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Nick Clegg interview

On the Politics Show, Sunday 22 June 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed LibDem Leader Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg
LibDem Leader Nick Clegg MP

JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Nick Clegg, thank you for joining us. Welcome to the Politics Show.

Reports today that in the stadium where the main opposition party were to hold their rally, that Robert Mugabe supporters have taken it over, that there are people armed with clubs on the streets outside, how can you run an election against that back-drop.

NICK CLEGG: You can't. I think it's now beyond any doubt or question that the elections next week won't be free and fair. It is going to be a rigged election.

This is state sponsored terror, that's how it appears to me at least. The MDC I think is in a terrible quandary. I don't want to second guess what the brave leaders of the opposition movement are going to do in these circumstances, because on the one hand, they don't want in any way to act as a catalyst for further violence, by contesting the elections.

On the other hand, if they just pull the plug now, the worry of course is that Mugabe will have achieved his ends, will have seen them off and someone they world will forget about it. In a macabre kind of way, the elections next week might be the catalyst that finally brings international pressure of bear on Mugabe.

JON SOPEL: What's you instinct about what they should do. Call off the election.

NICK CLEGG: My instinct would be that notwithstanding the huge risks they - I think there are a lot of Zimbabweans, by all accounts who want to express their views and as long as there are and as long as they're still brave enough to go out and vote, I think they should still contest the elections, but beyond and no doubt that those elections you know, are not, are not going to be elections as you and I understand them or anyone watching this programme in a democrat country, but they might, in fact I think they will, serve as the, as the beginning of the end game for Mugabe and hopefully, particularly provoke the South Africans who I think, President Mbeki has frankly been very weak on all of this, to take real action against Mugabe.

JON SOPEL: But what is Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa going to learn from this that he doesn't know already.

NICK CLEGG: Oh, I think if you listen to the statements, perhaps not from him, but if you listen to the statements of the ANC President, Jacob Zuma, the South African Trade Union Movement and other members of the South African Development community, Angola, Tanzania and others, they are now speaking up, because I think they're horrified by the sheer scale of violence, which I think even they could not have believed possible in Zimbabwe and that is why, however difficult it is, we now need to start contemplating measures which hit the Mugabe regime hard where it hurts, in other words the electricity supply from Mozambique and South Africa, the foreign currency supplied through foreign currency remittances, in to Zimbabwe.

JON SOPEL: Right. Let's just deal with the foreign currency one first.


JON SOPEL: You heard there in that report there people are sending back foreign currency as a way of keeping members of their family alive. Cut off that life-line and what happens.

NICK CLEGG: Yeah, I'm not pretending this is an easy solution and certainly I don't advocate it lightly, but the tragic truth is that the money going back is almost worthless for ordinary Zimbabweans.

The exchange rate yesterday between the Zimbabwean dollar and the pound was twelve billion to one. Last week it was six billion to one.

So the currency actually, the money received by ordinary Zimbabweans is almost worthless, whilst the foreign currency, retained by the Zimbabwean regime, is funding their thuggery and their violence.

JON SOPEL: But you're talking about cutting off hard currency that goes directly to ordinary people.

NICK CLEGG: I'm talking about taking the only measure that I can now see which really hurts Mugabe.

This is a man who's clearly decided to turn his back on his own people, on the outside world, on countries in the South African region. What else can we do other than something which will simply cut off the resources for him to inflict continued harm on his own people.

JON SOPEL: And the other thing you spoke about there was cutting off electricity supplies to the country. Do you see that the countries around, like Mozambicans that could effect that, will do that.

NICK CLEGG: I think if there's the political will to do something, which of course is drastic, which, as I say, I certainly don't advocate lightly, but might constitute the sharp aggressive sort of shock response that is needed in order to bring Mugabe to heel, then I think it might be possible.

As I say, political opinion in South Africa is shifting. South Africa itself is having real problems generating enough electricity for its own people, yet alone that of Mugabe's regime.

JON SOPEL: If it looks like, that Britain is in the driving seat of action to be taken against Zimbabwe, isn't it fantastically counter-productive. Robert Mugabe stands up and says, look, the former colonial power can't let go, it's trying to pull the strings.

NICK CLEGG: He does that anyway. I think this is where the Foreign office has got it spectacularly wrong over the last few years. They in effect sat on their hands saying, oh we shouldn't speak up, we shouldn't advocate anything too harsh against Mugabe, because he'll use it for propaganda purposes.

Anyone who's listened to Zimbabwean media over the last couple of years will realize he does that anyway. He fantasizes; he's a paranoid man who thinks there is a British plot around every corner, irrespective of what we say. So we might as well go if you like, go straight ahead and create the necessary coalition of political will in the region and internationally, to take the tough measures which might finally work.

JON SOPEL: Mr Clegg, I know tomorrow that you're making a speech where you're going to outline your own vision of where it's maybe proper for the liberal democracies to intervene in other countries, and that was the policy pursued by Tony Blair that he used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

What about Zimbabwe. Isn't there - given what you have just outlined, a perfect case for liberal intervention, military intervention whatever, in Zimbabwe.

