Friday, November 07, 2008

House Points: An interview with Nick Clegg

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Bloggers in Sheffield

I have been to many Liberal and Liberal Democrat events in my time, but never one in a cathedral. Until last Saturday, that is, when Yorkshire and Humber Region held its conference at Sheffield Cathedral. I went along because I was one of half a dozen bloggers invited to interview Nick Clegg.

The session was dominated by economic questions in a way it would not have been even a few months ago. Nick was clear that the Conservative strategy of blaming everything on Gordon Brown was convincing nobody; certainly, their ratings for economic competence have plummeted in the polls. They are obsessed with government debt when the real issue in Britain is astronomically high levels of personal debt. And they fail to grasp the extent to which the public has decided that it is the Tories’ own approach - the deregulation of financial services and similar policies - that is responsible for the mess we are in.

I asked Nick whether his recent calls to "buy British" risked encouraging the sort of protectionism which would make the global economic situation worse. It turned out these reports have been greatly exaggerated: he was just talking about an improved version of the current Red Tractor standard. But my question did produce one of two great quotations of the day: "This party, certainly not under my leadership, will never, ever advocate protectionism."

We learned that while Nick personally supported party policy, which is to repeal the provisions in the Embryology Act that discriminate against lesbian couples adopting, the Parliamentary party had collectively decided there should be a free vote when the new bill was before the Commons last month.

And we learned he thought it unfair to call Barack Obama a populist. That Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross had behaved like total prats, but it had been absurd for the prime minister to take a break from a summit in Paris to tell senior BBC management what to do about Manuelgate. And that Michael Gambon should be the new Doctor Who.

And the second quotation? Asked whether the largely Labour readership of one blog would regard his call for tax cuts as "moving to the right", Nick replied: "I am never going to satisfy Polly Toynbee and Jackie Ashley."

No comments: