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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 November 2007, 15:27 GMT
Huhne and Clegg interview transcript...
On the Politics Show, Sunday 18 November 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg, contenders in the Liberal Democrat Leadership race.

Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg
I think Nick Clegg would be an excellent leader. I mean I've always said that I think Nick has enormous, enormous qualities
Chris Huhne

JON SOPEL: I suppose I ought to introduce the two guests now. In the yellow corner we have Nick Clegg and in the other yellow corner, with have Chris Huhne. Both of you, welcome to the Politics Show. Nick Clegg, do either of you represent any kind of break with Menzies Campbell.

NICK CLEGG: Well we're all part of the same party so we share the same values, but I think what I'm very preoccupied (interjection)...

JON SOPEL: In policy terms?

NICK CLEGG: In policy terms there are, there are some policy debates we've had. I've taken a much harder line against ID cards. I've pushed, I've said we need to go further as a party to give money to the poorest kids in our school system, there are changes like that.

But to be honest, the main challenge, and Mark touched on it in his piece to be honest, is how do we reach out to all those voters, who I think share many of our liberal values, but have either drifted away from us or frankly, have given up on politics altogether. I mean that really is, is a question of, of looking outwards, rather than having an internal policy debate.

JON SOPEL: Chris Huhne, how would you answer that question, whether there is any difference?

CHRIS HUHNE: I think there are quite important differences in, potentially in style because I think, rightly or wrong, Menzies was perceived as somebody who was very much a part of the political elite; he was extremely authoritative, had an enormous amount of gravitas.

I think the party has to have a really hard anti establishment edginess about it and I think, for example, there's a very good example of what I mean with the anti Iraq war march, where Charles Kennedy decided to go on that march and Menzies was clearly not happy with the decision to go on that march because he was happier with parliamentary opposition, instead of clarifying it, in my view, in a very visual way. (interjection) And was quite happy to accompany Charles on that.

JON SOPEL: We saw, we saw Mark Littlewood in that film there saying, look, you've got to set out a radical alternative...

NICK CLEGG: (interjection) Mark is a smoker and a gambler, so his challenge to us was I think a bit of special pleading for his, on his part.

CHRIS HUHNE: Unhealthy Mark wants freedom to be even unhealthier but no, I mean...

JON SOPEL: What, you don't, do you not think he has a point there in those things?

CHRIS HUHNE: On the smoking ban I don't because I think the liberal principle is that people should be free to do whatever they like so long as they're not inflicting harm on other and there was very good evidence that public smoking for example, does inflict harm on others, not least on the employees in the bars and clubs that are there.

And the experience of both Ireland and Scotland, before the experience of England, was that actually if you had er a smoking ban, you found that many smokers themselves took the opportunity to give up. They didn't want to go on smoking.

NICK CLEGG: Well I think, well I accept Mark's challenges and I say this as someone speaking for my generation, for the future of British politics. I think many people are fed up with the kind of tweedle tweedle dumb sort of Westminster politics, they don't believe there are only two choices to every political argument. They do want a strong liberal democrat voice.

I think we provide it very strongly. The kind of things I've been campaigning on, on civil liberties, on ID cards and on taxation, can I stress, we are the party that's been championing a radical change in the tax system, so that we're going to tax people less, particularly on lower and middle incomes, in terms of their income, but if you choose to do polluting things, you'd pay more, the green tax, - that if course, that is not, that is not saying...

CHRIS HUHNE: your correspondent was quite wrong about that, him saying we're in favour of higher taxes. It has been absolutely clear party policy that we are not in favour of higher taxes. We are in favour of a change in how tax is levied, so as Nick says, it comes off people who are working and taking risks and making effort, and it goes on to bad things like environmental pollution.

JON SOPEL: Chris Huhne, if you weren't successful, what sort of leader would Nick Clegg make?

