Michael Howard: You ask the questions

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The Independent Online

It is reported that Muslim leaders have urged Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities, to support Islamic family law in Britain to stop youths joining Islamic extremists. As a former home secretary, what is your reaction to this? Allan Macdonald, Uley, Gloucestershire

The law in this country is made by Parliament. We are and must continue to be a parliamentary democracy. No community has a right to insist on imposing their way of doing things on the majority.

Should you have done more as Home Secretary to clamp down on Muslim extremists in Britain? Stephen Kean, Leicester

In the years before 11 September I don't think we were as aware of the threat from Muslin extremists as we now are.

Is there "something of the night" about you? Simon Jones, Hastings


Is Ann Widdecombe on your Christmas card list? Jeremy S Hyams, Professor of Cell Biology, Massey University, New Zealand

She was last year.

Do you think it is correct for the Government - and in particular successive home secretaries - to attack the judiciary over decisions they make? Colm Nugent, Barnes, south-west London

I think it is perfectly proper for ministers to criticise decisions of the judges. The irony of the recent criticism is that the judges are only doing what the present government has asked it to do - implement the Human Rights Act.

Would you agree that this Government is the worst we have ever had and that the opposition is just as lamentable? Jeff Cox, Auckland, New Zealand

The Government is certainly one of the worst we've had but I think David Cameron is doing a brilliant job as Leader of the Opposition.

I have just finished reading Michael Crick's biography In Search of Michael Howard. Is he correct to point out that if you had not been selected as the Parliamentary candidate for Folkestone and Hythe in 1982, you might have given up on politics? Sam Webber, by e-mail

Quite possibly.

Throughout your time as MP for Folkestone and Hythe you stirred up anti-immigrant campaigns among the local electorate, and then adopted a similar anti-immigrant position during the 2005 election - do you regret focusing on this issue throughout your career? Nik Gorecki, by e-mail

You are wrong. I have never adopted an "anti-immigrant" position. I have campaigned against illegal immigration and asylum-seeking by those who are not genuine refugees. I also called for a limit on immigration. Many legal immigrants strongly support this position as, apparently now, do the present Government.

Didn't you feel ashamed - as somebody whose grandmother died in the Holocaust - to suggest destroying the UN Convention on Refugees, created in the wake of the Holocaust to ensure people were never again left with nowhere to run? B Pearlman, London

No at all. The UN Convention was drawn up in a different age, when air travel was still in its comparative infancy. There is no way this country can accommodate the millions of people who would like to live here. If the convention stops us controlling our borders it should be revised.

What is your response to Dracula-like cartoons of you shown in the media. Do you liken yourself to an evil figure? Toby Clarke, London.

Wry amusement. No - do you?

Do you like garlic? Alice Ricks, York

No - I absolutely hate it!

In a party that is built to govern and which habitually has, what is it like to lead in opposition? Fredrik Bynander, Stockholm, Sweden

Very frustrating.

Do you consider the bombing of Qana a crime against humanity? O Laghrouche, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

No. If terrorists launch rockets on a neighbouring country from civilian areas of a town, the country that is under attack has no alternative but to try to destroy the places from which the rockets are launched. But, of course, I lament the terrible loss of life on both sides.

If you had become Prime Minister, would you have been as much a poodle of George Bush as Tony Blair has been? M Ahmad, London

No - as I demonstrated by my disagreements with President Bush when I was Leader of the Opposition.

Are you concerned that the current Labour Government, has created an impression of Britain in the rest of Europe as America's "lapdog"? Kim Log, Norway

Yes. It is quite extraordinary that at his recent press conference in California, Tony Blair was not prepared to criticise the environmental policies of President Bush when the Republican Governor of California was.

What is your proudest achievement within your own constituency of Folkestone and Hythe? B Sharp, Hythe, Kent

Probably the help I have been able to give individual constituents who have written to me or come to my advice centres. This the most satisfying aspect of being a Member of Parliament.

Why did you wear those awful Deirdre Barlow specs for so long? K McNulty, London

Because I liked them. I never paid as much attention to image as I probably should have!

