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Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Sunday, 22 November 2009

Hung parliaments and failed plans

On Sunday 22 November Andrew Marr interviewed Nick Clegg MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats.

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

Nick Clegg MP

ANDREW MARR:

On Thursday, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghan President for a second term, saying he wants Afghan forces in charge of the nation within five years. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary warned that the new government in Kabul would "fall in weeks" if the troops were brought home. Now, so are we at last getting a clearer picture of how long our soldiers will need to remain in Afghanistan? The Lib-Dem Leader Nick Clegg, who's been more critical than other leaders about this war, joins me now. Welcome.

NICK CLEGG:

Good morning.

ANDREW MARR:

Good morning. You've said that unless the Americans provide more troops for Afghanistan, really the game is up. Do you know how many more troops they should, they need to provide?

NICK CLEGG:

I think there's no point sending a single extra soldier unless you've got a clear strategy in place. So actually, in many ways the biggest challenge for Obama isn't just playing the troop numbers game, but is explaining why those extra troops are necessary in order to implement a new strategy, because one thing we do know is that the strategy we've been pursuing for the last several years hasn't been working. I mean when I first said back in June that the strategy was a failure because it wasn't working, I was shouted down, this was somehow a betrayal of our brave soldiers out in the front line. I think it's a betrayal of British soldiers, and indeed anybody … soldiers from all other allied forces, if we don't provide them with a strategy which has many different components to it: dealing with the corruption in Kabul; engaging the countries in the region - Russia, China, Iran; engaging with some of the non-hardcore elements of the Taliban and so on. So I think it is those kinds of things that we need to hear from President Obama if we're going to have any chance of turning this around.

ANDREW MARR:

And just listening to you, we are in a strange position. You say "we" must have a strategy, and yet everybody in Britain is sitting there waiting for President Obama to tell us what the strategy is going to be.

NICK CLEGG:

Well there's been a lamentable failure here in the United Kingdom to explain to the British people why we're in Afghanistan, to support them with both the resources and the strategy they need. I mean, as we know from the front pages today where we now learn about all the to-ings and fro-ings in the run up to the Iraq conflict, one of the great political tragedies in the last ten years, in my view, is that we had a government - Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - who spent a huge amount of time justifying an unjustified conflict in Iraq and not nearly enough time and effort justifying a justified mission in Afghanistan. And it is …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So you think it is justified and more …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) We've suppor… we have supported it from the very beginning. What I have been increasingly critical of is that I don't think any politician and no political party should support a war unconditionally if young men and young women are risking their life and their limb in pursuit of a strategy which is failing - or in this case, I think was almost entirely absent. Now there is some sign that people are understanding this, and over the last few months - certainly since I spoke out - people have been much more candid about the failures of the previous strategy and the components of what a new strategy would look like. But clearly, given that America plays such a crucial role in all of this, what the Americans decide to do …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Is crucial, is absolutely crucial.

NICK CLEGG:

Oh it's crucial.

ANDREW MARR:

And we're talking about, what - 40,000 more troops, 50,000 more troops? What would satisfy you that they were serious?

NICK CLEGG:

Well I really genuinely think that puts the cart before the horse. First explain what the strategy is - how we can succeed in what we set out to do in Afghanistan - so that when our troops come back - as I hope they will, as everybody does, as quickly as possible - they come back having succeeded, with their heads held high. Then decide how many troops you need to deliver that strategy.

ANDREW MARR:

Now you have said that unless we get a better strategy, then this is un-winnable. And you say that you got a lot of flak for that, which you did. Is there no part of you that just thinks actually talking in this way at all is undermining people out there? I mean there's a lot of irritation, and indeed anger, among some of the troops out there at any suggestion that this is not a winnable conflict.

NICK CLEGG:

I find when I have spoken to people in the military, when I've visited Afghanistan and here back home, that the thing that has concerned them most - I think justifiably - is that they are doing a job with utmost professionalism, sacrifice and bravery, but in the absence of a plan. And it is simply wrong. In my view, it is morally reprehensible to ask young men and women to put their lives on the line for us, in our name, in the absence of a plan that actually might mean they succeed. And that is what has been missing.

