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Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Sunday, 23 January 2011

Transcript of Nick Clegg interview

On Sunday 23rd January Andrew Marr interviewed Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP.

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

ANDREW MARR:

Politics is a brutal world, as we've been saying, and nobody knows that better than Nick Clegg. A few months ago everybody was agreeing with Nick. He led his party to power for the first time in 70 years. And yet it's been downhill since then for the Lib-Dems, their poll ratings even sinking in one poll into single figures. This is the harsh reality of being in government - talking tough, taking difficult decisions like raising tuition fees and VAT. That's what the Deputy Prime Minister says. But does he sometimes wonder if the titles and the trappings are worth it? He's busy with constitutional reforms and other projects close to Lib-Dem hearts like improving social mobility, but at the end of this parliament will he be able to win the voters back? What does the future hold beyond the coalition? Well Nick Clegg is with me now. Welcome.

NICK CLEGG:

Morning.

ANDREW MARR:

Did you ever envisage when you went into this process quite how much fury the tuition fees would dump on you personally?

NICK CLEGG:

Well I always knew - and I actually think you know the party, the Liberal Democrats knew - we went in this with our eyes open. You don't go into government at a time when you're dealing with this vast, vast black hole in the budget; when there's no money left, as Liam Byrne said, and kind of think it's going to be a walk in the path, of course - particularly in the early sta…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But you probably didn't expect quite this level of fury about this particular decision?

NICK CLEGG:

About fees? I think what we need to do now, I totally accept this, is explain over and over and over again because so many myths and frankly sort of wilful misinformation have been spread about what we're doing on higher education. I think it's partly because what we're actually doing almost sounds counterintuitive. We're saying to universities that what they can charge can go up, but what graduates will repay in most respects will actually go down. So you know curiously enough actually when people see what it means in practice, they'll be paying less out from their bank account than they do under Labour's actually more regressive system that we inherited. And I think because some of that is quite complex, it's been quite a job for us to get that across.

ANDREW MARR:

Were you personally, however, sort of surprised and upset by what happened to you?

NICK CLEGG:

You know I kind have always accepted. You don't go into politics, you certainly don't lead a party, you certainly don't join a government when you're dealing with these very, very big issues and somehow sort of think that you're going to be exempt from vilification. Far from it - I've got you know broad shoulders, thick skin. All I guess I would ask in return is for people to look at actually what we're doing rather than what we're constantly alleged to be doing. And I think that's where, certainly on the fees issue, we need to now go out into schools, into communities and explain to people, "Listen, don't believe all the kind of hype. Actually it's going to be easier and cheaper for your children or your grandchildren to go to university."

ANDREW MARR:

And yet people are very, very worried about the prospect of these big debts, as you know. If it turned out in a couple of years time that this was actually putting off lower income people from going to university, would you rethink it?

NICK CLEGG:

Well it really shouldn't, and what we need to do - as I say - is explain to people why it'll be easier for a bright child from a poor background to go to university than the system we inherited from Labour. If I can just explain in twenty seconds why. Under the Labour system, you basically have a sort of poll tax arrangement: everybody pays the same fees. Under our system, if you can't pay off your loans, we will write off your loan for you. You start paying it at a much higher … when you've earned much more money, years after you've left university. And, crucially, we make people who earn lots and lots of money, the millionaires who go to the City of London, pay over the odds, so that you create a subsidy for people on lower income. So, for instance, someone on average income would pay maybe £7 a month compared to over £80 a month under the Labour system. And I agree what we need to do is explain that to people, so that there isn't that disincentive, which I accept might have arisen if the myths around the controversy go unchallenged.

ANDREW MARR:

So the old Liberal Democrat hope that tuition fees would eventually disappear in that famous pledge and all the rest of it, that's gone and gone forever?

NICK CLEGG:

Well I would love to find a situation where we would be able to generate the money and generate the resources to be able to make university free for everybody. I don't think anyone would disagree with that aspiration. The problem is that the number of students, the number of young people who've gone to university has absolutely skyrocketed in recent years. You know the explosion in student numbers is bigger than almost any other country in the developed world. So I think the only other option is you either find pots and pots of money, which clearly don't exist at the moment, or you take money away from pensioners or from young children or from the school system or from the health system - none of which I think would be acceptable. Or you slash the number of students. Some people, by the way, some people do say on the progressive side of the debate, the answer to this is to slash the number of students - put a cap on the number of young people. I wouldn't find that acceptable.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, okay. But just returning to the original pledge and the original decision, I'm just interested in whether you deeply regret that? I mean I remember one of your own MPs saying that it was a car crash, a train smash, it was an absolute disaster when it came to trust in politics.

