Video: Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg on Norman Lamb, Simon Wright, mansion tax and the frustrations of being in coalition
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2012
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has lent his backing to the EDP Ambulance Watch campaign and urged readers to share their experiences of the service to create the ‘fullest possible picture’ of the problems in Norfolk.
The Liberal Democrat leader described the campaign as an example of exactly the sort of issue local newspapers should be tackling, during a visit to the county yesterday.
Mr Clegg was on private visits to Norfolk to meet Liberal Democrat members in north Norfolk and Norwich, and to lend support to two of his party’s MPs.
But, in an interview with the EDP, at the King’s Head pub in Letheringsett, he revealed the frustrations of being in a coalition government, how he believes a compromise can be reached on the so-called mansion tax, how he hopes Norwich South MP Simon Wright’s re-election chances will not be damaged by the tuition fees controversy and how he believes local newspapers have a crucial role to play in holding organisations to account.
These are the questions and issues which we put to Mr Clegg:
Will you support the EDP’s Ambulance Watch campaign?
The EDP recently launched Ambulance Watch, which includes a survey into the service provided by the East of England Ambulance Service Trust.
The campaign comes following worrying reports of delays in getting crews to the scene of incidents. We are asking what has been going wrong and how can it be put right. And we want to hear any good stories of exceptional service from hard-pressed crews.
Health minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has backed the campaign and his leader yesterday gave his backing too.
He said: “I certainly support any measures which create the fullest possible picture. I know Norman has been in touch with parishes up and down the county.
“I know that we’ve asked the East of England Ambulance service who say they will look again at some of the cuts in North Norfolk and I want to pay tribute to Norman who has been campaigning tirelessly on that.
“This is a big, far flung, part of the country and it’s important that people, feel, wherever they live, they can rely on the ambulance service.
“I think it is exactly what regional and local papers should and can do is ask people for their local experiences, so we know what is going on on the ground.”
You can take part in the campaign by visiting www.edp24.co.uk/ambulance_survey_2_12312
How do you rate Norman Lamb and his chances of re-election at the next general election?
At the Conservative party conference, prime minister David Cameron warned the MP, one of his own coalition ministers, that Tory footsoldiers will be fighting “very hard” to unseat him in the run up to the 2015 election.
Mr Cameron denied there would be any sort of deal between the two parties of government come 2015 and asked if he would be commanding his campaigners in Mr Lamb’s seat to take their “gloves off” he responded: “Of course.”
The prime minister said: “When the election comes we will be fighting for every vote and for every seat. We are two separate parties and, just as we compete in local government elections, when it comes to the general election we’ll be competing very hard.”
But Mr Clegg said of his former parliamentary private secretary, who is now a health minister:
“I think his record speaks for itself, really. Not only is Norman a very senior member of the government now in an absolutely crucial position.
“I was very keen to make sure Norman’s very considerable and widely recognised expertise in the NHS and passion, particularly for delivering decent social care for thousands and thousands of elderly fellow citizens, should be put to good use in the government at the time of the passage of legislation on the NHS.
“I was meeting lots of people in the NHS all of whom who remember working with Norman in opposition and I know are really pleased and relieved that Norman was sharing the driving seat, if that’s the right way to put it.
“He has got an unusual reputation in Westminster in the sense that everybody respects him from all political parties.
“When Norman gets up in the House of Commons everyone stops and listens because they know what Norman says it’s not said just for short term political effect but because he genuinely believes what he says.
“I think that quality, authenticity, real authority, real passion for what he believes in is incredibly important for the Liberal Democrats, but frankly, even more important than that, it’s a wonderful thing for the people of North Norfolk and it’s no wonder to me that he’s so popular locally because he’s a great guy, a close friend, but also an absolutely first rate politician.
“I’ve had a few insights into Norman’s commitment to the constituency. I think Norman is a particularly exceptional example of a politician who has focused on some of the big picture nationally, but never forgets where he comes from, never forgets who put him into Westminster in the first place and never forgets that week in, week out, his core job, which never changes, is serving the people of North Norfolk.
“I don’t think you could think of a better example of real public service than Norman’s commitment to his constituency.”
Do you think that the whole issue of tuition fees will particularly damage someone like Simon Wright, who is in a very university-orientated constituency?
Norwich South MP Simon Wright defeated Labour big hitter Charles Clarke by 310 votes in the 2010 general election.
But, with Labour targeting the seat, and Mr Wright’s constituency covering an area with high numbers of students, it could be a tricky time next time around, given the Liberal Democrat’s well publicised failure to keep their manifesto pledge to oppose tuition fees.
That led to Mr Clegg’s making a filmed apology, which was turned into a hit spoof song, and the Liberal Democrat leader said he hoped once the dust settled, people would see ‘the reality’, rather than the rhetoric.
Mr Clegg said he hoped, particularly, after he had been so upfront in apologising for what he described as a mistake, people would realise his party had got “the best possible deal” for students.
He said: “To be fair to Simon, he did vote against the changes, but I think it was a mistake for me, for us, to have said we would vote against them in any circumstances, when clearly we ended up in a coalition government.
“I lead a party of 8pc of MPs in Westminster and whether it had been a coalition with Labour or a coalition with the Conservatives, the result would have been the same because both larger parties were determined to see fees go up.
“I hope now I’ve clearly explained that was a mistake for which I’ve just apologised, people will concentrate a little bit more on what’s actually going to happen in the new system, rather than what is alleged to happen. “I hope that by the next general election, actually what people will find, much to their surprise, I suspect, is far from all the scaremongering put about by the Labour party and others, that youngsters are going to have to cough up thousands of pounds the moment they arrive at university, extraordinarily enough, students in Norwich who are on part-time courses, will for the first time not have to pay any upfront fees at all. “Thousands and thousands of part-time students, who in Norwich and elsewhere, have, under Labour’s fee system, had to pay up fees when they can least afford it when they are students. We are taking that away and we are saying no, no, no, like everyone else you don’t have to pay up front as a student.
