07:40 Friday 13th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: The Liberal Democrat Conference this weekend in Glasgow, and one of their peers has suggested they should ditch Nick Clegg before the 2015 General Election, warning that the contest could be disastrous for the Party unless it cuts its ties with the Conservatives months before going to the polls. Lord Oakeshott said Mr Clegg’s personal poll ratings were very poor, and the Party would have to think about whether it would do better under another leader. And there are all sorts of headlines in the newspapers this morning. In the Sun, “Clegg’s Gone to The Dogs”. Only 21% think LibDems are trustworthy, down from 24%. The LibDems according to the latest poll in 4th place behind UKIP. Overall support for the Liberals five points behind UKIP now to 8%. And Lord Oakeshott’s remarks as well, saying perhaps we should think about ditching the Party Leader. Well I’m pleased to say the LibDem Party Conference, as I mentioned, beginning in Glasgow, and I’m joined by the Leader Nick Clegg this morning, and Deputy Prime Minister. Morning Nick.
NICK CLEGG: Morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you the man to lead the LibDems to the next election?
NICK CLEGG: Yes. I believe I am, because we’ve embarked on this really important journey, if you like, from Opposition into Government. We’ve rolled our sleeves up, got our hands dirty, delivered the things we believe in, whether it’s fairer taxes, more apprenticeships, more decent state pension, more money for kids from different backgrounds in our schools, better more affordable childcare. We’ve got to see those things through. And of course we have to, above and beyond everything else, deliver on our biggest promise, which was to make the Coalition work, to repair, rescue and reform the British economy.
PAUL STAINTON: You mentioned promises Nick. You mentioned promises, and that’s the problem here, isn’t it? You’ve lost the trust of the electorate, haven’t you, over the promises that you’ve reneged on.
NICK CLEGG: Well clearly in a Coalition everyone has to compromise. The Conservatives promised to give big inheritance tax cuts to millionaires, and we said that they couldn’t do that, so they weren’t able to deliver on that promise. They wanted to give all employers in Cambridgeshire the right to fire employees without any reason given. Fire at will. We blocked that. So you do have compromise by definition, because I’m not the Prime Minister. The Liberal Democrats didn’t win the General Election. We are in a coalition where neither party can deliver their manifesto in full. But we ‘ve always been very open about the fact that yes, some people might say that every compromise is a betrayal. I think compromise is grown up politics, where you put the national interest first.
PAUL STAINTON: How do you win that trust back though? Because you’re compromised to the point that your poll ratings are down to 8%. You’re virtually being wiped off the face of the political map by being in Government. When do you pull out of that? When do you do what’s right for the Liberal Democrat Party?
NICK CLEGG: I wouldn’t get too breathless, by the way. I don’t think we would have won the Eastleigh by-election if we’d been wiped from the .. what is it .. the surface of the planet or whatever you said. I think we’re actually winning ..
PAUL STAINTON: It’s not great though, is it?
NICK CLEGG: Well of course we’ve lost support, and of course we need to gain more support. But you don’t do that by wringing your hands and saying it’s all terrible, and what on earth can we do about it. You actually get out there, as I always do, day in day out, and explain that only the Liberal Democrats are now the party in British politics that can be relied upon to build a stronger economy, take the difficult decisions to do that, something Labour never would have, left to their own devices, but also to do so fairly. And that’s something clearly, fairness, that the Conservatives would never deliver, left to their own devices. And I think there are a lot of people out there .. Can I just finish the sentence?
PAUL STAINTON: Yes yes.
NICK CLEGG: .. there are a lot of people out there who of course I accept we need to get out there and communicate more frequently more forcefully, but want a party in the liberal centre ground of British politics, combined with an ability to do the difficult things to get the economy right, but to do so fairly as well.
PAUL STAINTON: They don’t though, do they? They want UKIP. Four fifths of the electorate don’t trust you Nick.
NICK CLEGG: Well let’s see what happens at the next General Election. As I say, when by-elections happen up and down the country, week in week out, we’re winning by-elections against the Labour and the Conservative parties. Actually winning on a scale that we haven’t for some time. The big by-election in recent months in Eastleigh, everyone predicted we were going to lose. It took place in pretty awful circumstance. Our opponents threw the absolute kitchen sink at us. We defied all the critics and we won. And my own view is that where we get out on the doorstep as Julian Huppert does in Cambridge, and countless Liberal Democrat MPs do week in, week out. And we talk about our commitment to fairness, our ability to repair the British economy, and the good things we’re doing. As of next April, just dwelling on this, just one measure. Because of us in Government, close to 3 million people, that’s a lot of people, on low pay, in Britain, will be taken out of paying any income tax altogether, for the first time. And that’s something which is a really great progressive fair Liberal achievement.
PAUL STAINTON: The problem is though the electorate are not with you, are they? You’re not differentiating yourselves from the Conservatives whilst you’re in a coalition government. When do you pull away from that, and do what’s right for your party? because there are people this weekend who don’t think you’re the right person to lead them, people in Glasgow that you’re going to have to convince.
NICK CLEGG: I think there’s a danger of slightly going round and round in circles. (LAUGHS) I tell you what we’re achieving. You say oh people don’t .. Of course I ..
PAUL STAINTON: Your own party doesn’t even seem convinced.
NICK CLEGG: Well some people don’t. Of course you have critics in every political party. No strong leader doesn’t have their critics. Frankly, if Matthew Oakeshott started agreeing with me, something would be seriously amiss. Of course you have disagreements. You mustn’t be frightened of disagreements. I never have been. I’ve always sought to lead with clarity. I’ve always sought to be open. Some people may not agree with that, but I think it was the right decision for the Liberal Democrats to say, collectively, not on my personal whim, we collectively decided that for the sake of the country, because no-one won the election, because the economy was teetering on the precipice, we needed to step up to the plate, enter into this coalition, in order to set the economy right.
PAUL STAINTON: Would you do it again?
NICK CLEGG: Yes absolutely.
PAUL STAINTON: At the next election, if you’re the kingmaker, would you go into coalition again?
NICK CLEGG: If .. if .. if collectively the Party felt that was the right thing to do, and it was clear that’s what the British people want, then of course we would do that. I’m not interested in the Liberal Democrats somehow sort of accidentally being in a one-off coalition for a few years and then retreating to the side lines never to govern again. I think the Party is emerging as a liberal centre ground party of government, which is uniquely able to combine a commitment to repairing our economy, but to doing so fairly as well in a way that you can never rely upon the other parties to deliver,
PAUL STAINTON: Would it matter whether it was the Conservatives or Labour next time around?
NICK CLEGG: As I say, last time the instructions from the voters were crystal clear. There wasn’t a majority numerically of Liberal Democrats, where Liberal Democrats and Labour were combined. I remember talking to Gordon Brown and saying you can’t create a Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition because it doesn’t amount to a majority. So there’s no point clubbing together with another party unless you can actually govern. And the country, whether people liked it or not, whether I liked it or not, actually gave more votes and more seats to the Conservatives than any other party. So they had the perfectly democratic right to seek to assemble a coalition, which is indeed what we then did. If the outcome next time, in other words if the instructions of the British voters are different, well of course. I’m a democrat before anything else. That’s what you then .. those instructions you need to follow. But I think sometimes people think that the way that this coalition was formed was some sort of whimsical decision taken on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t. It was taken purely and simply because that’s what the British people said was the only way in which this country could be governed in a stable way, at a time of great economic difficulty.
PAUL STAINTON: Nick Clegg, LibDem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister. Thank you for talking to us this morning and answering all our questions.