduced. Swinney argued that health spending has never been higher in Scotland and that he chose not to increase tax to pay for higher spending so as not to place a greater burden on taxpayers on the lowest levels of income. Davidson argued that levels of investment in the NHS in Scotland were lower than for the rest of the UK, but Harvie countered by arguing that Scotland should not mirror the spending of the rest of the UK and that people earning more should be prepared to pay more.

Question Time: 11/2/16

The show was broadcast from Llanelli. The panel comprised of Stephen Crabb (Conservatives), Carwyn Jones (Labour), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Romesh Ranganathan (comedian).

Question one asked if 53,000 junior doctors were wrong or if Jeremy Hunt was wrong. Farage said that the government’s objective was to try and get the health service to be at the same high standard throughout the week, but they have gone about it the wrong way. Ranganathan argued that Hunt’s approach had been incorrect, especially with forcing new contracts on junior doctors. Crabb proposed that doctors and the government were looking for the same thing of a fair contract excellence at all times so there is no weekend effect. He added that the sticking point was over whether Saturday is a normal working day and blamed the BMA. Jones said that the strike was proof of failure as it has been taken as a last resort. Farage and Jones clashed over the record of the NHS in Wales; Farage claiming it was the weakest part of the UK, which Jones denied. Wood sided with the doctors and said that Hunt is wrong and accused Labour in Wales of ignoring staff shortages in Welsh hospitals, claiming only three other EU countries have fewer doctors per head of population.

The second question asked if the steel industry should be bailed out in a manner similar to the banks. Wood argued that the steel industry is as important in Wales as banking is to the UK and the Plaid Cymru was proposing nationalising the industry whilst it needed support. Crabb agreed that the steel industry is important to Wales, but that nationalising the industry would not help protect jobs, as it has been nationalised in the past and there have still been large job losses. Jones explained that the industry is going through a tough time and that the Conservatives have opposed tariffs on Chinese steel; he also added that the strong pound is creating export problems and that energy costs make British steel more expensive. Jones favoured British steel being used for British infrastructure projects. Ranganathan blamed the government for blocking proposals from Europe to support the industry. Farage claimed that the pound is falling and that the government could not stop the Chinese supplying cheap steel because of European regulations, whilst countries like America impose high tariffs. He also added that he did not favour nationalising steel, preferring to stop cheap steel from China being imported. Crabb argued that the government is supporting the steel industry with energy costs and that the costs are high because there are subsidies for renewable energy.

Question three asked if Brexit would be a way of controlling immigration. Ranganathan accused all sides of using scaremongering tactics over immigration and wanted to hear proper reasoned arguments. Farage argued that Brexit would be the only way of controlling immigration because of the European agreements in place. Crabb put forward the view that regardless of whether Britain remained part of the European Union or not, there would still be lots of people looking to migrate to Britain. Wood said that it was in the interest of Wales to remain within the EU and that there needs to be differentiation between migration from the EU and from without. Jones said that there is lots of mis-information about Europe in the country and that immigration is an emotive subject, which is a European issue requiring a European response.

The final question asked if MPs should receive larger pay increases than teachers or nurses. Jones described the 18% pay rise for Welsh Assembly members is too much and that pay rises should be linked to pay rises of other jobs. Wood agreed it was too much and would not be taking the increase. Crabb said there was no way of MPs refusing to accept whatever increase is recommended. Farage recommended paying them less unless there was Brexit and then they should be paid more because they would be running the country. Ranganathan said that all the politicians were happy to be receiving the increase.

Question Time: 14/1/16

The programme came from London and the panel was: Nick Boles (Conservatives), Cat Smith (Labour), Patrick O’Flynn (UKIP), Camilla Long (journalist) and Kelvin MacKenzie (journalist). The first question asked if junior doctors were justified in striking. Boles said they had the right to, but he was disappointed they had chosen to, suggesting they had been mis-led by the BMA; he also argued that it created safer working conditions with shorter hours throughout a week. Long said she was horrified that doctors were prepared to strike, arguing that they had abandoned the Hippocratic Oath as they were leaving patients. She blamed both sides for allowing it to become politicised. Smith argued that no-one wanted junior doctors to be on strike, including the doctors. She blamed the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for causing the strike. Long’s view was that the strike was the result of pay. O’Flynn said that doctors are held in high esteem and that the NHS needs to modernise due to high demand, with reform coming too late by approximately 15 years. MacKenzie was in favour of reducing the hours worked by doctors even further to around 50 hours a week. He added that he felt the NHS had never been better and that the strike was likely to collapse as there was a lack of public support. Boles defended claims made by Jeremy Hunt that there are more deaths at the weekend and that the new contracts would not save any money. Smith opposed MacKenzie by saying that she felt the public supported the doctors.

The second question asked if the UK should leave the EU or remain a member. Long pointed out that most people do not know enough about European treaties and that remaining in Europe would probably be the best for a recovering economy. MacKenzie said he was in favour of leaving as he always has been and that other countries manage to flourish and thrive economically without being part of Europe, citing America, Japan and Australia. He predicted that Britain would remain because David Cameron is likely to recommend staying in Europe, which would be a strong argument. However, he did add that large-scale migration could result in Britain voting to leave. O’Flynn pointed out that Britain could trade with other countries in Europe regardless of whether Britain remains a member of the European Union or not. He favoured leaving because he wanted Britain to be a democracy, which is not possible whilst the country remains in the EU. Boles admitted he had no love of the EU, but would listen to what David Cameron negotiates and support him if he said a good deal had been negotiated. O’Flynn likened any doom-mongers for leaving by arguing there were similar warnings about not joining the Euro, but the currency had lost value and Britain had continued to do well with the Pound. Smith favoured remaining in the EU, but pointed out that it is a long way from perfect, particularly as it favours big business over people.

