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Liveblogging: Question Time Feb 09

I might as well take advantage of the newly-acquired interweb technology. Question Time liveblogging – latest entry at the bottom.

First question: If Charles Kennedy was standing, would he win?
Campbell: He would do very well. It was right he stepped aside. Praises Kennedy’s dignity and courage and emphasises that it was CK’s own decision to stand down.
Huhne: He’d probably have a very good chance. CK has left a powerful legacy.
Hughes: He might well win. The public still love CK. Didn’t want CK to stand down. There were difficult issues and people made different judgement calls. Criticises anonymous briefings.

What if there was a write-in for CK?
Hughes jokes about the constitution. Campbell quips about an international commission.

Is Kennedy’s honesty a problem for them?
Huhne says his uncle was an alcoholic and he recognises the difficult issues around it, and the party is a family too. Hughes doesn’t regret supporting CK rather than outing his drinking problem.

Second question: Have scandals causes damage?
Huhne: Yes, but not permanently. As the party gets larger, some foibles are more likely. LibDems don’t moralise on how people should live, therefore not hypocritical. Party has made huge strides in last 25 years.

Party has demonstrated poor judgement.
Hughes: I was dealing with a difficult personal matter. Begins to list his own constituency record. Electors want to know what we’ll do for Britain.

Did Hughes lose credibility over the gay thing?
Hughes: Possibly. Confronted the issue, didn’t go to ground. Should be judged on record and party on plans for the country.

Campbell said Hughes wasn’t as forthcoming as expected.

Campbell: That’s fair and hasn’t caused a rift. Party realises there’s a serious political agenda. Polls are not too bad and LibDems took more votes in local government elections in January than Labour or Tories.

Should Bermondsey by-election be an issue?
Dimbleby: No!

Did Hughes think Huhne should’ve stayed in?
Hughes: No, and he quit the election over lack of support. He stood down, rightly, from the frontbench and could return in future.
Huhne: Oaten is fantastic constituency MP.

Third question: How can Britain withdraw honourably from Iraq?Hughes: We said we’d stay until elections, which have now happened. Let region take over. Invasion was illegal and Ming agreed. Mentions that Huhne wasn’t in Parliament at the time.
Campbell: UN makes presence legitimate. Cannot impose deadlines. Must restore public services in Iraq. Would damage our interests if Iraq split in three.

Did Campbell accuse others of “naive populism”?
Campbell: I’d never accuse my colleagues of that.
Huhne: Iraq is different from other peacekeeping type roles. Many Iraqis don’t welcome our presence. We’re part of the problem. Is reasonable to set end of year deadline. Deadlines valuable in business or things don’t happen.
Campbell: This isn’t business.
Huhne: You need to prepare for a proper handover so a deadline is ndeed.
Hughes: Brother has been to Iraq. Anxious about troops.
Campbell: Constituents are there. If there was anarchy at the end of the year, would the others pull out overnight?
Huhne: Government is already talking about this. Setting a date concentrates minds. Not a naive position. Robin Cook was prepared to set a date and he had been foreign secretary.

Tired of hearing about illegal war. Agrees with “Menzees”.

Can’t set arbitrary date. Iraq must be stable.
Hughes: Why can’t other people from the region take over?
Huhne: History of UK and US troops means we are tarred, at least as far as Sunnis go. If that means swapping with other countries elsewhere that is fine.

Childish to set a date for return – agrees with “Sir Campbell” – but how is it different from Labour?
Campbell: Because we’re open. No enthusiasm from other countries to take over.

Why are troops going to Afghanistan then?
Huhne: There is a UN mandate. We should have respected UN on Iraq.

Fourth question: Preamble supports widest distribution of wealth. How would they make that happen?Huhne: Proportionately, wealthiest 10% pay less tax than poorest 10%. That’s scandalous. Use green taxes to take poorest out of tax. No income tax on minimum wage. Continue with fairness commitment that richest should pay more, and more than now. Tax commission will decide how. Maybe look at pension tax relief which helps the rich most.
Hughes: Carries preamble sentence in his pocket. Quotes preamble. Country is unequal. Use tax system to correct. Higher rate at top end. LibDems are principled, unlike other parties.
Huhne: May be a policy difference with Simon. Believes in fair taxes. Doesn’t believe taxation overall needs to be higher.
Campbell: Was happy to defend 50p rate. Suggests Dimbleby would pay it. Poorest have worst education, worst housing. Points out large number of empty houses available. Abolishing VAT on housing refurbishment would encourage people to bring houses up to scratch. Maintain existing tax burden.

None of them answered the question. Discussed income not wealth.
Hughes: Mentioned capital.
Huhne: Generally, if you’re very wealthy you have a high income.

What about unequal inheritance of wealth?
Huhne: Hero is David Lloyd George. He believed best time to tax someone was when they were dead.
Hughes: Can tax income, assets or wealth transfer. Need to protect those who are struggling so they’re not paying more.

Sounds Labour lilke. Are you moving to the left?
Campbell: No. We’re a party of the centre left. Grimond brought him into the party – he was radical, not of the left. Radicalism would fill Blairite vacuum. Cameron is a management company.
Huhne: Not left of Labour. Centre ground could look crowded. Very proud record being honest about tax rises when necessary. Difference in style from the other parties. Need to be as honest about environment, localism, fairness. Why vote for a copy when you can vote for the real thing?

