The Speaker's Chair

We asked every party leader the same set of questions.

This is how they responded

27 December 2020
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Tagged: Election

In advance of the upcoming general election, we reached out to all leaders of major national political parties, and asked them the same set of six questions. Here are their responses.

Who we asked

What is your stance regarding the relation of the Westminster government with those of places such as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and other places?

Bouchard: The central government has a complicated relations with Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff, and I confess that I wish this were not the case. But as long as we make sure that all parts of our United Kingdom have the opportunity to thrive within the union, I think that these relations will work out. As Prime Minister, the first thing I will do is have a call with our devolved leaders to consult with them on how we can make this happen.

Florence: “And other places”… those three words are doing a lot of leg work, aren’t they? Regardless, i think the central government really should be getting its tenterhooks out of the rest of the country — that includes trying to decide the North’s identity for it, Labour — and just let them govern themselves for once! The people of every county and city in the country should be given as much discretion, if not more, as, say, Wales in deciding how they want to govern themselves, and everyone in the Westminster bubble should stop breathing down the back of their neck!

Gladstone: The Liberal Party is strongly committed to the cause of unionism and the preservation of the union of all parts of the United Kingdom. I personally am proud to have been returned as MP for Northern Ireland in May and have worked tirelessly to strengthen these ties and work for my region, including in a £1.5 billion grant to fix the acute hospital crisis in Northern Ireland, and to stick up for the cause of the union and peace in the region. I strongly believe that the United Kingdom works best together and it is in all of our interests to strengthen and continue the partnership. That said, we do need to make sure the union works, and is a union of equals and not dominated by England. We should work harder to listen to devolved governments and peoples/ Much good work was done by the outgoing government. We worked constructively with the Coalition for Self Determination to help pass sweeping changes in the law to give the Welsh government increased jurisdiction and to help facilitate documents and recognition of native languages in the languages act. As chancellor I gave devolved regions just shy of £5bn in annual extra funding to help fund infrastructure and health projects in our devolved regions to rebalance the union (persistently higher rates of poverty were recorded in the Wales, which our policies have helped to reduce, for example), despite breathless criticism from the conservative party. But there is still much more work to be done to strengthen the union.

In the upcoming term, particular focus should be placed on decentralising power away from Westminster to bolster local authorities. The Liberal Party would be open to Northern devolution for this end, so as to improve services and rebalance the union, if the people voted in favour of such a notion. We would not be in favour without a substantial change in circumstances of a second Scottish Independence Referendum- such a proposal was rejected by parliament and the 2014 vote was decisively in favour of no. We should work instead to improve devolved administration. Independence and nationalism are not the answer; co-operation and a new relationship are.

Smiljić: Really I find devolution the most acceptable answer. A nation must be given the powers to govern itself and do what is best for them. Wales, for example, has a culture different from Scotland. Northern Ireland has a different culture from England. They must be able to do what is best for their respective countries.

Vere: I and the rest of CSD stand in strong support of devolution and the right to self-determination. For all of the constituent countries of the UK, I support their right to govern themselves and decide their own status. I believe in greater devolution for Wales and Northumbria, an independence referendum for Scotland, and for Northern Ireland to hold a referendum on reunification or staying in the UK. And in the meantime, I also support a federal structure for the UK with more local and regional powers.

What is your favourite ice cream flavour, and how do you eat it?

Bouchard: This is a partisan political question that is biased against my party. I eat iced cream with a fork and knife.

Florence: I’m vegan, but i am quite partial to some kiwi frozen yogurt…

Gladstone: Raspberry Ripple is my personal favourite, although it’s criminally understocked in most stores. It has to be in a proper cone, ice cream in a bowl defeats the point. And of course I lick it, I wouldn’t eat it with a fork or anything like that- what kind of elitist do you take me for? 😉

Smiljić: I'm not one for ice cream, I must say. But at the same time, I enjoy a good chocolate ice cream now and again.

Vere: While some may call me boring, my favourite ice cream flavour has to be vanilla. I eat it a variety of ways, but my favorite has to be as part of sundae. It’s very refreshing on a hot summer day!

What do you intend to do as Prime Minister regarding the climate crisis?

Bouchard: Combating climate change gives us a great economic opportunity to buck our dependence on foreign energy imports and support British businesses and jobs. Our clean energy sector, whether it's nuclear plants in Somerset or wind turbines off the coast of Scotland, deserves the full support of our government. They need to be allowed to innovate and grow without Westminster standing in the way.

Florence: We’re going to go net zero by 2030 or bust, and i mean that. If Britain is still emitting a positive amount of C02 into the atmosphere in ten years, you can shoot me right then and there. First priority is reëstablishing the Department of Energy, Evironment, and the Climate Crisis, because asking the same people in charge of business to figure out a climate plan is plainly ludicrous.

Then, we invest billions upon billions into renewable energy — that’s including solar, wind, tidal, hydro, all that — and nuclear, as well as implementing a harsh carbon tax on fossil fuel imports and extraction. Ideally, wind is going to provide 70% of this country’s electricity by the time the year is up, and gas and coal will make up none. Now, that being said, renewable is inherently a little wibbly-wobbly with how much power it generates at any given moment, which is where the nuclear comes in, to make up the demand. Nuclear isn’t pretty, it’s not perfect, but it’s bloody well reliable.

