Following The Student Room's live Q&A with Labour leader Ed Miliband
, we caught up with Liberal Democrats leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to ask him a selection of questions from the TSR community
. Here's what he had to say.
With head teachers having no confidence in Michael Gove (along with most of those within education), what are your opinions on educational reform?
(question asked by Mattheatre)
We have some of the best teaching staff in the world but everything isn’t perfect – we have slipped down the league tables; international job markets are more competitive; and too many young people are leaving school without the basic skills. The government’s responsibility isn’t just to teachers and head teachers, it also has a responsibility to parents and pupils. We must help every child fulfil their potential and parents must have confidence in the system. I do not think it is acceptable that schools can be judged as performing adequately (as they were when we came into government), when half of their children leave primary school without basic skills.
Schools and teachers need more freedom to design lessons to suit individual children. But the idea you can look after those at the top and forget the rest is an argument for a bygone era. That is why I resisted any return to an O-level style two-tier system, when it was proposed by the Conservatives.
I’m also extremely proud that we are investing £2.5bn a year in our schools through the Liberal Democrats’ Pupil Premium, to give extra cash to schools to spend on helping disadvantaged children with breakfast clubs, extra tuition, new technology and smaller class sizes. This helps all pupils move forward together, faster. And we are also investing in nursery and early years to make sure that children are ready for school. Too often a child’s life is determined even before they put they put their coat on the peg on their first day of school. Like any parent, I’m unashamed of my ambitions for every child to do well at school and have an equal chance to fulfil their potential.
During your time in government, your party has lost the trust of one of its core voter groups (students). Do you regret entering into the coalition and how do you intend to win back the trust and the votes?
(question asked by Stiff Little Fingers)
I certainly don’t regret entering the coalition – you cannot implement the policies you want to from opposition. And I am proud of the policies that the Liberal Democrats have introduced in government. But coalition also means compromise and it means that the Liberal Democrats could not deliver all the policies we would want to, as was the case with tuition fees.
I try to be very open about the reasons why we could not deliver our manifesto in full but we didn’t win the election. I lead a party of 8% of MPs in Parliament. I couldn’t insist our policy was delivered either in coalition with Labour or the Conservatives, because both Labour and the Conservatives were absolutely determined to see fees increase. It was Labour, remember, who introduced fees in the first place and commissioned the Browne Review, which actually advocated no upper limit at all, never mind £9,000.
So within those constraints, Vince Cable and others set about making the system as fair as possible. It’s encouraging that more disadvantaged youngsters are going to university now under the new system than ever before.
We’ll see how the system pans out but I have openly apologised about the fact that we shouldn’t have made a commitment that we couldn’t deliver in coalition government; I’ve been open for the reasons about it; and I’ve tried to explain how the new system works. For example, for the first time ever, part-time students don’t pay up-front, as they did under the old system. And people don’t have to start paying back until they earn £21,000 under our system – compared to £15,000 under the last system.
What do you think your party’s current time in government will be remembered for?
(question asked by ipoop)
The Liberal Democrats are in government to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. That is what our policies in the coalition government are doing and I’m proud that at the next election, we will be able to campaign for the first time both on our traditional strong record of delivering locally with our record in national government too.
Because of our tax changes, more than 20 million ordinary working people have had their income tax bill cut by £700 and 2.7 million of the lowest paid no longer pay any income tax at all. We’ve helped businesses create over one million new jobs and a record 1.2 million apprenticeships. I want us to create a million more by the time of the election.
We’ve also made helping families with better quality and more affordable childcare a priority – providing 15 hours a week of free childcare for all three and four years olds and for two year olds from more disadvantaged backgrounds. By 2015, all working families will get up to £1,200 a year for every child to help with childcare costs.
And, of course, we’ve done that at the same time as we’ve had to carry out an enormous rescue job on the British economy after the crisis of 2008.
How difficult has it been to deal with coalition policies that do not completely match the core beliefs of your party? Would you do things differently if you weren't in a coalition?
