Nick Clegg: You Ask The Questions

The Liberal Democrat leader answers your questions, such as 'How can Parliament be strengthened?' and 'Should all drugs be legalised?'
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The Independent Online

In hindsight, do you think you ran a weak leadership campaign?

Julie Coates, Basildon

No, and I'm very proud that unlike the other two parties, the Liberal Democrat leader is elected by a one-member, one-vote system, where every single member has an equal stake in the final decision.

Why have you found it so tough to make an impression as leader?

Lance Thompson, by email

I never assumed there would be a starburst effect upon becoming leader. If only! It'll take a bit of time to introduce myself to the British public. I think people know,as I do, that I'm in this for the long run.

Your position over the Lisbon Treaty was just too complicated and ended in disaster, didn't it?

Harry Reagan, London SE1

Our position was and is very simple. We don't believe the modest revisions in the Lisbon Treaty require a referendum. The real question is whether Britain stays in or leaves the EU and that is the question people should have the chance to vote on.

Was taking over from Vince Cable at a time when the Tories are strong a 'hospital pass'?

Colin Drefus, by email

I have huge admiration for Vince Cable and it was no surprise to me that he was so effective as interim leader. Gone, thankfully, are the days when the Liberal Democrats are only known by the name of their leader. We now have a team to rival anyone's. Who would you trust with the economy, George Osborne or Vince Cable?

Do you regret your remarks about your sexual conquests?

Tim Levin, Surrey

Life is too short to have regrets about what you say – still less about the way what you say gets mangled and misrepresented.

Will you now come clean on how many sexual partners you have really had?

Ben Connett, Newcastle

No.

Why did you claim to believe in honesty, then refuse to say what drugs you have used?

Tim Thornton, Cambridge

There's a world of difference between being honest about your politics and opening up the whole of your life before you went into politics to public scrutiny. I think greater transparency is needed in British politics, not Oprah Winfrey-style personal confessions. That's why I have voluntarily published all my MPs' expenses but maintain that what I did or didn't get up to over 20 years ago is not.

Will you ever again do an interview with Piers Morgan?

Dom Fraser, Co Durham

Sure, though I'll be a bit more tightlipped. No more throwaway remarks...

Why are politicians still so reluctant to admit they don't believe in God?

Bruce Coleman, by email

It's up to every politician to decide for themselves about what they say in public about their own religious views. Faith is a deeply personal thing.

Who was a worse PM, Blair or Brown?

Saurav C, by email

Blair was more wrong, Brown's more incompetent.

Brian Paddick's fate was a sign of the times. Will the Lib Dems suffer with the return of a two-party race?

Sam Revell, Eastbourne

I think a lot of the hype surrounding Brown's decline and Cameron's progress obscures a deeper truth: the two-party race is in serious trouble. At the 1951 general election, only 2 per cent of voters supported a party other than Labour or the Conservatives; in 2005, it was 32 per cent. In 2001, for the first time in our democratic history, more people didn't vote than cast a ballot for the winning party. It happened again in 2005. Yet the winning party can still govern with untrammelled authority in Westminster with less than 26 per cent of the eligible vote. The two-party system is letting the British people down, yet tragically neither Brown nor Cameron understand the crisis in British politics.

Someone else tried to axe council tax. It didn't go well. Why are you trying again?

Winston Sherman, New Cross

I don't know who you're talking about. Council tax was introduced by Margaret Thatcher as a fudge after the poll tax and has been defended by the Tories and Labour ever since. We are the only party calling for it to be scrapped and replaced by a fair tax based on people's ability to pay.

By cutting taxes, are you moving to the right of the Conservatives?

Devesh Hazare, Gilford

It's not a matter of left versus right, but what is fair. I want big tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes paid for by making the super-rich pay their way and using green taxes to discourage environmentally damaging behaviour. The balance of our tax system is wrong. I want a fairer, simpler and greener tax system – where the people who need the most help pay the least to the Treasury.

Why have you joined the anti-immigration bandwagon?

A Choudhary, by email

I haven't and never will. I was the first politician to advocate an earned regularisation programme for long-term illegal immigrants. I have spoken out against the mistreatment of immigrants all my political life. While Labour wants foreign nationals to be the first to carry ID cards and the Tories want to impose an arbitrary cap on the number of new non-EU immigrants, we are the only party contributing to the debate in a balanced and sensible way.

With Labour in a mess, won't you find easier votes on the left than the right?

