Teachers, Thatcher, tax and troops: Nick Clegg Q&A

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Nick Clegg answers questions at Spring Conference, Birmingham

In this afternoon’s Q&A from the Conference hall, Nick Clegg tackled questions from the floor with a relaxed and confident manner that bodes well for the upcoming TV Leaders’ Debates.

He took questions from party members in the hall, before taking supplementaries.

First up was education and whether schools should use the Pupil Premium to reduce class sizes. Nick said that the Pupil Premium seeks to give back trust to teachers and headteachers. Smaller class sizes are important for instilling a sense of self-confidence and willingness to learn, especially in the early years. The Pupil Premium allows us to do that, but doesn’t prescribe it. Teachers and headteachers are free to use the Pupil Premium in other ways.

Nick said “It’s easier to teach larger classes where the parents are supportive and engaged at home. It’s harder for children from homes where parents aren’t able to give that sort of support,” and pointed to the strong relationship between social deprivation and poor educational performance. Nick suggested the money could be used for one-to-one tuition and catch-up classes. Nick’s visits to Sweden have shown him that this would help all children, not just the deprived ones, as children who learn well learn better all together.

On Ofsted: “I want to see the wings of Ofsted clipped – it’s become far too sprawling.”

On tax
A friendly question from James Graham helped Nick to clarify the position on tax:

Nick spoke about the 10% levy on the profits of banks. All the other proposals for raising money for measures such as the Pupil Premium are cuts and savings in current government spending.

Mansion Tax is part of a package of revenue raising measures which will fund the raising of the income tax threshold to £10,000. This is “a tax-neutral redistributive tax switch, a stand-alone tax package.”

The rest will come from savings we’ve identified. Two thirds will be spent on the deficit, the rest on specific spending commitments we’ve identified as necessary. Revenue saving (as opposed to revenue raising) measures include stopping ID cards and capping public sector pay increases.

On Afghanistan
Nick was challenged over the party’s approach to Afghanistan – is there a running discontent within the party about the handling of the war there? Nick said that it’s not as easy to justify a presence there as it was eight years ago, and that his visit to troops in Helmand confirmed this. He felt we were going backwards in Afghanistan in terms of strategy and equipment because the war in Iraq had diverted attention and resources from Afghanistan.

However, he said that there is no military solution, and yet there is no non-military strategy to accompany the military strategy either. He said that we should come to a conclusion about Afghanistan quickly after the General Election, and certainly within the next Parliament. The question for the wider party is likely to be asked more frequently: should we be pulling out of Afghanistan altogether?

On his implied support of Thatcher in his Spectator interview
“What I said was this: I left university in the mid-eighties at the height of the Thatcher revolution. I now represent Sheffield, which was devastated by her policies.” Nick says that he’s a great supporter of trades unions but know that people don’t want to return to the days of vested interests being too important, too cosseted – challenging vested interests is at the heart of Liberalism. The difference now is that banks are the new vested interests: “That’s why I call the bankers Scargill in pinstripes! What makes our party great is that we’ve never been beholden to vested interests.”

Should the criminal age be raised from 10 to 12?
By linking the raising of the criminal age to the murder of James Bulger, Nick said that the Children’s Commisioner’s comments this week did nothing to help illuminate the important discussion. As a society we criminalise children on an industrial scale, which should be a source of national shame. We spend around ten times as much money as we do on preventing them committing crime in the first place. We barely hear about the fact that 3000 or 4000 young men go into prison every month. And they’re now reoffending on a massive scale. The government has created “colleges of crime”. It’s in that context that we need to be tough.

“Who are [the Tories] to declare we’re Broken Britain? How patronising, how pessimistic, how arrogant! Of course there are pockets of deprivation, but don’t insult the decency and dignity of people in those communities by saying they’re broken. I basically believe people are good. I’m not being naive about this, there’s always been evil in human affairs, but don’t talk this country down.”

Nigel Farage: merely an entertaining sideshow or actually quite dangerous?
Nick described Farage as “self evidently a colourful but preposterous figure” and refuted the idea that there are no differences between political parties. Far from taking away sovereignty, the EU allows us to gain more control over forces we couldn’t hope to influence as a country on our own, such as climate change and international paedophile rings. At least UKIP have the honesty to tell people they want to pull out of the EU – the Tories can’t quite bring themselves to say what they really think.

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5 Comments

  • “Who are [the Tories] to declare we’re Broken Britain? How patronising, how pessimistic, how arrogant! Of course there are pockets of deprivation, but don’t insult the decency and dignity of people in those communities by saying they’re broken.”

    THANK YOU!

    Every time I start thinking maybe Cameron isn’t too bad, he says something about marriage or broken Britain that makes me want to emigrate if he gets in.

    And every time I start thinking Nick needs to brush up on his media skills, he says something that makes me cheer out loud and embarrass myself in front of my family. Let’s just hope he performs this well in the debates.

  • I found what he said on Thatcher perfectly reasonable. It wasn’t expressing support for Thatcherism, it was expressing opposition to large-scale powers being wielded by any force over the individual, be it the state, unions, or this alliance between the state & banker scum (or the various contractors who receive taxpayers’ money).

    Only the very short of attention span & the most idle grabber of headlines could infer that he was a Thatcherite. Having said as much, he probably did err in not considering beforehand that this would happen. I’m sure I wouldn’t fare too well if snippets of what I said were taken out of context & screamed about, but I’d hope the whole narrative of what I say adds up. So it is if you actually read through this interview with one eye on the actual news context & another on what he is trying to say.

  • Which is of course a perfectly liberal sentiment. There’s more than one way to shaft the individual, be it through the state, corporations backed up by the state, or any large-scale powerful entity. But individuals don’t like to be shafted. Not in the 1980s or now.

  • That Spectator interview did paint him as being pretty pro-Thatcher. “Phew!” is all I (and doubtless many others) can think!

2 Trackbacks

  • By Social Liberal Forum » Fabians fail the fairness test: on Mon 15th March 2010 at 1:58 am.

    […] The fact that raising the tax threshold helps people on higher incomes more than people on low incomes is not, believe it or not, a startling revelation. We know. The party has never tried selling this policy in isolation; we’d be mad to attempt to because people would rightly ask where we propose trying to find £17bn. The two are meant to balance each other; that’s why we are calling for a tax shift and not either a rise or reduction in taxes overall[[In fact, just to be clear, with the banking levy, the Lib Dems are going into the election calling for an overall increase in taxes. The general line being put out at conference was that Nick Clegg 'misspoke' in his Spectator interview by ruling out Lib Dem support for any further tax rises in future to tackle the deficit, although sadly Clegg himself neither confirmed nor denied this when I pressed him on this in the Q&A.]]. […]

  • By Quaequam Blog! » Conference and canards on Mon 15th March 2010 at 3:08 am.

    […] I was less pleased by Nick Clegg’s non-commital answer to my “friendly” question about if he rules out further tax rises, as he appeared to do in the Spectator this […]

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