I wondered if the Tories might try and turn up the heat on Nick on today’s LBC Call Clegg now that the starting gun has been fired for the Eastleigh by-election just 3 weeks from today.
I wasn’t expecting the unmistakeable tones of “Boris from Islington” telling Nick to get ministers out of their cars and onto bikes, and get some investment into infrastructure.
Sadly, the London Mayor (for it was he) didn’t quite have the guts to actually talk to Nick live. He’d pre-recorded his question. Nick lobbed the ball firmly back into Boris’ gob by asking him if he were going to take advantage of the Treasury guarantees he’d been offered for infrastructure projects in London. He also said that this Government had slashed the official ministerial car budget by around 70%. Oh, and if you’re off up north this afternoon by train, you might just catch Nick on the train to Sheffield.
Nick was full of praise for Michael Gove, who’s having to revise his plans for shaking up the GCSE system in the way that Liberal Democrats wanted. He paid tribute to the way that Gove had listened to what he was told in the consultation and acted accordingly.
Chris Huhne was bound to come up. Nick said that he was shocked and surprised by events and above all else it was terrible for his family and particularly his kids who had been brought into it. Asked whether Huhne should return the£17,000 he received on leaving ministerial office, Nick said that he could understand why people think he should, but ultimately that had to be up to Chris Huhne to decide. Nick also said that, whatever else had happened, Chris had been a very good hardworking local MP for the people of Eastleigh. Liberal Democrat focus over the next 3 weeks would be on electing another hardworking local champion for the area.
He was also asked what he thought his legacy would be “as you probably won’t be in Government next time”. Nick said he very much hoped to be, but outlined 3 main things which comprised building a strong economy in a fair society. First the raising of the tax threshold, giving people on low and middle incomes a £600 tax cut. He spoke about how he’d first written about the Pupil Premium, giving more money to disadvantaged kids, 10 years ago and was now implementing it in Government. Finally he mentioned the guarantee of a decent state pension increase thanks to Steve Webb’s triple lock.
Other questions included our involvement in Libya, job-sharing for MPs, job losses in the armed services, Mid-Staffs Hospital and equal marriage. You can read my tweets from the half hour here. Please excuse poor spelling.
Clegg ended with a simple, definition of what separates the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Delivered affably, with no hint of aggression or malice, he offered the plain facts:
The Liberal Democrats are in favour of a fairer tax system. The Conservatives are not.
We may see that a lot in Eastleigh over the next few weeks.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings