• Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP who chairs the public administration committee, has told MPs that giving select committee members iPads has saved £1m a year.
It really should be put on the record that our iPads mean our staff no longer spend hours photocopying, collating and sending out through the post vast quantities of paper. All the evidence is now electronic and apart from a very few colleagues, who understandably have found it difficult to adapt to new technology, controversially giving select committee members iPads has probably cumulatively saved £1m a year, which is what we can devote to scrutiny instead of to photocopying. It saves an enormous amount of staff time, freeing them up to do more interesting and rewarding work. Given the high quality of staff that we have serving select committees it is absurd so much of their time was spent on this very unproductive work.
In a debate on the Commons accounts, he also said the committee members had been given training to help them question witnesses properly.
I do commend the training of MPs in the art of cross-examination. We all think we’re frightfully good you know until we’re confronted by somebody who points out our tics and habits. Would you believe it, it was pointed out to our committee that we all liked talking rather a lot and asking questions that made our points rather than seeking information from our witnesses. And I hope we have improved as a result from the training and we’re going to have another away day with training later this month and I really do commend this to other select committee chairs.
• Doreen Lawrence has given her maiden speech in the House of Lords. Here’s an extract.
Experience had taught me that power is often resistant to claims of justice and basic human dignity. Those who demand these rights must be prepared to fight every single day for them as they will come up against [an] establishment more interested in maintaining the status quo than in helping to foster a society where everyone has an equal claim to justice, no matter who they are or what they look like.
• Equipping benefit claimants with the digital and financial skills to use the government’s new universal credit welfare system is likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds, unpublished research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has found.
That’s all from me for today.
Thanks for the comments.
Here’s a short afternoon reading list.
The Conservatives should consider also the possibility that what Miliband says expresses something more substantial than a retreat to the pre-Blair era of Labour politics. Milibandism is not a complete doctrine but it is much more than nostalgia for the kind of high-taxing, spendthrift social democracy that its opponents want it to be. It does not seek to reverse the accommodations that New Labour made with Thatcherism. The times pose a different challenge. Blair was confronting a mismatch between a party that didn’t like the way the economy worked and a public that largely did. Miliband is reaching out to a public that doesn’t like the way the economy works but doubts the capacity of any party to fix it.
If it pays off, the reward is a mandate to reshape British politics on terms chosen by the left in a way more profound than Blair and Brown did. It would refute the idea – the New Labour neurosis – that Britain is innately conservative and that egalitarianism must be smuggled past the electorate.
No one claims that Miliband hides his agenda. No one should have been surprised that he called himself a socialist one afternoon in Brighton. He has said it all along. Days after winning the Labour leadership, he told the BBC of his plan: “It is my form of socialism which is a more fair, more just, more equal society. And that is the path that I will want to take our party on.”
He has been true to his word. He has taken Labour on the journey that he outlined three years ago and brought it within sight of power. Ed Miliband’s toughest challenge now is to turn his ideas into a campaign that persuades enough of the country to abandon its present course and follow him further down that same path.
For one, independence, once the preserve of the eccentric and a lunatic fringe, has become the mainstream. Whatever the qualifications and shortcomings some have with the SNP version of independence, as an idea it has become normalised. All sorts of Westminster politicians of every persuasion have to pay lip service to it being possible and feasible that Scotland as an independent nation would be viable. It doesn’t matter that this might be a tactical accommodation on the part of some; by constantly saying it the reality on the ground and popular perceptions change.
Another is the way that the British state and government is seen in Scotland. Think of the phrase ‘the British state’. In the past even mentioning it marked you as a dangerous left-wing nationalist imbued with the writings of Tom Nairn, Neal Ascherson and others. Now it has entered wider popular usage and behind this lies a shift in how it is understood. The British state has come to be seen increasingly as a problem for Scotland: in how it governs for a small elite and an unrepresentative corner of the UK in a way which harms Scotland’s national interests (along with a majority of the people of the UK).
And here is some more Twitter comment on the row.
And Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury, has said that anyone who wants to get rid of renewable energy measures and energy saving initiatives for the poor (which explain the need for green levies on household energy bills) is “full of crap”.
Here’s Natalie Bennett, the Green party leader, on the Cameron “green crap” controversy.
It’s very sad that we have a prime minister who doesn’t want to insulate the homes of poor pensioners and give them efficient boilers, and help those who can’t afford to pay bills driven upwards primarily by our costly gas.
