My campaign to take over from David Howarth in Cambridge was given a huge boost on Thursday, when we were visited by Nick Clegg, who did a Q+A session for students in Trinity Hall.
The turnout was huge – we overflowed the meeting room that was prepared for us. As we walked in, it was clear that there was a great energy in the room.
Nick didn’t do a preamble speech – the idea was just to answer questions, dealing with whatever the attendees thought was important, not just the normal talking points.
The questions weren’t filtered in any way – we don’t go in for such schemes, unlike some other parties I could mention. Indeed, the first question was from a Green city council candidate (who of course didn’t announce who he was). He asked about tuition fees, clearly one of the topics of great interest to everyone in the room.
Nick gave a very clear statement of party policy – we oppose tuition fees, and aim to scrap them for all first degrees. It was great to hear Nick say clearly that he had always opposed such fees, fitting perfectly with my own views. He then went on to explain the economic circumstances, and how it would take six years to scrap fees completely – but that everyone would benefit from day one.
Incidentally, after the meeting was over, Nick and I both signed the NUS pledge “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”, and took commemorative photos with Tom Chigbo, the President of Cambridge University Student Union.
Other questions ranged from hung parliaments – ‘Q: would you prefer a Labour government or a Tory government. A: No. I want to campaign for Liberal Democrat values’, to education, political reform, the pay gap between men and women, and climate change – Nick answered them all well.
The Conservative candidate for Cambridge asked a question – fascinatingly, it was asking the meaning of one line from a policy paper – number 92, I think. Nice to know that the Tories read our policies so carefully! I’m not sure the audience responded well to the re-introduction of party politics into a session remarkably free from the too-common attacks.
Then we had a round of interviews, for the Cambridge student and non-student press, and with both Anglia and the BBC TV, and time to talk to students (and pose for photos). Then Nick was whisked away to Watford to join Sal Brinton – leaving many in Cambridge delighted to have seen such a performance, and to have had the chance to hear party policy straight from the horse’s mouth.