Sarah Teather: You ask the questions

Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East answers your questions including: Is your party even relevant? And should a Lib-Dem ever sit in a Labour cabinet?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

What was it like being the baby of the House?


It was a real privilege to hold the title of youngest MP for a while: it opened doors and allowed me to champion important causes. When I was first elected, I was one of only a few MPs still having to pay back a student loan, so people listened when I talked about the problems of student debt.

Did your lack of experience count against you at first?


It's important to have a diverse House of Commons with people from all backgrounds and of all ages. A chamber made up of all 21 year olds or all 65 year olds would not be at all representative.

Are there really any differences between Nick Clegg and David Cameron?


Yes, huge ones. Nick came to politics because he was horrified by the heartless and devastating policies of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. David Cameron's response to those years was to join up to the Conservative party and write the 2005 Tory manifesto – the most right wing of modern times.

There aren't nearly enough MPs from ethnic minorities, so how will you feel if you beat Dawn Butler, one of only two black women in Parliament, when your constituencies merge?


As a Government Whip, Dawn Butler plays a key role in pushing through Labour's oppressive legislation, which leaves so many of my constituents angry. The Iraq war has had a devastating impact on Brent's communities. Measures like detention without trial, ID cards, or the DNA database are deeply offensive to many people, but particularly to minority groups who feel they have most to fear from Labour's creeping but steady erosion of civil liberties.

You're campaigning against London MPs getting expenses for second homes. Are there any other charges you make to the taxpayer you are embarrassed about?


Although entitled to do so, I have never claimed money for a second home. I live in Willesden Green, in my constituency, a short commute from Parliament. It's outrageous that so many London MPs feel they shouldn't have to make the same commute their constituents do. I do claim money for a constituency office that helps hundreds of people every month. I'm certainly not embarrassed about that.

Don't you think MPs should give up their pay rise in the current economic circumstances, as ministers have?


I don't think it should be for me to say how my salary is set. There is no other profession on earth that gets to vote on its own salary, which many people quite rightly find offensive. We need to hand over decisions on MPs pay to a fully independent body.

With the next election promising to be a fight between the Conservatives and Labour, won't the protest votes you've gained melt away?

NINA HOWE, Gloucester

In policy terms, the two establishment parties have far more in common with each other than they do with my party. In seats like mine, the battle will be between Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the next election, with the Tories trailing in third place.

Do you want house prices to fall?


No one wants homeowners to find themselves in negative equity, or losing their homes. What's important is that the Government steps in to help people facing repossession and, in the long term, ensures a sustainable supply of affordable housing.

How can we make sure that ordinary young people can afford houses, instead of having to rent for so long?

KAREN HUNT, Peterborough

We need lots more affordable housing. We need to accept that many young people can't even afford to rent and end up sofa surfing, a problem that will only get worse with increasing student debt.

How can we continue to build new homes in a recession?

DAN FARAGE, Winchester

It's vital that we keep on building, otherwise we will come out of recession facing major inflation. Vince Cable and I have been arguing for money for house building, to spend now. That would also create construction jobs and build desperately needed homes for the future.

How can your party be committed to a 4p cut in income tax? Even the Tories don't go so far.


When times are so tough, it's outrageous that our tax system is so unfair, and places a higher burden on those who have the least. We need to ask the super rich to pay their fair share and clamp down on loopholes that allow hedge fund managers to pay lower taxes than their cleaners. Cutting income tax for those on lower and middle incomes would make good economic sense too.

Several former Guantanamo inmates have joined terrorist groups. Aren't people there for a reason?


The people in Guantanamo have the right to a fair trial. In Britain, the concept of innocent until proven guilty has been the basis of our law for hundreds of years. If the US suspects men in Guantanamo of crimes, evidence should be put to a court of law and they should have the opportunity to defend themselves. Surely that's the kind of principle the "war on terror" was supposed to defend?

Barack Obama met the other party leaders, but not yours. Proof you're irrelevant?

TARA BURNS, Northampton

No. Everyone wants a piece of Obama at the moment since he's the one with the magic dust. While we're name-dropping, let me say I met him in Washington in 2006 while I was campaigning on Guantanamo Bay and he was still a mere mortal (but pretty impressive at that).

What did you think of the G20 deal? How would you have changed it?


It would be churlish not to admit that the summit was a success. However, what's crucial now is that the Government translates that progress into help for the British public, who are suffering through this recession.

Did you think the police dealt with G20 protesters reasonably?

KATE MURPHY, Canterbury

We were wary of police tactics given the completely over-the-top policing at Kingsnorth, and some of the reports from the protests are worrying. Witness statements implicating police in the death of a protester must be judicially investigated.

Wouldn't you rather be a member of another party and have a real shot at power, and changing things?

HELEN McRAE, Farnborough

Government isn't the only way to win change. I get real satisfaction from helping people in Brent, at the front line of politics. I worked with others on the campaign to bring my constituent home from Guantanamo, and we did persuade the Government to change its policy. Politics is about changing things for the better.

Do you think it's appropriate for your colleague Lembit Opik to write a column for the Daily Sport?


I don't have any problems with politicians writing columns for the press.

Should a Liberal Democrat ever consider a seat in a Labour cabinet?


If there were a Liberal Democrat in it, it wouldn't be a Labour cabinet.

Do you want to lead your party one day?


No, but kind of you to ask.

What's been your biggest political mistake so far?

IAN LOCK, Oxford

That's for others to judge.

If you could recruit one of your opponents to the Liberal Democrats who would it be?


I meet many Labour party members in Brent who tell me how disillusioned they are with this failed and discredited Government. I hope they will see that it is the Liberal Democrats who are now carrying the flame of progressive politics.