Unfortunately that also reflects the quality of our energy policy. It’s been left to charities and campaigners to offer alternatives, such as the Energy Bill Revolution – which would take the money from carbon taxes and use it to super-insulate our homes, cutting bills, creating jobs and cutting carbon emissions.
Earlier I said Tim Yeo was chair of the Commons environment committee. That’s a mistake. He’s chair of the energy committee.
The monthly data on the public finances since the Budget suggest that the headline deficit is also set to be better than the OBR’s Budget forecast. Central government receipts would need to grow by 2.8% in 2013–14 for the OBR’s forecast to be correct. The data from the first seven months of this financial year suggest that they have in fact grown by 4.6% compared to the same period last year. Receipts from National Insurance contributions, self-assessment income tax, and stamp duty land tax have grown particularly strongly over the last seven months compared to the OBR’s forecast for the year as a whole and easily outweighs a more than £2 billion shortfall in receipts from the Swiss capital tax arrangement.
Should central government receipts continue to grow at this rate for the remaining five months of this financial year (which of course they might not), and if the OBR’s forecasts for public spending and for other receipts were to prove accurate (which again they might not), then the deficit this year would be £7 billion lower than the Budget forecast. An error of this magnitude would be impressively small – at least compared to the historical record of the Treasury who, on average, made an absolute error in projecting borrowing one year out of around 1% of national income or £16 billion in today’s terms.
Of course even if the deficit forecast for this year is revised down by £7 billion, it would still be £113 billion, which – at 6.9% of national income – would be larger than any UK deficit seen between the end of the Second World War and 2008–09. Furthermore, a deficit of £113 billion in 2013–14, while lower than projected in the March Budget, would still be substantially higher than the £60 billion that Mr Osborne projected for this year at the time of his first Budget in June 2010.
• Downing Street has played down – but refused to deny outright – reports saying that David Cameron has told colleagues he wants to “get rid of all this green crap”. A spokesman said Number 10 did not recognise the phrase and, taking part in a photocall, Cameron insisted that he was still committed to the environmental agenda. Nick Clegg told LBC that the phrase was not “a fair reflection of [Cameron’s] views”.
• Labour has accused the Tories and the Lib Dems of trying to “smear” the party over its association with Paul Flowers, the disgraced former Co-op Bank chairman. Ed Miliband said that Labour had behaved entirely properly.
What this episode says is more about the character of the prime minister than the character of Labour’s relationship with the Co-op. We have a prime minister, who when he says a serious situation at a bank tries to make cheap political points rather than sorting out that serious situation, and frankly David Cameron is determined to smear his way to the next 18 months. That’s wrong, and that’s not what the British people expect from the prime minister.
“As soon as I knew about Reverend Flowers’ activities, he was suspended from the Labour party, and now what needs to happen is there does need to be a look at the regulatory issues around the regulation of the Co-op and around Reverend Flowers’ role in that. But I think what the British people have a right to expect from the prime minister is not just to engage in smear, unjustified smears, but actually to concentrate on helping the borrowers, the savers, the investors, in this important institution.
And Ed Balls said that for Nick Clegg to suggest that Flowers had donated £50,000 to Balls was a lie.
To allege and smear that I have received £50,000 from Paul Flowers, it’s a lie, and I hope [Clegg] will withdraw that …
Nick Clegg and George Osborne and David Cameron say I’ve got the questions to answer. They’re the government, they’ve been there for three years, they have advocated Paul Flowers buying 600 Lloyds branches. Were they asleep? Did they not know what was going on? They’re the regulators, they’re in charge and they’ve not been doing their job.
Balls also said that he had had never had a meeting with Flowers.
You would believe from looking at David Cameron and the Daily Mail that I met him regularly. I’ve never ever had a meeting with him ever, or an email or a phone call.
Mark Hoban, the Treasury minister, has had 30 meetings with him. I’ve never had a meeting with him. I’ve been at a dinner he was at, I was at a reception he was at, he was the chair of a bank, but the idea that Ed [Miliband] or I knew what was going on – we weren’t the regulator, we weren’t the chancellor, we weren’t in charge and where were these guys? Why was George Osborne asleep on his watch?
• Nick Clegg has hinted at the need for a wider inquiry into the “unimaginable” power of spying technology as US whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks are chipping away at public support for the intelligence agencies.
• George Osborne has received a boost as he puts the finishing touches to his autumn statement, as official figures showed stronger tax receipts from the gathering pace of the economic recovery are helping to boost the public finances.
