Sir Menzies Campbell: You Ask The Questions

The Lib Dem MP for North East Fife, and former Lib Dem leader, answers your questions, such as 'What is Cleggism?' and 'Is the dream of proportional representation dead?'
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The Independent Online

Can you now say that, like your predecessor as Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, you were betrayed by senior members of your party shortly before you resigned as leader? FIONA MCMAHON, STOCKPORT

You might say so but I couldn't possibly comment!

What is Cleggism as a political philosophy? MICHELLE THORPS, DONCASTER

Cleggism is liberalism. A belief in individual freedom and personal liberty, in opportunity and service, and in internationalism and the universality of human rights.

Its practical application is to be found in policies to reduce taxation on those with the lowest incomes, in policies which oppose unnecessary interference by the state in the lives of its citizens and those which support a prominent role for the United Kingdom in the European Union and the United Nations. Clegg is a classic liberal which is why he was my preferred candidate to follow me. The only "ism" we deal with in the Liberal Democrat party is liberalism.

Was your party's recent U-turn over a mansions tax less or more embarrassing than Nick Clegg's reference to 30 female acquaintances of his? GABRIELLA CARTER, KILMARNOCK

Ingenious question! But what's wrong with refining a policy so that it does what it is meant to do? I can think of a lot of Tory and Labour policies which could do with a bit of refining.

On the big "Three O" I would have said, "None of your bloody business" to my good friend Piers Morgan when he asked the question. But there is a serious point here. Before long, MPs could be required to lodge details of any assets of any description, the incomes and assets of their spouses and partners, and eventually their own medical records.

But we should recognise this transparency will come with consequences. A lot of talented people will simply say no to a sustained invasion of their privacy and turn their backs on politics, and politics will be the poorer. We need to strike a balance between what is legitimate and what is invasive.

Did the dream of proportional representation die with Roy Jenkins? OMAR SIDDIQUI, WIGAN

No. I know directly of Roy Jenkins's personal disappointment that the Blair government did not accept his well-argued proposals for reform of the voting system. But the issue will not go away and when I was leading the Liberal Democrats I made it clear that it would be an essential condition of any parliamentary arrangement between our party and any other.

Why has your party not paid back the millions you received from convicted fraudster Michael Brown? TIMOTHY ROBINSON, CREDITON

The money was taken in good faith and no preference or reward was given or asked for in return for it. The Electoral Commission has recently decided that the party was entitled to accept the donation.

How can Liberal Democrats withstand the onslaught of [Tory donor] Ashcroft money in marginals in the South-west? STEPHEN PEWLISS, EXETER

Throwing money at constituencies is no substitute for years of good campaigning and outstanding service. Liberal Democrat MPs have been serving the South-west well for as long as I have been a member of the party. Their record is exemplary.

The electorate is well able to base its judgement on the qualities, experience and achievements of candidates rather than the amount of money spent in their name. The case for regulation of what is spent outside of the election period is overwhelming. Reform is urgent. I simply cannot understand Tory ambiguity over the tax status of their financial supporters. It is a simple question of fact. Does the person making the donation pay tax in Britain like the rest of us? If they don't, why should they be allowed to influence the political process in this country with big donations?

Is it true that Nick Clegg is inching toward a call for the troops in Afghanistan to come home? MORWENNA STEPTON, LONDON

Along with Paddy Ashdown and other senior members of the party, I discuss this issue with Nick Clegg on a regular basis. We are at war in Afghanistan and young men and women are risking and losing their lives on our behalf. Politicians of all parties have an overwhelming moral duty to scrutinise government policy when lives are at risk. The Lib Dems did just that over Iraq and reached the conclusion that military action was not justified. That is not our view about Afghanistan.

Where have you gone? The Lib Dems could do with a few of the older guard, including you and Ashdown. Come back! SIMON CARMICHAEL, LONDON

Flattering, but I am doing what I was elected to do and representing my constituents in the House of Commons. I am as busy as I have ever been and now have the time to pursue my particular interest in foreign affairs, defence, nuclear disarmament and civil liberties (not to mention sport).

I am a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Intelligence and Security Committee and I am currently the chairman of the special select committee investigating the Damian Green affair. In the last few months I have appeared on Any Questions and Question Time. If you think I and the party are not getting enough coverage have a word with the editor of The Independent.

Do you accept that the fledgling democracy in Iraq shows the invasion was worth its human cost? ROGER MANTHORPE, POOLE

No. It is not in anyone's interest that Iraq should become a "failed state" and if democracy is taking root we should all be glad and supportive, although there is still a long way to go. But the cost to the United Kingdom in blood and treasure has been immense, the damage to our influence in the region and at the United Nations has been incalculable, and the price paid by the people of Iraq has been unacceptable.

As I said at the time, the war was based on a flawed prospectus, legally and strategically. Nothing that has happened since has convinced me that it was the right thing to do.

[David] Cameron is right about the genuine symmetry between Tories and Lib Dems. So why won't you admit you'll prop him up in a hung parliament? LIZZIE KELLER, BRUSSELS

I don't accept what you say about "symmetry". On Europe, taxation and social policy we start from quite a different place from the Tories. Mr Cameron's overture is destined to be part of an unfinished symphony. The chameleon may seem to be the same colour as its surroundings but you know that if the surroundings change so will the chameleon!

I seem to remember Charles Kennedy saying we should decriminalise cannabis. Is that still party policy? TINA COLLINS, WORCESTER

Britain's drugs policy is a mess. We cannot decide between treatment or punishment for addicts. We do not devote sufficient resources to identifying and bringing dealers to justice. Drugs policy is like a weathervane, often blowing in opposite directions by successive Home Secretaries and occasionally by the same Home Secretary. We need a Royal Commission to examine every element of the drugs problem; supply, treatment, criminality and health.

You were once a sprinter of renown. How do you think you would have fared against Usain Bolt? RICHARD HIGSON

TAUNTON , Badly! Bolt is a unique talent who would beat every sprinter since the 1948 Olympics in London but I have a suspicion that the great Jesse Owens, who dominated the Berlin Olympics in 1936, might just be his equal. Every now and again athletics throws up an individual who rewrites the record books. Bob Beamon did it in 1968 in the Mexico Olympics when he long-jumped more than 29 feet and slaughtered the opposition. But even extraordinary performances like Beamon's or Bolt's will eventually be overtaken when an even more precocious talent emerges.

With a reputation for being one of the better dressed MPs, won't you tell us where you get your shirts, suits, and ties? PRADEEP SINDAR, YORK

A gentleman never discusses his tailor. But thanks for the compliment.

What was the last opera you saw? PETER COOKSON, DORKING

I see prima donnas in action every day in the House of Commons! But seriously, I last saw L'Elisir d'Amore at Covent Garden in May 2009.