NICK CLEGG:

Well let's be absolutely clear of the situation we find ourselves in. Not an enviable one.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) No, we understand about the deficit. I'm just talking about the actual decision …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) No, no, no, no, I was going to say something else.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

NICK CLEGG:

Is that we said here's our policy, right? Our policy was actually not over a parliament, but over more than one parliament, to seek to phase out tuition fees. The other two parties - the Conservative and Labour Parties - were both absolutely wedded to the fee system. In fact it was the Labour Party who introduced the fee system, that commissioned the Brown Review that actually recommended there should be no cap at all. So even if we'd gone into coalition with Labour, fees would have gone up. We were completely isolated on this. Now I may have wished it were otherwise, I may have wished that Gordon Brown and David Cameron actually agreed with us on fees. They didn't. So when it came to actually negotiating the coalition agreement, there was no alternative. Even if we'd gone into a coalition …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But you made it very personal. That was the point. You said the one thing that you can pro… You know "I can promise you" and you got huge support from students up and down the country - your own constituents, and constituents which went your way because of that pledge. I think that's why people were so angry.

NICK CLEGG:

Firstly, of course when you say you want to do something in politics, particularly during an election campaign, you do it on the assumption that you can get elected into office in your own right. If people want a Liberal Democrat government, they should vote for one. They didn't. We came third. We didn't win. Now, listen, you know I'm …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Doesn't that mean almost anything you say in an election campaign doesn't count …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) No, not …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … because you're never going to be in charge?

NICK CLEGG:

Not at all. I'm flattered that people should think that we should now act as if we did win outright. I'm realistic enough to remember we did not. We may have got a million extra more voters than we did before, but we did not win. And in that situation where no-one won, we were condemned - quite rightly because that's what the British people wanted - to compromise with other parties. And on this particular policy issue, we were completely isolated. If we'd gone with the Conservatives or Labour, the outcome would have been the same: they were wedded to fees. And so you know I can understand some of the kind of anger, but I do think people sometimes rewrite history a little to suit their own ends on this issue.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me turn to another source of public anger at the moment, which is the banking system.

NICK CLEGG:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

A lot of frustration that all the promises about reining in bonuses seem to have got nowhere - at least so far. What about the actual structure of the banking system? I mean we're waiting for this report, but do you think it's something that requires shaking up?

NICK CLEGG:

Oh we wouldn't have set up the Independent Commission, you know headed up by Sir John Vickers who gave a very interesting speech on this yesterday, if we didn't believe there was a real issue to be looked at. We cannot I think as a country ever tolerate the situation again where we have a banking system which is so, so large in relation to the size of our economy that it becomes one moment an asset and the next moment a massive liability. The liability of the British banks are now four and a half times larger than the size of the whole British economy, and that means that taxpayers are sort of forced to bail out these banks because they're too big to fail because they would upend the whole economy. And that's why we're saying yes we need to deal with bonuses, yes we need more tax from the banks, yes we need them to lend more - and that's what we're still in talks with the banks about. But in the bigger scheme of things, we need to also make sure that we insulate and protect the British economy, and British taxpayers above all, from carrying this huge oversized liability that blew up in our face of course under Labour.

ANDREW MARR:

The logic of that is that you need to in some way separate the ordinary retail banks that people put their money into and lend to small businesses and all the rest of it from the global so-called casino banking?

NICK CLEGG:

Yeah. Yeah, I mean, look, I've always been attracted to that idea. There are various models of it. The kind of most maximalist model is what they call the Glass-Steagall model, the Glass-Steagall Act …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Yes, where you put an absolute wall between them.

NICK CLEGG:

… of the 1930s in America after the Depression where you split it.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Could we go that way, do you think?

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Paul Volcker has suggested a sort of slightly more limited version of that, which has been introduced in the United States. We have asked the Commission to look at all of those models and provide us with their views about what is the best way to make sure that you have a sustainable, prosperous banking system - which you need for a healthy economy - but one which doesn't create these huge liabilities where the taxpayers are always left picking up the tab at the end. And can I just by the way say something on the week that Ed Balls is being you know appointed Shadow Chancellor. I mean you know the Labour Party never ever owned up to this. They never admitted to the fact that he in fact, Ed Balls, was the city minister lauding the light touch regulatory regime when the banks were getting up to absolute …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Douglas Alexander's just owned up to it a few moments ago. He said we got it wrong on the regulation.

