Last Tuesday saw 256 Bar in Fallowfield play host to ‘Politics Question Time’, a panel discussion event organised by the Politics Society in the style of the well-known BBC debate programme, with a selection of lecturers from various Manchester University departments acting as the panellists.
Making up this panel were Professor Andrew Russell (Head of Politics), Dr. Peter Backus (Economics), Dr. Peter Lawler (International Relations), Dr. Adrienne Roberts (International Politics), Dr. Miriam Ronzoni (Political Theory) and Dr. Nick Turnbull (Politics).
The panel responded to a set of seven preselected questions posed by audience remembers.
First off the list was “Is the top rate of income tax too low?” concerning the UK’s 45 per cent tax rate on earnings over £150000, reduced from 50 per cent by the current government. Interestingly, the panel’s replies did not focus on the usual argument about high tax rates simply driving the wealthy abroad, with a call instead for taxes on wealth as opposed to income.
The next question to be asked was “With Britain now paying the highest rail fares in the world, is it time we ended the failed experiment of privatisation and renationalised the railways?”
Nick Turnbull was first to respond, discussing the issue of the government subsidising certain transport operators like Stagecoach and Virgin, who return very little to the public purse, versus foreign owned companies who offer far better value for money. While not advocating outright renationalisation, he did insist major reforms were necessary.
Peter Lawler called for a return to the days of British Rail, arguing that the value of railways could not be measured purely in profits and thus is poorly served by a profit-driven privatised system.
The next question was simply, “Can the Tories be trusted with anything?” Andrew Russell gave the first response, stating there were too many unrealistic expectations often imposed on politicians, at the same time stressing the need to hold politicians to account when they renege on their promises to voters.
The fourth question of the evening asked whether it was acceptable for our government to allow billions of dollars in arms sales to countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia while at the same time criticising other nations for human rights abuses.
The idea of using arms sales as leverage against these governments was brought up, as well as Saudi Arabia being a stabilising force in the region.
Fifth up was “Is economic liberalisation the solution for developing countries?” There was a general consensus among the panel that GDP was a poor measure of overall wellbeing of a country, not taking into account factors such as infant mortality and literacy rates.
Adrienne Roberts gave a firm ‘no’, arguing that privatisation of state industries was often not beneficial, with only the most profitable areas taken and the public left to pick up the remains.
Following this, the panel were asked if the planet could be saved from global warming under the current system.
Peter Backus stressed the need for political will and incentives for industries to encourage a switch to more sustainable forms of energy.
Lastly there was a quick fire round asking “Should the University of Manchester divest from fossil fuels?”
The university’s connections to the fossil fuel industry have been a focus of campaigning by the Fossil Free society this year, which wants to see investment diverted to more sustainable causes.
The panel gave a resounding ‘yes’ response, agreeing that such a move would be a powerful symbol of a commitment to sustainability.