On the Politics Show, Sunday 30 November 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Nick Clegg MP, Leader, Liberal Democrats
JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, Welcome to you. Aren't the Federation of Small Businesses correct. They shouldn't be worrying about rotas and how to give people extra time off when their business is possibly, you know, going down the tubes?
NICK CLEGG: I think exactly the time of looming recession, when families are finding it so difficult to scrimp and save to shoulder the costs of child care, we should be helping those families. I mean the blunt truth is that we are not yet a child friendly society. I think we fail far too many children, compared to particularly many of our European neighbours where more generous parental leave, better child care, is combined with very, very competitive economies. Because what they discovered is if it's good for mothers, it's good for fathers, actually in the long run, it's good for the economy as a whole.
JON SOPEL: How many businesses did you consult in drawing up this policy?
NICK CLEGG: We consulted business groups and obviously I speak and Susan Cramer, the spokes… (interjection)
JON SOPEL: I can give you the list of the people that you were thanked in this policy document, the Centre Forum, the Child Poverty Action Group, Council for the Disabled Children, the Every Disabled Child Matters Campaign, the Daycare Trust, the Early Childhood Forum, 4 Children, you know, and so it goes on.
NICK CLEGG: Jon, you're pressing on the issue of cost. Can I just tell you something which is a huge cost to all of us, which is we have more - particularly young boys - going off the rails when they hit their teenage years, in this country, than almost anywhere else in Europe. All the evidence suggests, and that incurs huge costs to businesses, communities, the State, to families. All the evidence now shows that one of the reasons, one of the big reasons why that happens is because we've got too many young boys, who don't have positive male role models in their life, from an early stage. I about to be a father again, next year, I'm entitled to two paltry weeks. In places like Sweden, where they improved paternal leave for fathers, in the way that we're advocating here, the number of fathers taking leave off soared to 80%; it has a dramatic effect not only for the fathers who want to get more involved with their children, but also, actually, it saves us all a great deal of heart-ache later.
JON SOPEL: Well let me ask you very directly, because I think your wife is happily expecting your third child, if this was in place, would you, as the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, be taking seven months leave?
NICK CLEGG: Look, I don't want to start making this in to sort of an issue of my … (interjection) …
JON SOPEL: No, it's very important, you've said it's very important for children to have positive role models
NICK CLEGG: I think, I think …. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Would you, as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, take seven months off work.
NICK CLEGG: I would love to take seven weeks off - I think two weeks is far too little. What I would want to do is I want to live in a country where mothers and fathers feel that they are entitled to be involved with their children at an early stage. Let me give you another reason why I think it actually saves us a lot of cost and heartache later. There's now a lot of evidence that by the age of three, children from very under privileged backgrounds, from very poor backgrounds, fall behind school, even before they've walked in to the classroom. Again, structured, good, positive child care from an early stage, gives the children who are desperately in need, that extra lift where they need it. But just, Jon, just on …
JON SOPEL: It sounds like you're saying, you know, it's do as I say, not as I do. You wouldn't take seven months off.
NICK CLEGG: Jon, I would love, I would love to take seven months off.
JON SOPEL: But you wouldn't.
NICK CLEGG: Jon, this is not the point. The point is at the moment, I and every other young father in this country, do not feel they're entitled even to ask their employers whether they could take seven months off and there is now so much evidence that if fathers don't get more involved with their children at a very young age, that has a huge cost later, in terms of children not doing well at school, unhappy families, broken communities, anti-social behaviour. This is, I think a radical move, to try and make this country, more child centered than it is.
JON SOPEL: Isn't this the politics of growth and we are at the moment, in the time when the politics has changed. We're in the politics of recession.
NICK CLEGG: It's the politics of children. It's the politics of families. It's the politics of how mothers and fathers, men and women, now are much more equal in the work place and society, than they used to be and that is still not reflected in the rules that we have in place.
JON SOPEL: I want to cover a number of issues, so forgive me if I move on. I want to talk about the Shadow Immigration Minister, Damian Green. Are you satisfied with the explanation that Jacqui Smith has given?
