Newsnight leadership hustings: open thread

by Stephen Tall on November 21, 2007

Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne are standing at their podia waiting for Jeremy Paxman’s grilling on Tuesday’s BBC2 Newsnight. After last Sunday’s fireworks, I imagine we can expect a love-in tonight…

Update: a good performance from both candidates. Interesting to see the fall-out from Sunday’s Politics Show… Nick Clegg was able to lead on the front foot, and looked at perhaps his most comfortable and authoritative of the campaign to date; a somewhat chastened Chris Huhne started on the back foot – apologising for the ‘Calamity Clegg’ briefing – but remained as articulate and in control of his brief as ever, though (perhaps unsurprisingly) with less of the fire in his belly showcased last week.

From a Lib Dem voter’s perspective, probably the clearest divide came on the immigration question. (Though there were nuanced differences expressed thoughout, there was nothing to frighten the horses.) Asked the blunt question David Cameron was forced to confront by Paxo – “Has immigration been too high?” – Nick’s answer was immediate: “No.” (He subsequently commented on the impact on local communities and ineffective government planning, but stressed the need to confront the conservative anti-immigration argument.) Chris’s answer was more nuanced: in certain communities, yes, the impact has been seen to be too high, and has affected the lives of everyday folk – we should recognise this, and face up to it.

An interesting one for Lib Dems to dissect. A couple of weeks back, I – perhaps unfairly – labelled the candidates as purist (Huhne) v. pragmatist (Clegg). Yet on this occasion it was Nick who more brazenly risked the votes of those Daily Mail-fetishists who believe immigration is the root of all evil; while Chris more self-consciously aimed to broaden the party’s message to accept the everyday concerns of those who see the daily effects of immigration.

All in all, a much, much more positive display than Sunday’s Politics Show – and perhaps a little more dull, as a result. (For which many of us, frankly, will give thanks.) Personal impressions: I think Nick edged this one; though perhaps he started under less pressure than Chris, who knew he would have, at some point, to publicly disassociate himself from the infamous anti-Clegg briefing. But both candidates stood up well to the Paxo interrogation – albeit that he seemed slightly muzzled on this occasion – and showed (on the basis of this display at least) that each would be equally capable of withstanding the pressures of the 365x24x7 media.

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The foam on my cappucino said Nick dealt better with Paxman. Chris somewhat flustered and rather waffly, although he did get a rougher deal.

Nick was punchier, and not afraid to take the one-word challenge (hurray for his ‘no’ to the immigration question – he displayed better liberal instinct there.)

by Valerie on November 20, 2007 at 11:52 pm. Reply #


Awesome word. I have put it in my notebook of Quite Interesting things.

😀 Mat, I didn’t even notice the similarity, but I was sitting there muttering away about how I wished he’d stop wittering on about people as though the word was a talismanic guarantee of worth. Shows how self-aware I am!

by Alix on November 20, 2007 at 11:53 pm. Reply #

I’ve phoned the BBC about the use of the out of date logo.

I thought Huhne was reserved tonight, quite understandably after Sunday’s little episode. He’s probably realised that it didn’t do him a lot of good. He didn’t land any blow of any description in my opinion despite trying the health and education lines again.

Nick handled Paxo in the best possible way – go after him and swat away his questions. Good answers, lots of passion. Nick at close to his best tonight.

by Toby Philpott on November 20, 2007 at 11:53 pm. Reply #

This was the best I’ve seen Huhne on TV – lucid and more relaxed, realistic about immigration and more prepared I think to address the issue of inequality and tax. Nick was also good and he partly erased my doubts as to whether he could fight his corner with Paxman.

by Rob C on November 20, 2007 at 11:56 pm. Reply #

I thought Chris edged it tonight, but Nick was better than I’ve seen him on the TV or at hustings before, and less like ‘Tory Boy’.
Both seemed more relaxed – did Vince tell them both to ‘cool it’ I wonder?

by Steve Comer on November 20, 2007 at 11:57 pm. Reply #

54. I thought Huhne was more lucid on QT than tonight.

by Valerie on November 20, 2007 at 11:59 pm. Reply #

I’ve given my verdict on Liberal Review.

by Peter Welch on November 21, 2007 at 12:02 am. Reply #

It was useful to see Chris ‘step back’ on the issue of tax thresholds – and reserve his judgement, whilst retaining fairness as the guiding principle.

