Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: You Ask The Questions

The former Lib Dem leader answers your questions, such as 'Did you know about Charles Kennedy's drinking?' and 'Could you still kill a man with a single blow?'
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Did you know Charles Kennedy had a drink problem? IAN LINTON, GLASGOW

These things are difficult to judge. When does someone drink quite heavily and when does it become a problem? People should be given the opportunity to try to tackle these problems privately.

Did you endorse Charles Kennedy as party leader because you knew he would not outshine your leadership? ANN HORN, BY E-MAIL

I did not endorse anyone to be my successor. I don't think leaders should have any hand in choosing their successors. Charles's approach to the leadership and mine were different. You could barely imagine two such different types of politician. That doesn't mean that one outshone the other.

Do you intend to play a more prominent part in UK politics? MICHAEL COLE, BY E-MAIL

No. But I shall retain an interest in subjects such as the Balkans, international affairs and how to improve the prospects for making peace after war, on which I am writing a book. And I shall continue to work for Ming Campbell and the Lib Dems.

Have the Lib Dems missed a great opportunity under Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell? THOMAS PRICE, BIRMINGHAM

When I became leader, the Liberal Democrats were fighting for survival. We managed to rebuild and regroup, doubling our seats in Parliament and hugely increasing the number of councils we governed. Under Charles, we took further strides forward, and secured the best Lib Dem result in a general election for 80 years. Ming has inherited a party with a strong base and with an opportunity to move towards being a party of power. He's already shown he can unite the party and make tough policy decisions.

If you were leader of the Lib Dems again, what would your priority be to restore public faith in politics and politicians? MARY FALLON, CHIPPENHAM, WILTSHIRE

We need to ensure that politics isn't all about spin; that it is about clear policies which affect people's lives. And we must explain these policies in a straightforward and accessible fashion. People aren't losing interest in politics, but they are more cynical about how politics is conducted. Proper reform of party funding and of the Lords could have prevented the recent cash-for-peerages scandal.

Tony Blair took you for a ride, didn't he? PETER DAVIS, NORFOLK

No. The Lib Dems gained enormously from the partnership. We got a Scottish and Welsh Parliament, and made the breakthrough with PR [proportional representation] for British elections. It was the right strategy for that time and we turned the defeat of a much-hated Tory government into a rout.

Are you disappointed by Tony Blair's time in office? PAT MURTAGH, LONDON SE11

Yes. He could have done so much more with what he had. Despite many mistakes and a pretty tawdry ending, judged against British prime ministers of the past 100 years, history will probably say he has been a good prime minister. But he had the skills and the initial trust among the voters to have been a great one.

Should Tony Blair have stepped down after David Kelly's death? STEVE BROOKER, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

I'm not the sort of person who calls for politicians to resign at every opportunity. If the Conservatives' calls for ministers to resign were heeded, there would have to be reshuffles every few months.

When Clare Short decided to campaign for PR, there was no mention of her standing for the Lib Dems. Why was that? EVELYN KNOWLES, BY E-MAIL

Proportional representation goes far wider than the Liberal Democrats. To secure electoral reform, we are going to have to win the argument among supporters of other parties.

Can the Liberal Democrats move towards some form of alliance with the Conservatives rather than be permanently in the wilderness? MARC LIM, SINGAPORE

The Conservatives remain a long way from a truly liberal agenda. For all his spin, David Cameron has not done much to fundamentally change Conservative policies. Lib Dems are not against working with other parties where there is a common agenda, but as an independent political party.

Is David Cameron's reinvention of the Conservatives convincing? And if the Lib Dems held the balance of power after the next election, should they back Cameron or Gordon Brown? CALLY BAKER, BY E-MAIL

I am not convinced. He seems to realise the problems of the Conservative Party, but is some way away from advocating serious solutions. We don't know what the manifesto commitments of the other parties will be at the next general election, or what the result will be. We don't even know who the Labour leader will be, so the second question is premature.

Is Kosovo ready to administer itself and is partition inevitable? GARY CHAMBERS, ISTANBUL

Kosovo is not ready to administer itself yet, but in time it will get there. Partition in Kosovo would be a disaster. Creating ethnically pure spaces is never a good idea in the Balkans.

Should Kosovo be returned to Serbia? COLIN FREELEY, OXFORD

No.

Where is General Ratko Mladic? D J SAGAR, SHEFFIELD

Probably in Belgrade.

How do you envisage short-term progress in Bosnia and Kosovo? MARIJAN MILETIC, SLOVENIA

The Balkans are going through a tricky passage at the moment. The decision on Kosovo is going to be especially difficult. But I am confident that, once this is over, progress can be maintained.

You supported the Gulf war of 1991 and the war against Iraq. Yet you lectured the Serbian forces. Do you find it easier to talk about another country's crimes than your own? Or are you just a natural hypocrite? KAILASH KUTWAROO, BARNES

The difference is that Milosevic and some Serb leaders and commanders broke international law and committed war crimes in Kosovo and Bosnia. That is why they were and are being tried at the Hague.

You backed the war in Iraq which has been calamitous. Are you ashamed? GEORGE RILEY, STAFFORDSHIRE

Three years after the end of the Bosnian war, everyone said Bosnia was going to be a disaster and asked me the same question. It takes time to make peace. No one could have guessed what a mess we would make of the peace in Iraq. It is still too early to tell whether a democratic Iraq can emerge.

Did you think Saddam had WMD? JEN O'HARA, BY E-MAIL

No, and I wasn't convinced at the start of the war either.

If you were in a position to influence Britain's current role in Iraq, what would you do? MALCOLM PARKER, HECKFIELD, HAMPSHIRE

We need to tackle the Palestinian problem, widen the international coalition, with a bigger role for Europe.

Is the "war on terror" worth fighting, is it winnable? SIMON COTTEE, BRUSSELS

Not by the methods we are using at present. This is about hearts and minds and we are losing them. I will make a speech on this at the Lib Dem conference on Tuesday.

Would you consider putting your name down for Kofi Annan's job? TOBY HOLMES, BY E-MAIL

You have got to be joking. I am happy at the moment doing my garden and writing.

What is your favourite action hero movie? BAZ COOPER, DORSET

I am not much of a believer in heroes - and action ones are the most boring of the lot. In order to believe in giants, you have to believe in pygmies, and liberals don't.

Could you still kill someone with a single blow? FRANCIS HAYS, CORNWALL

Only Clement Freud said I could, and he doesn't know much about these things.

What was the hardest thing you had to do as a soldier? NANCY BLAKE, KENT

Watch a friend die.

Do you ever cry? S J DALEY, BRIGHTON

'Fraid so. I find it especially impossible to keep dry eyes in refugee camps, of which I have seen far too many in my life.

How do you feel about the fact that your political obituaries will always contain the words Paddy Pantsdown? LORNA McKINNON, EDINBURGH

When my obituary is published, I shall hardly be in a position to care.

You Ask The Questions: Next Monday is the turn of Ed Balls, Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Send your questions to: myquestion@independent.co.uk

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