On Sunday evening, 15 March, 150 people filled Sutton and District Synagogue for Sutton Combined Charities’ fund raising event: Question Time. This was the fifth time that Adrienne Fresko (aka Richard Dimbleby) chaired the event. First she introduced this year‘s charity, the Community Security Trust or CST which is a charity dedicated to protecting the Jewish community in the UK from external threats of bigotry, anti-Semitism and terrorism. The CST was chosen in the light of the heightened security concerns following the terrorist atrocities in Paris at Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish supermarket in Paris.
Adrienne then introduced our distinguished panel.
The Right Honourable, The Lord Boateng
Lord Boateng is a civil rights barrister who was elected as Labour MP for Brent South and served as MP from 1987 to 2005. He became the UK’s first mixed race Cabinet Minister in May 2002 when he was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Tony Blair. He served as the British High Commissioner to South Africa from 2005 to 2009, and was elevated to the Peerage in July 2010. Lord Boateng has an extensive knowledge of Africa and has written, spoken and broadcast extensively on development, financial and governance aspects of globalisation. He also works on a number of programmes promoting interfaith dialogue and good governance. Last year he was appointed to the joint house of Lords and House of Commons Standing Committee on National Security Strategy, and was elected chair of the English Speaking Union in January this year.
Lord Boateng is married to Janet and they have 5 children.
Professor Sir Ivor Crewe
Professor Sir Ivor Crewe is the third Jewish Master of University College Oxford. Before moving to Oxford in 2008 he spent 36 years at the University of Essex in the Department of Government, and was latterly Vice Chancellor there. He was an active contributor to national policy on Higher Education, and for a time he was President of UniversitiesUK – the umbrella group for universities. He will admit that he was a strong supporter of the introduction of tuition fees during the Blair government. Sir Ivor has written and broadcast extensively on British politics, particularly on elections and public opinion. He has recently co-authored a book called “the Blunders of our Governments” which analyses the causes of major policy failures by recent governments – of all political persuasions. He is married to Jill.
Simon Fanshawe’s work ranges from his early career in stand-up, when he won the Perrier Award for Comedy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, to his broadcasting career, where he has hosted many programmes on TV and Radio, and appeared on programmes such as Any Answers, Loose Ends all the way to his campaigning and lobbying roles, for example as co-founder of Stonewall- the lesbian and gay equality organisation. He holds or has held a number non-executive roles on public bodies, including as Chair of the University of Sussex until 2013, or as a Trustee of the Museum of London. He also is co-founder of an equality, diversity and transformation consultancy called astar-fanshawe. He has also published a book called the DONE THING – on manners and behaviours. Simon is married to Adam.
Professor Alan Johnson
Professor Johnson is Senior Research Fellow at BICOM (which is the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre). He was Professor of Democratic Theory and Practice at Edge Hill University before joining BICOM. He has edited and written widely in a wide range of journals including: ‘Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region’, or Democratiya – a journal with a focus on international politics which he also founded. He has recently completed a study for the UK government, examining journeys taken by young British Muslims ‘ in and out of extremism’ and developing strategies to counter radicalisation. This is a very timely topic given the concern for the 3 young students from Bethnal Green Academy who have recently set off for Syria. He also blogs weekly at the Daily Telegraph and World Affairs.
Stephen Pack is currently in his fourth year as President of the United Synagogue having been re-elected unopposed in 2014. The US is the largest synagogal organisation in the UK and is responsible for 60 communities and much of the Jewish infrastructure of Anglo-Jewry. During his first term he led the committee responsible for selecting the new Chief Rabbi.
He is also a Trustee of the Jewish Leadership Council and Life President of the Hadley Wood Jewish Community.Stephen was previously a Partner in PwC before retiring in 2010. He was Risk and Quality leader for the UK firm and previously an audit and a consulting partner. He is currently working on launching an investment fund in sustainable agriculture.
He is married to Cheryl and they live in Hadley Wood. They have two children and several grandchildren.
The questions were received from the audience and evoked many flashes of wit and passionate debate from the panel - you really had to be there! Here is a taste of the QT debates.
Andy Gold: The turnout in the 2014 Scottish referendum was 85%. How could the British people in general be encouraged to engage more in political debate and what difference might this make to society?
