BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Page last updated at 09:47 GMT, Sunday, 15 June 2008 10:47 UK

'Squalid and unprincipled'

On Sunday 15 June Andrew Marr interviewed Nick Clegg MP, Leader, Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat leader condems the way '42-days' was forced through the Commons.

Nick Clegg MP ...photographer Jeff Overs/BBC
Nick Clegg MP

ANDREW MARR: Now, there's been some surprise at the speed at which the leader of the Liberal Democrats agreed that his party wouldn't fight David Davis for his seat.

Nick Clegg's claimed that since they're both on the same side on the 42-days he'd be setting aside of party political advantage for the greater cause of civil liberties.

But to many the swiftness of this decision makes it look like he's collaborating with the political stunt Nick Clegg is here now.

This was your seventh target seat, and a lot of people think that it's very odd that you decided not to have a go at it while you had the chance.

NICK CLEGG: Well these are very exceptional circumstances of course, I mean David Davis has called this by election on the specific issue of 42 days, he told me that the night before it became public and I thought about it overnight and spoke to some people in the party and we decided that from time to time it's not a bad thing to say look there are certain issues which go beyond party politics, which go beyond trying to seek narrow party political advantage, and I judged that this was one of those occasions, and I didn't frankly see any point in wasting any time saying that was what we were going to do.

ANDREW MARR: Why did he speak to you first, do you think?

NICK CLEGG: Well he spoke to me after the vote. I guess because he wanted to know what...

ANDREW MARR: To be sure he'd win the seat?

NICK CLEGG: Well, what my reaction would be to the issue of fighting on 42 days. Look, there are many, many issues, in fact a long list of issues where David Davis and I disagree.

He's a Conservative, I'm the leader of the Liberal Democrats on the environment, public services and so on. On this issue, on this one issue of 42 days we so happen to agree that the way in which the government ran this through the House of Commons was squalid and very unprincipled.

ANDREW MARR: Just because he says it's a one issue by election, you're going to be asking Liberal Democrat voters, and there's quite a lot of them up there, to vote for David Davis.

NICK CLEGG: No I'm not going to...

ANDREW MARR: I am pro hanging, you know, Euro sceptic, and you're saying nice liberal boy, really.

NICK CLEGG: No, no, I'm not saying that, I'm simply saying we wouldn't put up our own candidate. I'm not going to start telling people how they should vote. But I am underlining that there are issues in politics, civil liberties is one of them, how we get the right balance between security and liberty which I think is fundamental.

Now, I also happen to know it's a well known secret in Westminster that David Davis, whatever his flaws in other areas and however much I might disagree with him in other areas of policy, on the issue of 42 days I don't believe the Conservative Party would have opposed 42 days as much as it did if it wasn't for him. I don't believe the Conservative Party would ever actually have opposed ID cards if it wasn't for David Davis.

And so I have to say I think the way in which he is now being hammered by some really nasty briefing from his own side, is pretty rich given that I think he's actually done quite a lot of heavy lifting in the Conservative Party on these kind of issues. And whatever you say about him, at least we know he believes in this issue which is a lot more than one can say about David Cameron because I don't know what he thinks on these issues.

ANDREW MARR: So do you think, is your analysis that's what's really going on here is that David Davis is trying to nail his party, as it were, to the wall of this issue, for when they win the election?

NICK CLEGG: No, you'll have to ask him, he's on your programme a little later. What I do know...

ANDREW MARR: You must have had a conversation with him?

NICK CLEGG: No, what I do know is he feels extremely strongly about this 42-day issue, as do I. And notwithstanding our numerous differences in other areas, we are at one on that issue and that issue alone.

ANDREW MARR: Looking at the opinion polls though, you must be extremely depressed?

NICK CLEGG: No, we're up by what, three, four per cent on average since last December.

ANDREW MARR: This should be your great breakthrough moment as the Conservatives are way, way ahead. Labour well down and we're not seeing a Liberal Democrat revival.