ANDREW MARR:

The …

NICK CLEGG:

And …

ANDREW MARR:

Sorry, to do it - briefly, because these are complicated matters …

NICK CLEGG:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

… you want reform in Kabul, and Karzai is at least making the right noises there; and you want an exit strategy, and we're beginning to see something that might approach that - including talking to the Taliban.

NICK CLEGG:

Yes. I think there's no doubt, in my view, that if you look at what people mean when they talk about 'the Taliban', it covers actually quite a wide range of groups and individuals in Afghanistan and indeed beyond Afghanistan - from the hardcore Taliban leadership in the mountainous region between Pakistan and Afghanistan and basically seasonal farmers who basically get paid by the Taliban to fight for them. That latter group, we need to engage with them and get them peeled away from the hardcore Taliban leadership.

ANDREW MARR:

And are you saying that if you don't get from President Obama or hear from President Obama something which feels credible to you as a fresh strategy, you would then want to call for British troops to return?

NICK CLEGG:

I think if after President Obama's announcement, whenever that comes in the next few days, it appears that some of the elements that I've talked about are not now being introduced in a new strategy, then of course major question marks will rightly arise about what we're doing there and whether we can succeed at all. As it happens, I'm much more optimistic. And let me be absolutely, let me be absolutely clear. I am not looking for reasons to say we should withdraw tomorrow because I think withdrawal has disastrous consequences, which I'm very happy to spell out. No …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You'd agree with David Miliband about the fall of the government in Kabul quickly and all of that?

NICK CLEGG:

Oh, and not only by the way just in Kabul. I think if we withdrew pre-emptively, you would almost certainly have the fall of the government in Pakistan; and, if you're not careful, you'd have extremists with a finger on a nuclear button in Pakistan. But what angers me so much is that Gordon Brown has failed to make this case. He has failed as a war leader. We are at war. If you just compare, for instance, historically the amount of political capital and energy and time that was invested by the government of the time in explaining why we went into the Falklands conflict - a conflict which arguably had much less to do with our own security than the conflict in Afghanistan - it shows how, how …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You see I thought that you were moving bit by bit towards a position where you were saying this war is not winnable, we should get out - which is what a majority of British people, according to the polls, seem to think.

NICK CLEGG:

Yes, but you can't, you should never …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But you're not. That's wrong. Okay.

NICK CLEGG:

… you should never conduct a war on an opinion poll. That's not …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, okay. Now you've been very critical about Gordon Brown just now. Can I ask you about the opinion poll this morning, which suggests that we may be closer to a hung parliament than we all thought. Is your position that it would be the sort of morally right thing, if there was that condition, to back the party which got the biggest number of seats or votes, or what?

NICK CLEGG:

Well can I first say I think it's a really good thing that these polls - and of course polls come and go - but that there is a suggestion that it's not a sort of shoo-in General Election. We have huge challenges as a country - economic, environmental, social, what to do with our rotten state of politics - so it's absolutely right, it's a great thing that we're going to have a major debate where a lot is at stake.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

NICK CLEGG:

Now you're then asking me can I predict the future? For me, it's not just …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) No, no, I'm asking about your sort of philosophical approach to a situation where nobody had an overall majority.

NICK CLEGG:

Right.

ANDREW MARR:

Would you feel it was the right thing to offer your support first to the party which had done best?

NICK CLEGG:

Oh, I think it is just an inevitable fact, it's just stating the obvious, that the party which has got the strongest mandate from the British people will have the first right to seek to govern either on its own or reach a …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well that's not, that's not been the case in the past.

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Well it's the democra…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Ted Heath, for instance, as you know, discussed with the Liberal Democrats first before throwing in the towel. So we could have a situation where Gordon Brown was coming to you and saying …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) No, I start from a very simple first principle. It's not Gordon Brown or David Cameron or Nick Clegg, who are sort of kingmakers in British politics. It's the British people. So the votes of the British people should determine what happens afterwards. You know that's would should happen in a democracy.

ANDREW MARR:

So very straightforward. You'd go to the …………..??

NICK CLEGG:

(over) It's working from fir… Well it's not me going. It's whichever party - whether it's the Liberal Democrats, Labour or the Conservatives - have the strongest mandate from the British people. It seems to me obvious in a democracy, they have the first right to seek to try and govern either on their own or with others.

ANDREW MARR:

Nick Clegg, a lot more to talk about on another morning, but for now thank you very much indeed. Thanks a lot.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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