On the Politics Show, Sunday 10 February 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
JON SOPEL: Nick Clegg joins us now. Welcome to the Politics Show. I wonder if you ever get sick of advice, but let's move on.
NICK CLEGG: There's plenty of it there.
JON SOPEL: Plenty of it there. Right, let's concentrate on one of those things; they're looking for you to be bold and we heard from Mark Littlewood saying, you should just simply come out and say, 'the tax burden is too high' Do you think it is too high.
NICK CLEGG: I've said, and I'll say it again, that the tax burden should not rise, but I'm not advocating the tax burden should be lowered from where it is at the moment, for the simple reason that there are a number of priorities, social priorities, education, health, improving our infrastructure - transport and so on, which I just don't think would necessarily be possible by significantly reducing the tax burden as a whole. But can I just say (interjection)
JON SOPEL: So the government has got it absolutely right.
NICK CLEGG: No, no, no, this is the key thing. The really interesting debate about tax is not where the overall burden is; I am not advocating any further increase in the overall tax burden. The really interesting debate however is what you do within that ceiling. Where does the tax burden rest most heavily, where does it rest most lightly. So, for instance, I want to see a radical cut in income tax for low and middle income earners of 4p in the pound income tax cut. I want to see more people pay a bit more for activities: driving polluting cars, which are bad for the environment. It's how you re-distribute the tax burden within that ceiling that I think is where the debate is now.
JON SOPEL: But you would keep government spending targets exactly as is.
NICK CLEGG: No. I would want to actually quite, quite the reverse, I'd want to dramatically change the list of spending priorities.
JON SOPEL: No, no, I put the total
NICK CLEGG: No. No well the, the total, what I'm trying to say to you is that I think the key thing is how do you re-order the priorities within the total amounts available at the moment. I for instance have set out an ambition that I want to see the party, the Liberal Democrats, reallocate about twenty billion pounds worth of spending, government spending, on to key priorities. So not wasted on ID cards, but spend it on the poorest children. Not waste it on the Euro Fighter, defence project, but spend it on better health services. That is the debate which I think we're going to have between now and the next General Election.
JON SOPEL: But why not position yourself as the tax cutting party, because it would seem that there is a wide open opportunity there. The Tories seem, if you read their pronouncements, a bit too timid to do that at the moment. You could occupy that ground.
NICK CLEGG: I don't think there's any point occupying ground for the sake of it. You've got to do it credibly. If I could meet, if the Liberal Democrats could meet our public policy priorities with less money, with less, you know with a much significant - lower level of overall taxation, of course I'd be prepared to do that. Who knows, we might get there by the next General Election. My estimate though, is that the real difficult choices, and these are going to be tough choices, are scrapping public spending where it's not being well spent at the moment and spending it better in other areas.
JON SOPEL: You talk about this re-prioritization. You've also got this idea of localism, where you give more power to local authorities
NICK CLEGG: Sure.
JON SOPEL: to set their own levels of income tax. Might you then get a council, your tax burden might have been reduced by you, but it then goes up because of what the local income tax happens to be.
NICK CLEGG: Or it could go down. Or a local community could say, no, we actually want it down. Look, I think what people (interjection)
JON SOPEL: So taxes could go up under the Liberal Democrats as well.
NICK CLEGG: No, no, no. This is the key thing. If you are serious about decentralization, I think it was Mark Littlewood in your piece, no, Andy Mayer in your piece saying, we should be serious about decentralization. Let's realize one thing; you've got to put your money where your mouth is.
There is no system of governance which is truly decentralized, truly devolved, truly localized any where I know of, which doesn't put their money where their mouth is - and that's why I think it is so important to realize that it's only the Liberal Democrats who are prepared to scrap council tax, give local communities more say about how they raise money and how they spend it. Both the Labour and the Conservative Parties, talk the talk of devolution, de-centralization, and don't deliver it.
JON SOPEL: Okay, one of those areas in practice, education. You want to see a wider variety of schools. Yeah.
NICK CLEGG: Yes.
JON SOPEL: No selection.
NICK CLEGG: I don't want to see - I think selection in academy schools, foundation schools, trust schools, need to be removed.
JON SOPEL: What about faith schools.
NICK CLEGG: I think faith schools, personally, what I would like to see is a much greater pressure on faith schools to act as agents for integration rather than segregation. I think it is crucial (interjection)
JON SOPEL: You're hesitating on that answer.
NICK CLEGG: I'll tell you why I'm hesitating, because if you have faith schools and we have faith schools, and I'm not proposing and we're not proposing to scrap faith schools, then there clearly is a link between ethos of the school and the religion to which that school is affiliated.
JON SOPEL: Isn't that a form of selection.
