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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 October 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Liberal leadership
On Sunday 21 October Andrew Marr interviewed Nick Clegg MP And Chris Huhne MP

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

Nick Clegg MP
Nick Clegg MP

ANDREW MARR: Ronnie Wood and the rest of the Stones prove that you can work and play hard into your 60s and probably beyond, in the rock music business.

But in the political world it's been a little bit less forgiving.

Sir Ming Campbell resigned the Lib Dem leadership and he was a victim, some said, of ageism.

The party's performance in the polls may have had a little bit to do with it of course, and whoever succeeds Sir Ming faces quite a challenge. Now the two contenders, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne are with me now. Welcome to you both.

Can I start with you, Nick Clegg, you have been portrayed as the more right wing, some people have even said, perhaps unkindly, Cameron light.

How do you react to that?

NICK CLEGG: It bemuses me. I mean, I think the only similarity I can see between David Cameron and myself is that we're roughly the same age. But if you look at our reaction to the developments in politics over the last 20 years we've gone in completely opposite directions.

I was at university at the height of Thatcherism, I was appalled by this soulless vision, there's no such thing as society. Twenty years later you have David Cameron saying society's anarchic. This is a vision of society, a Tory vision of society which I find by turns heartless and desperate. Now I represent a constituency up in the north, in Sheffield, one of the great cities of the north, which has got social inequalities which are utterly grotesque.

The life expectancy of people living in the poorest ward in Sheffield is a full 14 years lower than the life expectancy of those people living in the richest ward. And that is part, partly because of the ravages which were inflicted on that city by the Conservatives so, frankly, so much of my politics is driven by that.

ANDREW MARR: So as a man, therefore, of the left or of the progressive side of the argument, do you think that people earning 70,000 a year are rich and should be hammered?

NICK CLEGG: I don't think they should be hammered, and I think, without replaying exactly what Ming said, it's not precisely what he said. I think that tax, the tax system should do three things.

Firstly it should be fair, and that is why our proposals to reduce the tax burden, particularly on those people on lower incomes, is a very, very progressive start, Part of the sort of radical liberal tradition of which I find myself so squarely part.

Secondly, we need to make it greener, Chris has done some great work, making sure the tax burden switches from hard work onto activities which pollute the environment.

And thirdly and very importantly, when sometimes perhaps we underplay this, devolving the tax system. We have the most over-centralised government system of course in the western world. But that's very much reflected in the tax system, we need to allow communities to take more decisions for themselves and that includes putting our money where our mouth is.

We're the only political party in British politics to say this, that if you're serious about devolution you've also got to devolve some tax-raising powers. Neither of the other two parties in this Tweedledee-Tweedledum world of Westminster politics admit to that reality.

ANDREW MARR: Now we know you each admire one another, I'm going to come to Chris Huhne in a moment. But tell me, and tell the people watching, how you differ from Chris Huhne.

NICK CLEGG: You're putting us in an invidious position.


NICK CLEGG: First I think don't be surprised that our similarities far outweigh ...

ANDREW MARR: Well let's forget the similarities for the moment.

NICK CLEGG: My own view is that the challenge for the Liberal Democrats, I mean we are in politics to seek power to give it away, to reinvent politics completely, to really change utterly the stale old duopoly of two-party politics.

And I think one of the key ways of doing that, yes is to refresh our policies, have policy debates. But my own view is that what all of this is about is how can we reach the millions of people who I'm sincerely convinced share our liberal values of fairness, of internationalism.

ANDREW MARR: And you think you're better at it than him. And if so why?

NICK CLEGG: I wouldn't be sitting on this sofa with you if I didn't feel I had qualities which means that I can espouse, exemplify those policies.

ANDREW MARR: Which policies?

NICK CLEGG: ...and then reach out to people and try and bring people, if you like, to our cause, who presently are either not voting for us or not voting at all.

ANDREW MARR: Which qualities?

NICK CLEGG: Well, to speak, if you like, in a direct, plain-speaking way to people, to represent the great cities of the north, but also appeal to the rural and suburban parts of the south.

To try and create a sense of dynamism and ambition in politics such that people really, who are so dissatisfied, such dissatisfaction with the tired old stale way of doing politics, really see a sense of excitement and an excitement which the Liberal Democrats offer, in a way that I don't think either David Cameron or Gordon Brown do.

ANDREW MARR: You said that you want to see the party moving outside its comfort zone. So what's it been doing recently, putting to one side the Menzies Cambell issue, that's been wrong?

NICK CLEGG: It's not wrong. I think all political parties do this, I think inevitably we've been a little bit inward-looking for the last couple of years, partly because of personality changes and all the rest of it, partly because of...

ANDREW MARR: But on policy?

NICK CLEGG: Well, I think our policies are excellent by the way. I don't think, I mean, Chris and I will debate in the weeks ahead about policy. I think it's how we express the policies in a way that is relevant to people.

I'll give you an example, on Wednesday night a young 16-year-old was killed in Sheffield by, in a gun crime. I think we need to speak out for those communities who feel completely marginalised and beached in Britain at the moment.

Chris Huhne MP
Chris Huhne MP

ANDREW MARR: OK. Is there anything that you've heard there, Chris Huhne, that you could disagree with?


ANDREW MARR: So in which case I ask you, as I asked this very fine and upstanding gentleman, what the difference is between you?

CHRIS HUHNE: Well obviously party members have to make a decision who is going to be best to present the case which Nick and I are not surprisingly since we've been leading members of the same party for a long time, fundamentally agree on most of the key elements. And I think, party members will have to think of the difference circumstances.