CHRIS HUHNE: I think Nick Clegg would be an excellent leader. I mean I've always said that I think Nick has enormous, enormous qualities. I've also said that I think probably not this time. Er, but I have no doubt...

JON SOPEL: So he wouldn't be a calamity?

CHRIS HUHNE: Oh, absolutely not.

JON SOPEL: So why have you issued a briefing document called Calamity Clegg?

CHRIS HUHNE: I haven't.

JON SOPEL: This has come from your party, this has come from your office on Friday, to the Politics Show.

CHRIS HUHNE: Ah hah. Well, I'm sorry, I didn't see it, so I don't know.

JON SOPEL: Well, don't you know what goes out of your office?

CHRIS HUHNE: Well, it's quite impossible to check everything that goes out of the office. This is a large campaign, going right the way across the, right the way across the country, but I can assure you, that's not had my authorization.

JON SOPEL: This is a lengthy briefing document, listing various elements where you say that Nick Clegg has not done his job very well, that he flip flops, you know, he keeps changing his mind. What, has he forgotten what he said before and has he changed his mind again, written in those sort of terms.

CHRIS HUHNE: Well I, I think...

JON SOPEL: There's the document.

CHRIS HUHNE: I do think, very clearly, that we have had a series of issues where it is not clear where Nick stands. I don't think it's clear where Nick stands on Trident for example. I've said very clearly that I'm against replacing Trident.

NICK CLEGG: Can I reply to that?

CHRIS HUHNE: Of course. Let me finish, and then of course, you can say. I don't think we know where Nick stands on issues about public services reform, he's given journalists the impression for example that he's in favour of school vouchers, he's not retracted that.

I don't think we know where Nick stands, for example on the National Health Service, because he says, he won't rule out, in an interview with The Scotsman, he won't rule out the question of continental health insurance models and then he's saying, no, no, no he's happy with party policy. So I do...

JON SOPEL: Hang on. Let, let, let Nick Clegg answer.

CHRIS HUHNE: And then finally on PR. He's said, no, no we mustn't make it the be all and end all.

JON SOPEL: you've had a good go, Nick Clegg.

NICK CLEGG: I'm saddened by this because this is genuinely the, the politics of innuendo, which I don't think has a role in an internal contest. Chris knows very well, I've said it to him privately, I've said it publicly until I'm blue in the face, I'm against vouchers, I'm against social insurance. My position on Trident is very clear.


CHRIS HUHNE: why do you say you won't rule out health social insurance then.?

NICK CLEGG: I have said it, I've said it countless times. I said it to you yesterday, I've said it on my web site. I've said it, hang on, can I, with respect Chris, this contest is not about me, meeting false challenges, which you put up to me, it is about me saying what I think the Liberal Democrats need to do to the country, for the country, to make Britain a more liberal place.

On Trident, there is a disagreement. I want to make, take seriously, the multi-lateral talks, to disarm the world, not just the United Kingdom. Chris's position of talking about a new missile system, to replace Trident, is in my view possibly illegal, costly and unstable.

JON SOPEL: I want to go back to this briefing. Don't you owe him an apology for this?

CHRIS HUHNE: Oh, I'm, I haven't seen it, but certainly, if I have a look at it afterwards, if that's been sent out in my name, I certainly do.

JON SOPEL: Let me give it to you ? that has come, that has come from your office.


JON SOPEL: Do you think you owe him an apology?

CHRIS HUHNE: I, I, well look. That's the first time I've seen this so I have...

JON SOPEL: Called Calamity Clegg, that name will stick?

CHRIS HUHNE: I don't think so at all.

NICK CLEGG: I've said to you, I've said to you before. Can I just...


NICK CLEGG: Can I just say, I've said to you...

CHRIS HUHNE: Look, we, we, we have to make clear what potential differences are during this campaign.

NICK CLEGG: But they have to be real differences, not false hang on, Chris...


CHRIS HUHNE: And I think that there are real differences here. And you are trying to say, I mean I've said absolutely clear that there can be no case for replacing Trident after the non proliferation talks in 2010.

