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Presidential Election Q&A

September 3, 2004 8:44 PM

The Election for Party President has now ended. Congratulations Simon Hughes!

Presidential Candidates' Q&A

Photo montage of Lembit Opik MP and Simon Hughes MP

Note: Both candidates were given 700 words to answer any 7 questions. They were not permitted to answer all questions and so had to choose which ones they would prioritise. The candidates' answers to each question have been listed in random order.

Both candidates have their own campaign websites for further information:

IMPORTANT NOTE: Lembit Opik's election artwork lists "Julian Brazil, Green LDs" as a supporter. We wish to make it clear that Julian Brazil is not an officer, an honorary officer or an executive member of the organisation and does not speak for the organisation in any way. The Green Liberal Democrats remain neutral in this election campaign.

1. One of the Lib Dems' quiet success stories in recent years has been its internal environmental audit that has been successful in greening the way Cowley Street operates. How can we successfully roll out this initiative into our other party and parliamentarian offices?

Simon:

As I hope all members of Green Lib Dems know, I have been involved over many years to make sure we practice what we preach. Whether as Lib Dem Environment Spokesman or as President of Green Lib Dems, I have fully supported the Party's Environmental Audit and been unbending in my wish that manifestos are always published on appropriate paper and that our purchases are environmentally acceptable. At the first available moment I shall promote the request for environmental auditing to all groups and offices within the Party. This should be automatic for council groups and new offices in the future. I would hope to introduce the idea of carbon offsets for the federal conference from 2005 onwards (a small addition to the registration fee to pay for carbon-reducing projects elsewhere). This could be adopted elsewhere, and we should encourage individual members to sign up to the system through the party website.

Lembit:

I was on the Federal Executive when the internal environmental audit was approved. I backed its continuation even after the main proponent of the Audit, Donnachadh McCarthy, had left the Executive. The audit itself has had success because it's very specific, and some individuals have made a genuine effort to implement it.

The President can improve implementation with the backing of the Federal Executive, but can only persuade those outside the President's jurisdiction to do likewise. I wouldn't use a "name and shame" strategy, as this harms the image of environmental campaigning. Positive encouragement and objective debate is better.

2. Studies indicate the ecological footprint of people living in the south east of England is around 6.8 hectares, and the fair global share for each person - if resources were divided evenly among all the world's population - is around 2 hectares. This means that we are using massively more of the earth's area and its resources than we can sustainably manage. It would take around three or more planets for everyone in the world to live as we do. Can this be allowed to continue? Can we continue living as we do, in blind disregard for the environmental cost, and the environmental impossibility in the long term, of such a course of action? What can you suggest as the first steps in getting the people of Britain to wake up to this realisation?

Lembit:

We shouldn't just assume developing nations will adopt the same polluting practices as our own. Setting China on a greener course affects over a billion people. Still, the first step is to highlight - in a non-technical way - what will happen if we and other countries do nothing. Second, we should promote simple ways the public can minimise their own environmental impact. Third we need to promote our vested interest in helping developing countries move to a higher sustainability base from the outset. The Centre for Alternative Technology in my Constituency, with whom I work closely, can advise the Party on all three areas.

But a warning: developing policy IS NOT the President's core function. That's to convey policy - and the policy-making process needs to be the key driver here.

Simon:

It is urgent that individuals, companies and governments are made aware of such issues, but there is little point in giving them this information without at the same time suggesting solutions - otherwise we just contribute to the (it's all awful, nothing can be done' feeling. Clearly over the long term behavioural change will be necessary, but in the short term technological improvements can achieve a great deal quite quickly. We should aim to use policy instruments such as environmental taxation, energy efficiency standards and labels to promote fuel-efficient vehicles, and energy- and resource-efficient processes, machinery and buildings.

I much look forward to working closely with Green Liberal Democrats again - and would welcome your vote to allow me to do so.

4. What would the candidates do to ensure that our policies on green issues are implemented where we achieve influence or power? Or do they think our belief in decentralisation means that everyone should be free to "do their own thing"?

Simon:

As president I plan every year to meet with all Council groups where we are in control. In these discussions I would ask them to report on all environmental policy and would specifically encourage them to adopt the best green practices from councils elsewhere.

Obviously we have to balance the Liberal Democrat values of sustainability and decentralisation - indeed, I believe that we will never achieve true environmental sustainability without harnessing the innovation and imagination of individuals, companies and organisations through allowing them the freedom to adopt their own solutions. The answer therefore is to set intelligent targets at a national (or EU) level, to allocate them to governmental units lower down, but then to allow them the freedom to experiment and achieve their own targets. More narrowly, within the party I would like to see a wide exchange of ideas and solutions about different council policy and practice in dealing with these issues. This is an obvious opportunity where working with the President could contribute greatly to the role for the Green Lib Dems.