• Ed Balls has said that Labour would launch the biggest programme of new town construction in decades. He made the commitment in a speech.
If we are to meet that target of at least 200,000 new homes a year by the end of the next parliament, while protecting communities, preserving valuable green belt land, avoiding haphazard urban sprawl and encouraging quality housing in sustainable communities , then every community will need to play its part and plan for the next generation.
But we are also clear that we cannot deliver this ambition unless we build new towns.
Our priority will be to create ways in which a local authority or groups of authorities are incentivised to come forward to identify locations capable of sustaining large scale sites for New Towns and Garden Cities.
With the Lyons Commission we will examine whether and how to give new town development corporations the right to:
- keep increased revenue from business rates as a revenue stream to finance investment – and to use the increased value of land to generate further capital for investment;
- acquire and assemble land;
- and plan and develop the infrastructure needed, bringing together the agencies and utilities who will need to participate in that process to deliver it.
We should draw on the lessons from the past of how the New Towns were developed after the Second World War by Development Corporations, which had the powers to acquire, own, manage and dispose of land and property; undertake building operation; provide public utilities; and do anything else necessary to develop the New Town.
• Carwyn Jones, the first minister of Wales, has warned that the Welsh government would probably try to block plans by Alex Salmond for a new sterling currency union if Scotland voted for independence.
• Labour council leaders have visited Number 10 to lobby in favour of HS2.
• Kris Hopkins, the housing minister, has welcomed figures showing that the last three months have seen fastest rate of housebuilding since the crash in 2008. But Emma Reynolds, his Labour shadow said the number of affordable homes built in England was 26% lower in 2012-13 (42,830) than in 2011-12 (58,100). She said:
David Cameron is presiding over the lowest levels of house building in peacetime since the 1920s. Home ownership remains out of reach of low and middle-income earners, rents ARE rising faster than wages and waiting lists GROW ever longer.
Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, has said that, in the light of the “green crap” controversy, the government should now firmly state its commitment to the low carbon agenda.
This has gone too far. The public debate around energy policy has gone from fever pitch to farce. Our members are already reporting problems securing investment, and this further undermines confidence. With a capacity crunch looming and firm action on climate change ever more urgent, these investments cannot wait.
We need a clear statement from the government – not one party or the other, not one department or the other – but from the government, on its commitment to delivering the low carbon energy infrastructure this country so desperately needs.
No10’s carefully worded response that they did not recognise the language is essentially irrelevant given Cameron’s repeated promises to “roll back” the green levies. I declared October 2011 as the date the hugged husky died, following a contemptuous anti-green speech by chancellor George Osborne at the Conservative party conference.
But according to the Sun, his alleged comments reported on Thursday ”signal David Cameron’s extraordinary transformation on the environment is complete”. If so, the prime minister who pledged days after taking office to lead the “greenest government ever” and who campaigned with the slogan “vote blue, go green” has committed an extraordinary betrayal of the British people.
As for the rest of the papers, here’s the PoliticsHome list of top 10 must reads, here’s the ConservativeHome round-up of today’s political stories and here’s the New Statesman’s list of top 10 comment articles.
We’ve already covered the Sun/Mail story about “green crap” extensively. Here are four other articles I found particularly interesting.
Nick Clegg’s plan to raise the personal tax allowance will help better off people more than the low paid, according to a new study.
The Liberal Democrats, who have persuaded the Conservatives to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000 a year from next April, have proposed a further rise to £10,500 in April 2015. Mr Clegg’s party will fight the election the following month on a pledge to increase the allowance to £12,500 a year during the next parliament.
The Lib Dems have contrasted their flagship plan to help “ordinary workers” with the Tories’ decision to cut in the top tax rate from 50p to 45p. But analysis by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank shows that under Mr Clegg’s plans, people in the seventh, eighth and ninth of the 10 deciles on the earnings ladder would see a bigger percentage rise in their income than those lower down the scale.
Mr Ingham wrote in an article: “What worries me is the impression given by the 40% who say they won’t [ever vote Conservative].
“At best it suggests closed minds, a certain bigotry. At worst it conveys an image of bovine stupidity.”
Ingham also said refusing to vote Tory was “economically and socially suicidal”.
He added: “If that is how the North wishes to be seen, so be it.
“But do not be surprised if others perceive it to be a region where a large minority is wilfully bent on its own destruction for want of a brain.”
