Clegg: Bite The Ballot Review

On Tuesday evening, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, appeared on Leaders Live – a programme supported by the youth organisation Bite the Ballot; that hopes to raise awareness of politics and political issues amongst young people. Clegg answered questions from a studio audience and from people on Twitter. Below are the main points that were raised.

Introduction : Clegg urged the audience to get involved in politics and to stand up against the ‘politics of fear’ currently dominating British politics (A reference to UKIP? We couldn’t possibly say) He then went on to reference his proudest achievements in government ; the pupil premium and free school meals.

Jobs – Clegg emphasized the need of a strong economy to provide jobs and referenced the drop in youth unemployment and increase in apprenticeships to emphasize how the government has increased opportunities for young people. He went on to say that if involved in the next government he would take more low paid workers out of income tax and make it easier for people to move up the career ladder.

Zero Hours Contracts – Said that exclusive zero hours contracts were ‘deeply exploitative’ and should be outlawed. Also said apprenticeship minimum wage (£2.73) should be abolished and that apprenticeships should be put on the age related minimum wage (£3.71)

Unpaid Internships – Said internships should be about ‘what you know and not who you know’ and should be completely meritocratic. He went on to say that companies that offer work masked as an internship should be clamped down on. In government he has quadrupled the penalties companies can receive for such an offence and increased the number of inspections they have to undergo. He also noted that it is now much easier for the public to report abuses.

Unequal Pay and Gender Discrimination – He noted that the gender pay gap has almost been eliminated for under 40s. For over 40s where gap is still wide, he suggested that all companies should have to publish what their pay back is, thus increasing scrutiny. He also spoke of the increase of women on the boards of FTSE100 companies.

Living Wage – He paid tribute to those who have implemented a living wage, including Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and several councils. However, he stopped short of saying it should be implemented as legislation due to the findings of the low pay commission, an independent body which sets the minimum wage based on maximum job creation. He said disregarding this would be foolish.

(58% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Education – Emphasized the need to help children early – ‘before they’ve hung up their coat on the first day of school’. Referenced policies that help children from disadvantaged backgrounds from the age of 2 and universal childcare and pre-school support for 3-4 year olds. Spoke of the pupil premium that has pumped £2.5bn into schools for disadvantaged children. He added that vocational courses should not be seen as less worthwhile than academic courses – calling the current perception as ‘snobbery’.

Tuition Fees – Explained the reason for his well publicized u-turn, saying that scrapping fees would have been impossible due to economic restraints and a Labour-Conservative consensus against it. He went on to say that he’s ‘learnt his lesson’ and will not make a promise he can’t keep again. He went on to say how the rise actually makes the majority of graduates better off as nothing is paid until they are earning £21,000, up from £15,000 and that no up-front payment is required. Stated that more people from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds are attending university than ever before. When asked about the Scottish paying no tuition fees he said that the system was ‘unsustainable’.

Political Studies in UK – He said that citizenship and sex education should be taught in all schools, including free schools and academies. He also said that he was trying to secure money to publicize the new electoral registration system.

Age of Compulsory Education – Said that he supports the rise from 16 to 18. Went on to say that a 2/3 reduction in bus fares for all 16-21 year olds would be included on the front page on the 2015 general election manifesto.

Gender Equality in School – He said that the best way of promoting this is to have successful women in schools that the girls want to emulate.

(45% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Health – He said that we should ‘cherish, defend, promote and protect’ the NHS.

Mental Health – He said we should end the ‘dickensian’ treatment of mental health in the UK and that it should be put on an equal footing with physical health. NHS constitution has been changed to reflect this and £120 million has been put in to improving waiting times for mental health patients. He added that funding for mental health clinics is now on a par with physical health clinics. He then spoke of the mental health taskforce that he founded and currently chairs. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is the vice-chair. A report is currently due on how to get treatment for children with mental health issues more quickly.

Governance – He said that getting involved locally is the best way. From this people can get involved nationwide. Noted the current trend of decentralisation of power.

NHS Privatisation – Noted that it was actually Labour who introduced private companies into the NHS and that privatisation has slowed under the current government. He said that he has outlawed the practice of giving sweetners to the private sector and that £1 billion extra should be put into the NHS pot, paid for by taxing the rich on their dividends, shares and assets at the same rate as their income. He finished by saying that ‘people should come before profit’.

(60% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Immigration – He said that Britain needs to ‘fair but firm’. He noted the contribution of immigrants to Britain, 1 in 7 companies in Britain set up by foreigners, and that without immigration the NHS would disintegrate. He added the immigrants should be counted in and out as one of the biggest problems regarding immigration is people staying in the UK on expired visas. Illegal immigration needs to be clamped down on and exploitative companies paying migrants less than minimum wage should be reprimanded.

EU – He said the EU is very beneficial as issues such as climate change and cross-boarder crime must be done collectively.He also added that 3 million jobs directly depend on EU membership. He said leaving the EU would be ‘economically self-defeating’.

Benefits – Said that freedom of movement is not the same as freedom to claim and that immigrants should not be entitled to take benefits that they haven’t paid into. He said that the issue was not about race but principle.

Integration – Agreed that immigrants should learn English and that there is greater focus on this at job centres than under the last government.

(61% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Do you agree with Nick? Comment you thoughts below. For more info on the work of Worcester Liberal Democrats follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs.

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