NICK CLEGG: You misunderstand...


JON SOPEL: Nick Clegg, do you accept that...


CHRIS HUHNE: Either we have no alternative at all or we have a minimum system. You are trying to keep open the option for an all-singing, all-dancing Trident system...

NICK CLEGG: No I'm not, I'm...


JON SOPEL: Chris Huhne please. Nick Clegg, do you accept what was a semi apology?

NICK CLEGG: Look, I promise you. I've always tried to play a very positive role in this leadership contest, that's why today, what have I done, I've sent a letter to David Cameron, challenging him on his grammar school policy. Last week I've been challenging Gordon Brown, to make clear whether he would sanction an American action in Iran or not.

With respect to Chris, I've said it to him privately, I've said it again publicly, I'll say it again now. I think creating synthetic differences between us which don't exist, particularly when I've explained over and over again what my position is, very very clearly.

CHRIS HUHNE: You haven't gone on the record...

Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg
I think there was a danger in an internal contest, particularly in these latter stages, when people get terribly excited of saying things to each other
Nick Clegg


CHRIS HUHNE:... you still haven't retracted the two things that you were saying in the Observer...

NICK CLEGG: I have, I have Chris until I'm blue in the face.


CHRIS HUHNE: When I challenged you on this, I didn't even get the courtesy of a reply from you, I got it from your campaign manager. Now why are you trying, why are you trying to make sure there isn't a paper trial on these key issues, ahead of the leadership if you're not attempting to face both ways. One way to the voters, one way to the party electorate...

JON SOPEL: So it sounds like you do think he is a calamity. It sounds like you do support that briefing.?

CHRIS HUHNE: It doesn't, I don't support the describing anybody else in the party as a calamity, that's absolute nonsense, but I do think that we have had a series of flip flops on... (interjection)... on these issues, from Nick, and I do think that's not...

JON SOPEL: (interjection) I just want to ask another question now to Nick Clegg, which is sort of where I started off with Chris Huhne, which is how easy will you find it, if you win the leadership contest, to have him in a senior position, when he, when his office regards you as a calamity?

NICK CLEGG: Let me, let me be clear. I have explained to Chris privately, I've said it publicly a thousand times, I think there was a danger in an internal contest, particularly in these latter stages, when people get terribly excited of saying things to each other, which, let's remember, our opponents will use against which ever of us become leader. So I refrain from that. On, on this point about the differences that Chris keeps elevating to a status which I don't think they possess, that is a deliberate quotation of what other people are saying about me and with respect...


NICK CLEGG: Can I finish...


JON SOPEL: Chris Huhne let Nick...

NICK CLEGG: No Chris, let me finish. Look, I've said to you until I'm blue in the face that my position is very clear on all the issues, where what you're seeking to do, is believe the worst that is said about me.


NICK CLEGG: And can I just say, so Chris, as a colleague, as a colleague, I will do you the respect of listening to what you say, not what people say about you and I would ask you to do the same about me.

CHRIS HUHNE: Nick, you have direct quotations which you have no rebutted in for example The Scotsman, saying you would not rule out a continental social insurance scheme for the National Health Service.

NICK CLEGG: Chris I have ruled it out, I ruled it out yesterday (interjection)


CHRIS HUHNE: Yes, but you're flip-flopping on this. One minute you're trying to say, no, we have to consider all the options and the next minute, when you realize the political consequences of what you've said, you're tracking back.

NICK CLEGG: No, no, no.

CHRIS HUHNE: That is a problem. We cannot have...

JON SOPEL: Chris Huhne, I want Nick Clegg to reply because I, I mean I ? final word on this because I think we're going round in circles.

NICK CLEGG: With respect we are going round in circles and they're false circles. I've said over and over again that the thing that is most important is what we do in saying to the British public, that we are the future of British politics, that on civil liberties, on the environment, on internationalism, on public services, let me be clear again, which need to be de-centralized and the power in to the hands of communities, not bureaucrats in London. I think that is a message, which people care about because frankly, I'm extraordinarily frustrated at the lack of liberalism in Britain.