Christian Lowe, by email

I just don't believe it's about left or right – the old divisions are breaking down, political loyalties based on class are fading away. The new divisions in British politics are about fairness, about over-centralisation, civil liberties and security, the international rule of law, environmental sustainability, and identity at a time of rapid change. Anyone who wants a fairer, greener Britain in which real change happens to our clapped out political system should vote for the Liberal Democrats. As the Government collapses and David Cameron promises nothing dressed up as everything, we're the only party offering real change.

Who do you fear the most – Miliband, Purnell or Johnson?

Tom Roberts, Margate

None of the above.

Have you had talks with the Tory leadership over a partnership in the event of a hung parliament?

Chris Gregg, by email

None whatsoever – despite what they might say.

Day one of a Cameron government. He offers you proportional representation in return for sharing in a coalition. Do you take it?

Nick Todt, by email

Electoral reform is a vital but not sufficient measure needed to make Britain a more liberal place. I'm not interested in my party becoming an annex to a Labour or Conservative government. I want to change the way we conduct politics for good.

Is it true you would allow the Conservatives to run a minority government after the next election?

Connor Staunton, Liverpool

I read some press reports recently suggesting as much – they are utterly unfounded.

When will you give Charles Kennedy a frontbench job?

Ben Perros, Colchester

Charles knows that I think he would be a fantastic addition to my frontbench team, if and when he wants to return.

What do you make of criticisms that you're a second-rate Cameron clone?

Ryan Hughes, Merthyr Tydfil

We are roughly the same age, but that's where the similarities end. He became a foot soldier for Margaret Thatcher just as I was repelled by her bleak vision of "there's no such thing as society". He is wedded to an insular hostility to Europe, I believe we can't make sense of the modern world unless we do so together with our neighbours in Europe. I believe in a fair tax system which helps the needy, His sole firm tax commitment benefits only 6 per cent of the richest in Britain. He talks the talk on the environment, I lead a party that walks the walk. I could go on. In terms of our political reactions to the events that shape our generation, we have gone in very different directions.

Iraq damaged liberal intervention. But should we dispense with the idea altogether?

Erica Finch, by email

Iraq was the biggest foreign policy disaster since the Suez crisis, causing untold damage to our standing in the world. But I still believe in the principles of liberal interventionism, used justly. That is why I'm an advocate of our long-term mission in Afghanistan and why I was the first leader to call for aid drops into Burma.

Now that Iraq is fading as an issue, what have the Lib Dems got to say that's different?

Michael Vincent, by email

Plenty. We're the only party that will cut taxes for low- and middle-income families, scrapping council tax and reducing the basic rate to 16p. We're the only party that will tax polluters. We're the only ones who've stood up to the energy companies about rising prices and fuel poverty, and the only party that will deliver fair pensions for women. We're the only party that will change the NHS so that if you can't get treated on time, the Government will pay for you to get treatment elsewhere. We're the only ones talking about the shameful neglect of mental health patients. We're the only ones committed to civil liberties, pledging to stop storing innocent people's DNA and stop fingerprinting children in school. We're the only party with a clear, rules-based foreign policy, speaking out against dodgy arms deals and human rights abuses in countries like China and Saudi Arabia.

Did you believe that all drugs should be legalised?

Nate Williams, London E6

I strongly disagree with the Government's habit of using cannabis reclassification as a political football. It was cheap populism for Gordon Brown to have ignored the advice of the experts. I want the classification of all drugs to be taken out of the hands of politicians and guided by science, so we can reduce the terrible harm they cause.

H ow would you make Parliament stronger?

Dominic Cornell, by email

We need a fully elected House of Lords, and a cut in the number of MPs by a third. MPs should have the power to vet and, with sufficient cross-party majorities, sack ministers and senior officials. All legislation should include sunset clauses so that unnecessary laws do not persist. Fiscal and spending scrutiny should be massively increased. And parliamentary committees should be given real powers to hold the executive to account, including the right to subpoena witnesses.

The Lib Dems used to be a by-election machine. Why are you so bad now?

Don Hawley, Milton Keynes

In the past 20 years the Lib Dems have won 12 by-elections, the Conservatives one, and the Labour Party eight. I don't think one by-election victory for the Conservatives in Crewe and Nantwich alters the fact that we are the only opposition to Labour in their northern urban heartlands, and to the Conservatives in their southern rural ones.

Labour's commitment to green policies has crumbled at the first sign of protest. Why would you be any different?

Craig Watson, by email

Because we have always sought to do the right thing on the environment, not simply court popularity. The price of petrol must increasingly reflect its environmental costs. To make this happen, there needs to be a long-term shift away from the piecemeal use of fuel and vehicle excise duties, and towards a national road-user charging system where people will have to pay for the amount of mileage they do where there are public transport alternatives. Fair, simple and green.

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