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Conference 99 Thursday, 23 September, 1999, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Your views on the Lib Dems
Even if you are not travelling to Harrogate for the Liberal Democrat conference, you can still get involved in the debates on policy and the future.

BBC News Online's Conference '99 site wants your views. Send us your comments on the party and its personalities by using the form below - please click the Your Views on the Lib Dems button. To read your reaction so far, click here.

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Having watched this conference on BBC Parliament channel, without editing or spin: where are the Lib Dems?

Masses of seats were empty. The top area have been sectioned off to make the few sit to the front.

Apart from the set piece speeches by their bigger names they are none visible?

Next time they should hire a much smaller hall - any village hall would probably suffice.
Ian McCord, Colchester

The Lib Dems have, in my view made an error in selecting Charles Kennedy as leader. Mr Kennedy, although televisually sound is empty on serious issues.

He has shown in the past with nausiating regularity to prefer appearing on Call My Bluff or Have I got News for You to more challenging intellectual debate. Even in more political circumstances he is vague and seemingly without direction.

Mr Kennedy was the wrong choice for leader of the Lib Dems but then they didn't have that an inspiring list of candidates to choose from really, did they?
Geraint Hopkins, Wales, United Kingdom

In a recent question and answer session Charles Kennedy said he had no knowledge of "IR35" the measure designed by this givernment to send 66,000 small businesses to the wall. Yet I have a letter at home from one of his assistants which says it is dictated by Mr Kennedy and signed in his absence. That letter presents a strong argument against the current proposals on the grounds that they are not proportionate to their aim.

That is a view I agree with. My question is this. How come Mr Kennedy claims no knowledge of an issue on which his aides have sent me a reply signed on his behalf?
John Voisey, Newport, South Wales

If Lembit Opik MP wishes to move out of the Jurassic period and into the 21st Century might I sugest he examines his own actions a little closley. His "Middle-Way" group which seeks a compromise over the hunting issue was recently exposed by The Gaurdian Newspaper as a front group; receieving sly cash benefits from the Countryside Alliance amounting to tens of thousands of pounds. His actions demostrate that as well as being a supporter of a very Jurassic pastime, politics is not as boring as he makes it out to be.
Lawrence Williams, Rural England

Why join the euro when less than 20% of our economy is dependent uopn it?
Reid, London

Charles Kennedy has an awful lot to learn as the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats, if he so arrogantly and high-handedly dismisses the views of those voters who oppose UK entry to the Single Currency - 60% of the voting public in the last poll.Surely he needs to listen to the voters and learn a little humility at this early stage of his leadership?
Stewart Jackson, London

I think the essential contradiction at the heart of the Lib-Dems is that on the one hand they exist as a political party, but on the other hand there is no identifiable constituency to which they are accountable.

This autonomy from the reality of political life enables them to zig zag between positions and appears to put them above politics, and give them a superficial attractiveness. But I think it's a facade. If as I am suggesting their is no firm foundation supporting Lib-Dems they are unlikely to provide a coherent and stable force for government.

Apart from their obsession with PR that substitutes selections for elections I think they have little to offer other than wish lists and posturing.
Keith Warne, London

I read your report that Jim Wallace was preparing the way for a climbdown over student fees. It seems to me that his position (and every other Lib Dem MSP) is absolutely clear - they promised the electorate they were against these fees, they therefore must vote against them. That is the only fair way in which to run a democracy - you representatives do what they promised.

The result of the vote will determine whether or not the fees are abolished - not Jim Wallace and his negotiations with Labour. If Labour refuse to work with the Lib Dems as a result of Lib Dem MSPs doing what they promised people they would do, the blame will lie squarely with the Labour party - and that will be plain for all to see.
Martyn Williams, UK

So Charles Kennedy has spoken out against Michael Portillo becoming the next leader of the Conservatives, warning they will be more antagonistic to the European single currency under him and that he is "even more extreme" than William Hague on Europe.

I would like to ask him why he is so extreme on us joining the Euro, as he himself has said "The referendum probably should've come sooner rather than later after the last election, Then the Yes camp probably would've won." This proves without doubt that he knows the wait and see is proving that we shouldn't scrap the pound and the longer the debate goes on for the more Euro-Sceptic we will become.

I for one would welcome Michael Portillo as leader of the Conservatives if he supported a democratic debate on the issues of 1. joining the Euro and 2. leaving the E.U altogether. Given the fact's that the U.K is now spending over 1million per HOUR on our membership and also both Switzerland and Norway are thriving outside of the E.U, plus the fact that we were lied to from the start about the concept of the common market, its certainly well worth debating and anyone who says that even discussing it is extreme and backward thinking is clearly scared of the facts and must have a ticket for the gravy train. If the Lib Dems support the antidemocratic Euro and continue to deny us even a debate on the E.U then I suggest they change their name to the Liberal Undemecrats.
Stephen Hanwell, England

To me, the Lib Dems are out of touch with society. In many places in the world, "liberal" parties have gone to the center to the far left (like Labour). The only reason the Lib Dems harp on about the electral system is because they will never form the Government.
Joshua Holman, Hawaii, USA

Liberal whats?
Rich, UK

Charles Kennedy sounds very plausible and has made statements on the environment. However, when the chips are down Lib Dems tend to drop green policies at the drop of a hat. A number of their members support fox hunting and the Lib Dem MP and Council supported the Newbury by-pass. I will continue to vote Green but wish the Lib Dems well in campaigning on PR for local government and for Westminster. This will ensure that both the Lib Dems and the Greens are fairly represented and that new ideas can flourish.
Barry Miller, Derbyshire

This week I've been looking for ways to try and get politics out of the Jurassic age and into something a bit more accessible to the present day.