Have you ever used a stylist? If so, why did you ignore their advice? Louise Turner, Manchester

No. I probably should have.

Isn't your phrase "prison works" an oxymoron if UK prisons are overcrowded and almost full to bursting point of people who aren't working and whose living expenses are paid by those who are working? Ashley Formby, by e-mail

No. Prison works in the sense that while criminals are in prison they are not at liberty to commit further crimes against the public. But I quite agree with you that if prisons are overcrowded as they are today it is impossible to put into effect the programmes of rehabilitation and education which are so vital. That is why, at recent general elections, the Conservative Party has supported a prison building programme.

I remember the Paxman interview when you, as Home Secretary, refused to answer his question on the disciplining of senior prison staff - was it over 20 times? To what extent do you think the disguising of the truth by politicians in general is contributing to the disenfranchisement of the electorate? Dr Michael Buck, by e-mail

I didn't directly answer Jeremy Paxman's question because I wanted to check precisely what I had said some years previously. I believe that politicians should tell the truth - that is why I didn't want to answer the question without checking. I wanted to made absolutely certain I did tell the truth.

So did you threaten to overrule Derek Lewis? M Brown, Leicester


If you had to have dinner with either Ann Widdecombe or Jeremy Paxman, who would you choose - and why? Brendan O'Neill, Walsall, West Midlands

Why not both?

Why do you say the word "people" so weirdly? Billy Roman, London

No idea - don't you pronounce some words in your own way?

Your general election manifesto included the abolition of the Environment Agency and ignored important environmental issues. Are you now with David Cameron in properly addressing environmental issues? Simon Nash, Bromley and Chislehurst

You are wrong. We did not propose the abolition of the Environment Agency and we did not ignore the environment, though perhaps we should have given it more prominence. I personally persuaded the United States administration of George Bush Snr to sign the Climate Change Convention - the forerunner of Kyoto - when I was the Environment Secretary, and I fully support the emphasis David Cameron is placing on these issues.

Do you think your campaign at the last election was too negative? Is that why you lost and David Cameron might win? Brenda Marks, Manchester

I don't accept that our campaign at the last election was negative. We put forward positive policies on schools, hospitals, tax crime and immigration.

Did you rig the Tory leadership contest to ensure your boy David won? Paul Lewis, Glasgow

Certainly not. He was elected by the party membership.

You once taunted Tony Blair for being a public school boy. Do you think it's fair for David Cameron's opponents to attack him for being an Old Etonian? Francis Gordon, Malvern, Worcestershire

I taunted Tony Blair because he falsely accused the Conservative Party of wanting to deprive children from less privileged backgrounds of the opportunity of going to university. David Cameron has made no such false accusations so his schooling is irrelevant.

What did you get wrong as party leader? Barry Garner, Manchester

I obviously didn't get everything right - we didn't win the election. But I'll leave you to decide on my mistakes.

To what extent is Jewishness an important part of your life? How did you feel when your son Nick not only became a Christian, but tried to convert Jews to Christianity as well? Gary Chambers, London NW9

My Jewishness is obviously a part of my life. My son's life is his own affair.

There are signs that anti-Semitism is increasing in the UK. Have you come across it in your life, either personally or politically? Stephen Waterman, Manchester


You spent your early life in Llanelli. What influence did growing up in a working class Welsh town have on your political beliefs? David Hirst, Hackney, east London

My Labour friends at Cambridge said I was a natural rebel and that the only way you could rebel in Llanelli was to become a Conservative!

Do you think being Welsh is a hindrance to becoming PM? And have you ever discussed this with Neil Kinnock? Peter Lakeman, Liverpool

No and no!

Is it true you joined the Labour Party when you were at Cambridge University? Francis McNicholas, Hackney, east London

No, but in common with many others who were interested in politics I joined all the university political societies.

Tell me something that don't know about you that might make me like you? Louise Cavelli, Highgate, north London

It's too late now!

You Ask The Questions next week: Noam Chomsky Send your questions to