Preview of Clegg's interview with GMTV

by Stephen Tall on November 9, 2007

Nick Clegg has been interviewed by Steve Richards for this Sunday’s GMTV, as Chris Huhne was last week.

I’ve been sent the full transcript, and it looks, on first reading, like the first real stumble by Nick in his campaign so far. Judge for yourselves below, as I’ve filleted some of the key passages. Of course, what won’t come across when you read it is Nick’s emphasis or body language – which might make his meaning clearer, and his performance more impressive. After all, politicians are judged not just by what they say, but also how they say it.

The real question, as James Graham has already noted in his preview, is why Nick didn’t have a much clearer answer ready for the obvious question, ‘How do you pay for your pupil premium?’ Because ‘Er, yes, there’s a black hole’ just ain’t good enough.

Other issues covered below include:

– whether he was attacking Chris Huhne by saying the party needed to communicate better its ‘green tax switch’ proposals;
– whether the campaign has got nasty; and
– is he going to win the contest?

Also covered in the full interview – this Sunday, 9 am – are questions to Nick about the Government’s proposals for increasing the number of days suspects can be detained without charge, and on a referendum for the European Reform Treaty.

Interview transcript extracts follow:

Steve Richards: So just to be clear about [the pupil premium], if you become leader you will propose that schools in more affluent areas lose some of their budget so poorer schools can have more.

Nick Clegg: Let me be very clear. What I’m proposing is – the figure is £2.5 billion extra – extra! – there’s no taking away money from the current school budget whatsoever. Extra money, which will be allocated directly to those children. Not in terms of the areas where they live but to them, and then, if you like, the school which is educating those children gets that double amount of money in order that they can have smaller class sizes, particularly at primary school level. ….

SR: And where would that money come from? It’s a big additional spending commitment.

NC: I agree. £1.5 billion will come from taking above average families out of the tax credit system altogether. And we’ll take that £1.5 billion out of the tax credit system, or at least we’ll take families on above average income out of the tax credit system, use that money to give to the kids from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. That leaves a gap of a million… of a billion, sorry, and it would be one of the first things I would do as a leader to say to the party that we will have to find that extra billion, so that the total sum of £2.5 billion is a fixed pledge by the time we go to the country in the next general election.

SR: You’d accept that you’ve got a black hole there. You haven’t found where the money’s going to come from, the other billion.

NC: Er, yes, but I mean there are other ideas. For instance there are other ideas, I mean for instance I’ve also this week been floating ideas for how I think we should introduce a 10% tax on the non-domestic earnings of so-called ‘non-doms’. In that particular case that raises about £1 billion. I would like that to go to alleviate the burden of Council Tax on those in Band A and band B properties, those on the lower rung of the property ladder, if you like. But it’s just an example of where we can be creative in trying to find that extra money in order to fulfil that pledge, and I’m absolutely confident that we will under my leadership make that fixed pledge by the next general election.

SR: By one way or another taxing the better off, presumably. Because it has to come from somewhere.

NC: Yes, er well no, hang on, or, sorry…

SR: You said yes, so tax increase?

NC: No, no, let me correct that. I think there is plenty of scope to cut back on some of the waste in government, some of the duplication in government. I think there is a strong case to look at how government expenditure’s been duplicated in many areas. Everybody is familiar with the general degree of waste in public expenditure in the last few years, so I have given you if you like a fluctuating answer precisely because I think that I’m not fixed in my own mind about where that money would come from, but absolutely confident that with political will that money will be found.

SR: While we’re on schools, your opponent Chris Huhne has asked you a very direct question. He hints, or suspects, that you have been interested in the idea of school vouchers and wants you to say unequivocally, one way or another, are you for the introduction of school vouchers as part of letting schools go and forming their own relationship with parents, or are you against?

NC: I’m against vouchers. I’ve never mentioned vouchers in my life and I have told Chris this on several occasions personally.

[…]

SR: … Chris Huhne when he was here last week … was quite specific, he said that you had claimed that the party had not done enough on the environment, and he actually came up with endless statistics to show how much he had personally done on the environment. Was he right to pick up the fact that you were criticising him on this or wrong?

NC: My feeling is that many party members in the Liberal Democrats are anxious about why it is that our leadership on policy, on setting out detailed policies about how we protect the environment, how we move to a zero carbon economy, doesn’t seem to be translated into real political leadership on this. Why is it that David Cameron appears to have stolen such a march without any substantive proposals on the environment? Why is it that the green agenda has been hijacked by this very superficial appeal from Cameron? I think that is a very serious political question. It’s certainly not directed personally at Chris. It’s an issue for the party as a whole…

SR: There are clearly many advantages for you and your party in having two candidates battle the contest out. The last one candidates were dropping out and all sorts of silly things going on. There is potentially one disadvantage: it gets all a bit intense and nasty when there are just two of you. Are you a bit worried about that?

NC: Well I’m seeking to avoid it altogether. As I’m trying explain to you here, I think there are big crises facing Britain. Why don’t we have a more liberal, socially mobile society. Why are people so fearful? Why do people feel so powerless in their everyday lives? Why is the environmental cause not resonating with those people who don’t care about… All of these issues, I keep returning to those themes. I’m going to keep returning…

[…]

SR: Can I finally ask, you’ve been travelling the country, presumably you have a better idea of this than most – are you going to win it?

NC: I hope I will – but it’s still early days, the contest will go on for a long period of time. I get the impression people are responding very well to above all my sense of ambition for the party. I’m just passionate about what I think are the really positive prospects for the Liberal Democrats but to do that, we need to unite, that’s why I’m so pleased that I’ve got the vast majority of my members in the parliamentary party who work with Chris and myself most closely, onside. We’ve got to create a renewed sense of unity, we’ve had a rocky time in the parliamentary party over the last couple of years, and create a renewed sense of excitement that the liberal democrats are the gathering point in British politics for anyone who wants a different kind of politics, going beyond the old left-right, stale two-party politics of Westminster.