There is an overwhelming likelihood that it is indeed statistically significant that only Labour MPs have been found guilty as a result of the expenses investigation. Labour members of the House of Commons need to face up to the uncomfortable truth. The outcome of the Telegraph investigation strongly suggests they are much more likely to lie, cheat and steal than members of other parties. Now that the expenses scandal has drawn to a close, they urgently need to ask themselves why that should be.
It is especially perplexing because the party in general strongly feels itself to be the embodiment of decency and morality. Indeed Labour has always insisted that the Conservatives are the party of venality, greed and selfishness. How baffling it is, then, that only Labour MPs have been sent to jail as a result of the Telegraph revelations.
Paradoxically, I believe that it is Labour’s belief in its own higher morality – what Bertrand Russell called the “superior virtue of the oppressed” – that has led to its downfall. Our two major political parties have emerged from rival philosophical traditions. Labour hails from the progressive school, which is fundamentally optimistic about human nature, but believes that our humanity is thwarted and twisted by social institutions. Conservatives are the opposite. They are pessimistic about human nature, and believe that life can only be conducted within the framework of existing institutions and the rule of law. They stress narrow objectives such as telling the truth, caring for one’s neighbour, and good manners. The Conservative tradition is extremely sceptical of ambitious schemes for social transformation.
By contrast, progressives view social conventions and restraints as the crucial impediment to human fulfilment. As far as Karl Marx was concerned, law, morality and religion were simply mechanisms for maintaining bourgeois dominance. Indeed Marx’s followers explicitly licensed falsehood and deceit as instruments of revolutionary change. As J A Schumpeter observed: “The first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie.” I suggest, therefore, that the readiness of Labour MPs to fabricate their expenses is symbolic of a wider philosophical disposition: a structural tolerance of lying and cheating as a justification for political action.
The Commons standards committee has cleared the Conservative MP Tim Yeo following allegations that he misused his position as chair of the Commons energy committee. This is the Press Association summary.
Tory MP Tim Yeo is set to take charge of the influential Commons Environment Committee again next week after being cleared of allegations that he abused his position.
Yeo stepped aside as chairman in June amid claims that he told undercover reporters he could lobby ministers on behalf of a company. He was also alleged to have coached an executive on what to say when giving evidence to his committee.
But the cross-party standards committee dismissed the claims today, saying he had broken no rules and the “only misrepresentation has been that of the journalists themselves”.
The standards committee report said that while it “deplored” stings, it would “not hesitate to act in such cases if wrongdoing had occurred”.
But the MPs criticised the tactics used by the Sunday Times in approaching Yeo.
“We note the severe damage which is done to public trust by journalism which rests on a basis of subterfuge, misrepresentation and selective quotation,” the report said.
“Media investigations can have a role to play in ensuring high standards of public conduct but we note that in this case Mr Yeo has broken no rules and the only misrepresentation has been that of the journalists themselves.”
Yeo, who is expected to resume chairmanship of the environment committee on Tuesday, said: “I welcome this report. After a full investigation, the parliamentary standards commissioner accepted, as I have always maintained, that I did not break the rules of the House.
“This investigation included a thorough examination of the full video-recording produced – after a six-week delay – to the commissioner by the Sunday Times.
“Based on what I actually said, rather than what I was reported by the newspaper to have said, the commissioner found and the committee confirms that I have not acted in breach of the code of conduct.”
This rhetorical wavering exacerbates one of the main problems with the Cameron premiership. Who is this man? What does he believe? It’s never been entirely clear whether he was committed to the green agenda all those years ago, or whether it was simply a branding exercise. And that means that – now – it’s not clear whether he’s had a change of heart, or whether he thought it was c**p all along, or whether he actually believes it all but is making concessions for electoral purposes. It’s fine for a politician to change his mind, but they have to be clear about where their mind is. Otherwise, what are voters to think?
What should worry the Conservative Party is the way in which Cameron’s ‘green crap’ comments represent a misreading of public opinion. Tom Newton Dunn writing in the Sun newspaper today asserts that: “There were once centre ground votes in green politics. Now they are seen as a costly extravagance.”
Fabian Society research shows that the evidence points in a different direction.Polling by the Fabian Society and WWF undertaken last year showed that a majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters support shifting to a low-carbon economy – as do more Conservative voters than not.
Crucially support among swing voters – the group that’s crucial to deciding the outcome of the next election – was even higher. The voters that the Conservatives need to win over to improve on their 2010 election showing are far more supportive of the transition to a low-carbon economy than David Cameron realises.
This plays out on the ground in a host of important election battles. Some of them don’t involve Conservatives so may not appear on Cameron’s radar – a foolish error.
