Norman Baker: You Ask The Questions
The Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesman answers your questions, such as 'Are you a conspiracy theorist?' and 'Who has the best ties in Westminster?'
Monday 19 October 2009
Are you in favour of extending the London congestion charge? It seems to an effective redistributive tax to me. Chelsea tractors: bad. Public transport: good. Yes?
It's not quite as simple as that. The Western extension would allow Chelsea residents, including those with their own tractors, to drive into central London very cheaply, which they cannot presently do, so undermining public transport. I do however strongly favour a national motorway and trunk road pricing scheme, linked to both a vehicle's carbon emissions and the distance travelled. This should be revenue-neutral for the average motorist: more expensive for the long-distance gas guzzler, but cheaper for the clean car in rural areas where there is often little public transport. Such a scheme would encourage a switch both to rail and to cleaner cars.
Will you build another runway at Heathrow? Or do think the long-term health of the environment matters less than short-term economic growth?
The Lib Dems strongly oppose this mad idea and were in fact the first party to do so. Apart from the damaging environmental effects on west London, how can you be serious about cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 [the target now accepted by all three major parties] and encourage yet more flights? Aviation is the one area of transport where carbon emissions are rising fast yet no technological alternative [to kerosene] is even on the horizon. Flying must be constrained, not allowed to let rip. On the economics, a third runway may help BAA sell more goods to transit passengers at Heathrow, but the economic benefits otherwise are dubious at best. Polling suggests businesses put high speed rail way ahead of a third runway at Heathrow.
A lot of your party's transport policies seem to be about pretending to be greener than green. But if you actually pay attention to the subject, you'll see climate change is a giant fraud, perpetrating pseudo-Christian nonsense. The earth is cooling, not heating, suggesting al lot of your concerns are misplaced?
Eh? What planet are you are on? Actually this one, and it's the only one we have. Leaving aside the virtually unanimous scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that human activities are largely responsible, just consider this: if we take action to cut carbon emissions and the 99 per cent plus of scientists turn out to be wrong, what do we lose? We will have improved public transport, improved the insulation of our homes and cut fuel bills in the process, and cleaned up our energy, using UK-sourced renewables, so reducing dependency on foreign fossil fuels. But if we don't take action, and the scientists are right, then it'll become a very unpleasant world indeed.
Do you agree that it was Thatcher's ruinous privatisation of the railways that caused ours to be such a disgrace?
Yes, although it would be wrong to see the British Rail era as some sort of golden age. The Tory dogma of the 1990s set the railways back 10 years or more. Just think of the disaster that was Railtrack, and the multi-million pound rip-off perpetrated by the rolling stock companies. Yet over the past 5 years, the railways have begun to settle down and improve, though many problems remain. At last we have a reasonably solid base on which to grow the railways, through high speed rail, the reopening of lines and stations that should never have been closed, and the electrification of most of the network. We also need to end the government's policy of forcing rail fares up every year above inflation.
Do you want to be leader of the Liberal Democrats?
No, I want to be the next Transport Secretary after the election.
What other shadow Cabinet position do you most covet?
I'd quite like to do foreign affairs, but I'd be open about almost any post, but preferably without the "shadow" bit.
Who killed Dr David Kelly [Baker wrote a book called The Strange Death of David Kelly]?
You'll have to buy the book.
If Vince Cable was leading the Liberal Democrats, don't you think they'd be in second place in the polls (at least)?
No. Nick is the right person to lead us into the election and beyond. Vince is a fantastic asset and is in exactly the right role to give us solid economic credibility and outshine both Darling and Osborne. You have to recognise that some of the media which is unfriendly to us deliberately peddle this line to try to undermine the Lib Dems in general and Nick in particular. But if Vince had been chosen as leader instead of Nick, the same papers which are now praising him to the skies would have been much more hostile to him from the outset.
Is it true, as your colleagues have suggested, that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable frequently fail to consult the rest of your team on policy changes? How does that make you feel?
I can honestly say I feel more involved, and listened to, under Nick than I have done under any of his predecessors as leader so I don't accept the premise of your question.
How is your party preparing for a battering in the south-west of England?
We recognise the potential threat, of course, and are certainly not complacent. But Lib Dem MPs, who by and large are good constituency MPs, are quite difficult to shift. It also helps that Paddy Ashdown is playing a key campaign role for us in the region.
Why hasn't your party done more to highlight the influence of [Tory donor] Michael Ashcroft on British politics? A few of us don't think his contribution is especially democratic?
We have certainly argued strongly against the disproportionate influence of enormously rich individuals in the political process and called for caps on donations. However maybe we should look at Michael Ashcroft's role in closer detail.
What did it feel like to discover that your biggest donor [Michael Brown] was a fraudster?
Well obviously what subsequently came out, even if it could not have been anticipated, was unwelcome and embarrassing. Personally, I think it reinforces the case for a radical reform of party funding.
How did your party manage to screw up conference season so badly?
We didn't. We had a lively democratic conference where ordinary members decided policy, a practice the Tories and Labour dare not allow to happen, and we overtook Labour in a couple of opinion polls for the first time since, I think, 1983.
Aren't you basically a conspiracy theorist? And aren't conspiracy theorists paranoid nuisances?
The term "conspiracy theory" is simply a term of insult used by lazy journalists in particular who seem to think, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that governments, corporations and the like never lie. I deal in facts, and if those facts take me outside the normal political comfort zone, then so be it. Perhaps Galileo was the conspiracy theorist of his day.
What sort of music do Liberals listen to these days? "Things can only get better" by D:Ream?
Sounds good to me. Or you can find out if you tune into my regular Sunday radio music shows, from 10-12noon, on www.seahavenfm.com and 3-5pm on www.rocketfm.com
How expensive is your most expensive suit? And who has the best ties in Westminster?
About £500. Ties? Ming Campbell, I reckon.
Which Tory do you best get along with?
I actually like quite a few of them: Patrick Mercer, Charles Hendry, Oliver Letwin for example. Wouldn't suggest you vote for any of them, of course.
Who leads the karaoke on Lib Dem away days?
Nobody. We all sing in harmony and unison, like a heavenly choir.
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