Question three asked when a rent cap would be introduced to ease London’s housing crisis. Smith argued that introducing it would not be revolutionary as other cities around the world have rent caps. Boles agreed there was a long-standing housing crisis in London and that a rent cap would result in landlords selling properties, which would actually result in fewer properties available. Boles favoured helping people to buy so they could get onto the housing ladder as well as helping those renting. MacKenzie argued that no government has dealt with the housing issue, with too many people wanting to buy or rent and that enough homes are not being built. He proposed that it could be solved by either building on greenbelt land or building high rise towers around the country. Long was of the opinion that the government was not tackling the housing crisis, with properties being sold to people from abroad who leave them empty, whilst migration of three to four hundred thousand people per year was putting greater and greater pressure on availability. O’Flynn described there being both a demand and supply issue around housing.

The fourth question asked if all police officers should be carrying firearms to protect the public further. O’Flynn said he would be sorry if the country had reached that position and that the Chief Constables of the forces are in the best position to decide. MacKenzie described seeing armed officers as reassuring, but that in countries where the police are armed, there are higher rates of murder. Long was of the opinion that the police do an excellent job without requiring firearms and that it might harm relationships between the police and the communities they are in. Smith argued that armed police would be incredibly unlikely to deter terrorists, but it could resolve any situation quicker. Boles was also in favour of not all officers being armed.

The last question asked if an English National anthem was needed. Long, O’Flynn, Boles said no, MacKenzie and Smith said yes.

Question Time: 10/12/15

The show was in Bath. The first question asked if Republican candidate Donald Trump should be banned from the UK. Quentin Letts (parliamentary sketch writer) argued that it was unnecessary for a petition as it was widely agreed that no-one supported Trump’s comments. Mary Beard (professor of Cambridge) was in favour of him coming over to Britain so he could be challenged about his views, especially on a programme such as Question Time. Greg Clark (Communities Secretary, Conservatives) wanted Trump to visit so he could go on tour with him and introduce him to constituents; he also labelled Trump an, ‘offensive idiot’. Caroline Flint (Labour) favoured him being banned as he always seems to offend someone when he speaks. Vince Cable (Liberal Democrats) favoured him being allowed to visit the country as when Nick Griffin of the BNP appeared on Question Time, it exposed his views and Cable believes similar would happen with Trump.

Question two concerned flooding and the actions that should be taken by the government to protect people. Flint argued that more frequent flooding and storms suggested that climate change was having an impact on the weather. She described it as a national security issue, affecting lives and pointed out the money that has been cut from flood defences in recent years. Clark was in favour of a review of what is happening and why. Letts argued that new defences could cause new problems elsewhere and that ministers cannot stop floodwater. Cable focused on the chief scientist at the Met Office finding a link between increased temperatures and more turbulent weather. Cable also added that there were taxes on renewable sources of energy and privatisation is taking place. Clark countered by saying that the government is on track for 30% of energy to be from renewable sources, with 21% currently being produced from renewable sources. Flint argued that most had been brought in by the last Labour government, whilst most had been been built under the coalition government. Beard said the focus should be on management of water courses and the building that takes place on flood plains.

The third question asked if David Cameron’s negotiations with Europe were real or not. Cable said that we needed to wait until the negotiations had been included, with three of the aims being difficult to assess and that Cameron could have avoided it, but only got into the position to appease those on the right of the Conservative Party. Cable added that he believes Cameron is in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union. Beard favoured there being a more positive approach, focusing on Britain’s role within Europe in a world role. Clark pointed out that in a referendum, it would be the voters who would decide. Flint agreed there should be reform in Europe, but Cameron is trying to sell Europe to the Euro-sceptics within the Conservative Party; she added that she would be voting for Britain to stay in Europe. Letts likened Cameron to Tigger, who goes away very enthusiastically but doesn’t get what is wanted; he added that due to the negativity, he would be voting to leave.

Question four asked if Jeremy Corbyn had been fairly treated by the press. Clark said that he has been accurately reported by the media. Beard felt that he was facing a tough time, but acting with great dignity – she also liked that he gives arguments over soundbites. Flint felt there was too much trivial reporting that was unfair, but that other leaders have faced similar in the past. Cable believes that Corbyn is disastrous for Labour and that there is no effective opposition to the government, but he is engaging well with younger voters. Letts looked at Corbyn’s past and noted that he seemed to support the IRA in the past and that Labour politicians often say that they he does not speak for them.

The fifth question concerned the lack of spending for mental health issues. Flint described it as a massively important area and that without increased spending, there would be costs elsewhere. Cable said there was a lack of joined up thinking across government. Beard argued that it is often ignored as it is not a visible issue. Letts was in favour of continued support for the NHS. Clark pointed out that assessments for mental health are difficult to get, with months going by, although this is changing, but that further work is required.

The final question asked if Tyson Fury should be considered for Sports Personality of the Year. Beard said he should, but vote for someone else. Flint favoured kicking him off. Letts favoured keeping him. Cable wanted him off, whilst Clark suggested voting for Andy Murray.

Question Time: 11/6/15

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.