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Leader Conference

Series 3 Episode 2

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the top stories of the moment.

Andrew Rawnsley presents a live, studio-based debate taking the form of newspaper leader conferences. He was joined by Raphael Behr of the New Statesman; Mary Ann Sieghart formerly of the Independent; Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard; Kamal Ahmed of the Sunday Telegraph; and Peter Montellier of the Newcastle Journal.

They drew up leaders on: the government's decision to end direct aid to South Africa; how to provide better sex education to school children; and why tedious university lecturers are a good thing.

Aiding South Africa

We consider that the diplomatic handling of the British government's decision to end direct aid to South Africa left much to be desired. It prompted understandable anger and resentment there. This is a country which has in recent months shown by its intervention in African hotspots its importance in promoting stability across the continent and protecting the vulnerable. These objectives are in Britain's interests too.

Although countries like South Africa have grown fast, the benefits of their greater wealth are unevenly distributed. Poverty there has a very long tail. Britain, having strong historic links to South Africa and still aspiring to a world leadership role in promoting democracy and human rights, needs to stay engaged with Pretoria, especially if it has doubts about the openness of South Africa's government and the probity of some of its officials.

We note the argument that the UK is, despite present economic conditions, still a relatively wealthy country and should, at a low annual cost to the British taxpayer, hold out the hand of fiscal friendship to the African continent's largest economy and democracy. Nevertheless, we think there may be better ways of helping South Africa.

We prefer business investment to direct government support. We also advocate freeing up trade to give consumers lower prices and South African businesses the chance to invest and create jobs. These would offer mutual benefits of lasting value.

Better Sex Education

Ofsted's finding that the quality of sex education in about a third of English secondary schools is not of a sufficiently high standard is disquieting and requires action.

We do not minimise the demands placed upon teachers - and parents - in a much more sexualised culture. Advertising can contain explicit imagery and young children are able to access hard core material online. But a panic about the alleged moral degeneracy of the internet would divert attention from areas where the improvement of sex education needs to be focused.

Accordingly, we propose a four-point plan of reform. First, some teaching focuses too narrowly on the biological dimensions of sex education to the neglect of relationships. Understanding the dangers of sexually-transmitted diseases is important. But mutual respect in relationships also needs to be emphasised. This is valuable in itself. It would also help, however, counteract the objectification of women which defines both pornography and its subtler manifestations in youth culture.

Second, teaching should promote confidence among school children in dealing with sexual matters. This is not to override parental preferences or concerns in this area. These should be taken account of sensitively, especially those which have an ethnic, religious or ethical component. But pupils' confidence will be best fostered by teaching that is well-informed emotionally and factually.

Third, teaching children how best safely to maintain their identities on social media is critical and can be buttressed through the technology component of the national curriculum. Finally, we believe these objectives will be best achieved by separate teaching of boys and girls.

Redeeming Dr Bohring

Jimmy Wales's obituary of the boring university lecturer, thanks to the alleged excitement of acquiring knowledge online through such portals as his own Wikipedia, is in our view premature and unwelcome.

Yes, students pay considerable sums for their courses. But enduring tweedy, dandruff-afflicted dons interminably reciting recondite knowledge in stuffy lecture theatres has been a valuable rite of passage for generations of undergraduates.

Many have learned that the acquisition of knowledge is not always simple and easy. But we also suspect innumerable eureka moments have occurred while harmless Dr Bohrings monotonously delivered their quotidian insights into metaphysics, quantum mechanics or the Laffer curve. And knowing which lectures can be skipped altogether was itself an indispensable education. It freed up time for by far the most useful hours of our student years. So "citation needed", as Mr Wales would say, for dispensing with droning dons.

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 2 Episode 3: Britain's economy, the right to insult, and proper attire at breakfast

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion about the top stories of the moment.

Andrew Rawnsley returns to chair a new series of the live discussion programme featuring top journalists who debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the key stories of the moment. The contributors reflect the newspaper industry in London and elsewhere in the UK, the broadsheet and tabloid press and the differing political and other perspectives.

The programme follows a simple format. After Andrew Rawnsley's introduction, all the contributors debate which of the news stories of the day merit a leading article. The first they choose to discuss in detail is usually the key British issue of the moment. They then move on to another major talking point - which may be an international story - and decide what the following day's newspaper should say about it. The final leader strikes a lighter note being about the week's offbeat, whimsical or peculiar story or an issue in the arts, science, entertainment or sport.

All journalists contribute to each of the three subjects under discussion and one of them is nominated by Andrew to sum up the debate and set out for listeners what the main points of the leading article will be in each case. The leading article is later published on the Radio 4 website.

Listeners are invited to contribute their views in advance and throughout the live programme via Twitter and the Radio 4 website. In particular, they are encouraged to say what the main front-page headline for the next morning should be. The panel offers its thoughts on these ideas at the end of the programme.

The panel this week is: Kamal Ahmed of the "Sunday Telegraph"; Anne Johnstone of "The Herald"; Joe Watts of the "Eastern Daily Press"; Kevin Maguire of the "Daily Mirror" and Anushka Asthana of "The Times".

Leader Conference

Series 1 Episode 4: Libya; the UK economy; and how shop staff should speak to customers

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the top stories of the moment.

In the fourth edition of Leader Conference, Andrew Rawnsley was joined by Anushka Asthana of the Times; Rafael Behr of the New Statesman; Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail; Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard; and Martin Shipton of the Western Mail.

We debated: UK policy in Libya; the UK economy after the latest official estimates for growth; and Selfridges' reported policy at its Manchester store of discouraging informal greetings to customers.

