Chris Huhne: You ask the questions
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman answers your questions, including, 'Will the Liberal Democrats ever be in power? And are you worth your pay?
Monday 13 April 2009
The police officer who assaulted Ian Tomlinson didn't do anything worse than many other police officers filmed that day. Shouldn't they be investigated too?
The officer who lashed out at Ian Tomlinson is not typical. But any constable who betrays the public's trust to use force responsibly should be disciplined and, if appropriate, charged. It is lamentably unfair to the vast majority of self-controlled officers if a thug tars the whole force.
What would you do to stop our police officers' frightening habit of exceeding their powers?
Forces must be tougher with officers who offend. It is scandalous that there are more than 1,000 police officers still in post despite criminal convictions, and that nearly a fifth of these are for offences involving violence or dishonesty. The best police forces are those that firmly discipline their own officers when they transgress. The Independent Police Complaints Commission also needs more experienced investigators.
Should Jacqui Smith resign over her expenses claims?
It looks awful, but let's see the result of the inquiry by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
How can someone who owns as many homes as you do credibly criticise other politicians about theirs?
Easily. My wife and I have no more homes for our own use than any other MP's family – one in my Eastleigh constituency and another in London. My other properties were bought as a pension fund before I was elected, and earn income as investments just like shares or bank deposits. I am proud of a successful business career.
Do you think you are worth your salary as an MP, or should they be reduced at a time of such economic hardship?
Working out what an MP is worth should be done by independent review, not MPs. All pay must, of course, reflect economic realities. The ultimate judge will be my constituents.
Some of your parliamentary colleagues blame financial journalists for talking down the economy. As a former financial journalist, do you agree?
No. Don't shoot the messenger for delivering the message. Rob Peston, who worked with me at The Independent on Sunday many years ago, is a very fine journalist.
What percentage chance would you say there is of you ever being in government?
High. I gave up the safest Lib Dem seat in the European Parliament for a Westminster marginal in part because I am convinced that we will complete the process of political reform within my lifetime. We had six MPs in 1970, and 63 today. We control big cities like Liverpool, Sheffield, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Swansea, Newcastle and Hull.
Doesn't the way Nick Clegg's taken your party to the right make you uncomfortable?
Nick has not taken the party to the right. On climate change, no other party has detailed plans for a zero carbon Britain. On jobs, Nick and Vince Cable have set out practical plans for recovery. On tax fairness, Labour and the Tories squabble about cutting inheritance tax for the few, while the Liberal Democrats want tax cuts for low and middle income families funded by ending unfair reliefs for the rich. On civil liberties, only the Lib Dems have set out a Freedom bill to repeal illiberal laws. These days, we set the progressive agenda. Labour has lost its way, and the Tories cannot be trusted to help those in need.
How can you help but feel regretful over a leadership election you would have won if the votes had been counted properly? You wouldn't be human if you didn't.
Rules are rules, and Nick won fair and square. I have kicked around long enough to have had lots of ups and downs in my life, and the next challenge is always more exciting than trying the re-fight the last one.
Does having such a small majority change the way you behave as an MP?
Personally I would like to hope not, but the evidence suggests that MPs work harder if they can lose. That is why every constituency should be marginal, and every vote should count equally wherever you live. The present system is rotten because more than two-thirds of MPs are in jobs for life. Under the Irish system, the voter can choose the party but also the candidate within the party. So a Conservative voter unhappy with a lazy local MP could vote for another Conservative. Lots of Irish MPs lose their seats to members of their own party, which keeps the rest on their toes. We need a system that gives voters more power, and professional politicians less.
Is there anything the Liberal Democrats can do to become more visible outside of elections?
Vince Cable has been giving a master-class on how Liberal Democrats can be visible between elections. Journalists and voters respect politicians who know what they are talking about, have real world experience, and get the big judgements more right than wrong. The contest on the economy between Vince, as the former Shell chief economist, and George Osborne, who has never done a job outside the Westminster bubble, or the lawyer Alistair Darling is frankly unfair. But a little unfairness in our favour helps balance things up!
Do you agree with Alastair Campbell's view that the media has done unfair harm to people's perception of politicians?
Journalists are crucial in holding power to account when parliament is so weak, but they have to be careful of two traps. The first is to assume that anyone with power has evil intentions. Most failures are actually cock-ups and not conspiracies. The second journalistic trap is to believe that you are impartial when in fact you are merely acidic and corrosive to everyone. The result is to undermine faith in the entire system.
When you went out with Tony Blair's ex-girlfriend, did she tell you any good stories about him?
No. You have got the chronology wrong!
You're an expert on green issues. Isn't it time politicians told the truth and made it clear that some sacrifices will have to be made for the future of the planet, instead of pretending we can have it both ways?
The longer we delay serious measures to tackle climate change, the more difficult the solution. There must be a green route to recovery because we cannot go back to our old carbon-fuelled ways. This will involve sacrifice – rebalancing our tax to penalise activities that threaten the planet while taxing other activities less – but we should not scare people off. The best estimates (such as those of Lord Nick Stern) are that the costs of going green are modest. The costs of not going green are cataclysmic.
You investigated Robert Maxwell when you were a journalist. What was your experience of him?
He was a liar, a cheat and a bully. I was the business editor at The Independent when we had a very good team working on Captain Bob, so my job was merely to ensure we put in the resources and protected the reporters from his pressure. That task was made a lot easier by our outstanding editor, Andreas Whittam Smith, who had been a business editor himself. Maxwell had several writs outstanding against us when he died, and I remember being in Andreas's office to receive a telephone rant from the Captain that would have put any ordinary editor off. Andreas had to hold the receiver some way away from his ear as Maxwell yelled that he was "betting the farm". Much to Andreas's credit, he knew Maxwell for what he was. We went on publishing.
Complete this sentence in the style of Nick Clegg: I have had sex with no more than...
...a T-shirt on – nice try, though.
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