NICK CLEGG:

Well but someone's … I think people's record has to be a sort of guide also to whether they're suited to deal with present crises, and I think we're entitled to ask questions about you know Ed Balls.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

NICK CLEGG:

If you ask yourself who was in charge of the City when they were gorging themselves on bonuses and lending irresponsibly; who allowed the housing market to let rip, to become a casino, pitching thousands and thousands of British families into debt; who was whispering into Gordon Brown's ear budget after budget, creating this huge fiscal deficit - the answer to all of those questions is Ed Balls. And I don't think … I mean that record suggests to me that they're kind of stuck in the past. They haven't yet addressed the needs of the future of the British economy.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay. Just before we leave the banking sector, you would agree that there has to be - however exactly it's done - there has to be some separation from the banks?

NICK CLEGG:

I think the banking system needs to be made safe. It can never again become such an oversized liability for the British economy. That's why I think there is a strong case to look at the way in which you can hive off or insulate very high risk over-leverage banking activities from low-risk, high street retail banking.

ANDREW MARR:

Of course if you want the banking system to be a smaller proportion of the economy, you can either shrink the banking system or grow the rest of the economy. When it comes to growing the rest of the economy, the decision to raise VAT - something that you yourself described as "regressive" and "a copout" and all the rest of it before the election - we're told that is now for good, that's forever, whereas income tax could come down again. A lot of people would say that's not a terribly progressive balance of taxation.

NICK CLEGG:

We can debate actually whether it really is. You know it depends whether you judge it in spending terms or not whether it's regressive or not so regressive. I think what everybody needs to, everyone who wants to comment or criticise this is acknowledged that the structural deficit - that's the bit of the black hole that kind of doesn't disappear naturally with growth - was much bigger than we anticipated; actually roughly £13 billion bigger, which is almost precisely the amount of money that we raised by VAT. And for people who don't like VAT - I certainly … I don't think anyone likes to see VAT go up - they've got to ask themselves where would that £13 billion every year come from. And so far, I haven't heard any clear answers on that. You know the Labour Party's having great fun sort of saying oh you shouldn't do that. When I look at their plans either they've got no answer at all, or they say well we'll get rid of the deficit - this is quite an important point this - they say we'll get rid of the deficit - I think this is still their position - but we'll do it in seven years. We're doing it in five. The idea that the great difference in British politics is that they'll do it two years slower than us, I think belies quite how shrill their criticisms have become.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's turn to another couple of issues much in the news at the moment. The House of Lords is doing its best to wreck the legislation for the referendum on voting change because you have spatchcocked a change in the constituency sizes to the AV referendum. It's all part of the same bill. Now a lot of people would say that fair enough, have fewer MPs. But the Liberal Democrats are the party of communities and localism and all the rest of it, and this change in the constituency boundaries is going to be imposed centrally you know with no comeback, no ability to challenge it properly locally, it's going to slice across different parts of the country, and that it's wrong to stick this into the AV referendum and that's why you're in trouble.

NICK CLEGG:

(laughs) Well I of course totally reject that characterisation.

ANDREW MARR:

It doesn't surprise me.

NICK CLEGG:

Well let me explain why. What we're doing I think will strike most people as totally simple and totally fair. What we're saying is first give people the chance to have their say after the scandal of MPs' expenses when everybody wants to see politics cleaned up - have their say, not politicians - have their say in a referendum this May on whether you have a fairer voting system or not. The second thing we're saying is everybody's vote wherever they live in the country should be valued the same. At the moment, it is not. You can live in one constituency with 60,000 voters and another one with 88,000 … (Marr tries to interject) Can I … It's always been a principle of political reformers down the ages - by the way including the Chartists, great forerunners of the Labour Party - that every vote should be worth the same. It isn't in our lopsided democracy. So quite rightly we are putting these things together not to spatch-cock …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Don't geography and history and traditions mean anything?

NICK CLEGG:

No, can I just … In order to make sure that first people have their say in a referendum; and, second, everybody's vote is worth the same and that the constituencies are of roughly the same size. I don't think anyone outside the Westminster village would disagree with that laudable aim of making our political system fairer after the expenses scandals. It's only a handful of dinosaur ex-Labour MPs in the House of Lords who extraordinarily are using the unelected Chamber of the House of Lords …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Highly effectively, it has to be said.

NICK CLEGG:

… to block or to seek to block allowing the British people to have their say.

ANDREW MARR:

Yuh, okay, well …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) And I think Ed Miliband was in your studio here last week saying he believed in new politics, wanted to reach out to Lib-Dem voters, and the next day …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well you see, but they think …

NICK CLEGG:

… the next day he let these dinosaurs off the leash in the House of Lords to actually stop people having their say in a referendum. I think that is old politics triumphing over new politics.

