Sunday, February 11, 2007

Question Time

Last night I took part in a Question Time style debate with special guest Ed Davey MP for members and friends across the region. Questions ranged from the threat to the greenbelt by new homes, climate change and the future of Trident.

This proved to be a very successful event and many of our members and friends commented to me afterwards how much they enjoyed the lively and interesting range of questions from the audience and the tone in which our local party chair, David Manuel involved the panel and the audience.

Panelists, (Left to Right) Nigel Rock, Councillor for Stockton and Napton; Alan Beddow, PPC Warwick & Leamington; David Manuel, Chairman; Edward Davey MP Kingston & Surbiton; Colin Ross, Regional Vice Chair; Phil Bennion, Regional Policy Chair.

My friends in the local party have been winding me up about this event for weeks, telling me that had some really tough questions for me and would not even hint at what they were. I researched the likely contenders and only one was asked, the Trident question, more on that in a moment. Question Time is a tough political test yet excellent practice as I have a similar debate booked for next month at a local school.

The first question was whether our stand on climate change could harm our electoral prospects. I pointed out that on climate change our poll rating is 10% above the other major parties in the polls and therefore boosts our prospects rather than harms them. Climate Chage this is the most serious threat to the future of our planet since the cold war. Our response is more than cycling to work in front of TV cameras and slapping a windmill on our roof. By making the public aware of the issues and encouraging a shift in behaviour we have the technology to make a real impact. I firmly believe that local councils can take a real lead on this issue.

Another question was about the threat to our greenbelt following a recent report that suggests we may need 1/2 Million new homes across the region. Warwick & Leamington have seen a significant amount of building in recent years and this is already putting pressure on our roads and infrastructure. I agree there is a serious shortage of homes in the region, especially affordable housing that helps keep a balanced economy. Any new homes should be build as part of an effective transport policy and include a range of housing and nearby employment opportunities so people can live close to where they work.

I welcome your thoughts on this issue so that I can feed your comments into our regional response to the proposals. Please see my earlier post for details.

The question on the future of Trident will be debated at our spring conference in a few weeks time. Colin Ross presented a clear argument on denouncing nuclear weapons. You can read Colin's thoughts on his website. Though this is one of the most difficult issues I have had to consider. After reading papers on a range of views, I have to agree with the party's position. We are not saying that we should not get rid of our nuclear weapons. The decision only needs to be taken in 2014. Tony Blair wishes to take the decision now so it can be part of his legacy, a very poor reason in my book. Our proposals are to make the decision in 2014 when we have a greater understanding of the future threats whilst cutting our stockpile by 50% now. As Ed Davey pointed out, this keeps us in the next round of negotiation in 2012 and demonstrates our commitment to disarmament, representing our best chance of achieving reduction in proliferation.

The final question asked whether we may form a coalition in the increasingly likely event of a balanced parliament. I remember this question was asked in a fringe event at the Brighton conference last autumn. When asked whether we would do a deal with Labour the audience booed. The same question with the Conservatives was met with a louder boo. The party as a whole do not want a coalition. Personally I would like to see a scenario where the rapid change in British Politics over recent years is given the reformed democracy it desperately deserves. I also believe we should hold the balance of power and support the government, or not on an issue by issue basis, leading to consensus that would better reflect the views of the country. Ed Davey assured us that any decision could not be made by the Parliamentary Party alone, it would require the support of 2/3rds of the MP's and 2/3rds of the Federal Conference.

These are going to be interesting times.

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