Darren Fower: In Defence of Nick Clegg and the Coalition

Paul Stainton talks to Darren Fower Leader of the Peterborough Liberal Democrat Party ahead of the speech expected from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrat Conference today.
Broadcast at 07:36 on Monday 20th September 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

PS: … It’s an exciting time for the LibDems but a challenging time as well, and Nick Clegg makes a big speech this afternoon. Darren Fower is Leader of Peterborough Liberal Democrats. Morning Darren.
DF: Good morning Paul.
PS: How are you?
DF: Very well sir. Yourself?
PS: Very good. Very good indeed. A big day for Nick Clegg. He’s got to do a bit of a balancing act, hasn’t he?
DF: Absolutely. These are the days that matter. And as you’ve mentioned there it’ll probably be tricky, but he is the Deputy Leader of the Government, and he’s the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, and this is what Conference is about. It’s about him being held to account by the grass roots members.
PS: Yes. A lot of whom think he’s just caved in, he’s got nothing for his money, he’s just David Cameron’s whipping boy.
DF: (LAUGHS) Well obviously there are going to be people who are of that mindset. But the reality is that we didn’t win the General Election. This country needed a government. Labour had failed in an almost massive manner, and we had to think about the bigger picture. And I think that’s what’s happened now. But as Liberal Democrats we have had success already. We’ve got the identity cards thrown out, the National Identity Register, the next generation of the biometric passports, and the Contact database. We’re looking to work and achieve those targets that we had in that manifesto. But it’s not a perfect world. But I’m sure Nick will do well.
PS: He’s sold out though, hasn’t he? I mean he’s got a few chicken feed policies through, but I mean the big ones he hasn’t. You’re party’s going to be part of the biggest cuts since the War. People that voted LibDem didn’t sign up for that, did they?
DF: Well I think we signed up for change. And we’ve got an opportunity now. We’ve got the launch of the Fair Votes campaign. And obviously we’ll be advocating the AV voting system. Why? Because we have a parliament right now where two thirds of the MPs were not elected on a majority. So that’s not right. So we’re looking to have success, but we’re also obviously recognising the confines that we didn’t win the General Election. Therefore next time round it’s for us to try and achieve that. And I think you may have seen that Nick Clegg mentioned that we will still be putting up candidates in every constituency against the Conservatives. So yes, we’re working together as a government, hopefully for the benefit of the people of this country. But we’re also our own identity. And we’ll still be fighting to achieve what our aim is, whcih is eventually a Liberal Democrat government.
PS: Yes. He held a question and answer session with members yesterday, and described the Coalition as “the right government for right now.”
DF: It sounds like I’m trying to score political points here, but we’re in massive financial problems. The level of irresponsibility by the Labour government was almost unbelievable. So unfortunately some big decisions have got to be made. And it’s not an ideal situation. But the reality is that the Liberal Democrats received a certain percentage of the votes, the Conservatives did, and Labour, etcetera. Labour didn’t come forward and provide any real proposals in regard to coalition with us. The Conservatives did. And obviously to a degree we have to put faith in people like Nick Clegg.
PS: But before the election, that was a different story, wasn’t it? It wasn’t the story that you were telling. So you can understand why some in the Party are upset, and why Nick Clegg may lose an important vote today.
DF: Well there’s always been issues of where our Party stands. Obviously from my point of view I’ve always been slightly left of centre, but I also recognise that in our Party there’s a combination of the Liberals and the Social Democrats, back in the day. But there are people who are right of the centre. But I think that there are sometimes occasions where a level of maturity needs to be adopted. It’s not about necessarily where you stand on the political stratus, it’s about what are we going to do to help this country get back on it’s feet, build the economy, strengthen industry, and make sure that those people in this country who need help, get it.
PS: If Nick Clegg had stood up at these question and answer sessions for the would-be Prime Minister on the TV and said, we’re going to make cuts, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that, we’re going to follow the Conservative line on this, we’re going to do that, do you think he would have got anywhere near the number of votes he got in the General Election?
DF: Well, probably not. No. Because obviously when you’re an opposition party, as we’ve been for sixty odd years, you’re not privy to all the true information. And I think we found that in the first few days when the Labour Minister left that nice note saying that all the money’s gone. And that’s the same for the Conservatives. And so they’ve had to go into a very very tricky situation. They’ve had to try and establish where we are financially. And they’ve had to come up with ideas and proposals. Now obviously we’re going to have the announcement next month, and that’ll be interesting, to see where they’re going to try to identify these cuts. But we’ve had some insight. Local government does need to look at it’s own situation. And I think you’ve identified on more than one occasion, in a place like Peterborough, there is a lot of waste of money.
PS: Yes. Are you looking forward to the conference? Is it going to be a good few days for you?
DF: Well I think it’s always nice to get a lot of media attention, so that people know we are about, and that we are doing things. I’ve still got faith in Nick Clegg. But, if anything goes wrong in the future, you can be sure that people like myself, and the other Liberal Democrats in Peterborough will show that they are not happy. But in the same vein, if we are successful in our aims and our major policies, then we’ll also talk about those as well.
PS: Yes. Are you going to Liverpool? Are you going up there?
DF: I’m hoping to. We’ve got delegates going already from the Peterborough Executive. But I’ve just had a look at my diary this week, and it’s quite a busy one in the Werrington and Gunthorpe area, ao that’s my priority. If I get a chance I will. But we’ve certainly got people going to make sure that the views of Peterborough are represented.
PS: .. Darren Fower, who’s Leader of the Peterborough Liberal Democrats.