Michael Howard in the hot seat: Do your figures on taxes and immigration really add up?

And what about jobs, pensions and the EU constitution? The Conservative leader answers your questions
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Indy Politics

Why could I find no mention of unemployment in your manifesto? It's still a real problem in places like Grimsby, with the jobless forced to go on the cheap labour New Deal scheme.

Why could I find no mention of unemployment in your manifesto? It's still a real problem in places like Grimsby, with the jobless forced to go on the cheap labour New Deal scheme.

Tim Mickleburgh, Grimsby, Lincolnshire

We are very concerned about unemployment, and tragic events during this election show how close at hand it can be - particularly in some hard-pressed manufacturing industries. I agree the New Deal has been a failure - only 37 per cent of people find long-term employment (defined as lasting more than 13 weeks).

Why do you pretend that you will lower taxes when your plans simply show that you will raise them by £4bn less than Labour would?

Harvey Cole, Winchester, Hants

We will abolish stamp duty for average home buyers. We will help basic-rate taxpayers save for their pensions. We will help pensioners with council tax bills. No other party has even the aspiration to reduce taxes. Mr Blair's Government has taxed too much, wasted too much and not given taxpayers value for money. Our James review has identified £35bn of savings that can be made in the government budget.

We will use £23bn of the waste we save to boost spending on front-line services such as schools, hospitals, the police, defence and pensions; and £8bn will be used to plug Labour's black hole in borrowing, to avoid further Labour stealth taxes. The remaining £4bn will be used to reduce taxes for hard-working Britons.

I have been living in this country since 1994 after marrying a British citizen. I pay tax, have a mortgage and work hard to contribute to the country's economic success. In my opinion, your campaign suggests that people like me are a threat to this country. Can you explain why?

Patricia Ryser-Welch, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Quite the reverse. Ours is a message centred on doing the right thing by people like you who do the right thing - who work hard, pay their dues and bring up their children to respect others. I believe passionately in fair play, and that is the principle on which our immigration and asylum policies are based. Britain has a proud tradition of giving refuge to those fleeing persecution. For centuries we have welcomed families that want to come here and work hard. I know because my family was among them.

But it is important that future immigration is controlled. That's plain common sense, supported by many, many people of all races that I have met on this campaign.

I applauded your opposition to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but I would be more convinced it was a principled stance if you defended other important safeguards of liberty, such as the right to jury trials.

Ed Tyler, Wythenshawe, Cheshire

We supported the legislation only after the announcement that Mr Blair had finally conceded a so-called "sunset clause" in all but name. Parliament will review the terror legislation next session and will be able to amend it, something Tony Blair wanted to prevent.

Why shouldn't the basic state pension be means tested?

Dan Baker, Wimbledon, London

The state pension is a contributory system - so if you pay into it, you are entitled to receive it. We are very concerned about the increasing numbers of pensioners living on means-tested benefits since Labour took over. Before the 1997 election Mr Blair promised to end the stigma of means testing - yet another broken promise to add to the pile. So we will provide a bigger state pension, linked to earnings, so that fewer pensioners have to undergo means testing. Increasing the basic state pension in line with earnings rather than prices will mean that after four years single pensioners receive £7 a week more and pensioner couples £11 a week more over increases already planned.

Should Britain vote whether to adopt an EU constitution if it becomes clear it will not be accepted by countries such as France and the Netherlands?

Peter Black, Reigate, Surrey

Yes, I believe the British people must have their say. On day one of the next Conservative government, we will announce a date for the referendum, to be held within six months.

I can understand Labour kicking out a group like Militant, but why should a party leader be allowed to deselect MPs for expressing opinions if their local parties want to keep them?

Richard Allison, London

No one has been deselected for expressing opinions - I have no problem with people expressing their opinions. That is part of a healthy debate. What I do have a problem with is people implying that the Conservative Party has a secret agenda. We do not.

Your predecessor agreed to keep politicians' families out of politics, so why did you have your children on the platform at a recent Conservative rally?

Michael Marshall, Reading, Berks

I am campaigning as myself but, like every other party leader, I do have a family of which I am proud. It would be odd if any of us tried to hide that we were fathers as well as politicians or to turn away support from those closest to us.

You have been very prominent in this campaign. Has that been a conscious decision - or a media distortion?

Celia Frankel, Swindon

Modern TV coverage places emphasis on party leaders. In the sense that they are campaigning to be Prime Minister, it is understandable. I have shared platforms with dozens of colleagues. That is the case of the other party leaders, too. How that is reported is a matter for the media.

Given your record over the past 17 years as a public figure, how do you expect people to believe that the false MRSA statistics you sent to voters in marginal constituencies was an honest mistake?

Mark Roddis, by email

It was a genuine mistake and I have apologised. The letter should have referred to NHS Hospital Trusts and not NHS Hospital Trust. The figures on that basis were right. I will not be deterred from raising the issue of MRSA. It was swept under the carpet for too long and cost too many lives.

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