(question asked by paradoxicalme)
Of course we would do things differently if we were elected to run the country as a Liberal Democrat government. For example, we would introduce a mansion tax on very large houses of 1% on the value above £2 million, but the Conservatives won’t agree to that. But the reality is that we didn’t win enough votes, and neither did the Conservative Party, to govern on our own. On both sides of the coalition, we have had to make compromises. Coalition government can be difficult at times but I’m very proud of what we’re achieving – including a £700 income tax cut for ordinary people, helping create a million new jobs and 1.2 million new apprentices.
Do you support votes for 16-year-olds?
(question asked by Mattheatre)
Yes - 16 year olds have to obey the law of the land and pay taxes so should have their say on who is elected to run the country. I was pleased to see that the House of Commons voted in support of it in a recent backbench debate. However, this idea does not have the support of the Conservative Party and is not in the coalition agreement, so it is not government policy.
What is your position on the communications bill, aka the snooper's charter?
(question asked by Tabris)
I don’t believe that this idea of a so-called snooper’s charter is workable or proportionate which is what I’ve made clear in government. It’s not going to happen. In other words, the idea that the government will pass a law which means there would be a record kept of every website you visit, of who you communicate with on social media sites, is not going to happen. It’s certainly not going to happen with Liberal Democrats in government.
We have a commitment in the coalition agreement to end the storage of email and internet information unless there is a very good reason to do so. But there are some technical issues to sort out – for example, we’ve all got more and more mobile devices but there aren’t enough IP addresses to go round – so that’s something we will work with the police and others to find a solution to. But the communications data bill went much further than that.
I don’t think it commanded the support of the British people. I don’t think it’s in many ways necessarily workable for various technical reasons and I don’t think it’s necessarily proportionate. We’ve got to get the balance right between giving the police the tools they need to do the job, but getting the balance right between liberty and security.
Do you think there should be more integration between member states within the EU? And should the UK play a stronger role in the EU?
(question asked by Dhaal_Chawal)
There is a serious debate to be had on Europe and we have some tough decisions to take. A different Europe is emerging and we need to decide where the UK fits in.
I strongly believe that leaving the UK isolated and marginalised would be extremely dangerous. The UK economy is stronger as part of the EU. Three million jobs and thousands of British businesses depend on Europe. A strong UK, influential in Europe is more influential in the world. We are already setting up free trade agreements with the USA, Japan, India, South Korea, Canada and Singapore – creating millions of jobs and helping our businesses sell abroad.
I think that we do need to refocus the EU so that it does more when it adds value and less where it doesn’t. I’m very proud of the coalition government’s track record in working with our European partners and I believe the UK should continue to lead securing agreements like reducing red tape for small businesses. Some politicians seem to think we should somehow refuse to deal constructively with other European countries but then complain when they do things we don’t like. We need to be strong, loud and present in Europe – getting the best deal for the UK – not halfway out of the door.
The first time I will be able to vote will be in the 2015 general election. Why should I as a student vote for you and not UKIP/ Conservatives/ Labour?
(question asked by the mezzil)
Because we are the only party that can be trusted to rebuild the economy and tackle the deficit, but do it in a fair way. I strongly believe that the Liberal Democrats are the party in the centre-ground of British politics, building a stronger economy and a fairer society.
As well as the policies I’ve mentioned earlier, we’re helping employers grow and take on more staff. More than one million new jobs have been created since 2010. We’re investing in innovation, science, manufacturing, renewable energy and supporting new and expanding businesses. And by the time you graduate, we will have given employers a £2,000 tax-break for every employee, specifically designed to help them recruit more people like you.
I’m proud that from next year same-sex couples can get married, that we ended child detention and protected people’s privacy. And I’m proud that we’re ensuring the UK meets its commitment on International Aid, educating millions of children worldwide, immunising against disease and supporting 50 million people to work their way out of poverty. None of this would have happened without Liberal Democrats in government
And it may all seem quite distant to you right now, but we want to help as you look to your future. We’re making it easier for you to buy your first home. When you start a family we want to help you pay for childcare, and when you retire we’re tackling the major pensions crisis that would have left you broke in old age, replacing it with a system that guarantees you security in later life.
As for the other parties – UKIP want policies that would be catastrophic for our economy, without us the Conservatives would have allowed people to be fired at will and let schools be run for profit, and Labour still don’t admit they got it wrong on the economy.
I firmly believe that in 2015 a lot of people will look at what my party has achieved and see that we are the only party that is on the centre ground of British politics.