As a Southern based MP, he will of course be aware of the difficulties caused by our badly presented local income tax policy at the last general election. Tax thresholds of £70k may seem high, but they are not when you live in areas where houses cost £300k and mortgages are at least £1800 pcm.

by Duncan Clark on November 21, 2007 at 12:03 am. Reply #

Valerie, I agree. There were flashes of it tonight, but he was a bit too nervous of sounding harsh to come across as strongly as he did on QT.

I am starting to think maybe there was a tiny, tiny germ of one, small, little itsy valid point in all this flip-flop talk, which has previously made me tight-lipped and been the biggest thing turning me off Huhne.

[ducks below parapet, waits for gunfire, cautiously re-emerges]

A changing message in the little press the party gets is potentially a bit of a problem for our image – and by changing I mean open to other interpretations. Not to the point where it should be your main line of fire, because people do and should change their minds as their thinking evolves. Nor really a terribly useful criticism of a potential leader when you’re talking about their record in other offices – as leader consistency of message to-the-letter will clearly be much more of a priority. But certainly a point worth making about someone’s style if you know their style well, as Chris does Nick’s.

I suddenly grasped this when Paxman put Nick’s quote to him and Chris followed up. We all got fixated on whether Chris was accusing Nick of being pro-school vouchers, but actually it wasn’t a policy discussion at all, it was a discussion about style. Why didn’t Chris just say it like this in the first place?? A lot of the bad feeling could have been avoided and I wouldn’t have had to spend bloody hours googling to find out what school vouchers actually were.

Disclaimer, disclaimer. Hope Cleggheads won’t hate me for this :-S

by Alix on November 21, 2007 at 12:15 am. Reply #

As an original undecided, early turned to Huhne.

I reckon a virtual score draw.

Interestingly, all the comments about cameras, you look for the one with the red light on. I actually think Nick was the worst presentation! But he dealt with he immigration question better.
Dead heat on the rest.

I still think on the edge of authority I am right to go Huhne..

by Duncan Borrowman on November 21, 2007 at 12:19 am. Reply #

Mark Wright: “the massive drop in wages for labouring professions (like builders, plumbers, etc) that the unexpectedly high number of migrant workers from Eastern Europe has caused. … Do we care about these families or must they just bite the bullet of open migration policy?”

So what are you suggesting? Withdrawing from the EU? Suppressing freedom of movement within the EU? Are you chasing the UKIP or the BNP vote?

by Anonymous on November 21, 2007 at 12:32 am. Reply #

Alix @ 59 – it’s become clear now, and for the most part Chris seems not to accept this too,at last, that the allegations of nick’s flip-flopping were just that, allegations. He has never wanted school vouchers, and it seems that the infamous quote in the scotsman that ‘proved’ he did was something the journalist said, not nick.

both were good, chris less so, but on the basis of the immigration question only, nick’s the real liberal there.

by Anonymous on November 21, 2007 at 12:44 am. Reply #

Anonymous 62. You are a troll.

by Duncan Borrowman on November 21, 2007 at 12:49 am. Reply #

There is a specific aspect to immigration in a few areas of the country such as Slough and (I think) Southampton. In these areas where a large number of recent immigrants have settled the government’s financial settlement to the local authorities concerned has failed to take into account the growth in their population.

