Eric Pickles: You Ask The Questions

The Chairman of the Conservative Party answers your questions, such as 'How will you cut council tax and not services?' and 'What's your dream job?'
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The Independent Online

Most people blame the present government for failing to make bankers and financiers behave themselves. Why should we believe that the party that brought us the Big Bang will do any better in that respect? ALAN CAMP, Hull

Following deregulatory reforms in the 1980s, known as Big Bang, the Government still regulated the level of debt in the economy. This vital function was undone by Gordon Brown in 1997 when he established his tripartite system. While admittedly we were slow to spot how serious this mistake was, this system patently failed to protect the economy from over-indebtedness and recession. To correct this we have published detailed policy proposals through Sir James Sassoon including: giving the Bank of England responsibilities and powers to call time on debt, fundamental reform of the Financial Services Authority to minimise the risk posed by single institutions to the stability of the financial system, and a full analysis of the separation of "utility" and "investment" banks. People can only have confidence in a government's ability to put right mistakes if first that government admits them. We have apologised but Gordon Brown seems incapable of saying sorry for his mistakes; this makes him part of the problem, not the solution.

You're running the Conservative campaign in this year's European elections. What will they be about? KATIE CARROLL, Llanelli

Bringing about much needed change.

How much has your working-class Labour background helped you rise in the Conservative Party? Or has it stood in your way? CARA SIMMS, Exeter

My experience of the Conservative Party is that it is open and welcoming. It judges you on what you are, rather than where you came from. It is a family of friends that I am proud to have been a member of for nearly 41 years.

Your main home is in your constituency in Brentwood – a half-hour commute from London. Why on earth should we pay to help support your London pied à terre? JUNE HARDY, Brentwood

If you can get from my home in Essex to Westminster in half an hour, can I have use of your helipad? I am a serious MP who works long, unsocial hours and it is the only practical solution. I publish my expenses on my website. I'm sure you'll be pleased with how modest they are.

How are you going to cut council tax without devastating local services? TONY PERRYMAN, DERBY

Under Labour, council tax has doubled in the past decade while frontline services like weekly rubbish collections have been savagely cut back, fuelling an exploding rat population. Labour has become a byword for waste and bureaucracy and we believe there are rafts of efficiency savings we can make without compromising services. A Conservative government would not only help local authorities freeze council tax for two years but would also reinstate weekly rubbish collections. This will be paid for by cutting back on Labour's wasteful obsession with spending hard-pressed taxpayer's money on management consultants and advertising.

What have you made of Barack Obama's performance so far? ANNE GOWERS, LONDON

It has been an impressive and persuasive start.

How do you get on with members of the Peniel Pentecostal Church, who joined your constituency party in such large numbers back in 2000 that Martin Bell stood against you to fight their influence? Do they still control the local party? PETER CHALMERS, Northampton

Sorry to burst you conspiracy bubble, but the last time I counted (which was when I last did this feature) there are no members of Peniel Pentecostal Church in my local party.

Senior executives can't blithely bring in their spouses to work in the office. Why should MPs be able to? It's just a shocking abuse of public funds, isn't it? DAVINA ADDISON, Leeds

I'm not sure you are right on the first part of the question. Serious MPs work long, anti-social hours and I don't see a problem with a spouse doing a proper job alongside them. I think it is helpful that we now publicly declare family members that work. I have for some time published my expenses and the names of who works for me (none are family members) on my website.

What would be your dream job in a Conservative cabinet? JAMIE COTTER, Bury

I am very happy in my current job. You can't plan political careers but I think if you start thinking ahead of the job you are in you are not doing the current one properly.

Michael Ashcroft is a dodgy character. Why don't you just admit it instead of shamelessly taking his millions to bankroll your candidates? DEAN SOARES, Sunderland

The Conservative Party compliance unit applies two strict tests to all company donations in accordance with Electoral Commission guidance. They are: is the company UK-registered and is the company trading? The donations from Michael Ashcroft meet those tests and were therefore legal and permissible. What is disturbing is the fact the Labour Party are at the mercy of the unions to bankroll them as their donors desert them.

Is anyone outside of the Shadow Cabinet on board with the remaking of the Conservative Party? Once Cameron becomes less popular, won't you just revert to the old nasty party ways? JENNIFER GOODING, Leeds

If you speak to anyone from grassroots activists to Conservative MPs in Parliament they will all tell you how pleased they are about the change the party has undergone under David Cameron . The important thing is that political parties continue to listen to the public. Politicians don't have all the answers and it's important we remember that. What we have witnessed under Labour is a party that has reverted to talking to itself and not the public. The result has been the breakdown of British society where sadly people don't feel safe to walk the streets in their local neighbourhoods.

A quarter of a century after the miners' strike, are you ashamed of the devastation your party wreaked on the north of England? SIMON GOUGH, Cheltenham

There is no doubt the miners' strike and Arthur Scargill's unwillingness to negotiate led to unnecessary suffering for many miners and communities. But this anniversary reminds us that, at a time of economic difficulty, a Conservative prime minister showed the leadership and decision-making that was necessary to withstand the threat from Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers, in the long-term interests of the country. If only we had a prime minister who was willing to take those sorts of decisions now and demonstrate that sort of leadership, to help get the country out of recession.

You told your constituency selection meeting: "I'm fat and I like Westerns." Have you picked up any vices in Westminster? SARAH HEALS, Ipswich

Much to Mrs Pickles's annoyance, I have acquired a taste for Wagner.

Do you think it is funnier to be called Pickles or Balls? Can you think of any other MPs with hilarious surnames? KIM McCAGUE, London

Having a silly name is not without its advantages: it's memorable, people tend to underestimate you, and its the perfect antidote to any temptation towards pomposity.

You've just been to Majorca to try to persuade ex-pats to vote. Can you describe what a weekend in Majorca with Eric Pickles is like? HARRY GIBBS, Manchester

Full of fun and mischief: fun for my Conservative chums; mischief for my Labour pals.

Why doesn't David Cameron give up this ridiculous charade about leaving the main centre-right group in Europe? Surely such a move will just leave you marginalised and voiceless. SHAUN HUGHES, Whitstable

Last week William Hague, Timothy Kirkhope MEP and Mark Francois met the chairman of the EPP, Joseph Daul, in Strasbourg. They confirmed to Mr Daul our long-standing intention to leave the EPP and establish a new grouping in the European Parliament after the 2009 elections.

Who would you say is the poshest Tory MP? DEBORAH CARTER, Edinburgh

Nothing comes close to the posh champagne socialists that I occasionally brush shoulders with. This is an obsession of Labour's twisted class warriors. It's not where you're from that counts, it's where you're going that's important. Sadly we have a government stuck in the past that is unable to offer any real solutions to the public as the recession bites.

What's your favourite joke? HOWARD GILMAN, Chester

It's not a joke, but the thing that made me laugh the most recently was "When Clowns Go Bad" part of The Far Side series by the cartoonist Gary Larson.