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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK

UK Politics

Simon Hughes answers your questions

Listen to Simon Hughes' answers in full
Simon Hughes, the runner-up in the Liberal Democrats recent leadership contest, answers questions sent by BBC News Online users.

Q: Why did you not win?
Jerome Powderly

A: That's a direct question. The simple answer is because more people voted for Charles Kennedy than for me.

BBC News Online: Why did they do that?

A: I think three reasons probably. One, he started off as being slightly better known across Britain because of his TV appearances and therefore more known among our members and party activists.

Secondly, the press for a long time said he was bound to win and people often like to back winners.

And thirdly he had the advantage of having three or four months when he wasn't tied to Westminster after he knew Paddy was going. I was tied to Westminster and got out and about less, not because I wasn't working but I was doing legislation which tied me down.

I think if I'd've been able to get out and around the country starting in January I could've caught up and maybe overtaken him.

Q: Have you written to Charles Kennedy about a role in his opposition team? Which role do you want?
Simon Stuart

A: The answer is I have. I actually didn't need to wait for the letter. We both agreed before we knew who had been elected that whoever won we would meet up the day after, we would go out for a meal and we would talk about what we wanted to do - and we both agreed that whoever won would offer the other what the other wanted.

News Online: So what do you want?

A: I've told him what I want and now he must make the announcement, which is the privilege of the leader.

Q: Are you still against closer co-operation with Labour? If Charles Kennedy proposes more of this, will you oppose him?
Kevin, London

A: The answer is that I don't think he will now. I think the mood of the party is against doing that. I don't think it's in our interests in the run-up to the next election. We have to spend our time talking about us: our policies, our ideas and the more we do that the more people are likely to come to us and to vote for us.

Q: Do you think Labour will ever endorse the Jenkins proposals for PR in this parliament, or the next?
Sarah Tinley

A: There's probably about a 50-50 chance, I think. I'm not sure the Labour Party are going to put the referendum very quickly to the people of Britain. Blair promised he'd have one. I think we have to keep him to his word, but to be honest I think it will be in the next Parliament. It will depend if we win it. If we win it, it will happen. We will have a hard job winning it, but we might.

News Online: If the Liberal Democrats win the election?

A: If those in favour of electoral reform win the argument at the referendum then it will happen but that's going to be a hard task whenever it comes.

Q: Is it true you were a member of the general synod, if so what is your position on homosexuals and the Church of England?

A: I was a member of the general synod, but I'm not now. I'm sure there are as many homosexuals in the Church of England as there are in any other walk of life. The issue seems to me to be whether they are ordained as priests and the church's view is that if you decide to become a priest - and nobody makes you become a priest - you should not be a practising homosexual. It should not be something you do while you're in that job.

Q: Do you still drive a taxi?

A: I do. It's a very good run. I didn't drive it up here. It's a new one. It's the fourth in the series and if anybody wants to buy one I bought mine for a small four-figure sum and it's waiting for me when I get back.

Q: I have heard you speak at public meetings in Southwark on preventing people falling ill as a result of living in cold homes - and indeed you have led these campaigns in Parliament too.

What will you therefore say to your colleagues in Scotland who have abandoned their promises to end fuel poverty, failing to agree with Labour's manifesto pledge to end fuel poverty in 8 years.
Graeme Wilson

A: I haven't talked with my colleagues in Scotland on this specific issue, so I am not going to say what the position is in Scotland. What I do know is that one of my Scottish colleagues John Smith took up the bill that I tried to get through Parliament last year, which would have provided a legislative obligation on local authorities to assess and then take action about homes. Bob pioneered it last year and it is supported by my Scottish colleagues.

So at parliamentary level we are trying to push the government and the government have been defensive. In terms of the Scottish Parliament - and I know what my colleagues principled position is, their position is that we should have initiatives so that we have more money for decent housing - I don't know the detailed answer.

I will talk to Jim Wallace and his colleagues about what their plans are.

Q: What do you think about young people in politics today?
Daniel Thompson, youth and student representative, Doncaster area

A: We need more of them. The great benefit of young people going into politics is that they give more energy and enthusiasm in a way and have time and new ideas. I'm just taking on starting today someone who comes from the Commission of Racial Equality work-shadowing scheme, who is a 21-year-old Asian young man who is coming up here for six months with a view to try to make sure he and people like him go into politics.

The particular need is to have more women and more black and Asian people and therefore if we go out and reach them I think we'll recruit more as activists. The party profile shows that we don't have enough. At party conference we have apparently quite a large proportion, but if you look at the membership relatively we are too old a membership. We need many more and those who get stuck in enjoy it.

Q: During the last parliament, the Lib Dem MPs voted with Labour most of the time, how can you claim to be any different than Labour when for example in Rochdale if a Labour MP or a Lib Dem MP is elected the result is almost the same voting record in parliament, where is the difference?
Mr Butler, Rochdale

A: I understand the point but it is a bad point. The reason it is a bad point is that when you are in opposition - and we were in opposition and Labour were in opposition - we didn't vote with Labour we just voted against the government and they voted against the government. It didn't mean that we agreed with them.

Now that Labour are in government he could say, well you vote with the Tories a lot. We don't vote with the Tories. We oppose things the government do and so do the Tories.

That is not a test. The test is look at the policies and see where the differences are and I think there are an increasingly large number of areas where we and Labour are different.

This conference is showing them: civil liberties, use of public money, tax issues, foreign policy issues. So look at the policies, don't look at the way we vote in Parliament, because that forces people together who wouldn't naturally be together.

Q: I'd like to ask what your stance is on the Euro, I know Charles Kennedy is all for scraping the pound as soon as he can, 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." In my eyes this means that the "wait and see" policy is proving the point for keeping the pound and the only people who will benefit from the Euro will be the European Commissioners and the rest onboard the gravy train.
Stephen Hanwell

A: I think if you want a really honest answer I guess I'm slightly more conscious about people's nervousness about it than Charles implies he is. I think we have to win the argument. I don't think out there we've won the argument. We have to recognise that not all British people are yet on board by any means.

And therefore to do that you have to accept that it is not an argument where all the answers are on one side. It is an argument where you have to persuade people. The best people to persuade them are the business community. They know that we need the euro for their interests.

And the only other argument I'd make is that historically we in Britain have always jumped on the European train late and we've always suffered because people have fixed the destination before I've got on. The same is going on in relation to the euro.

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