This is putting those councils in an intolerable financial position as they simply don’t have the resources to service the new arrivals. Chris, as MP for the seat next to Southampton will be aware of this specific problem.

by Nigel Ashton on November 21, 2007 at 12:53 am. Reply #

Sorry, sorry, my bad. Not school vouchers. I mean the “breaking up the NHS” quote that Paxman put to Nick. And don’t start, I know it didn’t mean what Chris said it meant. My point is maybe what Chris was saying all along (badly) was that it was open to interpretation, and that this was a potential communication style problem in a party where there isn’t much media coverage.

by Alix on November 21, 2007 at 1:07 am. Reply #

Oh dear, missed all the fun! Will hope to watch tomorrow. I have been out galavanting at FPC and a dinner with a load of bankers, talk about crossing events horizons! The most amusing moment was discovering that two of them read my blog……..

by Linda Jack on November 21, 2007 at 1:34 am. Reply #

SOrry about the shameless plug, but I’ve transcribed the debate in full for people who want to pour over it in detail. 😀

by Charlotte Gore on November 21, 2007 at 2:43 am. Reply #

I think that was a clear win for Clegg, just as QT was a clear win for Chris. While Sunday was a messy implosion.

As a whole the debates have shown that they are both effective commuicators who can hold their own, but with distinct styles, policy emphasis and priorities.

Apart from Sunday’s incident I doubt that many votes will have been swayed by these performances though.

by Charles Anglin on November 21, 2007 at 8:30 am. Reply #

I think the most pleasing thing for me (as a Clegg supporter) in a debate where both candidates were impressive, was that Clegg is finally starting to get going. I thought he was excellent last night.

by John on November 21, 2007 at 10:16 am. Reply #

Mark @ 43 – spot on.

My father, a white working class man living in a council estate who died suddenly last year, never made a racist comment in his life that I heard, not even when I brought home and married my wife (who is of Indian ethnic origin). Yet one of the last things he ever said to me, quietly, was “I think they should stop all immigration to this country”.

One has to remember that the biggest impact of immigration is on those least equipped to deal with it. To dismiss their concerns as just racist ignorance is crass and patronising, and shows a complete inability to empathise.

For 12 years I was a councillor for a council estate ward which when I started was notoriously “all white” and when I finished was looking as mixed as much of the rest of the borough. I had to sensitively deal with constituents asking me, for example, “why does all the council housing that becomes vacant go to coloured people?” (yes, “coloured” is the ward they use, unselfconsciously and with no intent on being racist – they think it the polite term to use for people of non-white ethnic minority). The close-knit nature of what was a mono-cultural community certainly was changed by this, and people needed reassurance that they weren’t being forgotten, and that there was no “politically correct” racism in allocation of council resources.

All this had to be handled very carefully, and yes, sometimes I did have to stand up in the council and speak up for the “white working class” and remind others that they weren’t a supremely privileged bunch either. For part of the time I was a councillor this had to be done in the face of a concerted BNP campaign, which I think could have won the BNP the ward had they been more electorally competent and we taken our eye off the ball.

I am proud that we saw off the BNP and never did or said anything that could be remotely interpreted as “pandering to racism”. But please, don’t give our racist opponents the ammunition they need by suggesting there are absolutely no difficult issues associated with communities having to adapt to becoming multi-cultural.

by Matthew Huntbach on November 21, 2007 at 10:37 am. Reply #

Completely agree Matthew. I am at the extreme liberal end of this debate in that I can’t see the point of national boundaries (thats for another thread) but we, as a party with aspiratons to be in governmnet, have to have the answer for those working class people who don’t get the postitive stuff from open borders but just see their living standards eroded. All the plumbers decorators and bus drivers in this area are Polish and doing a bloody good job for less money. I am sure that this is the issue Chris was referring to, not that he was anti immigration.

BTW I am a Chris supporter who nearly changed my mind on Sunday. I am glad he apologised and although he wasn’t at his best last night I think he will deal with pressure and attacks from the 2 tory parties better, as well as being able to give us a more distinctive image.

by John D on November 21, 2007 at 11:15 am. Reply #

Just to flag up Chris has been on the Torygraph website answering questions this morning. I’ve been reading some of the “questions” he didn’t answer and they’ve been making me cry. Can only get a rubbish link but you can get there easily from the front page.

by Alix on November 21, 2007 at 12:16 pm. Reply #

…and just to be even-handed, Nick is on Comment is Free putting the boot in about the lost data!

by Alix on November 21, 2007 at 12:23 pm. Reply #

I thought it was even stevens last night.