Lord Boateng: Politicians don’t engage with the public in the way as they used to. Election speeches are more controlled, contrived, vetted and managed sound-bites. Politicians need a clash of visions, ideas and values and to inject passion.
Professor Sir Ivor Crewe: Nigel Farage, Alex Salmon and Boris Johnson speak with an authentic voice - consultants don’t eliminate anything from their speeches. The established party leaders have all their communications managed - spin is a huge turn off. It’s not a showcase for democratic debate - it’s dispiriting - there will be a low turn out at the election.
Simon Fanshawe: Young people are engaged with protest. We’re in a post 1989 world where people are looking for better ways of managing capitalism. Farage, Salmon and Johnson pretend to be authentic but aren’t. Politics is a form of shopping where we want politicians to do things for us instead of about values.
The question was opened to the floor. Andy Gold: We don’t pay politicians enough and they don’t know the world of work. Other suggestions from the audience: Scotland introduced a lower voting age - [at 16] Make voting compulsory. Politicians should answer the questions they are asked and keep the promises they made.
Professor Sir Alan Johnson: There have been huge changes amounting to a revolution - global control of markets, European integration, mass immigration, corporate monsters. People feel managed.
Lord Boateng: Capitalism and Marxism have failed. I believe markets are the best way of delivering efficiency, but take an example where there has been market failure - railways - despite those that had failed under privatisation and which were bailed out by the tax payer last time, they were not renationalised. Then there is the issue of public housing.
Stephen Pack: From a young age children need to be taught that it is a privilege to live in a democracy and you have to exercise your right to vote. (I lived in Australia which has compulsory voting).
Evelyn Shamash: Would the result of the Israeli election make any difference to the peace process? (Election on Tuesday 17thMarch)
Stephen Pack: I think it will change people’s view. Many Americans do not like Netanyahu. They want to deal with other issues. Israel is diplomatically isolated. Israel needs good relationships with regional powers - but key is progress in peace with the Palestinians and a strong alliance with America and EU.
The economy is important to Israelis. Many think the big challenge is Iran with its inter-continental missiles. Netanyahu is not seen as a safe pair of hands. To win the election the you need
The popular vote
The nod from President Rivlin to be the first to form a coalition
The ability to form a coalition.
Prof Crewe: I am not as optimistic. It is easier for Netanyahu to form a coalition not very different from the one at the moment even if he loses seats. Netanyahu has not governed in the national interests. It was reckless to alienate the Democratic Party in the US. He could have made his point [about Iran] more effectively - negotiate Iranians away from a nuclear programme. In Iran there is a very large secular middle class - there’s an opportunity to move Iran away from the Ayatollahs - sabre rattling by Netanyahu does a disservice.
The question is opened to the floor. The person who asked the question: I hope for a female PM. Livni won last time but couldn’t form a coalition. Mervyn Smith spoke against a two state solution. Another person spoke in favour of a three state solution. Someone else thought peace overtures by Herzog would weaken Israel.
Prof Crewe: The biggest critics of Netanyahu are Mossad and Army Intelligence - you cannot bomb Iran out of nuclear capabilities.
Stephen Pack: During an Israel tour with the Chief Rabbi, I met Mark Regev, [spokesman for the Israeli Government]. He said Israel was not against doing a deal with the Palestinians but doesn’t want a bad deal. We also met with Shimon Peres [Former PM and President of Israel] at the Centre for Peace in Tel Aviv. We should be appreciative of positive moves from countries in the region that don’t hit the press.
Lord Boateng: Isn’t it good we’re having a discussion about the outcome of the elections? Is there any other country so inclusively democratic? The threat is in those forces that seek to impose a fundamentalist religion on territory - in Jordan and Egypt, which have an accommodation with Israel.
Matthew Gold: Does the panel believe that young people’s obsession with social media is killing real social interaction?
Simon Fanshawe: Social media amplifies the best and worst of communication. Social media connects people positively - it also provides a way for unpleasant people to be in touch with each other. There are toxic and stupid communities of people out there. We need a code of conduct for the internet:
People should have to identify who they are and take responsibility for what they say.
