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Mercury sets up face-to-face Q&A with Tory leader Howard

Tory leader Michael Howard has visited the Birmingham newsroom of the Sunday Mercury for a face-to-face question-and-answer session from readers.

The meeting, set up by Mercury head of content Tony Larner, brought readers face-to-face with Mr Howard – and they came armed with a series of tough questions.

Subjects included the house arrest of terror suspects, radiation from mobile phone masts, the spread of MRSA, racism, the economy, law and order, the motor industry and more.

The Mercury had invited readers to send in questions, and then picked the toughest. The Tory leader was given no advance warning of the questions or subject areas to be covered.

Readers who put their questions in person included the iman of the city’s biggest mosque, an ex-convict, first-time voters, former car workers, a Polish immigrant, an NHS patient and a phone mast campaigner.

The hour-long session, managed by deputy editor Paul Cole, proved a big success, with chief feature writer Lorne Jackson filling as the ‘Question Time’ chairman’s role.

After the meeting Mr Howard admitted that the questioning had been ‘robust’.

As well as a PR coup for the Mercury, the session resulted in a double-page spread in the next edition.

Paul said: “It was a major success. Members of the public rarely get the chance to put questions to a party leader, let alone in person, and they took up the challenge with enthusiasm.

“There were some fiery exchanges. Mr Howard wasn’t afraid to disagree with some of our readers – and they weren’t shy about making their point. Make no mistake, he had a tough time.

“We were impressed that he agreed to make this appearance without any advance warning of the questions to be asked or subject matters to be covered – so it all had to be off-the-cuff.

“We’d like to invite Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy to join us on the same basis.”