This week and next, Call Clegg, Nick Clegg’s weekly phone-in is happening on Wednesday rather than Thursday. Today’s questions ranged from a new EU directive on e-cigarettes which Nick had never heard of to special needs to fair tax to the problems of the NHS in London. Today, a few of the questions were so long that it didn’t flow as well as usual. However, when Nick got the chance, he really chatted properly with people as if there weren’t millions of people listening.
The first question was from a man who bought his house in fashionable St John’s Wood 20 years ago and has found it’s worth £5 million. How on earth would he manage with the Mansion Tax. Forgive me if I struggle to find a great deal of sympathy. Nick was a bit more tactful, although he did hammer home the point about fairness.
There is still an underlying issue you can’t duck. There are large properties on sale for tens of millions paying same Council tax as 3 bed family home in Lewisham. I have never pretended this is a silver bullet for everything but when we are having to tighten our belt, the question we have to face is who tightens their belt first. A small contribution from people in multi-million pound homes is needed.
You have a small mortgage from 20 years ago. You would make millions of pounds in profit. Most people listening to this programme would find it almost unimaginable to live in a property worth £2million. Most people would think this so called draconian tax to be perfectly reasonable.
He brushed off a question from host Nick Ferrari about Labour plans to force a Commons vote on the Mansion Tax:
Labour are game playing on a policy which isn’t theirs. I have no idea what they want to do in Parliament.
Later, in response to a question about whether he favoured reducing National Insurance payments, Nick was clear about what he wanted to do above all else:
My priority is to get income tax system to get threshold up to £10,000. That’s worth £700 to 23 million basic rate taxpayers. There are all sorts of tax changes you could make beyond that but my priority is getting money back into pockets of people on normal incomes.
A school to meet Charlotte’s needs
He was much more sympathetic to a lady who phoned up about schooling for her granddaughter with special needs. If Nick were Charlotte’s dad, what would he do?
You talk compellingly about how patchy SEN provision is. In my constituency there are some very good examples.
We have been looking at SEN to see if we can make sure if we can make more consistent provision that’s easier for parents to navigate so you don’t end up with take it or leave it situation that you don’t think is right for the child.
He also asked for details so he could get back to her offline with some detailed information.
I’ll get back to you
Then came a very relaxed chat with a guy about how he gave up smoking. His question was that the EU was recommending the downgrading of nicotine levels in E-cigarettes to make them useless and what could the Government do to stop it.
Nick is not afraid to say if he doesn’t know the answer to something and promises to get back to people and promised to do so in this case.
Next up was someone who had tried to contact various people including Lib Dem HQ to ask Nick a question but hadn’t received a reply. I think his expectations were a bit unrealistic given that it seemed that the contacts were quite recent and Nick has a tiny staff to deal with the number of contacts he gets.
What rights will people Romania and Bulgaria have?
The next question was trickier. Nick was asked how many people would be expected from Romania and Bulgaria and what rights to benefits and housing would they have?
What rights do people have? We are looking at this very carefully. Simon Hughes’ constituents complain that they are being leapfrogged on waiting list. Councils have powers to balance people’s rights because they live locally. We are considering whether we give councils stronger guidance so that local people are not overlooked.
“NHS in London has problems”
There was then a robust and angry question about the NHS in London which you may as well watch as it’s on You Tube:
If it’s not about Inverness Caley Thistle, I don’t really care as far as football is concerned, but I am assuming that Arsenal lost last night. Apparently there were tears before bedtime in the Clegg household, but Nick was keen to spare manager Arsene Wenger who is, apparently, taking time to build up a new, young team.
I think slagging off the leader of a team who’s having ups and downs is wrong. I’m not comparing myself to Arsene Wenger. He probably wouldn’t like that. He’s putting a young team together. It’s tough leading a team but it’s also a great privilege.
And that’s it for this week. See you next Wednesday.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings