Charles Kennedy: You Ask The Questions

The former Liberal Democrat leader answers: when was the last time you had a drink? Will you lead your party again?
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The Independent Online

Do you regret not standing for the leadership against Sir Menzies Campbell, Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes? MATTHEW COOPER, Birmingham

I wouldn't have seen such a contest as my standing "against" any other colleague, but instead a case of offering myself for re-election. The key point for me was that the leadership had to be decided by one member, one vote. The level of turnout demonstrates that my calling the election was the correct decision.

What would you do differently if you were leading the Liberal Democrats today? J RILEY, Belfast

My approach now would be to take through this year's conference the internal policy review I initiated before the last general election, then set out the Lib Dem role in the post-Blair scenario.

Can you envisage ever leading your party again? CLIVE OLIVER, Knutsford

Who knows what the future holds? Unpredictability is a central feature of political life!

When was the last time you had an alcoholic drink? MARTHA REID, Plymouth

On questions concerning alcohol, I made clear when I stepped down that I was in good health then and that remains the case. It's up to me to maintain my good health - which I am - and in so doing I'm entitled to privacy. So I see no need to go further than that, save to say that my wife's support in all things is outstanding.

Many recovering alcoholics simply find a new obsession when they kick the juice. Are you a gym junkie now? Or what? RUBY MULLANE, London

I take regular exercise, but never inside a gym! The Scottish Highlands are ideal for walking; our 16-month-old son keeps us on our toes as well!

Is there life for you beyond politics? What are your plans for the future? MARILYN COX, Cockermouth

I'm relieved to say that there has always been, since I was first elected aged 23 back in 1983, life for me beyond politics. I subscribe to Denis Healey's view that politicians need a hinterland, and I'm fortunate to have several. Since ceasing to be leader I've rejoined The House Magazine (Westminster's weekly publication) as an associate editor. I've also been visiting Russia through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, offering Lib Dem ideas to opposition parties there. From the autumn, along with the former Labour cabinet minister, Paul Murphy, I'm undertaking a visiting parliamentary fellowship to St Antony's College, Oxford, where we shall be working on a series of seminars focusing on the roles of religious and ethnic minorities in democracies. I'm also authoring and presenting an edition of Channel 4's Thirty Minutes series, one which looks at the way in which the political process seems to mitigate against meaningful discussion of the big issues - eg Europe, civil nuclear power. A lot of senior colleagues from across the political spectrum have been kind enough to contribute.

Why has Menzies Campbell failed to make any headway in the opinion polls? What advice would you give him? LUCIE MOYLES, Great Missenden

We've had extremely encouraging election results this year - one spectacular by-election win over Labour, a very near miss against the Tories. I've enjoyed actively supporting all our campaigns in 2006. People always underestimate the extent to which our core support base is now much stronger and more sustained than before. I'm against former leaders giving their successors public advice!

Would you like the chance to address this year's Lib Dem party conference? What would you say? DAVID TYLER, Nottingham

I am looking forward to giving a platform address at the party conference on the Tuesday afternoon. I will be working on the speech during the summer recess.

How do you relax? G WRIGHT, Ashford

Family and home first; listening to music and reading/writing second. I'm trying to rediscover the frustrations of the golf course.

Why do you think polls show the Lib Dems at a low ebb? Why do Lib Dem performances in elections seem much more robust? SIMON JONES, Chelmsford

We invariably outpoll our apparent ratings when we get the chance to take our message direct to people. But you cannot underestimate the extent to which UK politics is still viewed through an essentially two-dimensional Westminster prism. The reality outside is very different.

Why, given nine years in which the Tories have been in the wilderness, have the Lib Dems not become the official Opposition? JOHN WALTER, New York and Kent

It's partly a product of my last answer, but you would expect me also to point to the vice-like grip which the voting system still exerts.

Will proportional representation ever be introduced? IAN JEWITT, Ipswich

PR now operates for the European and Scottish parliaments, the Welsh and London assemblies. It is coming in next year for Scottish local government. We have won the PR argument in principle and in practice; Westminster will follow.

What is your personal view on the replacement of Trident? ANDREW MORROW, Maidenhead

The way the "debate" is being conducted renders poor service to the body politic. We need far more information before such a far-reaching strategic decision is made - but a guiding principle needs to be our national commitment to non-proliferation and a base line of minimum deterrence if that is judged to be correct.

As the leader of a mainstream political party your presence at the 2003 London anti-war march was seen as a courageous political act. Did you have the full support of your foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell? MANI CHOWDHRY, Oxford

The decision was mine alone. Ming shared with me a concern that my participation in the march should not be misconstrued as anti-Americanism. Ming was recovering from illness (successfully, thank goodness) at home in Edinburgh over that period. He did not oppose my attendance and speech.

Weren't you once responsible for a strike at Glasgow University when you ran the union (where no women were allowed)? And can you shed some light on the nickname, "Taxi", you had then? R ROWAN, by e-mail

I was the president of the Union who saw through the first admission of women to membership. There was an industrial dispute, not of our choosing, which was ended amicably. The "Taxi" nickname was a joke based largely on a student myth that I took taxis to lectures. Not true, since I attended lectures rather infrequently.

Do you agree that MPs representing Scottish seats should not be allowed to vote on issues affecting only England? GORDON MUTCH, Surbiton

No, not until we have a proper constitutional convention which addresses all the current UK anomalies within Westminster.

The Liberal Democrats claim to be an alternative to the other parties, but ideologically I cannot understand where you stand. What part of the country do you truly represent? MARK CURTIS, London

We stand for the rights of the individual and not the vested interests of the state, for fair taxation to enable opportunities all round, for genuine environmentalism and internationalism. This truly represents all parts of the country.

Are you happy with the current policies of the Liberal Democrats? Do you think the new policies will bring in new voters or alienate old ones? HELEN, by e-mail

The policy review I started is proceeding apace, although several significant specifics have yet to be decided. Inevitably you can win new supporters and perhaps lose previous ones; that's just a political fact of life.

Who do you think is the best leader the Liberal Democrats have ever had, and why? LIAM MOLE, Croydon

Roy Jenkins (albeit then of the SDP) - amazing political capacity and a genuine historical sweep of insight.

How do you feel about the fact that your commitment to a 50p income tax band has been scrapped? PETER SOAMES, Leamington Spa

Any specific tax proposal is a tool not a principle. 50p is regarded by some as totemic; the key issue for me is the commitment to fairness and redistribution in tax policy overall. The policy is still to be decided at the conference.

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