You ask the questions: Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat leadership contender

How many languages do you speak? And what's the point of a third party?
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The Independent Online

The Liberal Democrats have lost two leaders in two years. Are they the true nasty party? Richard Hatter, Nottingham

No. Ming took his own decision, and explained it was because he felt he was not being allowed to get our message across. The media are far tooobsessed with Camelot.

Did you help engineer Campbell's resignation? Robert Price by email

No. Until the end, I was advising Ming that perceptions of him could be turned around, that "age" and "old" could become "wisdom" and "experience". It worked for Francois Mitterrand, and I hoped it could work for Ming. Ming has made clear my loyalty was not in question.

Was it a mistake to select Menzies Campbell as a "safe pair of hands" in the first place? Sarah Goodhill, Walsall

Ming was a safe pair of hands. Following the new electoral heights we scaled with Charles in 2005, Ming put in place the policy and organisation that will be a springboard for the future. Ming also had great political courage, getting big policy shifts on green taxes and post office reform through our democratic conference.

In appointing Campbell as leader, the party appointed a good backroomco-ordinator as their front man. Wouldn't appointing you be a similar mistake? Henry M by email

I've been out front all my life: selling ideas as a journalist, selling deals for my business when in the City, and now selling liberalism. I recommend the liberalism. It's going far too cheaply at the moment, and it's going up.

Would you have a prominent place on your front bench for Charles Kennedy? Lucy Waters, Kent

The party needs Charles to come back in a key front line role as soon as possible. He is far too big a talent for him to sit on the subs' bench rather than play on the field.

Why don't you just let Clegg become leader and spare the party another messy battle? Michael Drago, Fulham

Because, as a good Liberal, I believe in choice and the competition of ideas. I don't agree the contest will be messy. We are both committed to taking this party on to new heights whichever of us wins.

Haven't we discovered recently that economists make boring leaders? Clive Thackery, West Sussex

I agree that economists were invented to make accountants seem interesting but Gordon Brown is no economist. He pinched Liberal Democrat ideas on the Bank of England. If he really knew anything about the economy, he would not have increased the dead weight of tax statutes from 4.65kg in 1997 to more than 6.5kg today. The guy is the patron saint of tax accountants. As for boring economists, don't forget Jed Bartlet.

Who was the better journalist – you or Nick Clegg? Laura Evans, Cardiff

If Nick had taken a job as a journalist, I'm sure he'd have had a successful career but he went to work for the EU Commission instead. Luckily I never had to face the competition.

Nick Clegg speaks five languages. How many do you speak? Ruth Trean, Reading

A mere two. My other is French. What a beautiful language. I was learning Greek but Vicky (who is Greek) teases me that I gave up as soon as we got married. I'm not proud of this, but I could not honestly see how my Greek could ever be as good as her English.

As a former city editor of this newspaper, how do the worlds of journalism and politics compare? David Bradley, Ascot

Both are highly competitive, where reputations rise and fall on a daily basis. Journalism is a great seat in the commentary box but I moved to politics to play on the pitch.

Isn't it time that the House of Commons set a better example to the public and was more "gentlemanly" especially in the reduction of the kind of heckling Ming had to put up with? Trish Niblock by email

Dead right. The Commons is sometimes like a bear pit, and the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition at PMQs are like a couple of rutting stags locking antlers. We need less testosterone and more Toblerone. Keep it sweet.

Don't you think thesuccession of scandals has set back the party by a decade? John Dodson by email

We are a big party and our beliefs and values can no more be discredited by a tiny minority than football is discredited by a few divers. I've been around in our politics since 1981. I fought three elections before I was finally elected, and I have seen bad and good times since then. We are coming back.

Did the spate of revelations about the private lives of people in your party anger you? S Briony, London E2

No. People's private lives are their own affair. If you preach family values, and then play nookie with Edwina Currie, you are asking for trouble. But Liberal Democrats do notbelieve in putting a policeman in the bedroom.

Iraq is now falling down the political agenda.Wasn't it the only reason you did so well in 2005? Paul Wilson by email

Iraq was significant because Labour and the Conservatives were united in a tragic error. But over the past few years Iraq has not been the only area. On the environment, taxes, pensions, Trident and tuition fees we have been the only party to offer voters a real alternative to the cosy consensus.

