Election '97: Searching for a sense of society

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Mark Wigglesworth, conductor, is Music Director of the Premiere Ensemble and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. He has worked with many of the world's leading orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic.

How will you be voting?

Liberal Democrat


Europe is important. I think they are the only party that sees Europe in terms of political co-operation. The other two parties are only interested in selling Europe in terms of how it benefits us as individuals. The whole idea that it could be good for people to work together is never really discussed. The Tories and Labour will only sell it to us if it is going to benefit our pockets.

Generally all the policies that the two main parties are selling are based on selfishness. That's very depressing: that people should vote based on what is best for them, rather than what is best for the community. The idea that tax is a dirty word is, I think, extraordinary. It benefits everybody to have good services. The amount of extra tax they are talking about is so little for the individual. People might think that they don't benefit from the transport system if they use their car, or they don't benefit from eduction if they don't have children, but we all benefit if society is strong.

The idea of co-operation and the fact that people may not simply be interested in their own bank accounts is an issue that only the Lib Dems are prepared to lead on. People only think they can make these promises because they will never get elected, but they seem the only party who see politicians as leaders rather than followers. The other parties react to the polls and do whatever people want in order to get elected whereas the Liberal party sticks its neck out in a far more admirable way.

What do you think of Paddy Ashdown?

To be honest I don't think the people are that important: it's the philosophies that matter, and he embodies the philosophy of the party. All the leaders are intelligent people, but it's not so much a question of who they are, as what they believe in. Paddy Ashdown believes in a sense of community, a sense of society and a sense of future, though not just the immediate future.

The issue I feel most strongly about is PR. There are only 100 or so seats where your vote will make a difference, and for everybody else the vote is irrelevant and that is extraordinary. For the vast majority of people the election is a waste of time, and that can't be right.

What do you think of tactical voting?

I'm all for tactical voting. I don't need to do it in my constituency because the Liberals are in second place. But I think Labour is closer to the Liberal party than the Tories. What I'd really like is for neither Labour nor the Tories to get a majority: then PR might become a reality. I think Tony Blair's attitude to PR will be conditioned by his majority. If he has a landslide victory there is no way PR will be high on his agenda. If he needs the Liberals then it probably will be, and I find that depressing because his hand will have been forced, but the outcome is a potentially exciting one.