ANDREW MARR:

No, it's … They would argue that it's because you have taken two totally different things …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) I know what … Andrew, I know what …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … and jammed them together and tried to impose them. Anyway, let's …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) I know what they would argue, but I think they are very wrong.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, let's move on. We haven't got a lot of time. Let's move onto another issue, which has caused a lot of comment, which is control orders …

NICK CLEGG:

Yuh.

ANDREW MARR:

… where it's still I think unclear to an awful lot of people whether what we're going to see is control orders sort of slightly amended and re-badged or something entirely different.

NICK CLEGG:

Well just hold your horses for a bit. I hope in the coming days Theresa May will be able to reveal everything in full. But …

ANDREW MARR:

Can you tell us roughly speaking the direction you're going in?

NICK CLEGG:

Well the outcome will be exactly in line with what I've always by the way said in opposition and what we said we would do in the coalition agreement - namely which is restore this delicate balance between liberty and due process and the finest traditions of British justice and the criminal justice system with the need to keep British people safe.

ANDREW MARR:

And are they going to look at them and say, yuh, they are really control orders?

NICK CLEGG:

Well I think they're going to be very clear that you know control orders as they are will go, will be scrapped, but clearly what they need to be replaced with is something which in effect does two things: firstly protects the British public from the harm inflicted by people who want to commit terrorist atrocities in this country - who for one reason or another we can't at that point in time charge and prosecute in court; with continued and reinforced efforts to make sure that they are charged and prosecuted in court where that is possible. And I think you'll see in the detail that that is a very, very different, in fact a wholly different approach to striking this balance between security and liberty than was struck under Labour.

ANDREW MARR:

Huge change to the NHS just coming down the line. Was that in the Liberal Democrat manifesto?

NICK CLEGG:

Actually funnily enough it was. Indeed it was. We were one of the primary critics in opposition of what we felt was a top …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I don't remember you saying you were going to get rid of Primary Care Trusts and pass it down to GPs.

NICK CLEGG:

We certainly said we were going to get rid of Primary Care Trusts. We said we were going to get rid of strategic health authorities. I remember constantly on the stump saying to people that our NHS was …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) What is so bad about the NHS …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Well can I just …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … that this has to be imposed on it because it's going to be an enormously complicated, probably quite expensive and certainly controversial change?

NICK CLEGG:

What it seeks to do is something incredibly simple, which is make sure that patients are right at the centre of the NHS; that their wishes and their needs are absolutely the guiding principle of the decisions that are taken. And that's why we've asked the people who know the patients best - the GPs - to play a greater role in deciding where that patient goes, where the money goes in the system.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But their job is to look after us …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) But can I just …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) … not to shuffle money around.

NICK CLEGG:

… can I just complete the thing? At the moment where the money goes in the system is entirely driven by unaccountable layers of administration and bureaucracy - not accountable directly to patients, not accountable directly to local communities. And one of the hidden virtues of our reforms, something we campaigned on in opposition very vigorously indeed, is to give dramatically new powers to directly elected local authorities, particularly in providing oversight on how public health is provided in areas. And I think …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) This is a slightly different thing that I'm talking about. I'm talking about giving 80% of the budget to the GPs, and I'm just saying to you that people expect their GPs to be thinking entirely about their clinical well-being and there's a danger that it's going to put a sort of mistrust into the relationship between the GP and the individual.

NICK CLEGG:

(over) But you can't look after the clinical … You can't look after the clinical well-being of a patient if at the same time your decisions don't lead to financial consequences. It's a very simple idea. At the moment you've got basically bureaucracy answering to the Secretary of State at the top in Whitehall taking decisions for patients. We're reversing that and saying no, the decision should be taken because of the needs of the patient, and I think that will lead over time - I agree it's an ambitious programme of reform - but over time I think it'll leave patients with a feeling that they are at the centre of it. They're not constantly at the beck and call in a system over which they've got very little control.

ANDREW MARR:

Vince Cable notoriously just before Christmas said that the coalition was like "fighting a war". He had a nuclear option and he could go, but it was like "fighting a war", and he spoke very much in terms of what he and Liberal Democrats wanted to get and what the other side wanted to get. Was that in any way a fair characterisation of what it's like?

NICK CLEGG:

Well clearly in a coalition government no-one should be surprised that the two parties hold different and separate identities. We will continue to remain separate and different parties you know forever and anon. We will fight the next General Election as separate and independent parties in every single …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) A categorical assurance from you that you will certainly fight as independent parties …

NICK CLEGG:

Of course.

ANDREW MARR:

… and that you will stand against each other in every constituency?

NICK CLEGG:

Of course.

