Zac Goldsmith: You Ask The Questions

The Conservative and environmentalist answers your questions, such as 'How would you help the unemployed?' and 'What is your biggest poker loss?'
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The Independent Online

Are you dismayed that green politics seems to have virtually disappeared from the Cameron agenda these days? Ian Mackenzie, Glasgow

They haven't disappeared. There's just less debate about green issues in Parliament. The recession is one reason, but there's another. When David Cameron became leader and prioritised green politics, there followed a competition in Parliament between the various parties, all wanting to be the greenest. When Gordon Brown felt that he'd lost that competition, he withdrew, and the debate ground to a halt. But we haven't dropped these issues. On coal, Heathrow, high-speed rail, clean energy and so on, we're making big progress. There's obviously much more to do, but have a look at "A Low Carbon Economy", which we published a few weeks ago. It is radical and a huge leap forwards. It's a shame it wasn't picked up by the press.

Has time run out for dealing with climate change? If it hasn't don't we need to take more drastic action than the Conservative party is prepared to do? Harriet Davies, Bristol

We're facing a crisis, and politicians everywhere are reacting far too slowly. But I don't believe it's too late. And I don't believe it's too much to ask of our leaders. Almost everything that needs doing is already being done, somewhere. If we took best practice in every field and made it the norm tomorrow, we'd be halfway there already. Besides, most of what we need to do, we need to do irrespective of climate change. For the most obvious reasons we need to learn to live within our ecological means. It goes without saying that nature doesn't do bailouts.

How do you feel about your party leader using private planes so often? Doesn't seem very green to me. Fiona Young, Colchester

I'm not aware that he does. Critics of the environmental agenda love this sort of thing. When leaders meet in Copenhagen, we'll see loads of headlines about their carbon footprints. In the real world, leaders need to move around. The only thing that matters is that they pursue the right policies, and that they provide leadership.

Did you feel betrayed by the Conservative party when they refused to adopt all your green policies? Henry Sorday, Brighton

Politics is a battle of ideas. You don't go into it expecting to win every battle. But if you feel strongly about something, it's the place to be. My report to the Conservative Party had about 500 policy ideas. It never occurred to me that they'd all be accepted. But I'm thrilled that a great many have.

Do you think too many senior Tories went to Eton (like you!)? Martha Jenkins, Putney

There are certainly a few people who went to Eton. But that's not why they are there. A party leader has a responsibility to put the best people in the front line, regardless of background. That's what David Cameron has done. Look at the front bench. It's a dynamic, diverse and impressive team.

What is your biggest loss at poker? Steve Nelson, Whitstable

I play a regular game with close friends – so it has never been about money. It's tournament poker, which means you can only ever lose the cost of the initial "buy-in". We play for small sums.

It must be great to have inherited large amounts of money but what do you make of your father's reputation for corporate raiding which put people out of work? Sarah Richard, Stoke

My father was very successful, and as a result I've been able to support hundreds of wonderful campaign organisations. Being able to do that is, in my view, the greatest privilege. So I have no regrets. In business my father was tough. But he had a good reputation. He created lots of jobs, and those who worked with and for him remained loyal, even after his death.

You went to Eton, inherited a fortune and edited a family magazine. Do you really think that qualifies you to be an MP? Jess Thornhill, Birmingham

These things don't disqualify me from being an MP, do they? A good MP needs to see power as a means to an end, not an end in itself; to have a vision, and to pursue it. I think people are sick and tired of clone MPs, and I think anyone who knows me, or has followed my work, knows I'll stick to my guns. Politics isn't, for me at least, a career route.

You claim to be a "localist" and want flexible business taxes in Richmond but won't you end up creating a race to the bottom for low taxes at a time when our public services are more needed than ever? John Jones, London

I believe political power needs to be handed back to local authorities and, more importantly, to ordinary people. One of the reasons people are disengaged from politics is that they have no real say. One choice every four or five years, in between which they have to accept one bad decision after another, isn't good enough. And locally, why bother voting for local councillors when they are stamped on at every turn by unelected national quangos? We need real, visible accountability, and greater use of direct democracy, where people can take power into their own hands. If we get that, then local decisions and even national decisions will be a reflection of what people really want. And by and large, they'll be right.

Britain, if the estimates are correct, will soon have three million unemployed. How do you get them back into work? Alice Nelson, Sunderland

By creating opportunities. Imagine if instead of wasting £12.5bn on a virtually irrelevant VAT cut, the Government had used the money to help small businesses and start-ups which employ disproportionately high numbers of people. With that sum, 25,000 small businesses could have been given loans of half a million pounds each. We need to stimulate small business growth, and a big part of that should be focused on green enterprises, as Obama and other world leaders plan. We will eventually emerge from the recession – but we can recreate those conditions that brought us here, or we can decide to emerge with a cleaner and greener economy.

Your sister was once married to Imran Khan. What are your observations about the current situation in Pakistan? Naz Ashraf, Leicester

I can't exaggerate my respect for Imran. He is a very rare thing – a politician who simply cannot be corrupted. In Pakistan, where politics is seriously compromised by corruption, he is a jewel and I wish him all the success in the world. Pakistan is a crucial country on so many levels. If it fails, the world as a whole will feel the consequences. It is crying out for honest leadership.

Do you think the Conservative "A list" is discriminatory? Julia Bond, Birmingham

Every choice we all make is discriminatory. That's the nature of choice. The problem with a political "A list" is that it implies there's a "B list", and no party should have one of them.

You were chucked out of Eton for drug use. What drugs have you used, did you enjoy them and would you like to see politicians take a more grown-up attitude to drugs? Alistair Walton, Taunton

More or less everyone wants to see a reduction in drug use. The Government's job is to learn from countries where drug use is declining. I'm not convinced that simply raising the penalties will deter people, but politicians need to be open-minded about the right course of action.

Last year you donated £7,000 to your local party while not on the electoral roll. That's a breach of the rules. Should we expect more of the same if you are elected? Edmund Jones, King's Lynn

It was a donation by me to my own campaign, and it was properly declared. It happened in the one week where I wasn't on the electoral register because I had just moved home. But I don't believe anyone could reasonably accuse me of wanting to bribe myself! Can you expect more of the same? I'm sure I'll make the odd mistake, but no, I won't be corrupted.

What's a perfect weekend for you? Douglas Foster, Maidenhead

No phones, faxes, emails or speeches. Lots of noisy children!