Julia Goldsworthy: You Ask The Questions

The LibDem spokesperson for Communities answers your questions, such as 'Have you ever had a proper job?' and 'What do you make of Sarah Palin?'
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The Independent Online

How did it feel when you arrived in Parliament as the youngest MP? Should there be more young MPs? PHILIP JACOBSON, Pinner

I still get a thrill every time I enter the Palace of Westminster. The process of Parliament can be very complicated, which in itself is intimidating when you're new, and everyone else seems to know what's going on. It didn't take more than a few weeks to realise that many MPs are good only at giving the impression of knowing what's going on. Sometimes other MPs are patronising, but I remind myself that I'm there for the same reason as them.

To make politics more interesting and appealing to people, I think that MPs need to be more representative of the society that we were elected to represent. That means greater numbers of women and ethnic minorities, as well as a better spread of the age profile.

As an up-and-coming Liberal Democrat you have many years of not being in government ahead of you. Wouldn't you rather be in a party with a chance at power? JANET FARRELL, Hove

When I joined the Liberal Democrats, the thought of standing for Parliament didn't even cross my mind. Personal and professional ambition had nothing to do with it.

I am very positive about what the party can achieve in the future, and about what difference we have already made to the political landscape in the UK. It's nothing to do with picking the winning side.

Have you ever had a proper job? Do you think it would be a good thing if more people with real-life experience were MPs? ROSS PRYCE-JONES, Dumbarton

Yes. I used to work in the regeneration team for a local council in Cornwall, and I also spent time as a researcher. Overall, I think it is a good thing for the experiences and backgrounds of MPs to be as varied as possible.

At the moment there are far too many middle-aged white men – many of whom are or have been lawyers. Because I was elected at 26, it goes without saying that there wasn't time for a complete alternative career. As long as that's not the universal experience of all MPs, I don't think it's a problem.

Now that the Conservatives have got their act together, are you worried about the next election? SARA KAMIL, Birmingham

I think the Conservatives will face a tough job in forming a government because they will have to regain many of the seats that we have taken from them in the past. They still have much to prove in terms of demonstrating that they have the policy as well as the PR for government.

I don't share your analysis that Labour supporters who disliked Blair are returning to the fold. If anything they are becoming more disillusioned. In many Labour seats it is the Liberal Democrats who are the real challengers, so I think there are great opportunities out there. In terms of my own seat, I'm taking nothing for granted. But it will take more than a picture of David Cameron sitting on a Cornish beach to convince people in my constituency to vote for him.

Do you feel sorry for Gordon Brown? NEIL CATTERMOLE, Ayr

Yes. But nobody wants their country to be run by someone they pity.

Would you like to lead the Liberal Democrats one day? GILLIAN COYLE, Poole

I'm hoping that there will not be another leadership election for a very long time. The main priorities for me are working hard for my constituents, and achieving the best general election result for the party.

What do you make of Sarah Palin ? LEAH SHEPHERD, Harrow

I'm more concerned with the fact she is an anti-abortion creationist than with her gender.

What do you make of Alex Salmond's move on local income tax? JIM ADAMS, Harpenden

The hated council tax is no longer fit for purpose. Because it's not linked to the ability to pay, above-inflation increases become more unaffordable every year. A genuine form of local income tax is the best alternative, but it's not yet clear whether the SNP's proposal is genuinely "local". A nationally fixed rate would imply it is not.

How would you reinvigorate house-building? DAVID MILMER, London

The house-building slump has been made worse by the fact that the cycles of private and social house-building now reinforce, rather than run counter to one another. This needs to be reversed to get the industry on a more sustainable footing, and to tackle housing waiting lists that are forecast to hit two million.

You've campaigned against Cornish post office closures. But are they really so crucial when so many of their functions are online now? STEPHANIE CRAWLEY, Bolton

Try asking a pensioner living in a village without any public transport access to her nearest town that. The postmaster in Budock, a village in my constituency whose post office is earmarked for closure, supports his community because he goes beyond his job description – doing things like delivering shopping to people's doorsteps, if they can't even manage a trip to the local shop. That kind of support and service can't be replaced with a computer terminal.

Why don't you support a windfall tax on energy companies? ROGER PELHAM, Deptford

Reducing the fuel bills of those on the lowest incomes must be a priority, as millions will face a struggle to afford heating their home this winter. This problem could be tackled most effectively by forcing energy companies to use the bulk of the £9bn subsidy they have received from the EU emissions trading scheme on mass home insulation, social tariffs and the installation of smart meters. Focusing on company profits is a red herring because so much of them are not UK based.

You presented a petition asking for Facebook to recognise Cornwall as a network region. Do you think Cornwall gets ignored? ELLIE MCMAHON, Padstow

Consecutive Conservative and Labour governments have ignored Cornwall, leaving the funding of our public services short changed. There's real poverty in Cornwall but it doesn't get recognised because it's not as concentrated as in urban areas. It's a similar problem for other rural areas, but because the county's surrounded by water on three sides, and because our population doubles in the summer, it puts public services under even greater pressure.

What do you think of the campaign for Cornish independence? TOBY FINNIMORE, London

I'd like to see Cornwall's cultural, geographic and economic identity better recognised. That could be achieved by giving us a stronger voice and a greater say on many of the decisions that affect us. But I think it's misleading to claim that independence would be the solution to all our problems.

Why did you go on the celebrity athletics show The Games? Surely you should be busy enough working for your constituents. EVE RAWLINGS, Sutton Coldfield

The main reason for doing it was to raise money for a local charity. Cornwall Air Ambulance got around £30,000 out of it in the end, including my fee for taking part. I agreed to take part on the condition that my work in Parliament and for my constituents would come first.

The Sun once called you a "Lib Dem Lovely". Did you mind? MARY PRESTON, Milton Keynes

It made an improvement on being called a Peter Mandelson lookalike!

Which do you find a more exciting prospect: Opik for president of the Liberal Democrats or Barack Obama for president of the USA? LUCY FLAHERTY, London

I think even Lembit would say Obama. No UK politician could dream of filling a stadium the size of Wembley in the next few weeks.

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