by Stephen Tall on September 16, 2013
A relaxed looking, tieless Nick Clegg is about to take to the conference floor, for the second time today, to take questions from conference representatives…
2.47 pm… Pauline Wilson (SE Cambridgeshire) says they work for her grandson, so please don’t ban them. Nick Clegg says yes, they do work for some, but can easily topple over into unfairness. For example, if an employer has an exclusivity contract which stops the employee from taking other work.
2.53 pm… Richard Rowles (Romsey & Southampton North) asks, “Are we still fighting for all the people of Britain?” Nick reflects on the debate and says the Lib Dems went into the 2010 election promising deficit reduction, that it hasn’t been imposed on the party. He says there has been no headlong rush, that the structural deficit won’t be eliminated until 2018, towards the end of the next parliament. And that, moreover, the UK will still be spending more than 40% of GDP on public services, more than was being spent by Labour in 2008. Nick says he intervened directly in 2010 to protect schools spending (as the Tories had insisted on NHS spending). He also highlights the impact that the inflation spike of 18 months had on ordinary
3.00 pm… Richard Flowers (Tower Hamlets) highlights income inequality has gone down and asks if things would have been different in coalition with Labour. Nick says he won’t be drawn into the parlous game, but does say coalition isn’t a walk in the park. He says Lib Dems are the only guarantors of a safe approach to the economy with Labour, or of a fairer society with the Tories.
3.03 pm… Linda Jack (Mid Bedfordshire) asks whether there’s a place for her in the party any more, highlighting the bedroom tax as an example of something she cannot justify. Only the Glee Club keeps me here any more, she laments. Nick says the welfare decisions are painful, but he has to put a strong economy first. He points to the Lib Dem commitment to building social housing, to Vince Cable’s business bank, and the Green Investment Bank as a genuinely exciting approach to the economy. He turns to the bedroom tax specifically and says we need to get to grips with how we ensure housing is allocated fairly and that Lib Dems have done what they can to offer alleviating assistance.
3.08 pm… Nick’s asked about what the Lib Dems will do to become the cooperative party, for instance through supporting credit unions. (Apologies, missed the questioner’s name.) Nick says yes, he’s all in favour and is keen on any ideas to promote it more.
3.10pm… Katie Gordon (Glasgow South) asks about what more the Lib Dems can do to push for more social housing as argued in the amendment to this morning’s motion. Nick says of course he supports more social housing, but we should only set targets that are achievable and that was his worry about the motion.
3.13 pm… Lisa Smart (Stockport) asks if it’s true the Lib Dems will offer subsidised public transport to young people. Nick says he’s very keen on it to encourage them to be able to get around and take up job opportunities. It is, however, very expensive and complicated and needs to be looked at carefully. And if we can’t do it with the Tories, he says, it should feature in the 2015 manifesto.
3.17 pm… Mike Hibbs (Saffron Walden) wants to know what we can do about improving youth services. Nick says the real answer is to make sure local government has far more freedom to spend services on local needs, and cites devolving business rates, the ‘City Deals’ and the lifting of ring-fenced funding as a way of making sure local authorities have greater freedom to spend at a time of diminishing resources.
3.19 pm… Matthew Hulbert (Hinckley and Bosworth) argues more needs to be done on youth services and he needs to make the case to the Conservatives. Nick says it’s at the top of his list, but there are competing priorities and we need to discuss this.
3.22pm… Merlene Emmerson (Twickenham and Richmond) asks about the infamous ‘Go home’ poster vans. Nick repeats his view that it was a silly idea. He says we need to have a liberal approach to immigration, but we must at the same time have a tough enforcement of laws, especially around visa overstaying and urges improved border controls. Merlene follows up to ask if his liberal view is consistent with the Home Office’s? Nick says as a constituency MP he often tears his hair out at the chaos in the system. We must be competent in how we operate immigration.
3.28pm… Jane Brophy (I may have misheard?) asks about the claims made by some environmental campaign groups that Lib Dems have not done a good enough job of being green in government? Nick says all the green things which have happened in government are down to the Lib Dems. He highlights that the fact there’s a decarbonisation target at all is because he and Ed Davey fought for it within Coalition. It might not have been as good we’d have wanted, but 70% is better than 0% even if it’s not 100%.
Lib Dem independence
3.30pm… Paula Keaveney asks what proportion of the 2015 Lib Dem manifesto should be independent? Nick highlights that he’s just seen on the news that the Tories are making tax-cuts for the low-paid the centrepiece of their party conference – the number one priority for the Lib Dems in our 2010 manifesto. We shouldn’t ever lose sight of that huge achievement, one which David Cameron said was unaffordable in the televised leaders’ debate. He finishes with a direct answer to the question: what proportion of the Lib Dem manifesto should be independent – all of it.
And that’s it.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.