Louise comprehensively answers a selection of your questions from last week.
Tom Ainsworth: I notice in your article you go along with the popular belief that Bank of England independence was a good move. I'm not so sure: isn't it an unconservative step to take the power away from elected politicos whom we can boot out if they screw up, and give it to the quangocrats? Did it really work so badly before?
I think the definition of a quango is a useless, pseudo-government body stuffed with bureaucrats occupying non-jobs. The Governor of the Bank of England doesn’t fit that description. I can quite see your point, which is accountability; but the markets will hold the Bank to account in a more efficient way than the electorate will hold a politician. The temptation to bribe the electorate with interest rate cuts is too great. Conservatives trust voters, but we trust the market, too.
Edmund: Thank you for sparing time to answer our questions. I was wondering what's your position on free vote issues i.e. gay rights, foxhunting, abortion, death penalty, divorce and Sunday trading?
I had a couple of comments along the same lines. The first thing to say is that in our country, these matters are indeed free votes. And that’s a good thing. Taking them out of party policy avoids the bitter divisions caused in the United States. We have people here with different faiths and none, and different values. I don’t think these votes should be compelled by party whips.
On the specific issues:
1. Gay rights – I support civil unions as conferring valuable civil rights, but I would advocate extending civil unions to those not in a romantic relationship, such as, for example, elderly relatives living together who wanted to buy a house. I believe marriage should have a specific and uniquely privileged place in British society.
2. Abortion. I am pro-life. But I recognise the public must give consent to any change in the law. Recent surveys have indicated that a majority of women support a reduction in the current limit to pre-viability outside the womb. David Cameron has said he would support a decrease in the time limit, and I believe this would be a good starting point with a broad consensus that people of differing views on the issue can coalesce around.
3. Foxhunting. My father was keen on beagling; I’ve never hunted myself, but I strongly favour a repeal of the ban. It is a pure attack on the countryside and on country values, not to mention a chronic waste of Parliamentary time. If Labour cared about animal welfare, they would not have slaughtered millions of animals during their mishandling of foot and mouth. On civil liberties grounds, this ban must go. Let the Government look at testing on animals for cosmetic purposes, not hunting. The (now deposed) Labour MP for the Wrekin, Peter Bradley, basically admitted this was a ‘class war’ vote. “'We ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom: it was class war,” he said. I agree – and in a free vote, I will be for repeal.
4. Death penalty. I will always vote against the death penalty. However, life should mean life. “Life, and you get out in five years” is symptomatic of this Labour government. Michael Howard was right. Let’s build more prisons if that is what is needed. Crime and anti-social behaviour affect the poorest disproportionately – it’s a matter of social justice to address it. ‘Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’ has translated to “Soft on crime and tough on victims.”
5. Divorce. I am in favour of allowing people to divorce. Marriage is optimal, but it can’t be compelled!
6. Sunday trading. I have nothing against Sunday trading and don’t think it is likely to come up for a vote in the near future.
I believe the underlying question is “You’ve said you are a Christian, will you vote that way on conscience votes?” and the answer to that is Yes.
Hmmmm: You have put your hand up to having voted Labour in 1997 and 2001. How did you vote in 2005, and what is to stop you crossing the floor again under a different leader?
No, I haven’t! I did join New Labour, but only briefly ten years ago. I was a Tory activist all through our wilderness years. In 2001 I was campaigning for our PPC in the Wrekin as well as my Mum in the county council elections – she won her seat off a LibDem!
I have a whole life in the Conservative party, starting at 14. I got suckered by Tony Blair – he talked about low taxes, Tory spending levels, and he paid tribute to Thatcher, while our party was dissolving in in-fighting and flirting with the Euro via the ERM. But millions of Tory voters were similarly deceived – and we can’t demonise the mistake of the very people we want to win back.
Henry Edward-Bancroft: The priority list has been criticised for its inclusion of "celebrities" often at the cost of candidates who have previously worked hard for the party. Your name is often included in this. Would you confront the critics "head on" and tell us why, specifically, you should merit inclusion on the list over someone who has contested a seat in a previous election.
answer covers part of this question – I, too, have previously worked hard for
the party. Being a candidate is not the only way to serve, all parties need
activists, donors and supporters. I approached the party to stand in 2004, but
then life intervened – I got pregnant and I felt my son and daughter needed me
– I wanted to dedicate myself to them at that particular time. But while prior
candidate experience is clearly valuable , so are other things. Women, in
particular, often have to interrupt careers to concentrate on their families.
For me, motherhood also offered concrete political benefits. I was able to go
on ‘Newsnight’ and defend David Cameron’s speech on flexible working – and deal
confidently with Jeremy Paxman’s famous sneer – because I have lived the
benefits that flexible working brings to Mums first hand. And that show reached
one and a half million voters. Conservatives believe family life matters too,
so I offer that alternative experience, instead of having fought an unwinnable
seat last time.
In general, I believe I can be an effective spokesman for the party’s values – if you’re interested, I will be a guest on Any Questions?, July 7th, discussing terrorism. I did not see 9/11 on television; I was in New York that day, and I watched those towers fall with my own eyes.
Hmmmm: I also note that you live in East Sussex, there were county elections in 2005 and local elections not two months ago. Did you stand as a candidate and if not, why not?
No; there were no elections where I live. But I campaigned every week from March onwards for our candidates in Hastings. Cllr. Peter Pragnell and his team worked amazingly hard and took control of a council where in ’96 there were no Tories at all. I was proud to work under their direction.