We’re going to subsidise the production and purchase of things which are built to last. Out with the plastic straws; in with the cast-iron skillets. Recycling is a sham.

We also need to focus on where people live. Under the Gaia Movement, all newly-built houses will be required to have highly insulating windows, and we'll subsidise green roofs, green spaces, bicyle paths — that one will be required above a certain size, actually — and less artificial lighting in new developments. We also plan to ban petrol cars as soon as possible, and renationalise the trains and busways, expanding access to public transit. We will not greenlight any new expansion to airports in the UK, and will tax those who take more than 2 return flights a year.

To fund this, and i hate to say it, we will need to raise taxes. A lot of this budget can be accomplished just by redirecting funding from, say, useless power displays like Trident or existing funding, but the fact is that saving the planet is bloody expensive, and everyone needs to do their part.

…That being said, we're still working out the kinks in our manifesto. Don’t take this as a 100% final policy; we're consulting with experts and activists in our party to keep improving and find a solution that works.

Gladstone: We understand the strength of feeling and the urgency of tackling the climate crisis. In the previous parliament we passed unprecedented legislation to help tackle this emergency. I am very proud that the co-author of the groundbreaking Decarbonisation bill, Baron Hove, was an SDP (then Liberal), member, which took many steps on the way to net zero by 2045- including the subsidisation of green energy, the introduction of a carbon pricing scheme and an investment fund in sustainable transport, whilst mitigating the economic impacts by helping retrain workers in vulnerable fields. In my own personal capacity as chancellor, I made the tough decision to raise petrol tax to this end and invested an extra £3bn in green transportation as a stimulus after the China crisis. But there is still much work to be done in this regard. Britain is of course hosting the COP26 climate summit, which will be crucial in determining whether we as one world will co-operate on climate change or head down the current dangerous path. The Liberal Party contains within it many key figures who are experienced in foreign policy (including from the China crisis), including the co-author of the Decarbonisation bill, who will have the grit, determination and experience to make such co-operation possible. We will help in this end by encouraging trade and technological co-operation with our partners and allies who are complying with the 2050 goal and prioritising our relationships with those nations. Internally, there is of course much work to be done. The Liberal Party will work to make Britain the hub of electric car production and technology through robust investment and will seek to bring the net zero target forward by 5 years to 2040. We will combine this with the fiscal prudence demonstrated throughout the previous parliamentary term to ensure that such a target remains both achievable and affordable.

Smiljić: Quite frankly, we've failed this and messed it up badly. It's my generation's fault. I strongly suggest going carbon neutral by 2040, perhaps, or promote renewable energy. I will also push for other countries to do the same. Put the UK at the forefront of this.

Vere: The Haigh government and its decarbonisation bill were a great start in combating the pressing issue of climate change, but I believe the UK can go further. Besides strictly enforcing the existing rules under the Decarbonisation Act, if elected CSD would implement new construction of bike highways and greater funding of railways to reduce car dependence, a ban on the production and sale of petrol-powered cars and vans by 2028, a ban on single-use plastics, and greater investment in renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric.

What do you intend to do as Prime Minister in the event of a diplomatic crisis with a major power, such as China or the United States?

Bouchard: Our relationship with the United States has always been very close, and I believe that we should continue to act in concert with one another, as well as with Europe, to deal with challenges like Russian and Chinese aggression, extremist terrorism, and movements against globalisation and trade. With China, we have to be careful not to pull too far in any one direction. One criticism I have of the last Labour government's handling of relations with China is that it could have been avoided by appointing a less needlessly provocative Foreign Secretary. We have to remember that China is a valuable economic partner, and we can be critical of some of their unsavoury domestic policies without damaging the economic relationship too much, like Japan or Germany have.

Florence: One of the central concepts of my faith is xenía. It's the concept of treating strangers kindly — the opposite of xenophobia, if you will — and with hospitality. Xenía is reciprocal, like a contract between the guest and host: each must be kind and respectful to the other. If the government of the United States or the Beijing-based occupiers of China were to act out and break our mutual contract of peace, as it were, the onus is no longer on us to respect them as they respected us, and we should do whatever it takes to ensure peace, liberty, equality, and democracy are respected. I don't mean that in a Tony Blair "let's fight a war for oi— i mean, erm, democracy" way, i mean that more as… use whatever diplomatic tools we have at our disposal. I hope it never comes to that, mind.