LIBYA: SEEING THINGS THROUGH

We note that British intervention under United Nations Resolution 1973 of 17 March was in large part to provide protection to Libyan citizens from the heinous acts of the Gaddafi regime and that this laudable aim continues to be served by NATO enforcement of the no-fly zone.

Nevertheless, in our view the original mandate has been stretched considerably beyond the language used in the Resolution and has come to mean simply regime change. We suspect that this "mission creep" has contributed significantly to the current military stalemate.

Accordingly, given the unease which we sense from UK parliamentarians of all parties about the situation on the ground and the escalating cost of military operations, we advocate a stronger role for diplomacy.

This is a problem on Europe's borders which requires European governments to concert together and act decisively, not one on which they should expect the United States to take the initiative.

The Foreign Secretary's announcement on 27 July that the UK government recognises the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya's sole governmental authority is right - although it is clear that the NTC does not enjoy support across the country.

We are doubtful, however, about the government's reversal of its stance on the need for Gaddafi to leave Libya, not least because the International Criminal Court may seek to bring charges against him and other members of his regime for alleged abuse of power.

THE UK ECONOMY: MORE ENERGY REQUIRED

Amidst all the talk about "plan Bs" for the British economy, we are not persuaded that the strategy to reduce the budget deficit very significantly by 2015 is wrong. However, where the role of the public sector is important (e.g. Wales and the north-east of England), the government needs to be alert to the effects of job losses.

The UK's sluggish recovery convinces us that more emphasis needs to be placed on growth. We note Labour's proposal to reduce VAT to 17.5% but we prefer other measures at this stage.

We see the argument for further quantitative easing by the Bank of England, as urged by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable. But we advocate bringing forward the coalition's existing plans to cut taxes for those on low incomes. The less well-off spend more of their money and spend it in the UK compared with those on higher incomes.

For these reasons as well as on grounds of fairness, we reject the Mayor of London's call for a cut in the top rate of income tax for those earning more than £150,000 a year.

High inflation and the pressure on family incomes are curbing back consumer spending. A particularly important factor in this is the rapidly rising price of gas and electricity.

The major suppliers have established in recent years a pattern of hiking prices to consumers following rises in the wholesale market, while often failing to pass on price reductions as fast. Such behaviour is particularly worrying for people on fixed incomes.

We think the gas and electricity companies should be referred to the Competition Commission to establish whether they are operating against the public interest and to promote far greater competition in those markets, as promised at the time of privatisation.

TALK FRIENDLY!

We are disappointed that the highly-regarded Selfridges department store in Manchester has apparently told staff to avoid local speech patterns, such as "Ey up, chuck!" and "See ya!" when speaking to customers.

We regret this and urge a change of heart. Regional dialects and turns of phrase enrich our lives and enhance local identities. Over-formality can be alienating - or not cool, if you prefer - even if others like it.

We feel Selfridges' approach, if motivated by genuine concern for customers, runs the risk of taking the "Mank" out of Manchester and curbing the widely celebrated friendliness of the locals. As if! (as Mancunians are known to scoff).

So let's not crudely impose what may be regarded as London norms - especially since we're not sure that they are, judging by our recent visits to West End stores!

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 1 Episode 1: Phone hacking; UK manufacturing; JK Rowling

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with six top journalists debating three newspaper-style leading articles on phone hacking, UK manufacturing and JK Rowling and her readers.

In a new series, Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live debate with fellow journalists in the style of a newspaper leader conference. They discuss which three top news stories at home and abroad should be the subject of leading articles and what points those editorials ought to make and why.

From tabloids to broadsheets, from London to Edinburgh, from left, right and centre the gamut of journalistic opinions are on offer as the newspaper leader conference comes to the air. Top writers on Britain's newspapers distil the complex events of the week into a concise, easily digested summary and seek to put it all into perspective.

Those taking part in this week's edition are: Danny Finkelstein of The Times; Melanie McDonagh of the London Evening Standard; Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror; Ros Taylor of the Guardian; Jon Walker of the Birmingham Post; and Chris Cook of the Financial Times.

The three leaders decided upon were: the aftermath of phone hacking at the News of the World; British manufacturing after the job losses at Bombardier UK; and the debt we owe to J.K. Rowling.

Leader Conference

Series 2 Episode 2: A careless omission from the Queen's Speech; executive pay and performance, tidy streets

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the top stories of the moment.

Careless omission from the Queen's Speech. Executive pay and performance. Tidy streets.

In the second edition of the new series of Leader Conference, Andrew Rawnsley was joined by Mary Ann Sieghart of the Independent; Jack Blanchard of the Yorkshire Post; Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard; Rafael Behr of the New Statesman; and Daniel Finkelstein of the Times.

We debated: Why social care should be a government priority; making executive pay better reflect performance; and taking the fight to the litter bugs. .

Caring for the elderly

The coalition should not be distracted from significantly reducing the structural deficit. However, the Queen's Speech presented an opportunity to deliver on another of its pledges: a new type of politics. This it did not really take. Specifically, it should have tackled the growing cost of social care.

Eleven million people alive today will reach the age of 100. The rising population of older people presents future challenges that can be measured accurately. Andrew Dilnot's report, commissioned by the government and published last year, set out the facts. It also proposed credible measures to tackle problems that the insurance market cannot currently sort out on its own.

What is required now is the political courage to act. That would be good in itself. But it could also diminish cynicism about politicians' willingness to rise above tribal differences by setting out plans for high quality care at prices that do not impoverish the people who need it in old age.

The coalition does not shoulder this responsibility alone. We also urge the Opposition to play its part in tackling the issue. In doing so Labour could demonstrate its seriousness about distinguishing priorities when tackling the deficit.

The taxpayer cannot afford rising social care costs. Those who should pay are those who receive the care. Compulsory insurance may be required of many people to ensure that decent social care is self-financing. But making the public aware of this now and proposing simple schemes that meet future care needs is imperative.