If you are elected leader, can you outline one new policy that you feel needs to be introduced that would raise the profile of your party? Laurence Ward, Oakham

Over the next few weeks you will be hearing of lots, but this is not the time or place to announce them. Sorry, Laurence. Even more important are our values. Explaining why I'm a social liberal – why I want freedom from fear and people in charge of their own lives – will be my top priority.

In a global economy, how on earth can we actually prevent climate change? Mary Frazer, Chester

By discovering our collective sense of human self-preservation, just as we successfully did with the ban on CFCs. Okay, carbon emissions are tougher. But the technology is increasingly there to move to a zero carbon future. We just need the political will to make it happen. But things are moving. I've been bashing away about climate change since the late eighties but you know you are winning the argument when old-fashioned careerists such as John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, join up. Although he was such a climate change sceptic that he refused to sign Kyoto, he has just become the first leader to ban conventional light bulbs. Public concern in Australia has been galvanised by the drought, and similar effects will happen here.

If there is a chance of wide support for a measure that would tackle climate change, would you put aside party differences to support it – even if the particular measure would not have been your first choice? Alex Lawrie, Taunton

Yes, a thousand times yes. Jim Hansen of Nasa, the grandfather of climate change science, says we have 10 years to act. I would settle for second, third and fourth best to make a real impact in cutting carbon emissions. We are facing a world emergency, and a little messiness on policy is a small price to pay for action.

You've had a privileged upbringing. How are you different from David Cameron's band of ex-Etonians? Gillian Witherham, Salisbury

I didn't inherit money, but my parents gave me a great schooling for which I am grateful. My job is to make sure everyone gets the best start in life, with the chance to shape their own destiny rather than being condemned to one just by fate.

I hear you are a rich man. How do you square that with your principles? Ryan F by email

Liberalism is about letting people achieve their full potential, whatever their talent. That includes making money. I am proud of my business success, not ashamed of it. My politics led to me to advocate measures to give everyone the chance to thrive and strive, and for the rich to pay a fairer share of public services. I believe passionately in liberalism, and gave up my career to promote it. Call me sad or odd according to taste, but please don't question my sincerity.

Would you move the party to the right or left? Shaun Kooley by email

Strictly forwards. Is saving the planet left or right, or just sensible? Is standing up for essential civil liberties like jury trials and no detention without charge and trial left or right? Is setting a date to get out of Iraq , and to stop being part of the problem, left or right? Left and right are terms associated with the class politics that dominated Britain only from 1945 to 1970. We are back to the politics of ideas and values. And you cannot cram those into a left-right spectrum.

Did you smoke cannabis? And is it true that you were careful at Oxford never to be caught with a joint in a photograph? Riazat N by email

I was not at all careful to avoid being in photos while at Oxford. (Take a look at me helping to occupy the Indian Institute as part of a student protest). On your question, surely people are entitled to a private life before they go into politics.

What's the point of a third party? Vincent Gregory by email

To be ambitious enough to become the second and then the first party. Meanwhile, to give the public a third opinion, and the Government the third degree. What sort of damn fool discussion is it that has only two points of view? As Cameron lays claim to being the heir to Blair, and Labour and the Tories agree so much, there has never been a more important time for a distinctive third party.

You are against nuclear power but are you in favour of allowing windfarms to be a blot on the landscape? Lizzie Hewitt, Dulwich

I'm not in favour of blots on the landscape but I am in favour of windfarms where they do not destroy beautiful views. I also rather like wind turbines. They have a purposeful peace about them which appeals to me. As for nuclear, it is not just us but business who are not in favour. No nuclear power station has been built anywhere in the world since Chernobyl and Three Mile island without lashings of taxpayer subsidy. The core skill of the nuclear industry is gouging money out of the long-suffering taxpayer.

Doesn't dropping the 50p upper rate for income tax on the very rich send the wrong signal that you are just like Labour and the Tories on tax? Keith Longe by email

Actually we are the only party committed to a more progressive tax system. I argued for dropping the 50 pence top rate because it was part of package which increased incentives – because you keep more as you earn more – and at the same time shifted more of the tax burden onto the better off. Why? Because we propose giving the better off only the same value of tax relief as the less well off when they contribute to their pension fund.

You said in your interview with 'The Independent' you were a Grateful Dead fan. Which is your favourite track? Peter Davis, Brighton

As I head off on the road again, I reckon it has to be "Truckin'."

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