Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nick Clegg on Andrew Marr - gorging bankers, Ed's dinosaurs, Coulson, VAT and disproving prophets of doom

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

I can't imagine politicians actually like spending 25 minutes being grilled by Andrew Marr while the rest of us are in our pjs on our sofas sipping Earl Grey, but they do make the Sunday mornings of political junkies. This morning it was the turn of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. My thoughts went back to almost exactly a year go when I wrote up his first Marr interview of 2010. How had Government changed him?

Well, I think he looks a bit tireder, and a bit older, maybe, but he's still the same open, plain speaking, genuine guy I've always known. This is what I said about him last year:
Nick on the other hand comes across like he's having a genuine conversation. He doesn't just trot out a lot of stock phrases. He generally has a go at answering the question he's been asked, but he still gets in the things he wants to tell people.
Today's interview was testing and wide ranging. I did have a bit of a wry chuckle to myself, where what he said now had a different tone to what he might have said this time last year, most notably on Andy Coulson. I also felt that there was at least one occasion when Andrew Marr missed a chance to get his wooden spoon out and stir things up a bit.

So, split up into bite sized chunks for you, here are the highlights:

On going from being adored to reviled in a few short months

You don't go into Government with your eyes closed, particularly when y ou're facing such a terrible economic situation. You don't go into politics thinking you are going to be exempt from villification. What I ask of people is that they look at the reality of what we're doing, not the myth of what we're alleged to be doing.

On Tuition Fees

It's a bit counter intuitive. What this will mean is that the amount universities can charge will go up, but what people pay will go down.

It will be easier for a bright child from a poor background to go to university than it would have been under Labour.

We will make millionaires pay over the odds to subsidise.

Asked about future policy:

I would love to find the money t make university fees free for everyone. 

The caveat was that in the current situation, when there was so little money, they'd have had to take money out of schools, or health or pensions. He also said that he found it unacceptable to cap student numbers. I'm sure I remember Vince Cable and other Liberal Democrats questioning whether having such a high proportion of people going to university was sustainable, so it'll be interesting to see how the party feels about that.

Marr pressed him on breaking the NUS pledge

That is our policy, but both the Tories and Labour are wedded to the fees system. Fees would have gone up if we were in coalition with Labour. We were isolated on this issue.

We had to be realistic. We didn't win the election outright. We came third. We had to compromise.

I think that he could have made a reasonable answer better by pointing out that even NUS no longer believe in their pledge, taking on the idea of a graduate tax which would have been more regressive than the system that the Coalition had introduced and more expensive to those on low incomes.

On the Banks

There are issues round bonuses and lending and we're talking to the banks about that but in the bigger scheme of things we need to insulate the British economy.

He talked about the various models of a restructured banking system in which ordinary people's savings were in one highly regulated sector, separate from risky investment banks. He said that he liked the idea of adopting that sort of model and that's what the Commission the Government had set up will be looking at.

On Ed Balls

Well, there's no sign of timidity in the Coalition camp at the appointment of Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor. It's clear that no opportunity will be lost to remind people of his culpability in the current mess:

Labour never owned up to their responsibility. Ed Balls as Minister for the City was lauding light touch regulation. We're entitled to ask questions over Labour's record. Who let the housing market become like a casino? Who let bankers gorge themselves on massive bonuses?

Perfectly reasonable questions in my view.


Nick talked that we could debate whether the VAT increase was regressive. I don't actually agree with that - we don't like the idea of raising VAT, we argued against it. There's no point arguing that it's not going to have more affect on the living standards of those on lower income than on the richest.

He did say, though that I don't like VAT, but how else could we have raised £13 billion a year

He also touched on how Labour's ideas (or at least Alistair Darling's, who knows what they'll say now) on the deficit was to eliminate it in 7 years, while coalition's wasn't so different. Of course Alistair Darling's plan is what they would have implemented n Government. Now they are in opposition, they can say anything they like.

On Ed "unleashing his dinosaurs"

Marr asked why Nick had "spatchcocked" the reduction in number of MPs and equalisation of constituencies onto the AV referendum.

Nick said that it was right that people should have their say on a fairer voting system and that everyone's vote should have the same value - which has been the principle of political reformers down the ages.

He observed how Ed Miliband talked on this programme last week about new politics but the next day he let his dinosaurs in the House of Lords off the leash to block reforms which make the political system fairer and which govern how MPs are elected.

Control Orders

What would happen would be exactly in line with what I'd always said about restoring the balance between liberty and security. Thee is a need to protect the public from people who want to commit terrorist acts and to make sure that those criminals are dealt with by the courts and justice system.