Pricking the Executive Pay Bubble

We fear that cronyism not market-driven reward for performance now predominates in too many company boardrooms. Cosy committees of directors who serve on each other's boards set a bad example. They permit executive greed at shareholders' and consumers' expense. They need reform.

Pay at the top ought to reflect better the ups and downs of performance, including the share price of public companies. Annual pay rises of ten per cent or more do not incentivise executives; they make them complacent. They encourage executives across different industries to demand similar "compensation packages" from remuneration committees frightened that footloose talent may otherwise leave.

That bluff should be called. Performance targets need to be made more demanding and shareholders should be enabled to hold managers more closely to account for meeting them. This is not only in shareholders' financial interest; it serves the public interest too. The coalition's proposal to legislate in this area is timely.

More broadly, market failure on executive pay needs to be tackled by opening up remuneration committees to wider talent, knowledge and experience. That may include workers - although we are not convinced that worker representatives alone will address the problem. They could simply encourage higher pay costs.

Rather, shareholders should be more numerous and prominent on remuneration committees. In particular, we exhort pension funds and other investors who pool the public's savings to seek their views on executive pay and act on that information.

Heroine of the week!

We congratulate the BBC Radio 4 newsreader, Alice Arnold. She intervened against a littering couple whom she witnessed chucking an unwanted plastic bottle from their car onto the roadway. She got out of her own car and threw the bottle back through the open window of the couple's car.

She said her "heart beat faster" as she did this. We understand why. We do not advocate that litter is wilfully thrown back at those who drop it. But intolerance of littering - rather than indifference to it - shows commendable public spiritedness.

We all have responsibility for the environment that we use and enjoy. Tidy streets are important for road safety, public health and our self-esteem.

So good on Alice Arnold for reminding us of the simple truth: take your litter home with you.

Leader Conference

Series 4 Episode 2

Top journalists debate live with Andrew Rawnsley what leading opinion articles should say.

What should three newspaper-style leading articles say about the key stories of the moment? Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate the issues.

Andrew Rawnsley presents the second programme in a new series of the live, studio-based debate programmes which take the form of newspaper leader conferences.

He is joined by five prominent journalists, who write leading articles or editorials for their newspapers, representing the press in the nations of the UK and across the English regions as well as the leading national newspapers.

Three subjects in the news will be decided upon and discussed. Two of these reflect current events at home and abroad - and prompt lively and provocative discussion. The third subject is in a lighter vein.

Contributions from listeners are also encouraged throughout the programme and particularly at the start for the component they shape most: that final leader which is heard towards the end of the programme.

Following the discussion of each of the three subjects, Andrew invites one of his guests to draw up on air the "leader" for that subject setting out its main points. This important component of the programme helps ensure that resolution of the debate is achieved for listeners and that the full range of views expressed is reflected.

The leaders are posted online at the Radio 4 website following the programme.

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 4 Episode 3

Top journalists debate live with Andrew Rawnsley what leading opinion articles should say.

What should three newspaper-style leading articles say about the key stories of the moment? Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate the issues.

Andrew Rawnsley presents the third programme in a new series of the live, studio-based debate programmes which take the form of newspaper leader conferences.

He is joined by five prominent journalists, who write leading articles or editorials for their newspapers, representing the press in the nations of the UK and across the English regions as well as the leading national newspapers.

Three subjects in the news will be decided upon and discussed. Two of these reflect current events at home and abroad - and prompt lively and provocative discussion. The third subject is in a lighter vein.

Contributions from listeners are also encouraged throughout the programme and particularly at the start for the component they shape most: that final leader which is heard towards the end of the programme.

Following the discussion of each of the three subjects, Andrew invites one of his guests to draw up on air the "leader" for that subject setting out its main points. This important component of the programme helps ensure that resolution of the debate is achieved for listeners and that the full range of views expressed is reflected.

The leaders are posted online at the Radio 4 website following the programme.

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 5 20/01/2016

Top journalists debate live with Andrew Rawnsley what leading opinion articles should say.

Andrew Rawnsley hosts the live debate series where five senior journalists argue about what three newspaper-style editorials should say about the top stories in the news.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs the live debate programme which takes the form of a newspaper leader conference that decides the editorials which will appear the next day. He is joined by five prominent journalists who write leading articles for major newspapers across the United Kingdom. Three subjects in the news will be chosen and the panel will then determine - after lively discussion - what should be said about them. Two of the subjects debated will reflect current events and will encourage strong - and witty - exchanges. The third topic will be in a lighter vein. Following the discussion of each subject, Andrew will invite one of his guests - different in each case - to draw up on air, without notice, the leader for that subject and to set out what it will say. All the leading articles will be published on the Radio 4 website the following day.

Producer: Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 3 Episode 3

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the top stories of the moment.

In the third edition of the latest series of Leader Conference, Andrew Rawnsley was joined by Phil Collins of the Times; Mary Riddell of the Daily Telegraph; David Seymour of the Sunday Mirror; Anne McElvoy of the Economist; and Torcuil Crichton of the Daily Record.

We debated: the Queen's Speech; Sir Alex Ferguson; and Virgin Trains' new staff uniform.

Odds and Ends

The Queen's Speech has about it the quality of an Eton mess. That shouldn't condemn it; government is a multifarious set of tasks. Judging priorities among departments and managing legislation require care and skill. Similarly, the modesty of the government's programme isn't of itself a shortcoming. Much of the legislation envisaged in the coalition agreement has already been enacted.