I should add that even
if I had been able to stand I would have chosen to campaign for other Tory
candidates instead, because I knew I was putting myself through the process to
try to become an MP. I would not have wanted to cause a by-election if selected
by a constituency, since our family would have to move there right away, upon
James: Within the boundaries of any confidentiality you may have agreed, I would be most interested to hear broadly what your Priority List interview was like. On another point, may I ask whether you had considered standing for elective office prior to the announcement of the Priority List?
I believe everybody I’ve spoken to has a different interview story, rather like everybody I’ve met had a different PAB. Mine was tough. There was an MP from the whip’s office, and I was interrogated pretty closely. “Prove to us you’re a Conservative.” “Cameron looks like a winner – are you just a front-runner?” “What do you offer us in Parliament?” “How do we know you won’t leak to the press.” “What if we change leaders? Would you be loyal?” “What would be your special interest in Parliament?” “What makes you worthy to be an MP?” “How can you persuade Associations you are one of them?” and so forth. One after the other. No full tosses. Bit like Conservative Home, in fact!
As I’ve said, I first asked about standing in ’04, and this time around began the process last winter, before the announcement of the list. I would have been a candidate this time under any circumstances.
William: Do you think the Conservatives are an anti-woman zone?
Certainly not. The Conservative Party is the best place for women, both candidates and voters. Not co-incidentally, it’s the best place for men, too!
Jon Gale: What do you think Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia mean for South America?
A very worrying development.
Chavez’s anti-American posturing is par for the course, but his attempt to
embroil the whole of Latin America in his
tired socialism needs to be countered. Since Bolivia nationalized its natural
gas production, foreign companies have been reluctant to invest. Chavez is
taking advantage; Venezuela
is now soaking up the chance to extract Bolivia’s
natural gas – Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s
oil minister, announced an “investment” of $500 million, to increase to $1.5
billion. Additionally there are worrying moves by Morales and Chavez to try and
legitimize coca leaf production for use in “flour” and “tea”. Not all South
American countries are so dazzled by Chavez, fortunately; the election of Alan
Garcia in Peru
is something all conservatives should welcome (Chavez intervened in the
election in favour of his socialist opponent Ollanta Humala). The Economist had
an interesting article on this subject last week.
a-tracy: Louise - firstly thank you for inviting questions. My question is about schooling, if your nearest local high school had a bad reputation and poor standards, and all the local primary schools only fed to this school, would you opt out by either paying for private schooling or move home to a better High School catchment, or would you risk your children's education and behaviour in the State system? If you chose to opt out what would you do for your constituents who couldn't opt out of this scenario?
I wouldn’t use my children as
a political football; I would put them in private school. Right now they are at
kindergarten level, though. It would be my job as an MP to help fix the mess
Labour has made of our schools so that other parents do not face such a choice.
I am a school governor, and the daughter of a grammar school girl from the East
End who went to Oxford
Derek: Where do you stand on the EU? Do you favour a negotiation to repatriate powers back to our national government, and if so would you support using the threat of withdrawal?
I support an EU that is a free trade area, not a slow shift towards a U.S.E. I would certainly favour repatriating some powers, including judicial and fishing/agricultural, but I think you must negotiate in good faith. Threats at the outset is not the way to go. David Cameron is, I believe, pragmatic as well as a true Conservative, and the public responds to that. The contrast to Tony Blair is stark – the man never met a Euro initiative he didn’t like. He surrendered our rebate without so much as a whimper.
Disillusioned: Do you support the special
relationship with America??
Do you support Israel's right to defend itself? Do you support the Roadmap to Peace plan favoured by
Bush supporting a secure Israel and a secure Palestinian state in peaceful co-existence? Thanks for putting yourself
forward and good luck.
Yes, yes, and yes. But it needs to be said that our special relationship cannot merely be a case of they say jump, we say ‘how high’. The UK was the only country to contribute more than a few thousand men to the Iraq war other than the US and we did not receive enough contracts in the rebuilding. When the US punished the EU over steel subsidies, despite a humiliating crawl from Blair, they did not exempt us. I find that to be totally unacceptable, as was the White House’s attitude towards Michael Howard. And nobody can accuse me of being anti-American – I have an American husband!
I strongly supported George Bush in the last election, and I must confess I am now hugely disappointed with him. No reform of the tax code, no WMDs, no plan to win the Iraq peace.
Both Israel and Palestine must live in peace and security. The two-state solution is the only way forward, and we cannot simply give up on it. At one stage when I was growing up it appeared that Northern Ireland would never see peace, either. Dr. Shlomo Ben-Ami, then Israeli foreign minister, at the Camp David peace accords proposed what I feel was a fair solution. The roadmap seems a good way forward at the moment.
Lambo: Louise, what do you think the party's policy on tax cuts should be. Do you consider that economic stability and tax cuts are incompatible? Are you still a rock chick? If so, who are your favourite bands of the moment?
Of course not, but it depends
which taxes are cut and when. In her first year in power, the tax burden rose
under Margaret Thatcher. David Cameron’s first statement of belief is “We
believe in lower taxes”, as Thatcher clearly did too. George Osborne has talked
about the power of Ireland’s
cuts in business taxation, and I imagine the party’s policy groups will be
looking very hard at the Irish miracle. The Telegraph helpfully listed 80 of
Brown’s tax rises, and the country clearly needs tax relief. Brown’s reputation
for fiscal prudence is fiction – and I know fiction! We have false levels of
high employment because the public sector is bloated under Brown. It is a
question not of “if” but “when” the time will be right – as it was for Mrs.
Thatcher, my own political heroine.
I’m afraid my rocking days are behind me, Cameron is far hipper than I am. In my house today Top of the Pops is the Wiggles, the ace Aussie band for the under-fives. I can hum all their songs, though!