We've got a rather poor reputation in Westminster of getting old and boring before our time, but it doesn't have to be that way. Politics is a lot more interesting than politicians make out. The challenge is to prove it.

I've just got to believe we're doing something wrong in Parliament, which switches a lot of people off. Has the Parliamentary Channel really got any chance against Eastenders or an evening out with your mates? It should be sometimes. We've got a fair number of Young Lib Dems, but I'm sure even we could do a lot better.

Suggestions will be most welcome - preferably before I'm too old to remember why it mattered.
Lembit Opik MP

Harrogate came alive today as the Liberal Democrat Conference began in earnest. Malcolm Bruce's firely speech on the economy and use of Gordon Brown's 'war chest' provoked an immediate angry response from government sources. Meanwhile local MP Phil Willis caused a minor storm when he supported tighter regulations governing the siting of mobile phone masts.
Phil Willis MP

Generally, I like them and I am particularly impressed with Charles Kennedy's prioritisation of the environment and social justice.

However, I am worried by the speed at which things get dropped when they reach power. In Scotland for example, they have failed to include ending "fuel poverty" (which leaves people freezing cold at home every winter) in their agreement with Labour. This is despite Labour making it a manifesto commitment, and Jim Wallace supporting a campaign to end fuel poverty in 15 years.

If things keep being dropped at this rate, I'd end up treating them with as much cynicism as I do Tony Blair.
Dr Sarah Williams, London

Some of the comments on this page ask about the relevance of the Lib Dems in the current political landscape. Their relevance is based, among other things, on:

1. Being the only party with the courage to speak against letting public services go to ruin while taxes continue to be cut;

2. Being the only party with the courage to seriously address the issue of drugs;

3. Being the only party with the courage to be unashamedly pro-European;

4. Being the only party capable of breaking the old Labour fiefdoms in cities like Sheffield and Liverpool.

Political leaders are elected to lead. While Blair and wee Willie chase after the populism of the focus groups, the Lib Dems have shown over and over that they are willing to offer leadership.
Joe McNamee, Brussels

My views on the Liberal Democrats are as follows:

The biggest compliment to the success of the Liberal Democrats over the last few years has been the centrist movement of both the Labour and Conservative parties. The have a consistent track record of voter support which, whilst smaller than the other two parties, has been achieved through an electoral system which exagerates electoral results enormously. The very fact that both other parties have resorted to referring to the LDs as a "wasted vote" shows 1. that they are concerned that people do want to vote LD, and 2. that they themselves believe the electoral system to be unfair but are happy to live with it while they benefit from it. How any "democratic" electoral system can have such a thing as a "wasted vote" is beyond me.

On policy the Liberals have been the only party who have consistently dealt with controversial issues and policies in a reasonned manner. Our whole society is resorting to tabloid tactics - the much hyped political "spin-doctors" (itself a tabloid term) are simply a symptom. The LDs have consistently avoided the bland criticism-avoidance tactics of the other political parties in an effort to increase the amount of reasonned discussion in our government. I applaud their efforts.
David Merritt

I will be following the Liberal Democrat conference with interest. I was impressed by the quality of the candidates who stood in the leadership contest, and I think that they have good ideas. But I am concerned that they seem to think that with a little tinkering the State can sort everything out, and that they are too ready to talk about putting up taxes.
Peter Welch

I was intrigued to hear that the Lib-Dems are holding their conference at Harrogate, for I was sure that the Labour one is in Bournemouth, with these two parties so similar in nature, and essentially believing the same thing, what need is there for the Liberals?

Charles Kennedy's party is - like him - a bit of a joke, should not be treated seriously,and has very little of importance to say. Rollover Liberals, not quite has beens, but 'never was'!

With everybody heading fast to the centre right what room is there left (pun intended) for the Lib-Dems? At the moment we have New Labour out-Torying the Tories (I hope all those workshy Labour supporters are watching, cos Gordon Brown is watching you!) and the Tories trying to outflank New Labour on the left with their "Caring Conservatism" (hug a public service worker, it's good for you type of attitude!).

The centre right of politics is the place to be ( Socialism is dead, Social Democracy is dead too - just ask Tony Blair and SIR Ken Jackson of the AEEU). No! I'm afraid there is no need for the Lib-Dems in today's politics. They will simply become that brown stain on the pages of history (and you thought it was the coffee!)
Malcolm McCandless, Dundee, Scotland

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