However, we are still disappointed by the Speech. Its priority seems to be political positioning, particularly by the Conservatives, rather than tackling Britain's continuing economic malaise. Yet it presents a confused set of proposals. In particular, measures designed to appeal to voters attracted to the UK Independence Party's messages on immigration seem to us difficult to implement. GPs are not employees of the state and making them responsible for policing migrants' health care demands look impractical and unenforceable. Similarly, delegating to private landlords the vetting of housing applications may simply discourage the supply of properties onto the market and push up rents for all. We wonder if this is what ministers intend.

There are other inconsistencies too. The prime minister has said much about Europe in recent weeks and yet no concrete measures appear in the Speech. Legislation introducing the much-trailed flat-rate pension is designed to appeal to older voters. But pensioners will have also noted the reductions in councils' social care budgets.

There is certainly much to be done in the remaining two years of this Parliament. But we advocate far greater emphasis on the effective implementation of the government's existing reforms rather than the passing of more laws whose rationale, beyond trying to stymie UKIP, is unclear and whose contradictions will compromise their likely effectiveness.

Old Trafford's Magician

We sympathise with those jaded by English football's unquenchable thirst for hyperbole, but even they, we think, should pay tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson following his decision to step down as manager of Manchester United. Over his twenty-six years in charge, the club won forty-nine trophies, including thirteen premier league titles. These alone make him one of the outstanding figures not just in sport but in management generally.

Sir Alex also came up the hard way and deployed his Glaswegian background to good effect in reaching the top. He has helped ensure that football's influence has been positive on national life, even when his "hairdryer" moments have captured the headlines. While we doubt that he had a strategic master plan from the outset, his major achievement was the building of a succession of winning teams.

It is tempting to suggest that the Ferguson model is something we should freely apply to other institutions, be they the monarchy, FTSE100 companies or politics. Tempting and wrong. Managers can always be sacked - monarchs cannot. Furthermore, the autocratic methods and belligerent approach of some football managers - while arguably necessary to keep in line handsomely remunerated young footballers with highly developed egos - are hardly ones we want to see among our parliamentarians.

Let us celebrate success like that achieved by Sir Alex. But let us also remember the peculiar, highly-monied context in which it was achieved. And let us look forward to a newly competitive era in the premier league - or at least hope for one.

Business Brains?

"Business Brains Take Virgin Trains" ran the slogan. If so, we wonder if Virgin's own executives do that. Our thought was prompted by the reaction of those female employees of Virgin Trains who protested to their bosses about "skimpy" new red blouses that were issued to them.

Uniforms should be things which staff are happy to wear and we are surprised that Sir Richard Branson's outfit appears to have run into the buffers with this latest development of the Virgin wardrobe. Managers' decision to offer female staff vouchers to purchase underwear that would not be visible through the new blouses seems like an admission that the company has misjudged this new design.

We do not advocate fashion styles reminiscent of the catwalks of the Soviet bloc. But nor should female employees be demeaned - or passengers be embarrassed - by the uniforms provided to staff. This makeover terminates here.

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 1 Episode 2: Press Regulation, the Euro, Who Does the School Run

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the top stories of the moment.

2/4. In a new series, Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live debate with fellow journalists in the style of a newspaper leader conference. They discuss which three top news stories at home and abroad should be the subject of leading articles and what points those editorials ought to make and why.

From tabloids to broadsheets, from London to Edinburgh, from left, right and centre the gamut of journalistic opinions are on offer as the newspaper leader conference comes to the air. Top writers on Britain's newspapers distil the complex events of the week into a concise, easily digested summary and seek to put it all into perspective.

Andrew was joined by Anne McElvoy of the Economist, Nigel Nelson of the People, Sean O'Grady of the Independent and Philip Stephens of the Financial Times.

We debated:

what the new judicial inquiry into the press should recommend on press regulation; the tumult in the Eurozone; and Nick and Miriam Clegg and the demands of work and family life

A better British press

Some News Corp's businesses have helped revitalise the British newspaper industry in recent years and we should recognise the successes of BSkyB. But the unlawful conduct of the News of the World has outraged the public and mandates more effective regulation of the press. The law of libel and the growing readiness of the courts to safeguard privacy already offer significant protections to those facing press scrutiny. But we advocate self-regulation with teeth - not statutory regulation which could stifle press freedom. Specifically, we advocate visibly independent regulation by credible outside figures - not the state nor newspaper editors. They should ensure a faster, more transparent and more user-friendly complaints process. This has to include quicker and more effective sanctions - in particular, requiring corrections to inaccurate stories to be published as prominently as the original reports themselves.

How to fix the euro

The travails of the eurozone profoundly affect UK trade and prospects for growth. Britain is not immune. We propose a twin-track approach to ensure the euro does not collapse in chaos, thereby endangering economic recovery and prompting another banking crisis. First, if Berlin really believes in the future of the euro Chancellor Merkel needs to show much stronger leadership. Second, the debt of the weakest countries should be consolidated and denominated as eurozone debt, rather than "Greek debt" or "Irish debt". As other countries run surpluses this would enable the debt burden to be managed with greater stability and at lower cost. Third, internal currencies could be established in countries like Greece. These would have no value outside their own borders but would enable day-to-day trade to continue - as happened in South American countries during their debt crises in the 1980s.

Let's hear it for Nick Clegg!

Contrary to what some of our rivals have written about the Deputy Prime Minister, it is a good thing that at the top of the government we have politicians with young families who have to juggle Cabinet meetings with the school run. But they cannot complain about the pressures this places on their home lives. The rest of us have to get on with it and so should they. So fewer complaints, please. As we curse yet another eight o'clock traffic jam, let's celebrate the insight into the lives led by millions of voters which this daily routine provides!

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Election Special

Andrew Rawnsley and top journalists debate what newspaper editorials should say tomorrow.

Andrew Rawnsley hosts a special election edition of the programme in which top journalists debate live what three newspaper-style editorials should say about the key stories.