NICK CLEGG: I think there is a moral case to do so. I don't shirk away from that. I think it's inconceivable though, in practice. And this is where the moral principles of foreign policy, meet the practical constraints.

That is why short of military intervention, which I think is simply impractical, inconceivable in the circumstances, the kind of measures I'm taking, which are very aggressive ones, are ones which should be taken.

JON SOPEL: But that sounds like the Liberal Democrat policy is throw up your hands, isn't it all awful.

NICK CLEGG: No, no, no, you're saying to me, or suggesting to me that I'm being too harsh in advocating cutting off foreign currency remittances, too harsh in advocating restricting electricity supplies in to Zimbabwe. It is precisely (interjection)

JON SOPEL: Is there a military option.

NICK CLEGG: ... that - hang on, let's do. I mean the world has sat on its hands for too long on Zimbabwe. I'm not going to waste anyone else's time, or your time or the viewer's time speculating about a military intervention which isn't going to happen. What I am interested in, is advocating measures which whilst controversial, I believe would work.

JON SOPEL: Okay, let's talk about something which is happening and happening now and it's in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, where the Prime Minister has gone to try to effect the oil price. Do you believe it will achieve anything.

NICK CLEGG: No. Course not. I think it's slightly humiliating to see the Prime Minister, fly off at taxpayers expense to Jeddah, to announce some gimmick, where he hopes that somehow OPEC will fund windfarms in the United Kingdom. Completely, he's living on cloud cuckoo land if he thinks that's a sustainable solution to the crisis. I also think he's got his priorities wrong.

I pressed him, for instance last week to take action with the energy generating companies in this country, to use the nine billion pound subsidy, which they've received, from this government, in the emissions trading scheme, to actually insulate British homes, develop energy efficiency measures. That's the kind of thing he could do here at home rather than go off for a weekend in Jeddah, I think in a way that only amounts to a gesture.

JON SOPEL: I'm just reading on the news wires here from the AFP News Agency, that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, has announced Sunday, that his country has increased output to 9.7 million barrels a day, so maybe there may be something.

NICK CLEGG: It's a very, very modest increase. It's a few hundred thousand barrels. That is miniscule. They, I mean I don't want to get in to oil economics, but the idea that one can sort of turn the tap on and off like this, in the quantities that Gordon Brown suggests, I think is unrealistic. There is some suggestion, there is some suggestion that part of the oil price increase is speculative. So we need to address that too.

JON SOPEL: You've been scathing about Gordon Brown. You've said it's rather humiliating. This week is his anniversary, how's he doing.

NICK CLEGG: I think the British people have, have sort of turned their back on him. His great claim was always that he was the, he was the man, the authoritative figure who had his hand on the tiller as far as the economy was concerned.

That reputation for economic competence has clearly now disappeared. He laughably, with hindsight, claimed that he'd abolished boom and bust. I think that's pretty rich or would seem to be pretty rich for many people who are struggling to meet their bills.

JON SOPEL: Why aren't you doing better.

NICK CLEGG: Well we are doing better. We pushed Labour in to third place in the local elections. Our average poll ratings have gone up, three, four points over the last few months. We're fighting a by-election now in Henley.

JON SOPEL: Are you going win it.

NICK CLEGG: Well my crystal ball is no clearer than yours Jon. We're fighting it to win. We're fighting it hard. I think it might be closer than many people expect - of course this is (interjection)

JON SOPEL: A couple of years back you'd have come on this programme and said, you know what's happened, the Labour vote has dwindled to nothing, the Tories are defecting to the Liberal Democrats in huge numbers.

And we're poised for victory. I just don't sense that language after Crewe and Nantwich, after the Mayoral elections, that the Liberal Democrats are . (overlaps) (interjection)

NICK CLEGG: Let's look at the local elections, which was the biggest electoral test over the last few months. My city, Sheffield, we took control from Labour. We now control a whole belt of cities and towns in the North of England. Newcastle, Grimsby, Hull, Sheffield, Warrington, Burnley, Liverpool, Rochdale, the list goes on.

I stress that point because it would have been inconceivable a few years ago, that the Liberal Democrats would have taken control of these great British cities and that is I think, a very important, and often unnoticed part of the shifting landscape in British politics, that we are the ones who are winning against Labour in their heartlands.

JON SOPEL: I just want to put a final question to you. I don't know whether you've seen the Mail on Sunday today. It asked, if political leaders were dogs, what breed would they be. David Cameron came out to be a Labrador, Gordon Brown a St Bernard and you were, well you were a Chihuahua.

NICK CLEGG: Yes, well they're tenacious little dogs so - and if I understand it correctly from the report, David Cameron was a poodle a few months ago and now he's a Labrador. So there's a lot of, there's a lot to play for in the canine stakes.

JON SOPEL: What do you aspire to be, a Rottweiler.

NICK CLEGG: I haven't thought. But I'm very happy with Chihuahua at the moment, because I think Chihuahua lovers out there, who are watching this, wouldn't want me to insult that particular dog.

JON SOPEL: Nick Clegg, thank you very much indeed for being with us.

NICK CLEGG: Thank you.


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NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 29 June 2008 at 1200BST on BBC One.
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