Huhne should have answered the immigration question better, but there was nothing wrong in what he actually said, and his comments would certainly resonate well in this area.

Clegg looked rattled at one point when he ended up shouting at Paxo but was generally more solid than I have seen him previously.

Huhne seems to have now dropped the vouchers thing, which is good, and I thought the way he put his criticism on health was reasonable.

As others have said, I’m back to being happier at the prospect of either of them.

by Sam on November 21, 2007 at 12:38 pm. Reply #

I was leaning strongly to Clegg, but was rattled by his simplistic “No” on the immigration question – but his later development of the theme reassured me.

I also take issue with the idea that a simplistic relaxed attitude to immigration is “instinctively liberal” as though anyone who feels that migration controls are acceptable/ desirable/ necessary/ appropriate are somehow illiberal.

And no I’m not chasing the BNP/UKIP vote!

by crewegwyn on November 21, 2007 at 12:48 pm. Reply #

Well of course a relaxed view on immigration is instinctively liberal. Our instinct should be to let people do what they want and go where they like.

That’s not necessarily the same as the nuanced, considered, practical view, of course.

by sanbikinoraion on November 21, 2007 at 2:30 pm. Reply #

Freedom of movement is a liberal idea, surely?

The question was whether we have too many immigrants. Those who think we do presumably want to get rid of some of them. I’d suggest that’s definitely illiberal.

Noting that there are also problems caused is just sensible, and Nick played this one perfectly. I’m still shocked that Huhne was so weak on this one, dithering in a way which some Huhnites have ironically been suggesting Nick has been on immigration.

by Peter Bancroft on November 21, 2007 at 2:51 pm. Reply #

No 77. Codswallop.

Chris merely pointed out that immigration has caused problems in some areas (including the one with which he is most familiar). Nick didn’t disagree with this, and pointed out that government had done insufficient to address these local difficulties.

What is the sub-text here? Huhne pandering to racist sentiment? Don’t stoop that low, please!

Is the truthful discussion of immigration issues taboo? Is anything other than enthusiastic support for uncontrolled immigration racist?

If you think it is, then you are peddling the same kind of dishonest argument that Labour politicians wheel out in order to stifle serious debate about recreational drugs.

Controlling immigration might not be liberal, but swamping communities with cheap non-unionised labour isn’t exactly liberal either.

by Angus J Huck on November 21, 2007 at 3:17 pm. Reply #

Good on you Angus @78

And @77 it may well be nice to say that “freedom of movement is liberal”, but just think that one through.

There are countries in this world where 60%, 70%, 80% of people would have a better quality of life by moving to another country (even Britain !!!).

Would it be liberal to allow that? Well, yes – but would it be sensible?

And would it be to the general benefit of either community?


by crewegwyn on November 21, 2007 at 4:46 pm. Reply #

By the way… What on earth was Chris going on about dirty kitchens for in the answer to his penultimate question? Bizzare…

by Anonymous on November 21, 2007 at 5:12 pm. Reply #

@ 79. If free movement of goods, services and peoples were a general norm, and all were able to settle wherever they are able to travel to (using their own money) and get employment, I’d have no problem with that.

The biggest complaints about immigrants is frequently benefits—make only citizens of the UK and countries we have parallel agreements with eligible and we’ve dealt with that one (except perhaps the ‘aid’ of sending people home if they lose the job they came for).

Our economy generally benefits from immigration—even Migration Watch was forced to concede that after it ran a study looking at all the costs. The economies of the countries where immigrants come from generally also benefit, short term because money is sent home, and medium term because there’s a noted tendency to return home and establish businesses and similar using the skills and money saved—so we then get more trading partners and similar.

The economics of the matter is clear and pretty much beyond doubt.

Ergo it’s the social impact that really matters, crowded housing, LAs not able to react as the funding grant from central doesn’t take stuff into account, etc. So the liberal answer, localism, including local tax raising, assists in that as well, as they’re paying for locally provided services through the taxes on the wages they make.