In a special edition of Leader Conference, to mark the start of the 2015 general election campaign, Andrew Rawnsley was joined by Mary Ann Sieghart, Torcuil Crichton of the Daily Record; Emma Duncan of the Economist; Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun; and Rafael Behr of the Guardian.

We discussed:

Away with the taboos!

The contours of the general election campaign are becoming clear and we lament what we see. The issues which voters should hear being debated are being sidelined, while the politicians fixate on those they like to argue about among themselves. Voters deserve better. So what is to be done?

We first want to see politicians accept reality – hard though they may find it. The era of single party government is on the ebb, so politicians should manage that better when more than just one party has a stake in the process.

Second, the politicians need to be less evasive and instead clarify their stances in certain key policy areas to be credible. The Conservatives should spell out the welfare cuts they would make; Labour needs to be clearer about its tax plans.

More broadly, we want the parties to discuss openly such critical issues as how the country is to earn its living. The slump in productivity since the start of the financial crisis is unprecedented. It needs to be tackled boldly if people’s living standards are to rise again. This will include discussing, for example, how far immigration can make the economy more productive rather than just focusing on the numbers of migrants.

Other taboo subjects that should be addressed include the quality of teaching in schools and the adaptability of the workforce. It may be easier to sack workers in the UK than in other countries. But that flexibility shouldn’t be confused with ensuring British workers can adjust to changing market conditions because they are well-educated and multi-skilled.

The deal that must be done

The world could be forgiven for thinking negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme will never end. This week’s deadline for progress has come and gone and still they talk in Lausanne. For Tehran’s critics, especially in Israel and much of the US Congress, this is proof of Iran’s bad faith and the West needs to bring a halt to the farce. However, we believe there is still value in continuing to talk.

The purpose of the talks is unchanged – to bring Iran’s nuclear programme under international supervision, to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and so to diminish tensions in the Middle East.

The problem in Switzerland is over the sticking points to a nuclear deal. First, there is the technical question of how many centrifuges Tehran should be permitted to have. This matters because it determines how readily it could construct a nuclear bomb. Second, there is the vexed question of the inspection regime to ensure compliance with any deal.

Proper supervision and unimpeded inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency are essential. They would be important gains and precedents in the fight against nuclear proliferation. But they would also begin a process of integrating modern Iran into international institutions that could provide significant longer-term benefits.

Sanctions imposed by Western countries helped bring Tehran to the negotiating table; relaxing them after a deal could strengthen reformers there. A more responsible Iran is potentially an important gain for Western interests, closely though it would have to be watched.

We have no illusions about Tehran’s intention to be the principal player in the Gulf region or about its support for Hamas and Hizbollah and backing for Shia militias across the Middle East. The failing state of Yemen is merely the latest site of its long-standing rivalry with Saudi Arabia. But that does not mean the nuclear talks are not worth pursuing. On the contrary, they underline the importance of trying to get a deal.

Love letter to Suffolk

While many of Britain’s cities have been reinvented as temples of culture and consumerism thanks to money from the taxpayer, old harbours, fishing ports and coastal towns have been sorely neglected. It’s time they received better treatment.

Take Lowestoft. Once a thriving fishing port on the Suffolk coast where each year the annual herring fishery ended, the harbour enjoyed a boom in the first part of the 20th century, hence the fishermen’s affectionate description of herring as “silver darlings”.

Decline, though, was abrupt and large scale fishing for herring effectively ended fifty years ago. Lowestoft has like many other such towns fallen on harder times.

It needs hope, specifically a new bridge. The town is divided in two by a bascule bridge which opens and closes frequently each day, but it needs a new one which could be a hope for the future and a beacon of renewal. We warmly commend the idea to whoever should win the general election.

Producer: Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 5 06/01/2016

Top journalists debate live with Andrew Rawnsley what leading opinion articles should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what three newspaper-style editorials should say about the main stories in the news.

In the first of a new series of Leader Conference, Andrew Rawnsley is joined by Mary Riddell of the Daily Telegraph, Bronwen Maddox of Prospect; Hugh Muir of the Guardian; Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror; and Caroline Wheeler of the Sunday Express.

Three subjects in the news are chosen for the three "leaders". Two of these reflect current events at home and abroad - and prompt lively and provocative discussion. The third subject is in a lighter vein.

Contributions from listeners are also encouraged throughout the programme via e-mail, using the address leaderconference@bbc.co.uk and on Twitter using the hashtag #r4leader.

Following the discussion of each of the three subjects, Andrew invites one of his guests to draw up on air the "leader" for that subject setting out its main points. This important component of the programme helps ensure that resolution of the debate is achieved for listeners and that the full range of views expressed is reflected.

The leaders are posted online at the Radio 4 website the day after the programme is broadcast.

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 5 13/01/2016

Top journalists debate live with Andrew Rawnsley what leading opinion articles should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what three newspaper-style editorials should say about the main stories in the news.

Andrew Rawnsley presents the live debate programme which emulates a newspaper leader conference that decides the editorials which will appear in its pages the next day. He is joined by five prominent journalists who write leading articles for major newspapers across the United Kingdom. Three subjects in the news will be chosen for debate and the panel will then determine - after lively argument - what should be said about them. Two of the subjects debated will reflect current events and prompt strong - and witty - exchanges. The third topic will be in a lighter vein. Following the discussion of each subject, Andrew will invite one of his guests - different in each case - to draw up on air, without notice, the leader for that subject and to set out what it will say. All three leading articles will be published on the Radio 4 website the following day.

Those taking part this week: Ruth Sunderland (Daily Mail), Ben Chacko (Morning Star), Caroline Daniel (FT Weekend), Callum Baird (The National) and Ed Carr (The Economist).