Lembit:

Again, the President has no mandate on policy implementation. Persuasion is the key tool. In this regard, I'd use my relationships within the party to directly work with local authorities to roll out environmental good practice and other schemes.

7. Are you satisfied that we campaign enough on the environment? How would you make sure that we communicate some of our green policies - in the way that we do our policies on health, education, the war and council tax?

Simon:

President responsibility is to make sure that Federal Executive decisions and all the activities of the Party reflect Preamble to our constitution. I support the tradition initiated by Charles that local, national and UK manifestos should publicly include and reflect our environmental priorities including its application to other policies. The final say is not with the President, but I will try to ensure this is done at all levels at all time.

Lembit:

Green policies are part of the whole. To the Party's credit, we made a real effort to include them in our manifesto and also in the Welsh manifesto. We did this despite the inescapable reality that the environment isn't always a significant issue for many voters at present. Our challenge is to build in sustainability into how we govern from a local level upwards. That's the best evidence of our commitment to the environment and our ability to get the environmental message across.

8. The concept of Zero Waste is gaining ground around the world and was pioneered in this country by Bath & North East Somerset Liberal Democrats on the local Council. Do you agree with this policy solution and if so how would you use the Presidency to promote this radical agenda for transforming the concept of waste?

Lembit:

Yes and so did the Lib Dem Conference which passed the motion on Zero Waste overwhelmingly recently. The President has a role in promoting policies which have been passed by conference. And it is also part of the President's role to show what it is possible for Lib Dem administrations, like Bath and North East Somerset, to do. By using these positive examples we can ensure that other Lib Dems in power see the benefits and see that they are able to follow such a radical agenda. For reference, I myself have been working to make Montgomeryshire the most environmentally friendly constituency in Britain, and it is through such example that policy can be proved to lead to relevant action.

Simon:

The BNES council example is a good one. I see my job as actively to spread best practice around Lib Dem groups. Recycling, waste management , transport, energy and housing policy can all benefit from all councils following the examples of the best. I will work with ALDC, and the Green Lib Dems to support and promote best green policies and practice.

9. What will both candidates do concerning global warming during their presidency?

Simon:

The President's contribution to reducing global warming personally and on behalf of the party will be for all of us to travel in the most environmentally way. I am exploring bio-fuel for my own vehicle and for the party choosing meeting venues - including conference - which require the least travelling would make a small but worthwhile contribution. I would work with our councillors to promote best personal and collective practice around the UK.

Lembit:

As the President is involved with the internal running of the Party the first thing I would ensure is that the Party reduces its net contribution to the problem, and then I would encourage others to do the same by promoting Lib Dem policies. I've publicly promoted the Centre for Alternative Technology's work on this matter. And my partner, Sian Lloyd, has also been involved in considerable analysis and promotion of the issues in the popular press.

10. Labour's extraordinarily personal and negative campaigning in Birmingham Hodge Hill, attacking our candidate's links with the mobile phone industry, nonetheless mirrors (albeit distortedly) similar campaigns organised by the Lib Dems up and down the country on phone masts and similar emotive issues. How can we constructively engage with communities on such local environmental issues without descending into NIMBYism and Ludditism?

Lembit:

By seeking first to understand the issues and science, and providing a platform for reasoned debate. This is exactly what I do in my own constituency, working with residents and phone mast companies to seek common solutions. It may make less interesting headlines, but by working together we've got a better chance of building in the collective interest.

As it is, the Government has removed health considerations from the planning equation, and ironically this means they're primarily responsible for limiting the public's right to raise health and safety considerations of the siting of masts. While the evidence concerning masts and health is unclear, I think it's been premature for the government to ASSUME no link exists. We failed to make this point at Hodge Hill and I think that we allowed the Labour Party to focus their attacks personally against Nicola, instead of putting them on the defensive about something that really was their fault.

As for NIMBYism, I don't like hypocrisy, and I feel strongly that we need to resist the temptation for opportunism ourselves. Otherwise we're no better than the others.

Simon:

A lesson of the Hodge Hill campaign is that we do best when we are consistent, constructive, and effective. I always prefer positive campaigning but we as a party must always be ready to criticise the party in office and be criticised ourselves when we are in power.

Neither candidate answered the following questions:

3. What are your views on Waste Incineration and Wind Farms?

5. J S Mill and others covered the status of "firms" - organisations - that are governments. Human rights, and the Preamble, are about individuals - warm bodies. Do you agree that firms trading for profit - especially large and trans national ones - should be treated more as "states" and not as humans. That is not get human rights, e.g. their display advertising is akin to the propaganda of governments, not the free speech of individual humans?

6. The Brundtland condition is "provide for the needs of future generations". Should the land, all systems that provide a renewable yield, by "owned" by the future generations? That is held in trust by the living generations; "entailed" for the people yet to be? A "House of the Land," replacing the House of Lords, having a written Constitutional duty to act for the future generations?