Gladstone: Of course, this question is more than merely a hypothetical! Our term was marked by significant foreign policy challenge in which members of the Liberal Party excelled in handling complicated situations. We have authored UN resolutions to stabilise the situation in Lebanon and as chancellor I was pleased to lead our financial response to a crisis in relations with China of almost £15 billion which prevented ruinous economic collapse. Our experience in handling the complexity of the international stage does not make us complacent and we have to remain vigilant. Thanks to the tireless work of not only Liberal Party members but also of the outgoing foreign secretary the situation with China has stabilised but there are many points of potential contention within the relationship- including the ongoing crackdown in Hong Kong, the mistreatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang and unstable situation within Taiwan and Hong Kong, and likewise we remain vigilant about reports of the conduct of American soldiers in Afghanistan. In any crisis we can and will demonstrate the requisite flexibility to solve the situation but will never abandon our defence of liberal values and the international rules-based orders. One of the driving reasons the SDP ended its association with the previous Lib-Con government was a prevarication about Taiwan and our commitments there; we will not abandon our democratic partners and allies. In a crisis, we will seek to build bridges with our democratic nations and can be counted on as a trusted international partners. We will also keep vigilant against defence threats. We intend on keeping trident, holding to the 2% GDP commitment and implementing the recommendations of the very comprehensive Hove defence report to ensure our military can be ready for any crisis in the 21st century.

Smiljić: That would be horrible and not something anyone wants to do. I want the UK to act as a mediator: now Joe Biden has been elected I find him to be much calmer than the outgoing President, which can only be a good thing, but really the UK's got to be the voice of reason. That's how I'd go about it.

Vere: In the event of a diplomatic crisis, the UK must take firm action in defense of her values. A CSD government would base its foreign policy on human rights and an overall sense of fairness. Should a diplomatic crisis threaten those values, the UK would partner with its allies in the United States and Europe to put pressure on the offender. We would attempt a negotiated settlement, but should that fail, the United Kingdom will not waver in defense of its interests and values.

What is your stance regarding the association between the United Kingdom and the European Union?

Bouchard: The United Kingdom has so much more autonomy than the average EU member, that we have a very strong position in Europe to both be a member with access to the bloc while having the flexibility to exist as more than just another European country. Europe is a valuable economic and trading union, but I do not support efforts to impose onerous restrictions on British innovation and I wholeheartedly oppose any attempts to force us into a closer political union that would destroy our identity and national sovereignty.

Florence: The European Union is anti-environmental, anti-human decency, and a fundamentally broken deal for Britain! Their Common Agricultural Policy has perversely affected our continent’s flora, fauna, and human health. Their founding treaty prohibits member states from giving a shot in the arm to industries in need. And membership means unelected bureaucrats can override our democratically-elected representatives. Our people have a right to govern ourselves, and i will do everything in my power to ensure a third referendum and a swift, clean exit from its tentacles.

Gladstone: The Liberal Party were a key force behind the remain victory in our second referendum on European membership and I remain personal committed to European Unity and vital co-operation on trade and foreign policy. I will push from the inside of the European union for greater democratic accountability and more co-operation on defence- the European commission remains relatively too powerful, and as a committed democrat myself I strongly believe we need more democratic control, such as giving the European parliament more of a right to vote on laws. And whilst I’d oppose a common army (with all the complications that would bring for our defence), a common defence policy and a tougher stance on members importing Russian oil or subscribing to the Belt and Road initiative is necessary to form coherent democratic opposition to global threats abroad. It is not acceptable for member states to undercut that common purpose. Whilst we’d support reform of European structures, we do not support full federalisation or ‘ever closer union’- I believe that we have to listen to the concerns of leave voters, and their large presence does not suggest that such moves have been helpful to building support for the EU at home. So whilst I’m a passionate believer in European immigration, co-operation and common purpose, and that we have to change the EU from the inside, we do believe the EU can do better and will be working to make that happen.

Smiljić: I voted for Brexit in both referendums. Now, I realise I was misguided. I only voted for Brexit second time around because I felt that I wanted the referendum result to be honoured. However, I want us to be close to the EU. I am more than happy to take the second result as the final result.

Vere: I believe the relationship between the UK and the EU is a crucial one, both politically and economically. I support the UK remaining in the European Union, as it ties us to our allies and supports the free trade that is vital to the British economy. At the same time, I believe some European institutions like the European Commission are undemocratic, and thus I would advocate for reforms to make the EU’s governing bodies more responsive and representative.

If you were stranded on a desert island with another party leader, who would it be and why?

Bouchard: Hmm, I think that Gladstone and I would get along best out of any two party leaders. Our ways of thinking and approach to problem-solving are similar. I think we could survive and accomplish great things working as a team.

Florence: Charles Gladstone. He’s young, and would be a good source of food post-mortem.

Gladstone: Tough question. Whilst it would be perhaps more fun (although very chaotic) to have Xanthe around on a desert island, I think I’d have to go with Vere. A solidly decent and nice chap, I’m sure we could get along and co-operate well, although I’d miss the company of all of the party leaders.

Smiljić: Ho ho; good question! I think that I'd maybe get along with the Reverend Vere. Yes, there is a lot we can agree on and talk about. The Gaia Movement's arrogance disappoints me, and so I doubt that I'd want Ms. Florence on my island, but quite frankly desert islands are associated with the 1%. That's not who Labour supports, when there are people suffering who we can help with a little altruism.

Vere: Assuming I can’t count my wonderful deputy leader Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, I would have to say Gorban Smiljić of the Labour Party. I’ve known Mr. Smiljić for a while and have found much common ground with him, so I think it would be quite easy for us to work together to get off the island or, failing that, survive until help arrives.

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