Chris Huhne: You Ask The Questions

The Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman answers your questions, such as 'Don't you rely on 'non-doms' too?' and 'Are you a Liberal or a Social Democrat?'
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What will you do if you lose your wafer-thin majority in Eastleigh?



Fight to win it back!

Which strand of the Liberal Democrats are you most at home in – the Liberals or the Social Democrats?

mitchell de jongh


This misunderstands the party. The strand of liberalism from Edwardian thinkers like LT Hobhouse developed a commitment to social reform which was similar to the moderate strand of social democracy, but based on the liberal principle that the individual could only enjoy freedom if they also had freedom from what Beveridge called the five giants of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.

Remember that Beveridge, the founder of the welfare state, was an active Liberal (like Maynard Keynes), and became leader of our party in the Lords. The political tradition on my celtic mother's side has always been radical Liberal or radical Labour: her father was christened William Ewart Gladstone Murray. They became active in the Labour party when the Liberal party went into vertiginous decline, but I feel as if I have come home.

Is Michael Foot best understood as a failed radical or radical failure?

alice edmonton


Sadly, both. He was a marvellous and passionate speaker, but ultimately was not my type of politician because he seemed to prefer to lose in style than win with compromise. I just cannot see the point of going into politics unless you want to wield power, and that inevitably involves taking risks and making deals. Politicians should go into politics to do things, not be things.

David Marquand argued years ago that splitting the Left vote in this country condemns us to bad, conservative government. He's right, isn't he?



David had not at that point quite liberated himself from the two-party mindset. Inside this pluralist country of ours are at least three vibrant political traditions trying to get out, and it is vain and presumptuous to try to squeeze them into a two-party system through the corset of first-past-the-post elections. Conservatives and Labour won more than 95 per cent of the vote in the fifties, but just two thirds of the vote in 2005 (and less than half of the vote in the European Elections).

The charge that the Liberal Democrats split the progressive vote was made against our predecessors in the Eighties, but in fact the polling evidence suggested that if we had not been there most of our supporters would have voted Conservative at that time. Labour's defeat would have been even more catastrophic.

Would your party prefer to work with a Labour or Conservative administration? LAURA McFALL


I am an economist, and that is like asking whether you would like to buy something in a supermarket without knowing the price. That may be a fun daytime TV game, but it is not the real world.

If Liberal Democrats were merely near substitutes for either Labour or the Conservatives, we would hardly have struggled all these years to build up an independent party. It would have been a lot easier for all of us to get elected as Labour or Tory MPs! We should work to get the most Liberal Democrat policy put into practice.

Do you still have ambitions to lead your party, and be Prime Minister?



I think Nick is doing an excellent job, and my ambition is to be a minister in a radical Liberal Democrat Government headed by Nick.

Why are you sticking it to Lord Ashcroft when your own leadership campaign was part-funded by a "non-dom"?


All parties take contributions from non-dom taxpayers, but the Liberal Democrats do not put them into the House of Lords where they can make law for the rest of us who pay full taxes. Nor do our Lords break solemn and binding commitments to become permanently resident and pay full taxes. Nor do our Lords fail to tell our leaders that they have renegotiated key commitments with the Revenue. As it happens, the Tory allegation that my leadership campaign was funded by a non-dom is not true. They were simply desperate to say something because of their own deep embarrassment over Lord Ashcroft.

How is your party in a position to criticise Tories over Ashcroft, when Lib Dems received your biggest donation from a fraudster and won't give it back?



The £5.1m donations from Lord Ashcroft continued over a long period when he had broken his undertakings made on taking up his peerage. The Electoral Commission recognised that the one-off donation from Michael Brown had been properly investigated, and he was convicted only after the donation and investigation. You can't give back money that has been spent. Political parties are not banks.

No party has been honest about how to cut the budget deficit once our economy is growing. Here is your chance: where will the axe fall?



Vince Cable has spelled out more details of cuts – the Trident programme, baby bonds, next tranche of eurofighter, ID cards and so on – than anyone else. We have spelt out a credible plan for the four or more years it will take to cut the deficit, but it must crucially depend on growth.

If we took Tory advice and cut spending and raised taxes precipitately, growth would stop. Unemployment and benefit spending would rise further. Tax revenue would stall. And the deficit would not shrink but grow. That is what happened during the Tory recovery of the Eighties, when unemployment went on rising for six years after the recovery of output.

Are you proud of your past as a Trotskyite agitator?



I'll own up to having been a Labour party member and a revolting teenager when I was a student. But Trotskyite agitator is far too grand!

Given you own seven homes, are you annoyed at Lib Dem proposals for a mansion tax? And aren't you setting a bad example by speculating on property?



The mansion tax is a great idea, since it is so hard to avoid taxes on property and land. My five rental investments are just my pension fund from my time in the City. I don't speculate: I bought all of them more than 12 years ago before I went into politics.

You wrote books about debt early in your career. Do you feel vindicated by the financial crisis?



I worked with Vince in the early Eighties on debt, then as our economic spokesman in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2005, and then as Vince's deputy in the Commons, and I completely agreed with his warnings (and made them myself). But that only matters now because getting it right in the past is a sign of good judgement about the future. Labour and the Tories were both slavish followers of free market fashion, and can't be trusted with the economy now.

As an economist do you agree the major cause of the recession was lax monetary policy that pumped money into the economy, creating massive bubbles?



Up to a point, but in addition those bubbles regularly occur in land and housing markets, which are more important than other asset markets because they affect so many ordinary people.

Much of the story was about new financial instruments – mortgage liberalisation in the Eighties, securitised mortgage lending in the nineties – which should have been regulated.

Vince and I proposed before the bust, for example, that capital requirements should rise in those lenders where mortgage lending was growing particularly rapidly. This would have increased the cost of such irresponsible lending without a general rise in interest rates.

And the land market needs to be reformed so that there is much more responsiveness of supply to rising prices, notably by charging a rate on empty and under-used property. If we sorted out the land and housing market – which has now been an aggravating or principal cause of four terrible recessions in my lifetime – we would be able to have lower interest rates for productive investment, and a higher growth rate.

Who is your best friend in parliament? Nick Clegg?


Now we are no longer rivals, I certainly count Nick as a friend. But one of the great things about the Lib Dem parliamentary group is that there are lots of great characters whom I am proud to call friends. I don't think I have had any best friends since school!