An example is Hornsey and Wood Green where the Liberal Democrat incumbent Lynne Featherstone has an increasingly vulnerable majority. Voters in this seat care passionately about the environment – a host of green activist groups meet and campaign regularly in the seat. They will mind that their MP has voted against a 2030 decarbonisation target and is propping up a Conservative-led administration whose leader dismisses their key concerns as ‘green crap’.
And the Daily Express’s Patrick O’Flynn on Twitter has a good point on Twitter.
Cameron and ‘green crap’ – what should we believe?
1. Generally, although not everything that appears in newspapers is true, most of it is. This story appears in two newspapers, the Sun (where it is the splash) and the Daily Mail (where it is on page two). Both papers attribute the key quote to a “senior Tory source”. The Sun says:
A senior Tory source said: “The prime minister is going round Number 10 saying: ‘We have got to get rid of all this green crap’. He is totally focussed on it.
“We used to say ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’, now it’s ‘Vote Blue, Get Real’.”
And the Mail says:
The source said: ‘He’s telling everyone, “We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap.” He’s absolutely focused on it.’
Tory high command has also privately abandoned Mr Cameron’s pre-election mantra ‘vote blue, go green’. ‘It’s vote blue, get real, now – and woe betide anyone who doesn’t get the memo,’ the source said.
Both stories were written by lobby correspondents. It is common for lobby correspondents from rival papers to team up to invite contacts out for lunch, where the conversation is normally conducted on “lobby terms” (ie, nothing reported will be attributed to a named source). This seems to have happened on this occasion. Sometimes you will hear aggrieved politicians claim that lobby journalists in these circumstances distort quotes, but in my experience these complaints are rarely justified and, if the Sun and the Daily Mail are saying a “senior Tory source” said this, I’m happy to accept that he or she did.
2. But was the source quoting Cameron verbatim, or was he/she paraphrasing? In other words, is it Cameron himself saying: “We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap.” Or was the source using his own phrase to paraphrase the gist of what Cameron has been saying? Both are possible, although the second explanation is more likely. The source does not seem to have been referring to a specific conversation. Instead, he was summarising a message that Cameron has supposedly being giving out generally.
3. That said, Downing Street did not actually deny that Cameron had said this this morning (and I was surprised to see the BBC and others reporting that he had). A Downing Street spokesman put out a statement saying: ”We do not recognise this phrase.” This is a piece of spin doctor lingo (that may have originated with New Labour) that normally means: “We did not put this out ourselves, we want to distance ourselves from it, but we cannot say for certain that the words in the story were never actually used.” Subsequently Sky’s Joey Jones reported a slightly stronger denial:
After I heard that, I rang No 10 telling them if they could give me a statement saying Cameron had never used the phrase “green crap”, I would be happy to publish it. But the spokesman just repeated the line about “not recognising this phrase”. I have not had a call back.
4. Does it sound like Cameron? Actually, it does. I can believe that at some point he may have used this phrase (which might by why Downing Street is not issuing a firm denial). But it is quite possible both that: a) the source was paraphrasing Cameron when he spoke to the Sun and the Daily Mail and; b) Cameron has uttered the phrase himself at some point.
5. But, if he did, it probably wasn’t in front of his wife. Samantha Cameron is said to be much more keen on this “green crap” (to use what may or may not be Cameron’s term) than her husband.
6. And, ultimately, whether he said it or not is irrelevant – because the best way to judge a politician is by what they do, not by what they say. And, on this count, the evidence is overwhelming: since coming to power, the Conservatives have been far less committed to the green agenda than they were in opposition, and, with energy bills rising, enthusiasm for costly investment in renewables is fading by the week. Nick Clegg was defending David Cameron this morning (see 9.40am), but two weeks ago he gave a speech largely devoted to attacking the Tories for treating green issues as a distraction.
Verdict: Sometimes stories don’t have to be true to be true. James Callaghan never uttered the words “Crisis? What crisis?”, but the Sun headline reflected the complacency that Callaghan seemed to be displaying when he returned to the UK from a trip abroad during the winter of discontent in 1979 and so it was certainly true in spirit. And this story is in the same category. Perhaps David Cameron has not been explicitly telling colleagues to “get rid of all this green crap” (although, for reasons explained in 3 and 4, I think it more likely than not that the phrase “green crap” has passed his lips). But this is certainly a fair description of the Conservatives’ current stance on the environment.
So, good scoop.
