On the Politics Show, Sunday 24 May 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Nick Clegg MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Nick Clegg MP
JON SOPEL: With me now is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, thank you very much for being with us.
You were listening there to what the Bishop said, is he right?
NICK CLEGG: I don't think you beat the BNP by telling people how to vote.
You beat the BNP, this is my experience, our experience, we've done it my neck of the woods in Sheffield, in Burnley, in Newcastle in local elections recently, by just getting on the doorstep and saying to people, what are you angry about, what are your problems and providing solutions and answers.
These people, they don't have solutions, they don't have answers, they peddle hate but they don't actually provide people with hope or housing or jobs or the things that people are really very concerned about.
That's the way you beat the BNP.
JON SOPEL: Just very briefly, I just wonder what you think of the established church entering the debate in the way that they have by saying vote for this party not that.
NICK CLEGG: Well, look, I'm a liberal, I believe that politics and religion should be separate.
I don't like the way in which, in this country, you've got, because of an accident of history, the state and the church sort of entangled, I'd like to see the church disestablished.
I understand the sentiment, course I understand the sentiment, but it's not the way you beat the BNP. The way you beat the BNP is not by telling people how to vote in the national media, you get out there and you say, we've got the solutions, they don't.
JON SOPEL: Right. I'm sure where you can agree with what the bishop has said is this sense of disillusionment... (interjection)... public overall has happened over MPs expenses. Now one of the ideas I know that you're looking at is the idea that we ought to be able to sack our MP, not wait for a General Election, but kind of have some kind of recall process. How would that work?
NICK CLEGG: Oh, very simple. At the moment, you've got the absurd situation where someone can be reported to the Independent Commissioner for Standards, cos they've broken the rules. That committee could then recommend to the House of Commons that person should be suspended and then the House of Commons could vote to suspend that MP but still the MP would carry on in office.
It seems to me, at least in that situation, where someone has been proven to do something seriously wrong, that people should be able to sack their MP. (interjection) It should be a minority of people in the constituency, being able to say we don't want to carry it, we don't want to have this MP represent us any more. Have a small petition and you trigger a by-election.
JON SOPEL: And I'm sure an awful lot of people listening would think, well that's - on the surface sounds great. But what's the threshold, when you say a minority, what percentage?
NICK CLEGG: Oh, I'd keep it very low.
JON SOPEL: So you get 5% ?
NICK CLEGG: Yeah, but the trigger, what is important is of course you've first got to, you can't have a sort of kangaroo court out of nothing, it's got to be based on, on the MP having done something seriously wrong in the first place and that has to be done independently, through the Standards Commissioner. So once that process has happened - for instance, Derek Conway, classic example, he was shown to do something very seriously wrong. He was suspended, thrown out of his party and so on, he's still an MP. Why should people in his constituency continue to have to have him as an MP, when he's been shown to have done something very seriously wrong.
JON SOPEL: But don't you think there's a danger that it could be turned in to a nuisances' charter. You get people organizing the constituency, the don't like their MP, they create a lot of fuss and say you should investigate him or her on that, and
endless investigations of people, and you re-fight a general election by other means.
NICK CLEGG: That's clearly the danger. That's why I'm saying it's once, it's been proven and shown and independently proven, that the MP has done something seriously wrong, certainly wrong enough for them to be suspended from the House of Commons, that's actually quite a high hurdle in the first place, but then it seems to me really obvious that for those people, for those MPs, course their constituents should be able to sack them.
JON SOPEL: Now, you've been very clear that going forward, it's not just a question of obeying the rules, as MPs, we've heard endless MPs saying, I obeyed the rules, it's about being seen to do the right thing. Is that correct?
NICK CLEGG: It's more than that. I think it's the tip of the iceberg. I think if we don't sort out other things related to money and politics, it's not just taxpayers money being misused and abused in expenses. It's the way in which parties raise money, funds. Incredibly murky dodgy we've all - all political parties, before you jump in, have had problems with dodgy donors. We've got to sort that out as well. We've got to sort out the preposterous thing of having the House of Lords, elected by nobody, determining the laws of the land. So what I am saying is, this is the tip of the iceberg, this is a moment of crisis, people have been taken for granted for too long, Westminster has acted like a closed shop, let's open it up, but change it from top to toe.
JON SOPEL: Right. I didn't jump in, now I will. How morally, can you justify keeping hold of the money, given to you some £2.4 million pounds, to your party by the convicted fraudster Michael Brown.
