This morning a group of 10 bloggers interviewed Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. The questions ranged over a wide area and here are a few selected highlights:
MPs’ expenses: Nick eloquently made the link between safe seats and good behaviour by MPs: “if you want to keep MPs honest, don’t give them safe seats for life … safe seats corrupt public life”. He said his one real regret over how he had handled the issue was not making the point more forcefully that whilst the party was not free of “blemishes”, no Liberal Democrat MP had been involved in the serious abuses of flipping and Capital Gains Tax dodging – and the reason for that is that no Lib Dem MP feels they have a safe seat for life. There is an “intimate connection” between the electoral system and how MPs behave.
On the Conservatives: Nick talked about a significant change of gear for the party’s national message. Having established the party as being very firmly on the side of change, the challenge is now to establish what kind of change and how it differs from the Conservatives.
He feels that Labour’s demoralised slump has given the Tories an easy ride, especially as “We’ve got lots of people sucking up to the Tories and being far too soft on them.” The Liberal Democrats would now be concentrating much more criticism on the “phony change” from the Conservatives, highlighting issues such as Conservative support for tax cuts for the very rich, allying themselves with climate change deniers in the European Parliament and opposing meaningful reforms to party funding.
On Polly Toynbee: “I like Polly personally [but] I think she has a very, very rigid definition of progressive … I don’t find her a very pluralist thinker. She has one remedy … She is not open enough to there being other means [to progressive ends].”
On tax and public spending: Nick said the country has its worst structural deficit since 1945 and this, combined with an open economy and free international financial markets, means urgent and significant action has to be taken. The search for saving and cuts has to be very stringent, because he doesn’t just want to get the deficit under control – he also wants to ensure public spending continues in vital areas such as green investment, school education and public transport investment. In other words – cutting not for ideological reasons, but to balance the books and spend in priority areas.
He said that “pretty well the full extent” of possible savings was now out in the open for debate in the party, but that we should still expect new proposals during the week on the tax side of the equation.
On scrapping tuition fees, Nick said “it is our policy … it is something personally I want to do” but the party would not be able to afford to introduce all its policies immediately after a general election. So whilst he was sure the party’s package for students would be the best of any of the main parties, he didn’t commit to scrapping tuition fees in full being an immediate commitment.
Internet piracy: this was the main question I asked and Nick gave an answer that was closely and firmly rooted in his political philosophy, so rather than typing it up, watch out for a YouTube clip later today. UPDATE: The clip is here.
Write-ups from other bloggers
- Freedom Central
- Himmelgarten Cafe Pt 1
- Himmelgarten Cafe Pt 2
- Jennie Rigg
- Millennium Elephant
- Stephen Glenn
(I’ll add links to accounts from the other bloggers as I spot them. Do post up a comment if you’ve spotted any that I haven’t yet added.)