I mean Nick is absolutely right, we have a much more volatile electorate, which is good news for us, because it means that people are more open-minded than they've ever been before, and we have a fantastic opportunity to really get out there and persuade people that they ought to come and vote for the Liberal Democrats, particularly for the half of British people who actually say that they're Liberals but don't think that they ought to vote for us.

ANDREW MARR: Do you not think he's a little bit young?

NICK CLEGG: Well, I think age is a sort of issue which given recent circumstances we should avoid at all costs. I'm not going to get into that. I think that obviously if you look at our CVs, we've had slightly different experiences.

I mean I'm 13 years older and have more grey hair, and there's no getting around that fact. But I do think that, think of what is likely to happen, the housing market is turning, we're likely to find the economy is going to be a key issue over the next few years.

ANDREW MARR: So you may well have economic experience?

NICK CLEGG: Well I've got by city days, and spending a lot of time covering the economy when I was working in newspapers.

So I've been around that course, I'm very comfortable with those sort of issues. And I wouldn't underestimate Gordon Brown and the Labour Party, I think that given the volatility of recent weeks we could be facing either David Cameron or Gordon Brown, or both.

And I think we have to take votes off both. People often say we're suffering a squeeze. Well that squeeze gives us tremendous opportunity as well because back, for example, in '74, we were in a position where we were able to take off both sides, even though they were very close together. And I think that's what we've got to do in the run-up to the next election.

ANDREW MARR: In the papers today you talk about, you ask the question who is the Tory twin? Was that a reference to the gentleman sitting beside you?

CHRIS HUHNE: No, it was a reference to the fact that what you're seeing between the Tory party and the Labour party is a sort of galleried rush to adopt the same policy positions, and to shadow each other, it's almost like a Premiership football game, man-marking, I mean it's ridiculous because there's got to be some sense of real difference in our politics.

And we are the real radicals and so we're not just changing the government, we about changing the whole system and making sure that people are reconnected into the political system at the grass roots, giving power back to people. Absolutely right about that, we are the only party that says we want to get power, to empower Britain's communities, to give power back to people.

ANDREW MARR: There's also a story in one of the papers today about an article you wrote when you were 18, apparently advocating LSD and hard drugs of all kinds, enthusing about them. Was this, (a) did you write it? And (b) was this, to put it in the papers today, was it a dirty trick to make you appear more exciting?

CHRIS HUHNE: It's actually an old story which has been around the course before, and I don't remember writing it. But I've written an awful lot since then and there's a lot that I don't remember.

ANDREW MARR: Having been a journalist!

NICK CLEGG: Having been a journalist for 19 years I can tell you, there's a massive amount.

I mean, those are clearly not my views and frankly I was, I certainly admit to being a revolting teenager in both senses of the word, so on that basis I would simply draw a veil over it.

ANDREW MARR: Would either of you give this country a referendum on the European Treaty?


CHRIS HUHNE: No, but I do think we need a referendum on the big issues.

NICK CLEGG: Absolutely.

CHRIS HUHNE: And that is the real issue that people like William Hague and the other Eurosceptics are really trying to get out from under them, they're not really interested in this treaty because frankly it's one of the least radical treaties that we've had compared with, say, Maastricht, where we should have had a referendum, we were advocating a referendum.

NICK CLEGG: There was a profound dishonesty in the argument and frankly you heard it from William Hague this morning, this sort of forensic emphasis on line-by-line analysis of this treaty.

What they're really after is to try and use this as a sort of tool, as a weapon to get us out of the European Union altogether. And they should be, I think, confronted with the consequences of their own position.

ANDREW MARR: Now you've both known each other for a long time, you've both worked together for a long time. Nick, ask Chris, there must be one thing that you really want to know about him, or from him. Ask him a question.

CHRIS HUHNE: (laughter), this is, you're meant to be doing the question and asking.

ANDREW MARR: BBC cut backs, Nick can ask the question!

NICK CLEGG: Oh it's the BBC cut-backs again. Oh, how are we going to reach out to people who don't vote for us at the moment? That's an easy one, from one friend to another.

CHRIS HUHNE: As you know Nick, the key thing that happens in General Election campaigns is when people see the people and the policies that we've got. They warm to us and I've only experienced one election in all the elections I've fought since 1983 in which we haven't gone up in the polls during the election campaign.

And when people hear about putting, our vision of putting people at the centre of politics or empowering local communities and making sure we have world class public services, and ensuring that we actually tackle climate change so that we're not stealing the planet from our children and our grandchildren. That is something that the other parties can't match.

ANDREW MARR: Are you going to ask him a tougher question?

CHRIS HUHNE: No I'm certainly not Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Right, let me move back actually one stage. Nick Clegg, at the conference you made a remark about the leadership which irritated the formidable wife of the former leader. Do you think that's had some effect on what happened afterwards?

NICK CLEGG: I've spoken to Elspeth, I've spoken to Menzies and neither of them think so. I was asked a very simple question which was, would you ever in the future, possibly ever conceive of possibly standing for election, for the leadership, I think I said something like, probably, I'm not entirely sure yet, probably will.

ANDREW MARR: But we know the answer to it.

NICK CLEGG: Hang on Andrew, yes you do, but the thing is this, what do you want from politicians? Do you want human beings who give honest answers, do you want human beings who give straight answers? Or do you, you in the media, everybody else, do we want politicians who dance around the truth and don't actually give candid answers?

I am going to try and do my bit to be as candid as I want. If it gets me in trouble from time to time so be it. But I think, I think people are frankly fed up with politicians who talk Westminster-speak rather than human-speak. ANDREW MARR: Thank you both very much indeed.


NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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