NICK CLEGG: No, if you look at the facts on the ground, we pushed Labour into third place in the local elections. If you look in my neck of the woods I'm an MP from Sheffield, we now control Sheffield, Hull, Grimsby, Newcastle, Warrington, Burnley, Liverpool...

ANDREW MARR: All my life I've been listening to Liberals saying it's all right, we control this seat or that seat at local level.

NICK CLEGG: No, no. Andrew, it's not a sort of, it's not rhetoric. These are facts on the ground where we are actually making very serious progress against the Conservatives.

ANDREW MARR: I'm just talking about your national parliamentary profile is not what you'd think.

NICK CLEGG: Our opinion polls hover around between about 18 and about 21-22 per cent depending upon which poll you look at, at the moment. Which is well up from several months, a few months ago we were at 13 per cent. That is real progress.

ANDREW MARR: Eighteen per cent in two opinion polls today, not really where you would want to be, or would expect to be at this stage, is it?

NICK CLEGG: I think if we're hovering around 20 per cent, do I want us to do better? Yes. Are we actually making progress in the polls?

Yes. And are we actually winning seats on the ground? Yes we are. I think we've probably got, what, two years to go before the next General Election. In my view the big question in British politics is that people want change, that's clear. They're fed up with Gordon Brown and the new Labour Party. What kind of change do they want?

Do they want the rather plastic, synthetic change offered by David Cameron, very little substance, no real policies? Or do they want a real sense of alternative, a real sense of change? And that's of course what I hope to communicate over the next two years.

ANDREW MARR: Ah, but the message of this by election is likely to be they want the Conservatives as change.

NICK CLEGG: No, the by election of David Davis, and you know is completely exceptional.

ANDREW MARR: Well all right, OK.

NICK CLEGG: That's a one-off, it's a one-off.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to another issue, absolutely at the forefront this week. Europe. Now, in the House of Lords the Conservative peers are going to try to delay ratification of the Treaty until October. With the abstention, or the help of your Liberal peers, they could do that. Will you let that happen?

NICK CLEGG: The Conservatives as ever are playing sort of Westminster parlour games on Europe, when actually the big issue is what do we do now as a European Union in light of the Irish referendum vote. This has some bearing on what we do in the House of Lords next week. In my view it is highly unlikely now that this Treaty is going to come into effect.

We should not just somehow airbrush out of history the Irish vote, we can't, I really hope the European elite won't behave with the arrogance that a lot of people think they should. Having said that there is a European summit next weekend. I hope that European summit is very clear, tells us yes or no, are we going to carry on trying to salvage something from this treaty or not?

And if we're not are we going to carry on with the old rules? That is the clarity we need. The worst thing for the European Union, the worst thing for pro-Europeans like me is uncertainty.

ANDREW MARR: So you, I'm sorry, you want the government to be in as strong a negotiating position as possible, so they can say this Treaty is dead?

NICK CLEGG: Correct.

ANDREW MARR: Let's not bully the Irish.

NICK CLEGG: Tactically, if you read the newspapers you hear of German politicians and others saying, ah, now what we need is a multi-speed Europe, ripping it all to bits and putting some people in third, sort of third category status, and others in the sort of front, you know, the driving seat of the European Union.

That is a bad thing. For us to argue against that I think it would be better for us to complete our parliamentary homework next week. By the way, just finishing the scrutiny in the House of Lords next week doesn't mean it's ratified, doesn't mean it's ratified by any stretch of the imagination.

But it does put the government in a stronger position to say to the Germans and the French, look don't play silly games, take this Irish vote seriously and if we're going to be big enough about this and admit that the Treaty is no longer possible, then let's have a clean, quick decision, rather than let this thing drag on for months and months and months which I think will be awful for everybody. ANDREW MARR: All right, very clear. Nick Clegg, thank you very much indeed.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

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

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