Producer: Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 4 Episode 4

Top journalists debate live with Andrew Rawnsley what leading opinion articles should say.

What should three newspaper-style leading articles say about the key stories of the moment? Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate the issues.

Andrew Rawnsley presents the fourth programme in a new series of the live, studio-based debate programmes which take the form of newspaper leader conferences.

He is joined by five prominent journalists, who write leading articles or editorials for their newspapers, representing the press in the nations of the UK and across the English regions as well as the leading national newspapers.

Three subjects in the news will be decided upon and discussed. Two of these reflect current events at home and abroad - and prompt lively and provocative discussion. The third subject is in a lighter vein.

Contributions from listeners are also encouraged throughout the programme and particularly at the start for the component they shape most: that final leader which is heard towards the end of the programme.

Following the discussion of each of the three subjects, Andrew invites one of his guests to draw up on air the "leader" for that subject setting out its main points. This important component of the programme helps ensure that resolution of the debate is achieved for listeners and that the full range of views expressed is reflected.

The leaders are posted online at the Radio 4 website following the programme.

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 4 Episode 1

Top journalists debate live with Andrew Rawnsley what leading opinion articles should say.

What should three newspaper-style leading articles say about the key stories of the moment? Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate the issues.

Andrew Rawnsley presents the first programme in a new series of the live, studio-based debate programmes which take the form of newspaper leader conferences.

He is joined by five prominent journalists, who write leading articles or editorials for their newspapers, representing the press in the nations of the UK and across the English regions as well as the leading national newspapers.

Three subjects in the news will be decided upon and discussed. Two of these reflect current events at home and abroad - and prompt lively and provocative discussion. The third subject is in a lighter vein.

Contributions from listeners are also encouraged throughout the programme and particularly at the start for the component they shape most: that final leader which is heard towards the end of the programme.

Following the discussion of each of the three subjects, Andrew invites one of his guests to draw up on air the "leader" for that subject setting out its main points. This important component of the programme helps ensure that resolution of the debate is achieved for listeners and that the full range of views expressed is reflected.

The leaders are posted online at the Radio 4 website following the programme.

Producer Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 3 Episode 1

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the top stories of the moment.

Andrew Rawnsley returns with the live, studio-based debate series taking the form of newspaper leader conferences.

Contributions from listeners are also strongly encouraged throughout the programme on Twitter (#r4leader) and by e-mail (leaderconference@bbc.co.uk).

Andrew was joined by Jenni Russell of the London Evening Standard; Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun; Anushka Asthana of the Times; Jonathan Ford of the Financial Times; and Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror.

They debated: the UK economy; the Abu Qatada affair; and Britain's bee population.

Where Next for the British Economy?

The economy shows little sign of sustained growth. Those voices urging a change of course are growing louder, especially given the setbacks suffered recently by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The IMF and a second ratings agency, Fitch, have, for example, clear doubts about his strategy. We share some of these reservations.

No major industrialised economy is growing strongly. But retail sales here are particularly disappointing and the Co-operative Bank has given, as one of its reasons for withdrawing from its planned acquisition of Lloyds' branches, the weak state of the economy.

We recognise that there has been a big monetary stimulus in the UK. We also understand the concerns about borrowing money now for infrastructure projects whose effects may not be felt for years. Nevertheless, the case for quicker-acting measures―like more house-building and improving Britain's roads, bridges and railways―is compelling. June's Comprehensive Spending Review also has to take account of the poor outlook for growth or it may further erode confidence when optimism is sorely needed.

Beyond this, we want to encourage more women into work where they wish to do so. Women's unemployment is at record levels and new jobs in the private sector are going disproportionately to men. Although parents can get some help with their child care bills, these costs still eat up much of a mother's pay when she returns to work. This needs to be addressed more boldly both to help women and to boost the economy.

The Abu Qatada Merry-Go-Round

Whether the radical cleric Abu Qatada should be deported to Jordan to stand trial has taken another turn with the Home Secretary's announcement of a new legal agreement with the authorities in Amman. It seeks to satisfy judges' concerns that evidence used in court has been obtained lawfully.

We fully sympathise with the frustration felt by many that a man who faces very serious charges in Jordan has so far not been made to face them there. It is also wrong that a man who is perceived to be a threat to the UK appears to be in a legal limbo.

However, the protections which the European Convention on Human Rights provides to Abu Qatada it also offers to the rest of us. The UK rightly believes in the rule of law and for so long as it is a party to the Convention it has to accept court rulings it finds inconvenient.

We therefore oppose the suggestion, apparently made by some in government, that the UK should withdraw temporarily from the Convention―to enable Abu Qatada to be deported―and then rejoin. This seems to us unsustainable both legally and politically. While it may mollify angry MPs, it would prompt high-level resignations from the government and could not in any event be got through Parliament. Other countries that are parties to the Convention would not accept it. At least until the next election, there is no parliamentary majority at Westminster for leaving the Convention. But it has to be accepted that Abu Qatada may even then still be in British custody.

Plan Bee

We want the tragic demise of bees reversed. The prime minister has many things to focus his attention on but, as life patron of the Oxfordshire Beekeepers' Association, he will understand that bees are not only essential to the pollination of crops and plants as well as to the well-being of the planet. The precipitous decline in their numbers is profoundly alarming.

We advocate an urgent an urgent programme of research into the causes of the fall in bee numbers. Companies study this problem, but as a number of them are involved in pesticide production - which some experts suspect is part of the explanation for the slump in bee numbers - we doubt it will produce a scientifically rigorous answer.

Our plan bee is an independent study which urgently investigates the causes of the hush in buzzing bees and proposes how to restore their hum to our lives.

