Simon Hughes: You Ask The Questions

The Liberal Democrat MP and Environment spokesman answers your questions, such as 'How about a return to socialism?' and 'Isn't a vote for Lib Dems a wasted vote?'
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The Independent Online

Given the urgency of reducing the deficit, which spending programmes would you cut, and how sharply? Oliver Samuel, Manchester

We have identified big-ticket items or programmes which we have opposed or believe could be better spent in different ways. At the top of our list are the national DNA database and compulsory ID cards, the like for like replacement of Trident, and the child trust fund. Before the election the costs of all our programme cuts and spending commitments will be set out.



Millions of British people are jobless. Bankers who caused this crisis are getting bailouts from the Government and million-pound bonuses. What about some socialism? LUCY DRAKE, Epping

Multimillion-pound bonuses are completely unacceptable. But nationalising the economy is not the answer – indeed it is a Labour Government that has allowed the nationalised banks to pay some of these large bonuses! Liberal Democrats believe in the need for a much fairer tax system and our tax reforms would mean a much more radical redistribution of wealth than any other mainstream party.



Has Cameron stolen your claim to be greenest of the three main parties? JENNY MAIZE, FROME

Definitely not, Jenny. Although David Cameron and his chums make some green noises, this month's survey of Tory candidates by a conservative blog shows they consider tackling the climate crisis their least important political priority. If we are to take on the climate crisis we need action and not just words – look at the real difference we are making in Liberal Democrat-run councils like Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Camden and Islington.



Why is your constituency still riven by inequality and lack of jobs 25 years after you became MP? TANYA AHMED, WOLVERHAMPTON

The short answer is that inequality and job creation is most influenced by the international economy, and national and regional government – and for all of my time as MP we have had Conservative and Labour governments nationally and regionally.

Nonetheless, locally our unemployment rate is much better than the UK average and in the last eight years, when Liberal Democrats have led the local council, we have worked successfully to provide good new schools and improved educational standards. I also spend much of my time helping individuals and families not just to obtain full benefit entitlements and housing but to obtain apprenticeships, training and work – happily and with much success.

Is the welfare state too big? Why do we pay so many people not to work? GRANT REEDER, WALSALL

Liberals have a proud and justified history as major contributors to Britain's civilised welfare state. Liberal governments introduced the state pension and national insurance; Beveridge wrote the plan for the NHS. But we are clear that the power of the centralised state has become far too big – and we would seek to hand back more power to the people.



Do you regret once campaigning as The Straight Candidate, given what later came out, as it were? MUNIR HASSAN, LEICESTER

I have said publicly for many years that although I do not believe that I or any of my campaign staff presented me as "the straight candidate", although the use of the phrase 'It's a straight choice' – as often used in many elections before and since – was not appropriate given the circumstances of the by-election. I did speak out at the time against homophobia – in the press, the Labour Party and the public – but my comments were barely noticed. I have since privately and publicly apologised to Peter Tatchell, worked with him, and applauded him. I have been unswerving all my public life in working in and out of Parliament for an end to all discrimination and prejudice – as Peter Tatchell, Stonewall and others have been good enough to say regularly.



As a Lib Dem voter I've long harboured the suspicion you'd have been leader if you'd had a wife and two kids. Do you agree? CARL THOM, LONDON

To be honest – I don't think so! Indeed, when Charles Kennedy beat me in 1999, he did not have a wife or any kids – although he now has one of each!



So your party was right on ID cards, Trident, Gurkhas, electoral reform, and the economy. I want to vote for you – except you haven't a chance of getting in! WINSTON BENJAMIN, LONDON

Winston, firstly we do – because we are fighting every seat in Great Britain; we won 63 seats and were second in 190 at the last election; we traditionally gain support during election campaigns, and this year I think that Nick Clegg will do fantastically well in the leaders' televised debates and boost our result greatly. But even if we do not win the largest number of seats nationally, we certainly hope and expect to gain seats and influence, and in the next parliament Liberal Democrats could play the decisive role.



Given Vince Cable's popularity compared with Nick Clegg, has your party picked the wrong leader for the third time in a row? SAMANTHA McGRATH, TAUNTON

Vince Cable is wise, great and popular. But he's never chosen to put his name forward in any leadership election. I am clear that Nick Clegg was a really good choice last time. Under his leadership we have the strongest shadow cabinet team in over fifty years.



The Treasury has said your plans to take low earners out of income tax don't add up. Is this typical Lib Dem policy – nice in principle, useless in practice? YARI CAHEET, EDINBURGH

Our policies are all checked with the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies or other similar bodies – and all our manifesto will be fully costed, setting out our savings and expenditure commitments. Vince Cable is the most respected of party politicians on Treasury issues – and the most professionally experienced and qualified!



How long after announcing the mansion tax did your party realise it was targeted at your own precious voters in swing seats? DAVID MULLINS, HEXHAM

People vote Liberal Democrat because they want a free and fair society. I don't think our voters will object to a tax on the very wealthiest in the country – especially as the revenue gained from it will be going to the lowest earners. I can also assure you that most Liberal Democrat voters in swing seats do not live in properties worth £2m!



Is splitting the Left vote by creating a third party the most counter-productive thing English liberals ever did? QUINCE WARBLE, ST ALBANS

The Liberals were in existence as the progressive alternative to Conservatives long before Labour, and gave Britain some of the most radical progressive governments of the 20th century. Only our stupid and undemocratic electoral system prevents our Parliament from accurately reflecting the real political views of the British people. Only the growing strength and influence of Liberal Democrats will change this.



How many times has Nick Clegg met President Obama, or spoken to him? THOMAS FARTHING, SOUTHAMPTON

None yet – but just watch this space!



Are you as depressed as I am by surveys suggesting Britain is becoming a more conservative country? NANCY MINION, BARNSLEY

I am an optimist by nature and January's British Social Attitudes Survey does give some grounds for hope! Britain has clearly become a more liberal and tolerant country, and I think that the shift of support to the Conservatives is more down to the failure of Labour than a change in British attitudes. Those of us who urgently want a more equal, more just and more sustainable Britain must speak more loudly and clearly – and persuade people to vote accordingly.



If you had to abolish the House of Lords or the monarchy, but not both, which would you choose? SUSAN O'DONNELL, INVERNESS

Definitely the House of Lords. A modern, limited constitutional monarchy is acceptable. An entirely unelected second legislative chamber is not. It is a priority for all Liberal Democrats to have a second chamber at least 80 per cent elected at the earliest opportunity.

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