Julia Goldsworthy: You Ask The Questions

The Liberal Democrat local government spokesman answers your questions, such as 'Is Britain broken?' and 'Shouldn't MPs know about life outside politics?'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Is Britain broken? Ted Cooper, Rochdale

No. Could Britain be fairer? Yes. If anything shows that Cameron's Tory party has not changed its spots it's the fact they've reverted to the same old negative politics they've always embraced."Broken Britain", "We can't go on like this" – what do these slogans say about what a Conservative government would do to make things better? Week after week Cameron damns the state of this country without offering any policies to improve it. The Liberal Democrats have four key pledges to make it fairer: fairer taxes that put money back in your pocket; a fair start for every child; a fairer future creating jobs by making Britain greener and a fair deal for you by cleaning up our politics.

A hung parliament will lead to weak government and spook investors. Does that make your party mortal enemy of what Britain needs most? James Plate, Glasgow

What might spook investors were if the only choice at this election was between an exhausted Labour government who've run up the biggest budget deficit in peacetime history or a Conservative one that could plunge us back into recession by cutting too fast, led by a Chancellor who's never even studied economics. What Britain needs most is a Liberal Democrat government led by Nick Clegg with Vince Cable at the Exchequer entrenching the recovery and then rebalancing our economy.

Why is Nick Clegg flirting with the idea of pulling out of Afghanistan, without the courage to actually call for it? Quentin Rudd, Manchester

The war in Afghanistan is vital in protecting our security, but the Government's strategy demands that we ask serious questions about how we are fighting this war. We have been highly critical of the strategy in Afghanistan until the emergence of recent changes. The government went along with the 'military-only' strategy of President Bush – and failed over eight years to develop a complementing political strategy that could deliver an end to this conflict. This failure, coupled with the disastrous decision to invade Iraq in 2003 before Afghanistan was sufficiently stabilised, has cost many lives.

As a result Nick Clegg has argued for a political strategy at three levels: a regional peace settlement involving the surrounding nations; a national political strategy in Afghanistan to root out corruption, build good governance and inspire pride and commitment among Afghans toward their government; and local political work to emphasise reconstruction as well as reconciliation with moderates among the Taliban ranks. Until we have made enough progress on these challenges, we believe we cannot withdraw and leave the Afghans in a power vacuum.

Vince Cable botched the mansion tax and changed his mind repeatedly about interest rates. Why does he get such a sycophantic press? Christopher Cotton, Rochester

Just look at his record – he's been right on all the big economic calls in recent years. His consistency and plain talking has deservedly won him credibility. From warning of the dangers of mounting personal debt and the unsustainable housing bubble as far back as 2003, to being the first to call for the nationalisation of Northern Rock; Vince has been ahead of the curve. He is held in high regard not just by journalists but by key figures in industry, the City and on all sides of Parliament.

Do you want to be leader of the Liberal Democrats one day? Vaalerie Costins, Peterborough

I don't think so, and there isn't a vacancy! Nick is doing an excellent job and my priorities are doing my best for my constituency and the party as the Shadow Local Government Secretary.

Was Gordon Brown right to cry on television after saying "My children aren't props, they're people"? Isabelle Lambert, Boston

In my view Gordon Brown's error of judgement was in agreeing to be interviewed by Piers Morgan at all. Both Brown and Cameron have experienced the terrible tragedy of the loss of a child, but I can't really see how this bears on a general election campaign. People need to know that politicians are human, but in order to be sincere, I don't think it's necessary to subject every aspect of your personal life to the glare of the media.

Wouldn't it have been better if you'd had a proper, substantial career before going into politics? All three parties are dominated by the new political class. Abigail Hillman, Guildford

Our politics should be both rich in its diversity and accessible to all – we need to fight the negative stereotype of MPs as overpaid, dishonest and out of touch with real people. This can only be achieved by engaging people of all ages and from varied backgrounds in the political process. I entered parliament at a young age (26) and worked in community regeneration in Cornwall before I was elected. Does this make me better or worse qualified than the many MPs who spent decades as lawyers?

Many of my colleagues have entered parliament following wide-ranging careers in journalism, business and academia, to name but a few. Parliament will have a very different look after the next election, and we must try and reclaim the respect we have lost in recent years.

You're MP for Falmouth and Camborne. How do Lib Dems in the south-west hope to survive the avalanche of [Tory donor Michael] Ashcroft money pouring into your opponents' coffers? Nicholas Upton, Crediton

By continuing to campaign for the fair deal the region deserves. Local Lib Dem campaigns have always focused on the issues that matter most to local people – which I think means more to the public than expensive glossy leaflets. As I outlined earlier, our pledges for fairer taxes and a fair start in life stand in stark contrast to the decades of neglect from consecutive Conservative and Labour Governments. The Conservatives' promises today can only be judged by their dreadful record in government, delivering Cornwall and the south west the highest water bills in the UK, the lowest wages, and amongst the worst funding deal for schools, hospitals and other services. This election will be between the Liberal Democrats with a track record championing local needs, or the Conservatives who have consistently failed our area.

Why does your party support an amnesty for illegal immigrants, which will encourage further immigration and reward criminals within our borders? Hamish Malvern, Newcastle

We do not support an amnesty for illegal immigrants. A recent LSE study estimated that there could be three-quarters of a million illegal immigrants, but we do not know the exact number because of the abolition of exit checks started by the Tories and continued by Labour. It costs £11,000 to deport one person, so deporting them all, assuming you could find them, would cost billions.

We say that, subject to English language tests and civic tests, those who have been in the UK illegally for 10 years would be eligible to apply for a two-year work permit. After this period, provided the person has not broken the law, they could apply for indefinite leave to remain. We believe it makes far better sense to bring those who have been here longest, contributed the most, and made their lives here, out of the shadows and grant them legal status. Then they'll pay taxes, and be part of society, and we can focus enforcement efforts on exit checks, better border security and a crackdown on the people doing real harm like people-traffickers.

Far more so than the other two main parties, the Lib Dems seem very white. Do you need a bit of positive discrimination to make yourselves more representative? Navid Ibharra, Coventry

MPs in parliament should better reflect the make-up of the society that elected them. That means greater numbers of women and ethnic minorities, as well as a better spread of age groups and employment backgrounds. All parties need to raise their game on this issue. Late last year, Nick Clegg outlined our commitment to increasing the diversity of our parliamentary candidates. We've made real progress, but we still have a long way to go. Instinctively I'm uncomfortable about positive discrimination, but I wouldn't want to rule it out as a last resort.

[Tory MP] Michael Gove dropped his glasses for contact lenses in a profession of ambition. Is that why you did it? Evan Bemerton, London

I actually still wear glasses most of the time. I wear contacts occasionally, but it's not based on the fashion advice of Mr Gove!

Which Tory do you most respect? Rafael Sobri, Hereford

Of the current crop I'd have to say Nick Hurd, the MP for Ruislip-Northwood. And for Labour it would be David Drew, the MP for Stroud. We all worked together on the Sustainable Communities Act – a fantastic piece of legislation that gives communities the opportunity to have a greater say over the decisions that impact on their lives. Politics isn't always partisan, and this piece of legislation is a testament to what can be achieved when there is cross-party consensus.