JON SOPEL: Right. Let me go to an area where I think you both agree, which is on ID cards. Are you both, is it your position that were you leader, you would break the law and not carry an ID card if that legislation was passed.

NICK CLEGG: I started this and I've been working on this as the Home Affairs Spokesman, for the Party, for some time. So I've thought about this long and hard and it is my view that if the government moves, as they are likely to in two or three years time, to make the giving over of personal information, to a faceless expensive, large government, data base obligatory, I've simply said, and I think it's only fair to say, that as a, as a citizen, as an individual, I would find that a step simply which goes too far, because it fundamentally and irreversibly alters the relationship between your privacy, my privacy, that of all citizens in this country and the power of the State. I think in a sense it's a very un-British thing, and I hope people would accept that from time to time politicians do need to be honest and clear and say, sorry, with this, I just simply don't put up.

JON SOPEL: So in all conscience, I won't be able to do that and I would be prepared to go to court. So in other words, you wouldn't carry an ID card.

NICK CLEGG: Yes. I wouldn't, I'm very specific. I would not give up my, my personal data to be entered in to the ID card data base.

CHRIS HUHNE: I think there's an enormous difference between er the line which quite rightly most MPs take, which is that law makers should not be law breakers and clearly, one should respect the law. But when the law becomes highly intrusive in to one's personal freedoms, frankly at that point, it's perfectly reasonable to go to a police station and say, I'm sorry, I'm not prepared to fill in these forms, if that means that you're going to be taken to court, so be it, and frankly, if people in this country had not done that, over the years, way back to Magna Carta, we wouldn't have the freedoms today that we do have.

JON SOPEL: (interrupts) But how can you. Sure...

CHRIS HUHNE: So it is very important.

JON SOPEL: How can you be parliamentarians and say, even if this law is passed by all the processes, I'm not going to obey it.

CHRIS HUHNE: I say very simply, I mean this is a government which was elected with 55% of the MPs in the House of Commons, on just 35% of the vote. I do not accept this is a democratic, illegitimate government, I'm sorry. No other country in the world right.


CHRIS HUHNE: Not a single other country in the world elects a majority government on the basis of just 35% of the vote. And let me make one other point Jon, which is that we've had a raft of new democracies across the world, in the last twenty years, not a single one of those new democracies has followed our system, even though we like (interjection) smugly to describe ourselves as the Mother of Parliaments.

JON SOPEL: Right. What happens then with someone who, a pensioner, who doesn't want to pay the Council Tax because they think it's iniquitous. Your party thinks the Council Tax is iniquitous, would you say to them, fine, go ahead, break the law, go to prison.

NICK CLEGG: Jon, I accept that if consistency was, had to be the rule of thumb in all of these things, then you could come up with a thousand and one examples of where other people...

JON SOPEL: You can't pick and choose...

NICK CLEGG: No, well hang on. What I'm saying, let me be very clear. This is something which is not yet in law okay. This is something which I think if, if you look at it dispassionately, is very, very different to any other piece of legislation, because it would fundamentally alter for ever, something which I think British people hold very, very dear, which is that their privacy, their individual sort of data if you like, who they are, is something the State simply can't demand of them as of right and I think it is right for the Liberal Democrats, remember, it was a Liberal Party activist in the 1950s who brought the last ID card data base down, cos he challenged it, and I would want, it was a guy called Harry Wilcock, a dry cleaner from North London, in 1953 and I think, I want to keep that tradition alive and the tradition of dissent is a Liberal tradition, a British tradition, which I want to champion in our party.

JON SOPEL: Okay. And now we are out of time. Both of you, thank you very much indeed for being with us on the Politics Show.


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

Because of the possibility of miss-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 18 November 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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