NICK CLEGG: We took every single step, this was acknowledged by the electoral commission, the watchdog which looks at this, to determine whether he was eligible to give the money to us. We had no idea and we've been told we could reasonably have had no idea that the guy turned out to be a crook. So this is the whole thing about retrospective justice. We took every single step, it's acknowledged we took every single step to check whether this guy could give us the money. Later, this of course is well before my time as Leader, but I've looked in to this very carefully, later we discovered that the guy was a crook. Other people have gone after him in court, quite understandably, people who he has defrauded money from.
JON SOPEL: But don't you realize Mr Clegg, that you are sounding exactly like those MPs who are saying, oh but I obeyed the rules. Why don't you take a lead now and say, well actually, we can see it - we're going to pay the money back.
NICK CLEGG: We took the money from this man having done every single check we could have that he wasn't a crook, which he turned out to be later. Right.
JON SOPEL: And we are where we are now.
NICK CLEGG: Yeah. The problem is you're saying to me, if I'd know, if I'd known now what I know about this, about Michael Brown of course we wouldn't have accepted a single penny from him. Did we take the cheques. If you'd said to me, if you could show me that the party then several years ago, hadn't taken the cheques, hadn't made the cheques, hadn't done the research necessary to check whether we were eligible to take money from him, then you're quite right. I think we would have to seek to pay the money back if we had that money to pay back. I think though it's been proven .. (interjection)...
JON SOPEL: (overlaps)
NICK CLEGG: I'm not going to start going, in delving in to the
JON SOPEL:... let's be open and transparent, do you have the money
NICK CLEGG: I don't think we've got two and a half million pounds waiting around to pay back to anybody. The point though is not about the money, the exact amount of money, did we take the steps necessary to check whether he was eligible to donate us the money at that time.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Well in view of his conviction, the Politics Show has learnt this week that the Electoral Commission has re-opened their inquiry in to the donation. Should you, rather than waiting to decide whether the electoral commission say it's admissible or inadmissible, because there is now a renewed investigation, make moves to repay that money.
NICK CLEGG: What we will do, is I welcome the Electoral Commission, looking at it again and I've said to people in my party, we've got to reopen all the books to show exactly what we did at the time. Did we take the checks? Did we do the research? Did we do due diligence to check whether we could take money from... That's what the Electoral Commission, quite rightly is going to ask us, we're going to be completely open and if there's any any failing with retrospect shown in what we did, then of course we'll be answerable for that... (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: I just wonder whether I can play you a clip from the law firm representing someone who invested in one of Michael Brown's companies and has lost all his money.
JON SOPEL: What do you say.
NICK CLEGG: This is a lawyer from a client who is using the Liberal Democrats to get their own money back. They've got their own gripe with Michael Brown, let them sort it out, let them not try and invoke other people to sort out their own legal problems with Michael Brown. Can I just make a wider point though? I am not going to be able to sit here and tell you, we have sorted this or indeed any party leader has sorted this until we re-open the whole way in which party funding is presently administered. At the moment it's a very murky business. You've got the Labour Party... (overlaps)
NICK CLEGG: It's a macro point which is immensely important, you've got the party in government, bankroll by a few trade union bosses, you've got David Cameron bank rolled in large part by people who don't even pay full taxes in this country, multi-millionaires living in Belize, you're quite right in highlighting that we have our own problem with one major dodgy donor who gave money to the party in the past. Let's then at least take the opportunity to change this all together. Why did the Conservatives walk out of the talks, the all-party talks which could have solved this and solved this for good.
JON SOPEL: Okay. And you've made that point about how there needs to be root and branch reform and that's accepted I just want to come back to this point because you said it's simply not acceptable for MPs to say, I was obeying the rules and welcome some MPs paying back money. Why is your argument any different in any shape or form with regards to this donation? You said you acted with all due diligence... (interjection)
NICK CLEGG: Cos it's highly different
NICK CLEGG: You're mixing things up spectacularly. When MPs exploit ..
JON SOPEL: Why.
NICK CLEGG: I'll tell you exactly why. When MPs, knowingly exploit the expenses system for personal profit, they knew they were doing that at the time. They have now been found - that is wrong. What we did was we took money from a donor, took every reasonable check, this has been recognized by the Electoral Commission that we took that money in good faith, completely different - you're making if I may say so, you're casting aspersions, very unfairly on the checks that we took at the time in to Michael Brown.
JON SOPEL: Okay. We must leave it there. Nick Clegg thank you very much for being with us.
END OF INTERVIEW
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