Exclusive: Nick Clegg on Nick Clegg
The Liberal Democrat leader’s revealing answers to questions put by politics.co.uk show him as a schoolboy activist and underline his European grounding.
Name: Nicholas William Peter Clegg
Party: Liberal Democrats
Constituency: Sheffield Hallam
What was your first political experience?
I led a mutiny over something at school, but I can’t remember what. The Falklands War and the Miners’ strike made a big impression on me, and the Cold War had a real impact too. I remember being scared witless as an 11 year old by a fire-and-brimstone history teacher who told us we would all be dead by Christmas because the Soviet Union urgently needed access to warm water ports for some reason, and the Red Army was going to sweep through Europe. I was so alarmed I insisted on extra classes so we could work out what to do.
Why did you join your party?
Because of Paddy Ashdown. I heard him say that Labour was in the pockets of the Unions, the Conservatives were in the pockets of the wealthy, and Britain needed a party in the pockets of no one. I liked the sound of that. Others in my generation went down the path Thatcher set out for them, driven by the dog-eat-dog materialism that characterised the time. I was, and still am, on the other side of that argument. Labour’s inept statism didn’t offer much of an alternative. I was impressed by the Lib Dems’ commitment to opportunity for all, and I was very much drawn to Paddy’s internationalism. It made a lot of sense in the world I grew up in, where new challenges, like in the economy and the environment, were increasingly calling into question the capacity of nation states to protect their citizens alone.
What did you do before becoming a PPC?
A bit of journalism, and then I worked in Europe for ten years. First I administered aid projects for some of the poorest countries in Asia, before negotiating trade deals with China and Russia on behalf on the EU, and, finally, I represented the East Midlands in the European Parliament.
What are your biggest interests outside politics?
I’ve always been a big reader, fiction mainly. But now when I’m not working all I want to do is spend time with my three boys and my wife. I don’t mind what we do, as long as we spend time outside. We go walking a lot. I’m especially fond of taking them up to the rocks at Stannage Edge, which is in the Peak District. They absolutely love it, and so do I.
What’s your favourite political song?
‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd.
What’s your favourite political movie?
What makes you suited to representing your constituency?
My values, and the fact that I care deeply about Sheffield and the people who live there. I’m not going to sit back and do nothing while there are people across my city who are now really struggling because of Labour’s recession, watching the services they rely on come under threat. And there are still deep social divides within the constituency – it’s a scandal that a child born today in a poorer area will die, on average, 14 years before a child born in a wealthier neighbourhood down the road. It has to change, and I’m going to fight to make that happen.
Why do you think you would be a good MP?
I work hard, and, whatever I do, I do it because I believe it’s right. It’s not always easy to balance being the leader of a party and a good constituency MP, but I make sure I’m available to my constituents. And when I’m helping them with their problems I’m like a dog with a bone – I don’t let things lie.
What are your main policy interests?
Does fairness count as a policy interest? It was seeing unfairness across our society that got me into politics and now I’m here this is what motivates me. Tax plays a big part in that. I find it staggering that the poorest people in society still lose a bigger chunk of their income to the tax man than the richest. If we rebalance the tax system, closing the loopholes at the top to cut income tax for everyone else, we can take a huge step in easing the financial burden that prevents people from changing their circumstances. Education is crucial too. Too often children from disadvantaged backgrounds still trail behind their wealthier classmates, and once they have fallen behind it can be extremely difficult to catch up. It’s only by opening up opportunities to all of our children that we can stop a person’s life fortunes from being determined by where they were born or how much their parents earn.
If you had the chance to pass one law, what would it be?
I’d stop anyone on a low and middle income paying any tax on the first 10,000 they earn. 3.6 million of the poorest people would be freed from paying any income tax at all, and the vast majority of taxpayers would get £700 back. I’d pay for it by closing the loopholes that benefit the very wealthy, taxing aviation fairly, and introducing a mansion tax on properties worth over £2m.
Who is your favourite political figure and why?
Vaclav Havel. His leadership of the Charter 77 manifesto group and then the Velvet Revolution was an inspiration to people of my generation. I admired his courage. He showed that men of principle and character truly can change the world. Despite spending years in prison and being constantly harassed after his release, he didn’t falter in his determination to change his country’s government, and to uphold his commitment to non-violent resistance. I had the huge good fortune to meet him in Prague while I was working on the Czech Republic’s application to join the EU. He didn’t disappoint.
Summarise your beliefs in one sentence
If you want things to be different, you have to do things differently.