ANDREW MARR:

There won't be a "Coupon Election" of any kind?

NICK CLEGG:

Of course, absolutely. Of course. I mean I think this is all part of the growing …

ANDREW MARR:

No wriggle room?

NICK CLEGG:

… I think this is all part of the growing pains of us in Britain, unaccustomed to coalition, getting used to coalition. A coalition is not a pact, it's not a merger, it doesn't mean you become joined at the hip. It means you retain your separate identities. Then of course within government - I think preferably behind closed doors - you battle it out about exactly how you work together.

ANDREW MARR:

But there'd be a huge temptation to soft pedal as happened in the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election. One party soft pedalling to help another party - particularly if your party is way down in the opinion polls, as it is at the moment. To save Liberal Democrats, Conservatives are going to soft pedal; and vice versa, you'll help them out.

NICK CLEGG:

Andrew, I think you're confusing two things. Something that happens by the way in constituency after constituency, election after election is that invariably there are two parties - sometimes you have a complete three-way split, but invariably there are two parties - which are the frontrunners, and so therefore the third party - it could be Conservative, it could be Labour, it could be Liberal Democrats - you know just invest …

ANDREW MARR:

That's a local thing. But how about how you talk about each other, you and David Cameron in those circumstances?

NICK CLEGG:

I think clearly we will be not only setting out separate and different visions for the future, but yes we will also be drawing on a shared record of what we've sought to achieve during this five year parliament. And clearly on that, we will speak about it I think in terms which will be more temperate and perhaps more civilised than would normally be the case. But I don't think that … I don't think that in any way means that we have to sort of paper over our identities during the course of this parliament. And I certainly think it means that people will clearly understand yes, because of the circumstances we find ourselves in, it was right during this parliament to govern together, but that doesn't mean we're joined at the hip.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay, okay. One other big story around of course at the moment is the departure of Andy Coulson. Will you have any say in his replacement?

NICK CLEGG:

Well it's primarily a decision for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's spokesperson, but he's also of course responsible for communicating …

ANDREW MARR:

The government.

NICK CLEGG:

… government policy, so of course I will play a role as well. But you know I don't think this government will miss a beat in terms of just pressing ahead with the plan that we've set out for the next four and a half years to try and restore sense to our economy, create a sound economy, create a fairer society, and to reform our politics as well so that people trust in politics once again.

ANDREW MARR:

Nonetheless an unhappy episode and perhaps a mistake by the Prime Minister to have stuck with him so long?

NICK CLEGG:

Look, you know if you listen to what David Cameron said, he said very emphatically that he thought it was right to give Andy Coulson a second chance. Andy Coulson has been very clear that he was not in any way responsible for phone hacking or had any knowledge of it. I've got no reason to disbelieve him.

ANDREW MARR:

When Liberal Democrats look at what's happening, Liberal Democrats out in the country, and feel perhaps that they have simply been … that you have simply been swamped, numerically swamped and ideologically swamped by the Conservatives and worry that the party is losing its identity, what's the single thing that you can point to in the year ahead that's going to reassure them?

NICK CLEGG:

I guess the thing I'd point to is I'd ask every Liberal Democrat to pick up their slightly sort of weather-beaten copy of the Liberal Democrat manifesto, which had four big pledges right on the front, and look at how much we've already delivered on them. It was to make the tax system fairer - not least by raising the personal allowance, taking lots of people on low and middle income out of paying income tax altogether. This very April almost 900,000 people on low pay will stop paying any income tax whatsoever because of our policy. Secondly, sorting out our education system, introducing the pupil premium - which we will, two and a half billion pounds extra money in full by the end of this parliament. Third, cleaning up politics. And fourth - we talked about it earlier - sorting out the banks and rebalancing our economy.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And you don't wake up in a cold …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) I'm in politics. …

ANDREW MARR:

So if all of that is going so well …

NICK CLEGG:

(over) Well you're impatient to hear the answer …

ANDREW MARR:

… why do opinion polls put you down at 7%? I mean you must wake up in a cold sweat and look at some of these figures. I know everyone says we don't care about it, it's a long time till the election and all the rest of it, but something really dramatic has happened to your party.

NICK CLEGG:

Well I think as long as I remember people have constantly been trying to sort of write off the Liberal Democrats. In opposition every single week, I would hear one commentator after another saying the Liberal Democrats are going to disappear without trace, going to disappear down the drain. Now it's happening pretty well every day because we're in government, and every single time we disprove people.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

NICK CLEGG:

We disproved people at the election, we disproved people at Oldham East and Saddleworth, and we'll disprove people in the future as well.

ANDREW MARR:

Nick Clegg, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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