NICK CLEGG: I find it either implausible that ministers were not told by the senior civil servant who called this investigation about where the investigation was heading, that senior politicians and other parties were involved. Or it's just down right incompetent that they didn't inform them because this is breaking centuries of tradition about how, how parliament works, the independence of parliament, the confidentiality of information kept by MPs and to do that on the nod, cos the police say they want to, without telling your political masters, as I say, it's either implausible or it's extraordinarily incompetent.
JON SOPEL: Does that then leave a question mark over Jacqui Smith?
NICK CLEGG: Well, I think there are still plenty of questions to be asked about why on earth either she wasn't told, I mean Sir David Normington's statement is rather carefully crafted. It says that he was told just before the raid, ministers were told just after the arrest. What happened in those hours in between, was there no communication between civil servants and politicians, their political masters; we obviously need to know. But if I can, just for a second, there's a wider issue here. All of this in my view is a symptom of a political system in crisis. Opposition MPs simply don't have the levers at their disposal as they do in almost every other democratic system in the world, to hold ministers to account.
JON SOPEL: Let me just go over something else which may be seen to be seen to a sign of crisis and that's the way parties are funded. One of your biggest donors at the last election, Michael Brown…
NICK CLEGG: Michael Brown, yeah.
JON SOPEL: He's now been convicted of multi-million pound fraud, which essentially means that the money you received to fund your election campaign from him, was essentially stolen money. Now I know the electoral commission has said you acted in good faith, but just on a moral question, shouldn't you give that money back?
NICK CLEGG: Well we now know he's a crook and I don't say that with any pleasure. As you said, we did all the checks, the Electoral Commission said we did all the reasonable checks. He didn't only fool us, he fooled his bankers, his lawyers, the creditors, who are now taking him to court. I regret that enormously, it happened some time ago, we spent all the money before the General Election, precisely for the purpose for which it was donated. Nothing was asked in return. Nothing was given in return. But obviously, yes, I would like to operate in a political system where we didn't have this constant issue of money and politics.
JON SOPEL: Are saying you would like to give the money back but can't because you haven't got it.
NICK CLEGG: I'm saying that we took that money in good faith. We did all the checks that we needed to …
JON SOPEL: Then give it back now.
NICK CLEGG: Well, it's up to the Electoral Commission now to decide whether we acted reasonably as they said. No …
JON SOPEL: No it's not up to the Electoral Commission, you could take your decision, as Leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and say, it now looks like we took money from a fraudster.
NICK CLEGG: We should give the, we would have to give the money back if it can be shown that we didn't reasonably accept it in good faith.
JON SOPEL: You were talking about carefully worded statements from Sir David Normington. You've just given me a very carefully worded statement … (interjection)
NICK CLEGG: No, no, no. No Jon, I think everybody understands that we did all the checks we possibly could have done. That was widely recognized. This guy is clearly a crook. No one knew it at the time. That is the benefit now, which we have, with hindsight.
JON SOPEL: I'm going back to the, just a basic moral point. Shouldn't you. Forget what the Electoral Commission said, so they gave you a clean bill of health, you accepted it in good faith, but you know what you know now, shouldn't you give the money back?
NICK CLEGG: I think we are culpable if our motives were wrong, if our checks were wrong, if we didn't do something in good faith. However, we accepted this money and did all the checks we possibly could have done, in good faith.
JON SOPEL: Just a quick final point. Are you going to be more careful who you speak to and where you speak to them? The Sunday Mirror reports today that you were busy discussing your reshuffle on a packed plane where there happened to be a journalist sitting in front saying, who you thought had emotional intelligence and who was inadequate.
NICK CLEGG: Jon, listen. I, as every senior politician in this country, read every week articles claiming about what I've done or said, or even what I think, if I don't think it and almost all of them are widely inaccurate and this one, I mean a lot of it is just frankly fiction.
JON SOPEL: We must leave it there. Nick Clegg, thank you very much for being with us.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH NICK CLEGG
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The Politics Show Sunday 30 November 2008 at 1200 GMT on BBC One.
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