Producer: Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 2 Episode 1: Border delays. Growth and Francois Hollande. MPs, iPads and alcohol.

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the top stories of the moment.

Andrew Rawnsley returns to chair a new series of the live discussion programme featuring top journalists who debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the key stories of the moment. The contributors reflect the newspaper industry in London and elsewhere in the UK, the broadsheet and tabloid press and the differing political and other perspectives.

This week's panel features: Melanie McDonagh of the London "Evening Standard", Nigel Nelson of "The People", Ben Chu of "The Independent", Anne McElvoy of the "Economist" and Iain Martin of the "Daily Telegraph".

We debated: the problems at UK passport control; the future of austerity; and tougher rules on alcoholic drinks for MPs.

Open Borders

We note that the long queues seen at Heathrow airport's passport control in recent days have caused national embarrassment. Those lines need to be tackled as a matter of urgency. But we suspect they are symptomatic of a deeper problem about managing migration. That has both a short term and a longer term dimension.

We first need to deal with the immediate crisis. The prime minister should intervene decisively to require much better management of the situation by the Border Agency. His initial demand for more officials on duty has not solved the problem. We suspect an earlier reduction in staff numbers may have contributed to longer queues, although planned strike action next week by civil servants will not alleviate that situation.

The priority should be to extend a proper welcome to the visitors expected for both the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic Games. Winding lines of weary travellers penned in a soulless terminal in the small hours are self-evidently bad publicity. They will undermine any boost to the UK economy as would-be visitors are deterred from visiting. So the Government will in the short-term probably need to pay for officers of high quality and seek advice from private firms on how to improve arrival flows.

For the longer term, we urge that the mixed messages from policy makers between controlling immigration while encouraging people to come to the UK to boost the economy are resolved. Large - and increasing - numbers of visitors will want to come here which is potentially good for Britain's economy. But the Government needs to set about building a consensus on preserving open borders while providing citizens with peace of mind on security.

The Challenge to Austerity

François Hollande may sustain his lead in the French presidential campaign and win the run-off next Sunday. We have significant doubts about the merits of some of his tax and spending policies for France and do not wish to see Paris join Athens and other southern European capitals in crisis. But we welcome his emphasis on the need for policies for growth.

Far lower structural deficits in Europe are essential. But we should not pay attention to the bond markets exclusively. The growing numbers of unemployed in Europe also, legitimately, require hope. Austerity is severely testing the endurance of voters from Ireland to Romania. Without action on growth the consensus on deficit reduction is threatened and the European economy further imperilled.

We counsel the sizeable French diaspora in Britain and others that an earlier president from the left, François Mitterand, pioneered an avowedly socialist policy after his election in 1981 only to have to abandon it two years later. But the German Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, and the European Central Bank also need to learn that lesson of being too inflexible in their policies. It is a message likely to be emphasised by Greece when it too votes next weekend and, later, by the Netherlands.

Those who favour austerity would be wise to focus on a broader range of measures to improve economic health and promote growth. This is for their own well-being and for ours, one of their largest trading partners, here in the UK.

Cheers, honourable members!

We are against the idea that our elected representatives at Westminster should receive iPad tablet computers at taxpayers' expense - even on the basis that they swap one of their existing pieces of electronic equipment for an iPad. We do not oppose them working with portable electronic devices but they can readily afford to buy their own.

However, we are less sure that, as those responsible for the administration of the House of Commons have also proposed, reducing MPs' alcohol consumption is necessarily a good idea. Convivial conversation with parliamentarians helps lubricate the democratic machine - and the gossip factory that, we readily admit, supplies journalists with so many goo.

Leader Conference

Series 1 Episode 3: Improving Aid; Party Leaders; Custard Pies

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live discussion with top journalists as they debate what should be said in three newspaper-style leading articles about the top stories of the moment.

Andrew Rawnsley chairs a live debate with fellow journalists in the style of a newspaper leader conference. They discuss which three top news stories at home and abroad should be the subject of leading articles and what points those editorials ought to make and why. From tabloids to broadsheets, from London to Edinburgh, from left, right and centre the gamut of journalistic opinions are on offer as the newspaper leader conference comes to the air. Top writers on Britain's newspapers distil the complex events of the week into a concise, easily digested summary and seek to put it all into perspective.

Andrew Rawnsley was joined by Camilla Cavendish of the Times, Jason Beattie of the Daily Mirror, Kamal Ahmed of the Sunday Telegraph, Mary Ann Sieghart of the Independent and Leo McKinstry of the Daily Express.

We debated: how best to aid the countries afflicted by famine in East Africa: end-of-parliamentary-term reports on the party leaders, and: how to make a good custard pie

Aiding peoples not governments

The recurrence of famine in Somalia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, after the appalling loss of life in the 1980s, underlines the need for a fundamental re-think on how to aid the peoples of the nations affected.

We applaud the generosity which the British public has once again demonstrated for those afflicted by the drought emergency, and note with disappointment that other EU nations have so far offered significantly less help. But we believe the UK government should take greater account of public scepticism, made clear this week in a survey by the Chatham House foreign affairs think tank, about the effectiveness of government aid to affected countries. Too often much of this money is siphoned off by corrupt officials in the countries receiving assistance. The problems helping people in Somalia illustrate this. The activities of militant Islamists underline both the limited authority of the Somali government and the need for a more entrepreneurial approach to delivering aid, preferably through charities and other non-government organisations based in the country.

In the medium-term we believe the notion of rich countries simply aiding the poor is outmoded. What were once poor countries are now often richer. Freer trade and help with economic development can help them to overcome deep-seated problems. These policies would also, we believe, encourage the United States and China to abandon protectionist approaches which are exacerbating the current crisis.