“The repayment system is in many ways, much more generous than the kind-of poll tax flat fees paid by systems under the current system inherited from Labour.
“Under the old system you started having to pay back the moment you earned £15,000. Now you will be able to earn up to £21,000 before you have to start paying back and will, in effect, start paying back what is a very progressive graduate tax.
“You will pay back more if you are very wealthy, but if you’re not, for many students and graduates in the future, they will pay back less than you do under the current system.
“I just really hope people will be able to look at it much more calmly, a little more objectively and see the reality.
“If I was prime minister, if Norman and I had a Liberal Democrat majority, we would have implemented our policy but we couldn’t, and I hope students will see by 2015 will see that we got the very best possible deal we could for students under the circumstances.”
What would be the one thing you’d like to have seen done differently had you been prime minister?
“There’s a whole bunch things. If I’d been Prime Minister we probably would have moved quicker and faster in giving million of people on lower and middle incomes bigger tax breaks. My flagship policy has always been that we should make taxes fairer by raising the point at which you start paying income tax so that you pay no income tax on the first £20,000 you earn.
“We’ll get there, during this Parliament, I’m determined of that, but we would have got there quicker if there had been a Liberal Democrat government.
“Clearly my party and I believes in boosting the green economy, which is very important for this part of the world. Getting money into, and getting investment and more jobs into the renewable sector, which is not something which is universally believed in by the Cons. I think we’d have got more money and more jobs in the green economy if we’d been on our own. “If you look at our commitment on schooling, we are delivering a pupil premium during the course of this parliament, which is a huge change in how the system schools works.
“But at the same time we have stopped the Conservatives from doing some things that we know some Conservatives wnat.
“There was talk of introducing profits in state schools, which is not something we found acceptable as Liberal Democrats.
“Of course there’s some things we’ve stopped and other things we’d do as Liberal Democrats. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud in coalition of the fact we are delivering a £10,000 income tax threshold, we’re delivering more apprenticeships than have ever been delivered by any government in the last 20 years, that we’ve delivered the largest cash increase in the state pension ever, in cash terms, because of a triple lock guarantee to pensions which was a Liberal Democrat policy. So those are things I’m very proud of.”
And what about the mansion tax, which George Osborne appeared to dismiss at the Tory conference this week?
The latest example, following the blocking of the Liberal Democrat’s cherished reform plans for the House of Lords, of one of their initiatives being apparently scuppered was chancellor George Osborne’s dismissal of the so-called ‘mansion tax’.
Mr Clegg wants to see a levy on properties valued at more than £2m, but it received short shrift from the chancellor.
Mr Osborne said: “We are not going to have a mansion tax or a new tax that is a percentage value of people’s properties.
“We don’t think people who have worked hard, saved up to buy a home, should be clobbered with a mansion tax.”
However, Mr Clegg remained bullish about his proposal and said he was confident that after “thrashing out” the issue a compromise could be reached.
He said: “The Conservatives, for reasons which only they will need to answer for, seem to think it’s okay for a foreign oligarch to live in a £4m mansion and pay the same council tax as a family in a four bedroom family home.
“Search me, for some reason they think that’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair and if I was the prime minister I would change that.
“I’d ask the foreign oligarch to pay a bit more, because I think, to coin a phrase, we are all in this together.
“Obviously there are slightly different priorities on tax between ourselves and the Conservatives.
“I believe, not in going after the rich, I believe actually in people celebrating their success, but in asking everybody to pay a fair share and in asking those with the broadest shoulders with the most amount of wealth to make a contribution.
“I’ve got a very simple attitude towards this. We are all having to tighten our belts as a country and that’s going to go on longer than we hoped and I think we should start from the top and work down and not start from the bottom and work up.
“Clearly there’s a difference there, but that’s the nature of coalition. Myself. David Cameron, George Osborne and others will thrash out those differences over the next few months and come to what I am sure will be a sensible compromise.”
You made some comments recently about the role of the press and our chief executive, Adrian Jeakings, who is president of the Newspaper Society, took umbrage with that.
The chief executive of the EDP’s publishing company and president of the Newspaper Society recently wrote to Mr Clegg, after remarks the deputy prime minister made at his party’s Brighton conference.
At the conference, Mr Clegg questioned the future viability of newspapers and said falling circulation figures had led to the industry acting like “desperate animals around a disappearing waterhole”.
But Mr Clegg yesterday said those remarks were aimed at the national press and praised the work of newspapers such as the EDP.
He said: “You do a phenomenal job. The trust that people have in their local newspapers and the local radio stations, for instance, is considerably higher than the trust they have in national newspapers and dare I say it, national politicians, as well.
“Why? Well, for very good reason, because you are writing day in, day out, about the things which really affect people - their local community.
“Jobs in their local community, ambulance services in the local community, support for local pubs, local post offices.
“These are actually the things which, quite rightly, people often care about more than some of the big national and international debates we might have in Westminster.
“The point I was making was simply that speak to any newspaper proprietor and they will tell you there’s just a general dilemma that the newspaper industry faces which is that as more people get their news online, there’s a whole issue as to how do newspapers keep their readership.
“I think every national newspaper is on a downward trend in terms of readership, so what I was alluding to was the danger that some national newspapers, as they become ever more anxious to holding onto a diminishing pool of readers, sometimes might be tempted to lash out a bit, to try to create a bit of noise and drama in order to attract some attention to themselves.”