Saturday, 20 June 2009

Nick Clegg in Norwich

Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg at a Q & A session at Hellesdon High School

by DAVID BALE 19 June 2009

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's question and answer session in the city went off without incident last night - in marked contrast to Tory leader David Cameron's similar meeting in Norwich just 72 hours before.

Mr Cameron's speech at the Hewett School in Cecil Road on Monday was overshadowed by the reaction he received when he adopted a German accent to slam Labour's plans to introduce ID cards. Mr Cameron's German-accented question 'Where are your papers?' elicited a strong response from a member of the audience, who questioned its wisdom, although Mr Cameron insisted it was “light-hearted”.

Mr Clegg was careful to avoid any such blunders last night as he outlined to about 90 people at Hellesdon High School how his party differed from the Conservatives ahead of a by-election in Norwich North, following the resignation of Labour MP Ian Gibson.

Mr Clegg spoke for about 90 minutes and took about 30 questions from the audience ranging from withdrawal from the European Union to how to prevent another financial crisis.

The biggest cheer came when Mr Clegg responded to a question from a man who called for the nationalisation of the city's rail and bus service. Mr Clegg said that “50pc of train journeys” he had travelled on from Norwich to London had been delayed, while Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, who chaired the meeting, suggested he had been lucky. Mr Clegg called for both services to be brought back into public control, but warned of the costs of renegotiating the contracts to do it. He also talked about introducing a fairer tax system whereby poorer people would be better-off and called for richer taxpayers to be denied the legal loopholes they currently employ to pay less tax.

Asked how he would involve young people in politics, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, who was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in December 2007, called for the outdated way politics was conducted in Westminster to be changed. He said: “It's a Punch and Judy system at the moment. MPs don't talk to each other using their real names, and young people are just not interested in party politics.
But it's a myth that young people are not interested in politics. If you continually consider all young people to be bad, then they will act badly.
He also called for the House of Lords to be elected, and said Britain needed to be part of the European Union to tackle international crime and climate change.
He was also involved in an exchange with a woman with disabilities about how social care in Norfolk had been privatised giving users less control.

Labour city councillor Sue Sands, who had also attended the David Cameron meeting, said Mr Clegg had come across as more “personable” and less “glitzy” than the Tory leader.

Before Mr Clegg took questions from the audience, Evening News reporter David Bale spoke to him about his Norfolk connections and his desire to one day spend his summer holidays on the Norfolk Broads. See the full interview below:

Question: What connections do you have to Norfolk and would you like to follow in Gordon Brown's footsteps and holiday here?
Answer: I have visited Norwich and Norfolk a lot and some of my ancestors lived here. I would love to visit the Norfolk Broads for my summer holidays, but as my wife is Spanish, I always have to spend it with the in-laws in Spain.

Question: The Lib Dems are the main pro-European party in Westminster. Why is that? 
Answer: Of course everything is not right about the European Union, but we need to be part of it to fight international crime and climate change. To be safer and greener we need to be in it. It's no longer possible to believe we still live in the 19th century and that we can go it alone. We need to be at the centre of Europe fighting our case rather than wingeing from the outside.

Question: With Labour and the Tories coming under fire through the expenses scandal, is he disappointed his party has not been able to capitalise on it more in the polls?
Answer: I don't think anyone in politics has come out of it smelling of roses. But there are lots of MPs who work really hard, and the Lib Dems want to see the rotten system replaced. We also want to see a fairer tax system and the House of Lords elected. It's amazing that in the 21st century decisions are still made for the ordinary man in the street by an unelected assembly. No other country stands for it, and we should not either.

Question: If voting Lib Dem is a wasted vote, why should I do it?
Answer: There are safe seats for Labour and the Tories but I'm an MP for Sheffield, and the only one in the area, which shows we can win, and who would have thought North Norfolk would be Lib Dem, but it is, under Norman Lamb. So if you want to see change, vote for change and the Lib Dems.

Question: What's the difference between the Tories and Labour and the Lib Dems on the economy?
Answer: Would David Cameron have reined in the wealthy bankers in the City of London? No, but we would have.

Question: What is his view on the de-selection of Ian Gibson?
Answer: Ian Gibson was a great local MP, and I think he was badly treated by the Labour party. It's clear that it was a bit of a kangaroo court, and he was sacked because he was an independent mind. I think Labour sacrificed Ian Gibson for the coming by-election, and the question now is '
What comes next?

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