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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
You quizzed Matthew Taylor
Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor answered some of your e-mails during his party's conference in Brighton.


Election hopes

How can the Liberal Democrats expect to be the party in government in eight years time while elections are still under the First Past The Post system? The Alliance had an enormous share of the vote in the early 80s, but didn't have the seats to match. Why will it be different this time?
Guy Freeman, Oxford, UK

You've got to remember that the Alliance got over 36% of the vote and only 23 seats and we have shown that we can get 18 or 19% and got over 50 seats.


There are far fewer people who feel obliged to vote how their father or grandfather voted

Matthew Taylor
We have got much better at making votes count by targeting, but also the Alliance came second everywhere and didn't get any first places.

This has shifted and now many people live in places where if we don't already hold the seat we are the main challengers.

We have had to make the electoral system work for us - we still want to change it - but we have had to make it work for us.

Also politics is more fluid. There are far fewer people who feel obliged to vote how their father or grandfather voted or to vote Labour because it's a Labour area.

They are more inclined to think for themselves and I hope we are a party who appeal to people who think for themselves.


Tory challenge

What makes you so certain that Mr Kennedy will still be leader of the Lib Dems in eight years from now, or that the Conservatives can't regroup and recoup their standing?
Steven R. Safner, USA

Charles has been highly successful, he has had the best results since the 1920s for the Liberal Democrats and if you look at the alternatives, the shine has come off Labour and Iain Duncan Smith...well the shine never came on in the first place.


With Labour turning off voters more and more, clearly there is an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats

Matthew Taylor
I think there is a real opportunity by carving out a distinctive position for our party.

The Conservatives probably could regroup, but they have got the huge problem of the damage of their reputation at the end of their period of government, incompetence and sleaze is what most people remember of them at the end.

Were they to find the route to reuniting the party, maybe they could overcome the reputation for incompetence and sleaze but at the moment they don't even have a policy platform to put forward.

With Labour turning off voters more and more, clearly there is an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats.


Apathy

Why have so many people become apathetic? How can more people be encouraged to vote and to take part in politics?
Peter, UK

The growth of spin doctoring doesn't help. The more politicians are seen to lie and evade and use weasel words the less people will feel engaged in the process because they know they are being cheated.


Another way to rebuild political engagement is to give real power to communities over the things that affect them

Matthew Taylor
And when so many decisions are now being run from Whitehall local politicians are almost powerless.

Another way to rebuild political engagement is to give real power to communities over the things that affect them.

If you have more decisions taken locally then I think people are much more likely to get engaged.


Female candidates

Surely the government needs more female/ethnic minority MP's in order to be representative of the country as a whole. Are you 'for' all women/black shortlists for up and coming elections?
Lucy Neil, England

All parties have a duty to be more inclusive and attract people in.


As someone who has been in parliament for 15 years, I think the job description stinks

Matthew Taylor
There is a particular problem with the involvement of women which is that to get involved in national politics for most people means spending half the week in London and half the week at home.

So it means breaking up families. The truth is that traditionally men, and usually white, middle class men, have placed more store by career and they have been prepared to sacrifice family to some extent.

Women are much less prepared to make that sacrifice.

They look not at the title but at the job description and as someone who has been in parliament for 15 years, I think the job description stinks.

We are not going to get a more representative group of people in parliament till parliament functions as a modern business with normal hours, not hours set to suit a handful of barristers and solicitors and businessmen who are actually doing another job and using politics as a part time hobby. It isn't any more, it's a real job.

On positive action, we introduced so-called 'zipping' to the European elections and that brought more women in.

We've done a lot of training and support for women and people from ethnic minorities who want to be candidates.

I suspect though that the most fundamental problem is the need for the reform of parliament to make it a place which is more welcoming for a wider variety of people.


Health tax

Pushing a 'health tax' is, I think a terrific idea. Any thoughts on how to extend tax hypothecation into education, welfare provision, etc?
Miles Taylor, New Zealand

We have been campaigning for some years on our hypothecated tax increase.


People do need to know that the money going into it is being wisely spent and that politicians aren't getting their sticky fingers on it

Matthew Taylor
We've said politicians should be very clear when they ask for a tax increase about where that money will go and the NHS tax increase is the next logical step.

By saying the whole of National Insurance will stay with the NHS means that the NHS is guaranteed that money to plan long term on its income

If someone wants to cut the tax they are going to have to explain how the NHS will survive that cut.

In terms of extending it elsewhere I think we need to see how this one settles down.

But clearly there are other potential opportunities. In local government we would like to see a local income tax, as you have in the US for example, and that effects education.

There are other opportunities but the NHS is clearly a special case.

This is an enormous organisation and I think people do need to know that the money going into it is being wisely spent and that politicians aren't getting their sticky fingers on it.


Action on Iraq

I wish your country would NOT support President Bush's mad rush to war with Iraq. It is unreasonable; it is not our job to dash around the globe, sorting out who leads who in what country.
Jan Overstreet, USA

We share the same concern. There was a concern that the UK government was too readily accepting the American position.


The doctrine of unilateral action is not only illegal under international law, it is also hugely dangerous

Matthew Taylor
We have consistently said that decisions on this should be taken by parliament after democratic debate and a vote.

Any international action should be based on seeking the UN's support. There is no legal basis for regime change under the UN mandate.

If the Americans want that they should go to the UN and win their argument.

The doctrine of unilateral action is not only illegal under international law, it is also hugely dangerous.

We risk making the situation in the Middle East much worse because it would stoke up further the problems of division between east and west, between Islam and that part of the world that likes to see itself as the developed west.

That would for our children and grandchildren make the world a much more dangerous place to live.


Easy ride?

Do you feel that the Liberal Democrats get a much easier ride from the press because of their third party status and that as this changes the press will deal with them more like they do with the main two parties and that this could affect Liberal support?
Jonny Reynolds, UK

I don't think we have an easy ride at the moment.


The harshest press of all is to be written off

Matthew Taylor
The biggest problem of all is people saying 'you can't win', the press reinforce that and many of the electorate think 'well there is no point voting for them'.

We are always fighting with one hand tied behind our back.

The fact that we have come into government in Wales and Scotland is all helping to show people that we can win.

The harshest press of all is to be written off. We'd much rather be taken seriously because we can win and we think that will help because we have good answers to the questions that come up .

We are fed up of answering questions about 'can you win, who do you like better, Labour or Tory?'.

We are delighted that at this conference we have many more journalists even than in recent years.

We are coming under scrutiny under policy and that's good news.


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