Both candidates for the Presidency of the Liberal Democrats have been hard at work in recent weeks, touring media outlets, local parties and online blogs (such as Liberal Democrat Voice, Liberal g/2010/10/14/liberal-vision-interviews-tim-farron/" target="_blank">Vision as well as some excellent individual bloggers) putting their case to the party membership. The Social Liberal forum asked both Tim Farron and Susan Kramer to answer a series of questions about their candidacy - Tim's answers are below (bold and italics), look out for Susan's in the near future!
- Are you committed to helping the party develop policies which are as distinctive, radical and progressive as possible as the basis of our next manifesto? If yes, how will you do this? Yes I am – I want us to enter the 2015 election with a radical, progressive and visionary ‘offer’ to the country. The work on that starts as soon as I’m elected. I will ask the chair of the manifesto group to set in train a process of consultations around the country on all areas on the manifesto. I will ensure this isn’t a mere fig-leaf – it will be real and honest. I promise that people will see their ideas in the manifesto that they will use to canvass with at the next election
- What is you view on the question of: a) electoral pacts with other parties? I believe in plural politics so I have no problem with coalitions, but will have absolutely nothing to do with pre-election pacts b) specifying a preference for future coalition partner at the next election? It would be foolish to pin your colours to the mast before an election. It would be electorally damaging, would reduce our bargaining power and who knows which way the electoral arithmetic will fall. The more Liberal Democrat votes and MPs we get the more we can achieve in any coalition – that much is evident from our current experience.
- Will you help create and communicate a distinctive Lib Dem position on some Government policies and their implementation (i.e. the record of the Government) well before the next election? If so how? Definitely – indeed that is my main reason for standing for this position. Ministers present the coalition’s arguments. My job will be to present the Liberal Democrats view. I'll explain what we stand for and what we are achieving in power. I'll spell out those negative things that we have stopped the Tories doing. I'll get the Liberal Democrat message heard loud and clear through the media, on line and in person. I'll also be the coalition's critical friend – and a candid one to Nick.
- Are you prepared to oppose the adoption of any non-progressive or illiberal policies by the Government? If yes how do you propose to do this? I am prepared to and I have already done so. My preference is to oppose those policies privately with Nick and other ministers. It's not for the President to go grandstanding against the government. I would be loyal to the leader and to Lib Dem colleagues in government, but even more loyal to the members and activists.
- a) Are you committed to maintaining the internal democracy transparency and vitality of the Lib Dems as an independent political party? If yes how will you do this? Yes, I’m an activist at heart and want to be proud of our party and feel that it represents you and me as committed members. That means that the democratic structures of the Party should not be circumvented and, given that knowledge is power, that you should know about developments in policy within government ahead of time so that you can react, object, contribute and prepare. b) Do you feel that there is sufficient consultation with the party or its elected committees before our ministers agree a new major Government policy which is at odds with policy? In some cases there has clearly been insufficient consultation, tuition fees being the obvious case in part. I’m not psychic, but I think I’ve got a very good feel for what the Party will accept, put up with or indeed be delighted by. My job would be to keep listening to members and set up formal and informal mechanisms for doing this, and to do everything I can to influence Government policy as a consequence.
- What do you think our priority policies should be for this parliamentary term and why? Our priorities must be those which make Britain a fairer and more equal place and which confound the Labour narrative that we’ve just become an appendage of our coalition colleagues! So, education – bringing in the pupil premium, reducing class sizes; raising the income tax threshold as soon as possible; action to reclaim our strong position on tuition fees; not renewing Trident; leading a renewal and expansion in social housing including allowing councils to build council houses without unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to get over; ensuring that we don’t get complacent about the so-called ring-fencing of the International Development budget – tackling trade injustice alongside ensuring well targeted aid to tackle poverty and the causes of poverty.
- Do you have any “red lines” in terms of a coalition policy which would be unacceptable? If so, which, and what would be the consequence of them being crossed? We should all have red line issues – Nick Clegg included. Raising of the cap on tuition fees is a red line for me. Anything that would increase the tax burden on the least well off or increase levels of poverty would be a red line. If, and I don’t expect it to, the cutbacks lead to very big rises in unemployment levels and we continued regardless with huge reductions in public expenditure, that would be a red line; as would failure to make our asylum system fairer and more compassionate. We would ensure that we dealt with these issues before they arose so that the leadership was aware of them and I would fight on your behalf to make sure we got the right outcome. I think Party loyalty and unity are extremely important, especially if you are Party President – but there may be occasions where my loyalty to the Party may class with my loyalty to the Government – in such a case, for the Party President the Party should come first!
- What should the coalition do to ensure the gap between rich and poor is substantially reduced by the time of the next general election? We need to make work pay more than welfare – I think the high pay commission is a good idea but I want to see a root and branch review of low pay too. I want to see the government ensure fairness at this time of financial austerity. Progressive taxation is a way forward – and I would be keen to ensure that the possibility of a higher income tax rate is kept on the table for future budgets. If we’re all in this together – then the highest paid should be paying more to protect those at the bottom of the income scale. There is so much we can do on this. Labour failed to protect the poorest in our society. We must ensure that we don’t throw away this opportunity to make Britain genuinely fairer and to prove to Lib Dem / Labour waverers that this government is more progressive and redistributive than the Brown/Blair government.