NHS Reforms

Nick talked about how it was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto to scrap strategic health authorities and that we wanted people who knew the patients best (GPs) to direct the funds. We campaigned on more local accountability. Bureaucracy answers to Secretary of State at the moment and decisions should be based on patient need.

This area is one where Andrew Marr could have got his wooden spoon out. There is more in the proposed reforms than there is in the coalition agreement (although, having had a good look at it, not as much as I at first thought). Marr  might have pointed out to Nick that some of our MPs had been critical of the proposed reforms and asked if they would be bound to vote for things which weren't in the Coalition Agreement.

On Coalition Government

In a coalition government, nobody should be surprised that two separate parties have different and separate ideas and identities. The Coalition isn't a pact, it isn't a merger and we're not joined at the hip. Of course we will stand as opposing candidates in all seats.

We'll be setting out separate and different visions for the future but drawing on our shared record, and will speak in more temperate, civilised tones.

Well, that might be a good thing, but we had better still rip Tory policies we don't agree with to shreds. I certainly will if nobody else does.

Andy Coulson

Part of that temperate tone was apparent when Nick talked about Andy Coulson. It was certainly different to the tone Chris Huhne struck on Andy Coulson a couple of years ago. 

As I write, Chris Huhne is on the Politics Show talking about the issue and welcoming the ongoing police investigation into this. He says that it is implausible that it was limited to one journalist at the News of the World and basically re-iterated what he said 2 years ago in slightly more moderate terms. He also says that he had a good relationship with Andy Coulson in No 10 and had no reason to doubt his word that he didn't know what was going on at the News of the World.

What Nick said was that David Cameron has said that he thought it was right to give Andy Coulson a second chance. [Coulson] said he had no knowledge of phone hacking and I have no reason to disbelieve him.

There's no doubt that if we'd been in opposition now, we'd have been making the same sort of hay that Ed Miliband is making over Coulson's resignation. Everyone who's ever been in any relationship knows, though, that there are times you just have to hold back, to keep things on an even keel. I wouldn't have employed Andy Coulson, but if I were in the Government, I think I'd recognise that picking a fight with Cameron on this isn't going to help anyone. The future or past of Andy Coulson is not going to affect the wellbeing of one single person in this country. Ok, maybe Coulson himself, but I'm not really bothered about him. When we  pick fights with the Tories, they need to be on issues and values. I think that Nick and Chris managed to get the balance right in their comments today. I'm surprised Marr didn't throw Chris's comments on Coulson in Nick's face, though. He could have been a lot more robust with him.

Are the Lib Dems finished?

If you look at the Liberal Democrat manifesto, it had 4 key pledges on the front - fair taxes (and we're taking 900,000 people out of income tax altogether), cleaning up politics, a fair start for every child and rebalancing the economy, we are delivering on all of these. 

People always try to write off the Liberal Democrats. They did it every week in opposition and they're doing it every day now we're in Government. We disproved them at the election, at Oldham East and Saddleworth and we will do so in the future.

I'd like to have seen him be a lot more robust on this. Not on the prophets of doom stuff, but on what we've brought to the Coalition that the Tories would never have done in a million years. A lot of it's obvious, but he still needs to say it. We've held them back on many things. He could also have cited that the very rich will now have to pay more Capital Gains Tax - I think that's an important point to make, and the Tories would never have done that.

All in all, a good, positive and competent performance from Nick. I'd like to see him punchier on certain things, but everything he said was very reasonable.


Braveheart said...

Caron, you say he is the "..same ope, plain speakng .." etc. but did you know he was a neocon before he took power?

I didn't and neither did most of the electorate.

Unknown said...

Braveheart, I've known Nick Clegg for 13 years. His DNA is 100% liberal. I don't agree with him on everything, but I have found reasons over the years to trust him.

If an old fashioned leftie liberal peace loving hippy can find common ground with Nick Clegg, he sure ain't a Tory.

Colin said...

A very good analysis in my view Caron.

I agree with you.

Braveheart said...

He might be a nice young man but he's a Thatcherite Liberal, i.e. he subscribes to the Chicago School (formerly known as the Manchester School) of economics. He would be perfectly at home (in economic terms) on the right wing of the Tiory Party with John Redwood and George Osborne (in fact he is!!!) They all believe in a smaller state, lower taxation, fewer/lower quality public services, privatisation (even the NHS in England).

No-one enacting those views can be described as "leftie" or anything like it.

How vcan he be in the same party as a leftie like you claim to be, or is there more than one Liberal Democrat Party?

Sue Marsh said...

Thought you might like this after your rant at Ed M and joining Labour.

Funny old world at the moment eh? Clegg talking only to right wingers, Miliband speaking only to Libs (can't remember the last time I actually heard him say something his own supporters might like)

Cameron too left wing (?) for the Tories.

Phewwww, my political compass spinning wildly.


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