NICK CLEGG: It can be in some areas. In some of the best faith schools it is not. Some of the best education systems in the world, for instance in the Netherlands, have got schools which are set up by churches, but actually cater for a very wide variety of people.
JON SOPEL: And you say you want to see this wider variety. Would you like to see more faith schools. Do they add to social cohesion.
NICK CLEGG: In some areas they do and in some areas they don't is the truth.
JON SOPEL: Where do you mean, which ones add to cohesion and which ones don't.
NICK CLEGG: Well, for instance, I know of faith schools in my area, in South West Sheffield which are excellent schools, which actually promote integration, promote understanding between religions, between different communities, where also you have relationships built up between faith schools of different faiths. That is a good model. We have others where it's quite clear (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Like ...
NICK CLEGG: Well I'm not going to start naming individual schools, but you clearly have some schools (interjection)
JON SOPEL: In which communities.
NICK CLEGG: I think in parts of the kingdom we have some faith schools which become captive if you like, to a particular - draw from a particular segment of the community and do appear to be more segmented than I think they should do. But most people in the faith school movement recognize that. The bigger picture however is the key one, is why are we not, as they do in other countries, giving the help that the poorest, most advantaged children need in those early years. We are failing thousands and thousands of children at the moment, in the schools, on industrial scale. I think it is utterly unacceptable. The link between social disadvantage and educational under-achievement is now more close in this country than it is almost anywhere else in the developed world.
JON SOPEL: We haven't mentioned Muslim faith schools, you didn't mention Muslim faith schools. I just want to come to this wider issue that has emerged over the past few days, following the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which you have been critical of. Do you think that he should be now considering his position.
NICK CLEGG: No. And listen, I'm a politician who believes in the disestablishment of the church of England. I think the church and the state; secular power and religious power should be utterly separate so I - the last thing I'm going to do as a politician is start saying whether he should consider his position, whether he should resign and so on. I think he's clearly got himself in to a serious controversy, which in my view is a needless controversy.
JON SOPEL: Does he need to choose his words more carefully in future.
NICK CLEGG: Yes. On this subject, yes.
JON SOPEL: Was he ill-advised.
NICK CLEGG: I think to talk about a market place of different legal systems as he did, and not appreciate that notwithstanding all the subtleties of his arguments, which are much, much less offensive if you like than the interpretations of the comments, I think to not perhaps anticipated that would cause a storm of controversy, was a lack of forethought.
JON SOPEL: Let us move on to something else in the film. We heard Peter Kellner there, talking about, you'll never do a deal to prop up a minority Tory administration at Westminster. Your comments to the Financial Times on Friday, seem to suggest that, providing the policies were right, you'd have no problem with that whatsoever.
NICK CLEGG: What I said and I'll say it again, is that if the Labour Party or the Conservative Party, miracle of miracles, turn in to Liberal Democrats, promote the priorities we want for a complete re-invention of the political system, our political system is broken, really promote de-centralisation, a total gear shift in international relations, helping the poorest children in our school system, if they do all of those things, I don't care who writes that kind of manifesto, then of course, as someone who wants to see a more liberal Britain, of course I'm open to listening to those ideas. But look, I feel equidistant between the Labour Party, which is a rather authoritarian party and the Conservative Party, which I think has never really taken social justice seriously, and is rather swivel eyed on issues like the environment, and I think a lot of the so-called liberal conservatism from David Cameron is fake liberalism. So I'm not, you know, asking you to make a choice between the two is one that I don't find a very appetising choice to make. But what I do say, as someone who wants to see a more liberal country to live in, is if they change radically, then of course I'll listen.
JON SOPEL: Okay. And you've talked about civil liberties, freedom of speech, all those things. What do you make of the British Olympic Association, apparently trying to gag Olympic athletes who may be heading out to Beijing saying, you know, you mustn't be speaking about - you must refrain from any comment on human rights while you're there in China.
NICK CLEGG: I think it's extremely disappointing. I have to say, I think it's part of a pattern of us kow-towing to the Chinese Communist Authorities. Don't forget, Gordon Brown was in Beijing just recently and unlike even Tony Blair and certainly unlike President Sarkozy from France, Chancellor Merkel from Germany, even President Bush from the United States, he said nothing publicly on China's appalling human rights record.
Now look, we have to be very clear with the Chinese. They now play a significant role in the world economy and international affairs - that brings certain domestic responsibilities with it. And I think for us to sort of gag ourselves, is a real abdication of our moral responsibility to push for human rights, where ever they're being abused.
JON SOPEL: Nick Clegg, thank you very much indeed for joining us on the Politics Show.
NICK CLEGG: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH NICK CLEGG
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The Politics Show Sunday 10 February 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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