Lest we forget, there are a lot of Brits retiring abroad, or seeking work elsewhere, especially in the EU these days, so emigration is also something of an issue—the biggest issue isn’t that people are coming in and out, but that the Govt has no systems in place to count either in an effective way.

by MatGB on November 21, 2007 at 5:16 pm. Reply #

78 – There’s no subtext in my noting that I thought Huhne was surprisingly disappointing and weak on immigration when it comes to someone looking for a liberal answer.

You can’t both tell me that isn’t true and say that it’s right that he was dithering – make your mind up.

I don’t think there are too many immigrants in this country – the problems come from issues of integration and govt accounting, as correctly identified by Nick.

Freedom of movement clearly is liberal – obviously unlimited freedom of movement straight away would cause issues, but then personal freedom is liberal too and allowing anyone to do anything to anyone at anytime wouldn’t work either. I’m not sure what’s unusual about freedom of movement which you think means that there’s nothing to be considered when govts decide where people can live, rather than people deciding where they live themselves.

I can’t do anything if you think that there are too many immigrants and I wouldn’t think you racist for thinking so, I just think that you’d be wrong, as I think that Chris was wrong.

by Peter Bancroft on November 21, 2007 at 6:38 pm. Reply #

Peter, I’ve only read the transcript of the debate, which will of course lose a lot of the nuance, but my reading of it is that Chris said that immigration could be a problem for exactly the reason that Nick went on to detail.

by sanbikinoraion on November 21, 2007 at 7:44 pm. Reply #

The issue around immigration is twofold. One is about the allocation of resources and the other is about cultural identity.

As the son of Jamaican immigrants, who was a councillor in a poor, racially mixed central London ward with 50% council housing I’ve always taken a keen interest in immigration.

Immigaration is a real issue that deserves to be talked about. We need to find a liberal way of addressing the problems that local communities havce with immigration, without pandering to prejudice & ignorance.

However, I was very uncomfortable with Chris answer for exactly the opposite reason as crewegwyn was uncomfortable with Nick’s. Although Chris’s, explanation was perfectly sound, his failure to say unequivalently that there has not been too much immigration into this country was worrying.

Unless you start from saying that immigration is basically a good thing, then you concede the basic premise of the xenophobes’ argument and the debate then centres around how to ‘control’ this bad thing.

The reality is that both economically & culturally our country benefits from mass immigration (and emmigration). That having been said Govt needs to plan ahead for the impact of that immigartion. Immigrant communities need to be helped to assimilate and native communities need to receive the support to accommodate them. We have to defend immigration into this country but we also have to recognise that we need to deal with the problems that it creates.

by Charles Anglin on November 21, 2007 at 8:01 pm. Reply #

The fact that immigration is basically a good thing is not mutually exclusive with the fact that there might have been too much of it in a space of time. Remember that Paxman asked: “Has there been too much immigration into this country in the last ten years?” I find it useful in situations like this to do some thought experiments with a little logic…

Let’s start with the assumption that immigration is a basically good thing, as almost all liberals would. So, would it be good for 800 million people to come here next year? Obviously not. Immediately we see that there is a limit to a good thing (hence the phrase “You can have too much of a good thing”). The number of migrants attempting to settle, the number of natives they settle among, and the time period it happens in, are all important factors. The bigger the number of natives and the time period, then the bigger the number of migrants can be without problems.

Most of the problems that have arisen in recent years have done so because the number of natives and the time period were both smaller than they should have been. Because migrants understandably want access to existing social networks, they tend to go to places where there are already other migrants; i.e. they are not spread around the country evenly. And because of the sudden accession of eastern European countries and lack of Government planning, unexpectedly large numbers came in just a few years.

Both of those need managing, and it is right that we should discuss how to do better on both, and acknowledge the issues caused. To say that too many migrants have come in too short a time is not to say that some should be throw out. It’s not unreasonable to say that there are too many people living on the earth right now for the resources available – that doesn’t imply that we should exterminate some.