The party leaders' end-of-term report

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has, we think, made quite a strong finish to the year with his successes in the hacking scandal and backing for his plan to end elections to the Shadow Cabinet. The new general secretary of the Labour Party may not have been his first choice but he has importantly secured a large donation to ease Labour's over-stretched finances and to bolster party morale. But if he is to appear a credible alternative prime minister he needs to assert the authority he has gained, especially with the trade unions, and outline a credible alternative policy stance to the Conservatives.

Nick Clegg's year went from bad to worse as the protests over the Liberal Democrats' volte face on tuition fees were followed by an ignominious defeat in the AV referendum and serious reverses in the May elections. But we noted that recently he has shown resilience and skill in differentiating his party from the Conservatives over reforms to the NHS and during the hacking scandal. He and his party may be recovering.

By contrast, the prime minister's strong start to the year faltered. Although election results were much more positive than expected, in recent weeks doubts about economic recovery and his judgment over issues raised by the hacking scandal have clouded the picture and reinforced stereotypes of Mr. Cameron. Although his parliamentary performances have shown poise, his failure to answer directly key questions on the BSkyB takeover may, we think, leave him vulnerable, especially as the pending inquiries and court cases hear fresh evidence.

In defence of the real custard pie

We unhesitatingly deplore the assault on Rupert Murdoch with a foam pie while he gave evidence to the Commons select committee on culture, media and sport. But we also regret the degeneration of the high art of public protest. To be effective these demonstrations need to be well wrought. The foam pie we saw this week in our view signally failed this test. It was crudely improvised and, sadly, struck us as one in the eye for the traditional custard pie. Accordingly, we aim for the spirited revival of this traditional British feature of public life. For the entertainment of our readers and in a spirit of fun not malice, we offer a proper custard pie recipe to make at home, together with a selection of outstanding "custard pie moments"

Producer: Simon Coates.

Leader Conference

Series 3 Episode 4

Journalists debate with Andrew Rawnsley what leading articles about the news should say.

Creating newspaper leading articles about a UK referendum on the European Union, the crisis facing NHS casualty departments, and women and Scottish golf clubs.

Andrew Rawnsley was joined by Kirsty Buchanan of the Sunday Express; Lesley Riddoch of the Scotsman; Nigel Nelson of the People; Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian; and Graeme Demianyk of the Western Morning News, for the live, studio-based debate series taking the form of newspaper leader conferences.

They debated: Britain and Europe; the crisis in casualty; and whether women should be admitted to private Scottish golf clubs.

Catch a Grip!

The political convulsion at Westminster over the European Union has been extraordinary. Not since 1946 has an MPs' rebellion on the Queen's Speech been so great nor, in our view, so damaging to a prime minister and his party.

Many of his backbenchers doubt Mr Cameron's claim to have a clear position on an EU in/out referendum. We strongly suspect it is questioned by the wider electorate too; in Scotland, it is regarded with mystification. For their part, Tory MPs argue they want to strengthen the prime minister's hand; they are in reality seeking to shackle him. To stop this issue from bedevilling the Conservative party yet again we think both MPs and their leader have to catch a grip of political reality and stop, in Mr Cameron's own words from opposition, "banging on" about Europe. The prime minister may need to discipline those ministers who are exacerbating the row.

We also recommend the Tories stop "feeding the crocodile" on Europe in their own interest. For most voters the economy matters much more―where the Conservatives have an edge. We doubt that there is much political advantage for Mr Miliband or Mr Clegg in emulating Mr Cameron's referendum offer; Europe is the Tories' problem.

When elected leader of his party, Mr Cameron set out to offer distinctive, more voter-friendly policies on the environment, social inclusion and welfare. He needs to recover that impulse. Meanwhile, we think that leaving the EU at the moment would be a mistake.

A&E's perfect storm

An increasingly elderly population, the deficiencies in the new 111 non-emergency advice line and the effective ending of out-of-hours care by GPs are combining to impose acute pressures on hospital accident and emergency departments.

We agree with the Secretary of State for Health in England, Jeremy Hunt, and the Foundation Trust Network that remedial action needs to be taken now―or some A&E units will face collapse. The number of patients presenting themselves for treatment in casualty has increased by four million in eight years. At the same time, waiting times in England have doubled; in Scotland they have trebled.

If the National Health Service is to serve the requirements of patients today it needs a radical overhaul. Sentimentality about the NHS has inhibited governments from grappling with structures that sometimes date back more 65 years. In addition the re-negotiation of English GPs' contracts by the last government failed to take account of the large amount of work by family doctors which was effectively done for free. That needs to be reviewed―as will the coalition's poor management of the pilot of the 111 advice line.

More fundamentally, England may have lessons to learn from north of Hadrian's Wall, specifically, in the amalgamation of health and social care functions and budgets. Scotland has found that the distinguishing feature of the patients who turn up at A&E units is that they are poor, malnourished and elderly. Ministers need urgently to investigate the possibilities of holistic, community-based services providing what these patients require―not A&E.

From fore to hole in one.

"Fore!" they shout on golf courses as a wayward ball descends on you or your property. The Royal & Ancient, the sport's governing body, should prepare for the sound of shattering glass.

Golf's hallowed clubhouses are as much a part of its unique contribution to international sport as its celebrated courses. Women as well as men should enjoy them. Sadly in Scotland the R&A is resisting calls to encourage private men-only golf clubs to admit women, describing it as an attempt to "bully" the clubs concerned.

We see it as an overdue adjustment of tradition to modernity. Private clubs may be single-sex provided they ensure guest access. But what is good enough for Augusta, home of the Masters―where former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and another woman were last year made members―is good enough for us. Muirfield, location of this year's Open Championship, should follow suit. A hole in one for sexual equality.

Producer Simon Coates.

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