Google and Facebook are interested in surveillance - they have become toxic companies. We need to reclaim our information and not give it away for free which creates enormous corporations.
Prof Johnson: There are things to worry about: we are moving from words and principles to images and emotions. Young people struggle to concentrate, there is a decline in reading and vocabulary. Headlines are designed as click-bait - stories are sorted to attract readers and promote circulation for advertisers. We are losing some of our magazines eg New Republic.
Tephen Pack: Thank G-d for Shabbat, when we just turn off.
The question is opened to the floor. Matthew: No, I don’t think social media gets in the way of real social interaction. It’s just a continuation of socialising with people.
Prof Crewe: The definition of new technology is anything invented the age of eighteen. The guilty are all old. I sit on committees - half of them are sitting looking at their laps, writing emails.
You can compare it with the disapproval towards TVs in 1952.
Rabbi Landau: A marriage is exclusive but social media challenges the depth of a relationship.
Jack Morris: Is religion now a blessing or a curse?
Simon Fanshawe: I’m married. Simon is religious, black, from a developing country, he is 32. We sit at the tectonic plates of conflict of religion, race, economy, age - you’re dealing with massive levels of difference. I was anti religious but I learned to respect faith. Richard Dawkins seems to be telling Desmond Tutu he’s stupid. Religious bigotry - anything that tries to categorize and condemn people - hatred,, hypocrisy and prejudice like the Tea Party, the far right in other countries, ultra orthodox in slam, Judaism.
Lord Boaeng: The human condition is such that we are all capable of evil, but the greatest evils have come from the godless - the two ideologies, Marxism and Fascism, e fall into a trap if we think religion is to blame.
Simon Fanshawe: You don’t need religion to lead a moral life. It abrogates responsibility.
Christopher Hitchens said: “Religion poisons everything.”
The temptation to transcend the human can happen in religion and the secular.
Rebecca Simons: Do you believe reducing tuition fees to £6,000 would make any difference? (Relates to Ed Miliband’s pronouncements that a labour government would reduce tuition fees from £9000 to £6000).
Prof Crewe: No, it’s an electioneering gimmick. The £2.7 billion it would cost would be better spent on educating the bottom half of the population.
Stephen Pack: Tuition fees should not be a political football.
Simon Fanshawe: I agree with Prof Crewe. Everyone confuses living expenses with fees.
Prof Johnson: Criticized Nick Clegg
Lord Boateng: Yes [it would make a difference.]
Steve Lewis: Jeremy Clarkson has been in the news this week. What one reason would you choose as to why the BBC should sack him. And what one reason why they shouldn’t?
Stephen Pack: He should stay because of his high ratings but go because he can’t control himself.
Prof Crewe: He should go: it’s not his job to help UKIP. The BBC needs to let him go to show they will not kowtow to celebrity status, but they will lose millions of pounds.
Prof Johnson: He should be sacked “with attitude”. If they keep him on it’s for the money.
Simon Fanshawe: there is no excuse for hitting.
Lord Boateng: Sad, sad, sad. Boring, bring, boring.
Adrienne Fresko concluded by thanking the panel members who generously donated their time fund raising evening. They were each presented with a bottle of whiskey.
Paul Sarfaty thanked the CST and police on security duty. He said it was apt that this year’s designated charity is the CS. He added that we would be fund raising to buy a CCTV, which would cost £5000. He thanked Sutton Combined Charities Committee (Gerald Cohen, Adrienne Fresko, Rica Infante and Michael Simons) for a superb evening. He also thanked the ladies who prepared refreshments, gentlemen who moved furniture in the shul, young people who sold raffle tickets and took the microphone around the audience and many other unsung helpers helping to make the evening run smoothly.
Gerald Cohen presented Adrienne Fresko with an orchid to thank her for doing “such a fantastic job” as master of ceremonies. Adrienne writes to prospective panel members (this was the first time we’d had an all male panel), persuading them to come to Sutton. He then thanked the gentlemen of the panel for a thoroughly enjoyable debate and presented them with bottles of whiskey. He quipped: “ Promise not to drink it as you make your way home or you might be drunk as a Lord.”
Light refreshments were served in the shul hall and everyone agreed it had been a stimulating and most enjoyable evening.