To answer some specific points… MatGB suggests that localism and local taxation would solve much of it. I actually worry about that, because if local taxes were forced to rise because of things beyond the control of the authority (i.e. to pay for extra services because of large numbers of migrants coming to town) I think it would be ideal ammunition for xenophobes and difficult to justify to locals. Immigration and its effects should always be paid for nationally, IMO. Remember that the tax take from migrants can be low, because they are often working in labouring roles and for cheaper than natives (hence the fall in wage rates among trades, etc). Charles Anglin mentions cultural identity. This is a crucial point because it is an issue Governments can’t buy their way out of – cultural assimilation isn’t solved by more money; it is solved by more time.

Finally, the class thing. I think it is pretty clear that those who benefit the quickest and the most from immigration are the migrants (obviously, or they wouldn’t come), and business owners and managers, who benefit from cheap abundant labour and skills; i.e. the middle classes and migrants. The benefits to the working classes are generally secondary; i.e. they benefit from the fact that the economy grows, and from “trickle-down”. But as most liberals should understand from their “Why Thatcherism failed” course, those effects are slow to come – if they come at all – to the poor.

by Mark Wright on November 21, 2007 at 8:53 pm. Reply #

Mark, worth observing that I didn’t say it would solve, I said it would assist. And it would. Locally raised income taxes, business taxes, property taxes and even sales taxes should all, eventually, happen if we’re genuinely to decentralise.

At that point, local govt would be much more responsive and less reliant on central grants as they are now—as central grants are regularly made based on data significantly out of date, this exacerbates the issue currently in some areas.

I don’t believe it to be “the solution” but it would defintely help. That and simply accepting that people travel where jobs are, and that if there are a large number of immigrants, that means there’s demand for labour locally, etc.

by MatGB on November 21, 2007 at 10:15 pm. Reply #

does the instinctive liberalism of free movement of people extend to the urban poor of Brazil moving onto the lands of indigenous peoples?

I’ll declare an interest on migration’s cultural impact.

When my grandmother was born the parish she lived in was 90+% fluent in the native language (the one she spoke until her death). Today in that parish only 30% of people have any knowledge of that language.

The benefits of migration?

by crewegwyn on November 22, 2007 at 12:40 pm. Reply #

Good point crewegwyn. I would say that absolute free migration is a libertarian position, not a liberal one. It is effectively putting culture into the hands of the free market and saying “let the strongest survive”.

Maybe that is a good thing? Certainly, Anglo-Saxon culture is a ferocious cultural beast, so we in the UK have nothing to fear from cultural Darwinism. But I think many other world cultures would have a different view – after all, the only difference between migration and colonisation is whether the migrant has a gun or not.

by F W on November 22, 2007 at 1:00 pm. Reply #

sanbikinoraion @ 83 That’s interesting, as I’ve only seen it on TV and it felt slightly different, but the written version is probably more authoritative. When pushed the 2nd time by Paxman as to whether there were too many immigrants I thought that Huhne said something along the lines of “sometimes”, but I can accept that I might be wrong on that one! All the same, he didn’t make any of the points about why “too many” is really a conservative tabloid creation and that we should be talking about other things.

crewegwyn @ 87 Can I ask if you don’t think the free movement of people is a liberal goal, how about free movement of goods (free trade)? Actually, what about free movement of services (Bolkenstein directive) or the free movement of capital (currency markets, etc).

I hardly think that it’s libertarian to state that we want people to be more free to choose where they live rather than be told where to live by the state (should we go back to needing local council permission to move from village to village?), though I suspect that you’re just attacking the straw man of wanting instant complete free immigration everywhere which I’ve already said isn’t what I’m talking about.

The question is whether there’s an inherent freedom in being able to choose one’s country of residence, and I’d suggest there is. The fact that the EU has given that freedom within all EU member states to its citizens is, I would suggest, a liberal victory.

by Peter Bancroft on November 22, 2007 at 2:49 pm. Reply #

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