Kennedy In The Hot Seat: Congratulations. But haven't you just blown your chances?

He won votes with the birth of his son. Then he lost them by getting his own policies wrong. Now the Charles Kennedy becomes the first of the three party leaders to face a grilling from our readers
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You say you were opposed to the war in Iraq, yet you support the illegal occupation of that country. Bring the troops home now.

Ian Thompson Wellingborough, Northants

The Liberal Democrats voted against going to war in Iraq. We wanted the UN weapon inspectors to have more time. We now know there were no weapons of mass destruction - the basis upon which Tony Blair took us to war.

After the troops were ordered into battle, we did everything we could to ensure that individually they had our support to ensure they came home safely. As an occupying power, we had a moral and legal obligation to help Iraq achieve stability and security. British troops have been doing superb work to help achieve this, but the presence of foreign troops in Iraq is destabilising in the long term. The objective should be a phased withdrawal of British forces by the expiry of the UN mandate at the end of 2005.

Realistically, you are not going to be Prime Minister on 6 May, so what will be your top three demands of a minority Tory or Labour government if there is a balanced Parliament?

Perry Richards, Wolverhampton

I have set no ceiling for the Liberal Democrats at this election. Our manifesto describes our programme for government, including fairer pensions, scrapping student fees, 10,000 more police on the streets, lower class sizes in primary schools and free personal care for the elderly - help with washing, cleaning and feeding for those with long-term illnesses. This is our vision for a fairer Britain. In a democracy, if enough people want a Liberal Democrat government they will get one. I believe a lot more people are going to trust their instinct and vote positively for us.

Congratulations on the birth of your son. At an early-morning press conference just afterwards you got your party's income tax policy wrong. Were the media unfair in making so much of this slip-up?

John Williams, Brighton

After 22 years in politics, I have long understood that headlines and what follows don't always relate to each other - and my maxim has been "don't complain".

Why should low-paid workers subsidise rich pensioners who live in big houses? That is the effect of putting in a local income tax and abolishing council tax.

Jason Clark, St Albans, Herts

That will not be the case. Low-income families too will be far better off under a local income tax. The Institute of Fiscal Studies calculated that 15 million families will receive a tax cut. A household on the typical national income of £23,000 will be £450 better off. Our local income tax is based on the principle of ability to pay. That is far fairer than a tax based on property prices which can mean, for example, that a rich pensioner in a small house pays less than a family struggling to make ends meet in a large house.

Why should people who have never been to university pay for those who enjoy this privilege, which will help them into the best paid jobs later on?

James Morton, London

I believe that access to a university education should be based on the ability to learn, not on what people can afford. All of society benefits from a well-educated and skilled workforce - from a state-trained plumber to a state-educated brain surgeon. But fees and the huge debts that they result in will put young people off going to university, especially those from low-income families.

I was fortunate, 25 years ago, to get a full student grant and to emerge from university with a degree but without debt round my neck. We don't just oppose top-up and student tuition fees because we disagree with the policy, I personally oppose them because I think there is no more nauseating sight than politicians pulling up the ladder of opportunity behind them.

Do you agree that climate change is the most important issue at this or any other election? Your policies do not sound much greener than the others.

Antonia Marsh, West Ham, London

Of the three main parties, the Liberal Democrats are the only party to take the environment seriously. Green thinking informs every part of our manifesto. Climate change is the most serious threat facing our planet. If Tony Blair had devoted even a 10th of the political energy, wealth and resources that have been expended over Iraq, to convincing George Bush of the urgency of the environmental threat, imagine where we could be by now.

The only way we will reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly is to take action in all sectors, from traffic and aviation pollution to reducing energy consumption and drawing more energy from renewable sources. Tax incentives have a role to play, especially in encouraging fuel-efficient and low-emission cars. I want British business to lead the world in environmental technologies and developing alternative fuels.

Why have you gone so quiet about proportional representation? Surely the case against the present electoral system is stronger now than it has ever been.

Siobhan Jenkins, Stoke Newington, London

Our support for proportional representation in our manifesto is clear. But until we get a fairer system we must make our case and win under the system we have.

As a Roman Catholic, are you praying for the election of a more liberal Pope?

Charles Wylie, Hammersmith, London

One of the most unpredictable elections in the world is the College of Cardinals meeting in conclave in Rome. I have a liberal outlook on life generally. My outlook on church and faith is ecumenical. One of the many things I admired about Pope John Paul II was his effort to reach out to other faiths and denominations.

Becoming a father seems to have turned Gordon Brown into more of a human being. Do you think it will have the same sort of effect on you?

Alex Cairns, Spennymoor, Co Durham

I have always felt like a fully paid-up member of the human race. But of course being a father is a whole new experience for me. Both Sarah and I are overjoyed with the arrival of Donald James. And I am sure that my son will be a positive influence in my life.

Next week, the Tory leader, Michael Howard, faces your questions in the second of three readers' interviews with party leaders. To ask a question, write to us at 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or email ballotbox@independent.co.uk

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