Would they increase taxes on second homes?
Campbell: Already policy. Second homes causing housing shortages.
Hughes: Must let councils decide council tax. Just because other parties go to the right doesn’t mean we must.

Fifth question: Would you cooperate with other parties if there was a Hung Parliament?
Campbell: Would banish the words “Hung Parliament” from the party dictionary. Mustn’t be distracted. Maximise votes, maximise seats. Talked about alliance with Labour in 1997 as landscape was different and country wanted the Tories out. Labour and Blair were different then.
Huhne: Experience as MEP was working with other parties to deliver LibDem agenda. No fear of that. Not become a LibDem to be Labour or Tory. As many LibDem plans into effect as possible. Fight for maximum seats and votes as that provides best chance.

And if there was a Hung Parliament…?
Huhne: Issue will come up. Important to ask why Cameron and Brown why they won’t get together as they’re getting so close.
Campbell: Doesn’t see that happening. Says he has friends in other parties (Brown, Rifkind) but that doens’t mean he’d work with them. No to coalition, no to cooperation. Would vote down a minority Government’s Queen’s Speech and prompt a General Election.
Hughes: We got more than a fifth of the vote and won 62 seats. 4/10 didn’t vote – we need to reach them. Aim for more than 100 MPs. No coalition, but would cooperate on positive issues like dealing with climate change.

What about local hung council?
Hughes: As in Scotland, judge that it’s the right thing to do. Decide locally.
Campbell: Proportional representation in Scotland. Fair votes mean coalitions make sense. Achieved concrete policies as a result.

Doesn’t PR cause weak government?
Huhne: We’re the only country in Europe that doesn’t use PR. No new democracy in Eastern Europe uses our system. The US has separation of powers. House of Commons doesn’t consider long term issues. Too much legislation.

Would you abolish unelected regional assemblies?
Hughes: Answers previous – strong government is not the same as good government. Look at poll tax. Only place where there is democratic regional government is London. Decisions must be democratic.

Sixth question: Is experience of parliamentary politics a help or a hindrance?
Huhne: Six years as a parliamentarian is more than Cameron’s four years. Can’t have it both ways: either moan that not enough people have a background outside Westminster – 19 years as a journalist, team-building, creating a business from scratch – that is relevant experience. Can’t say you want experience from outside but then complain that they don’t have enough experience outside.
Hughes: Ming and I have both had lives outside politics. Campbell and I have dealt with Thatcher and Major. That experience does matter. Quizzing ministers is important.
Huhne: Was quizzing ministers as a journalist before Hughes stood in the Bermondsey by-election.
Campbell: Parliamentary experience gives you judgement for activity in the Commons. Good judgement is at a premium and wouldn’t stand if he didn’t think he had it.

Are you a member of a club that Huhne isn’t in?
Campbell: It used to be a bit like a gentleman’s club but parliament has changed. It’s not a club it’s a forum and you know it best if you’ve been there.
Hughes: Parliamentary experience is valid but people think we don’t live in the real world. Need to be more in touch with the real world.
Campbell: PR would help.

Hughes accused of criticising other two
Hughes: Not sure I did.
Dimbleby: They’re in your manifesto.
Hughes: No they’re not.
Campbell: Flintoff has the safest pair of hands in Britain. Also need energy, values and judgement. No scope for caution or consolidation. Preamble values must be modern and relevant.
Huhne: Must be relentlessly positive about putting our principles into power.

All have stated they will work together. We need a team and experience is very wide.
Experience isn’t the critical thing, it’s results that count. Members will get behind whoever wins to fight elections.
If you’ve been challenging Thatcher, Major, Blair… We don’t want another election if there’s a Hung Parliament. You must work together.
Campbell: If Queen’s Speech is OK, we’ll vote for it, if not, we won’t.
Huhne: Can work on an issue by issue basis. Has experience of working with others to build majorities and creates better legislation in the long run.
Campbell: Inconceivable that we wouldn’t vote down a Queen’s Speech that reflected last Tory manifesto.

Dimbleby: Those remarks, Simon Hughes, are on you’re website if you want to take them down.
Huhne: Frontrunner’s have to accept that they’ll be attacked.
Dimbleby: Are you the frontrunner?
Huhne: So a YouGov poll claims.
Campbell: Isn’t he modest?
Huhne: I’m not criticising anyone else.
Hughes: I’ll wait for the members’ votes before I decide who the frontrunner is.

Seventh question: What’s been your biggest political mistake and what did you learn from it?
Huhne: Assumed European Parliament would be like British Parliament. Caught himself attacking another MEP’s personality and realised that working together and not Punch and Judy politics was important.
Campbell: Believing rational argument would always pervail. Need MPs too.
Hughes: Had a shopping list of politics in 2005 but didn’t make core values clear. “Freedom, Fairness, Trust” in draft but didn’t make final manifesto.

2 Responses

  1. 1
    Rob F 

    “Dimbleby: Those remarks, Simon Hughes, are on you’re website if you want to take them down.”

    Apologies for swearing on you blog Will, but Dimbleby’s remarks are bullshit.

  2. 2
    Rob F 

    Woops, no, I’m wrong. I’ll shut up. Never doubt a Dimbleby 😉