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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 October 2006, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
Oliver Letwin Q & A
Oliver Letwin
Following the Conservative Party conference, we asked you to send in your questions for Conservative Head of Policy Oliver Letwin MP.

Mr Letwin has answered a selection of your e-mails. Thank you for all your questions.

Mr Letwin writes:

Question from Matthew Knowles, South Ockendon: As a 31-year-old who is very interested in how we are governed I have always been an instinctive Tory supporter. But your reforms have left me with no choice but to join UKIP. How will you stop others from doing the same when the differences between you and Labour are narrowing all the time?

Oliver Letwin: It is important that the Conservative Party is in the mainstream of British politics. That means addressing the big challenges facing Britain in the 21st century, and talking about issues we previously haven't devoted enough attention to.

As a result of David Cameron's changes to the party, we're now more green, more family-friendly, more committed to giving power and control to local communities. And we need to be a moderate alternative to this Government - addressing people's concerns with our own ideas, but not making the mistake of creating differences where there are none.

In fact, we should back the Government where they do the right thing, as we did with their proposals to give schools more freedoms in the Education Bill.

But there are still many fundamental differences between the Conservative Party and Labour. We believe instinctively in trusting people and sharing responsibility, and we believe in social responsibility.

It is a big difference from Labour, who instinctively think, whatever they say, that everything is a state responsibility. That is the new direction we want for Britain. Away from thinking everything is a state responsibility, and towards a new spirit of social responsibility.


Question from Jenny Day, Saltash: David Cameron says you are the most intelligent man in politics so why can't you and your policy workgroups try to come up with a fairer solution to council taxes? Preferably one which is linked to both income and value of property as this seems the only way to make things fairer for those of us who have saved hard in the past to buy a nice home but now have fallen on harder times and find ourselves being progressively taxed out of it. I will admit that I have recently defected from the Lib-Dems to the Conservatives - so I like what you are doing. But this remains the one thing which could tempt me back to them.

Oliver Letwin: The real problem with council tax is the year-on-year increases under John Prescott and Gordon Brown who have forced up council tax bills by 84 per cent since 1997. Merely replacing council tax with another form of local tax would do nothing to address the underlying problem.

We are opposing Labour's agenda to raise council tax further through its plans for a council tax revaluation, re-banding and home improvement tax; pressing the Government to relieve councils of unfunded burdens, regulations, inspection and red tape that have forced up council tax. We are arguing for councils to have more freedom and discretion to fund their local priorities - not those of Whitehall.


Question from Mark Kidger, Madrid, Spain (ex Bristol, UK): Oliver, the opinion polls are only moderately favourable to the Conservatives with a 6% lead rather than the double-digits that one should expect at this time if they were going to win. At the same time, elections are sending mixed messages: local elections do show the Conservative Party doing well, by-elections do not. Why are the Conservatives not better placed to get back some of those seats that were lost in 1997?

Oliver Letwin: This, too, is all about addressing the challenges that face modern Britain, and getting across our message about social responsibility. We need to change to show the British people that we will provide the new direction and new answers that the country needs so that we win the only poll that really matters, the next election.


Question from Les Cantlay, York: Undoubtedly your only strategy to win power is to occupy the centre ground and influence swing voters. Having said this, once elected, will you not face a real difficult challenge in maintaining this centrist position when you will no longer be able to silence the right wing without the threat of another election defeat?

Oliver Letwin: David Cameron was overwhelmingly elected on a mandate to change the Conservative Party in order to change Britain for the better. That's why we're changing - becoming more green, more family-friendly and more committed to giving power and control to local communities. The vast majority of my party is fully behind this - that is why we won the vote on our 'Built to Last' document by 92% to 8% when we balloted our members on it.


Question from Paul Eastham, London: Please explain why your promise to ''share the proceeds of growth''(i.e. divert money into lowering taxes) does not mean less money will be available for the NHS? The only solution to your paradoxical proposal is higher borrowing or some kind of magic trick.

Oliver Letwin: I think your question arises from a confusion about what happens when the economy grows. We have said that as the economy grows, and increased revenue flows into the Exchequer, we will share those increased revenues between increased spending on public services and reduced borrowing so that we can reduce taxes in the longer term.

This means that spending on public services will rise in real terms over an economic cycle under a Conservative Government. There is no magic trick - just a decision to use part of the extra money that comes in from economic growth to do one thing, and part of it to do another, in the same way that you or I do with our household budgets when our income rises.


Question from Jason Roberts, London: The Tories want to be seen as Green, but no longer mean. Cameron at the moment is Blair with more hair. Are the Conservatives in danger of relying solely on banana skin politics - waiting for Labour to trip up and the Tories to gain their votes by default, rather than trying to attract loyalty for their own ideas, their own merits, their own policies? If it is a choice between two parties who look the same, people will stick with what they know.

Oliver Letwin: We are most definitely not relying on the Government's problems to benefit us. Instead, we are outlining our vision and our ideas for the future of Britain. This is based on the idea of social responsibility.

This means admitting that government doesn't have all the answers. So when it comes to tackling crime, improving the environment and making life better for families, we don't just ask what government can do.

We have already announced a wide range of policies, including binding targets for reducing carbon emissions; scrapping ID cards; reforms to make the police more accountable; and encouraging setting and streaming in our schools. And our Policy Groups will report next year with many more new ideas to improve Britain in the 21st century.


Question from Richard Burr, Camberley, Surrey: If your party does not like new taxes and more regulation how will you tackle climate change?

Oliver Letwin: We will increase the proportion of taxes raised through green taxes, moving taxation away from good things like jobs and investment and towards taxes on bad things like pollution and carbon emissions. This helps both the environment and the economy.

Tax is just one way that the true environmental cost of an action can be made clear. Other ways include emissions trading; incentives; regulation and information campaigns. It is essential that we use the carrot as well as the stick, giving people real alternatives.

No one would harm the environment if there was a viable alternative - and the harm they were doing was made clear. For this reason, we need - via a range of measures - to achieve carbon pricing across the economy.

The most important thing is that the public, and business, are given clear signals about the value of the environment. We have therefore called for a Climate Change Bill to introduce annual targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and an independent monitor to report to Parliament on Britain's progress in meeting those annual targets.

The balance between maintaining our economic competitiveness and tackling the great challenges of climate change is a delicate one - but we believe that, if we work hard at it, green growth can be achieved.


Question from Jonathan Lecun, Cardiff: What do you think David Cameron's Clause 4 might be?

Oliver Letwin: I don't think we have a Clause 4 equivalent in the Conservative Party. Tony Blair had to abandon Clause 4 because it committed his party to nationalising industry - an idea that had been comprehensively debunked over the previous 30 years. We do not have any such millstone round our necks.

What we need is to change our agenda so that we are meeting the challenges of the 21st century in a way that is still based on our Conservative principles of trusting people and enhancing social responsibility.


Question from Richard Craig, Newcastle: Regarding the EU expansion, neither your party or the government can introduce any transitional laws to combat Romanian/Bulgarian immigration, as EU law (regarding free movement of persons) has supremacy over UK law. How do you propose the government or yourselves overcome this basic point of law?

Oliver Letwin: In fact, the accession treaty allows Britain, and other EU countries, to maintain national restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian access to our labour market for up to seven years.

We think it right to match what other European countries are doing and use these transitional provisions. So we have called for the Government to impose conditions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers similar to those which other European countries adopted when Poland and other Eastern European countries became members of the EU.

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