And there is some creative poster rewriting going on on Twitter following the “green crap” controversy.
Here’s the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, a committed environmentalist, passing on what he says is a comment from a Tory in the Commons tea room on David Cameron’s alleged “green crap” comment.
Here’s Joss Garman, deputy political director at Greenpeace, responding to the claims that David Cameron has talked about getting rid of “this green crap”.
If David Cameron thinks the road to electoral victory will be found in attacking the very policies that he once passionately advocated then he is sorely mistaken. The British electorate are a sophisticated bunch who will see through his chameleon tendencies and conclude this attack is not an act of leadership but one of cowardice as he panders to the extreme wing of his own party and tries to claw back support from UKIP.
The real crime is that every time David Cameron reaches for the dog whistle playbook he undermines thousands of jobs in the green energy sector and threatens future investment. Now that really is crap.
Friends of the Earth has been saying it would be “little surprise” if Cameron did tell aides to get rid of green crap. “His government has been attacking environmental policies for years,” said Craig Bennett, FoE’s campaigns director.
In Downing Street this morning David Cameron had a meeting with some of the leaders of Britain’s biggest councils who were presenting him with a petition backing HS2.
He was asked if he still believed in the green agenda. He replied: “This is part of it.” HS2 was “a very green project”, he said.
He went on to spell out some of his green credentials.
We’ve got the the world’s first green investment bank. We’ve got great support for our green technology industries. We’ve got a first nuclear power station since 1995. This is a government investing in green projects.
Hi. It’s Andrew Sparrow here, taking over from Paul Owen.
Here are today’s YouGov GB polling figures.
Labour: 40% (up 2 points from YouGov yesterday)
Conservatives: 32% (down 2)
Ukip: 12% (up 1)
Lib Dems: 9% (down 1)
Labour lead: 8 points (up 4)
Government approval: -28 (down 1)
Here’s a brief summary:
• Nick Clegg said it was right to examine the accountability of the security services and the proportionality of their use of new technologies. But he refused to be drawn on the specifics of the Guardian’s revelations that the US was spying on UK citizens without Britain’s knowledge, saying he was “not going to comment on one article that has appeared this morning in the newspapers”. Pressed on the issue, he said Barack Obama was holding a review into the US National Security Agency’s powers and there were also reviews going on in Britain.
• Clegg said the Sun’s claim that David Cameron wanted to get rid of “green crap” – environmental levies on energy bills – was not a “fair reflection” of the prime minister’s views. He said he was not going to “abandon the environment”.
• The deputy prime minister said Labour had “some very searching questions” to ask about donations given by ex-Co-op chief Paul Flowers, who has been accused of financial incompetence and buying hard drugs.
Clegg is asked about the Monty Python team reforming. “Are they?” asks a shocked Clegg. He confirms he is more of a Python fan than a Yes, Prime Minister fan. “I love Monty Python.” He says they are “still cutting edge”, pointing out “these zany, totally loopy cartoons”.
And that’s it.
Clegg is asked about the Guardian’s story explaining that the phone, internet and email records of UK citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing have been analysed and stored by America’s National Security Agency under a secret deal that was approved by British intelligence officials.
In addition a draft memo, marked top-secret and dated from 2005, reveals a proposed NSA procedure for spying on the citizens of the UK and other Five-Eyes nations, even where the partner government has explicitly denied the US permission to do so. The memo makes clear that partner countries must not be informed about this surveillance, or even the procedure itself.
Clegg says the security agencies are run by very, very diligent people who take their duty to keep us safe very seriously. They work within the law.
But the technologies now used by the agencies are far more powerful and can store and analyse data on a scale we’ve never known before, he says. This was “unimaginable” even a few years ago.
So it is right to ask about the proportionality of intelligence gathering today and the accountability of the services.
What about the decision the US took to spy on UK citizens?
Clegg says he is “not going to comment on one article that has appeared this morning in the newspapers”.
He says the system of oversight is “quite an obscure process to the public”. He says there is a legitimate question to ask: “How do you make sure you have proper accountability, proper proportionality” of the use of these technologies?
The listener says he has not answered the specific question about the US secretly spying on UK citizens.
Clegg says Obama is having a review.
But what is the UK doing, Ferrari asks.
Clegg says there are reviews here too, for example by the intelligence and security committee. You could have “different kinds of inquiries and reviews”, he says.
Clegg is asked if the NHS can introduce a fine for patients’ missed appointments.
He says he is aware that this is “a real issue … a constant issue”.
He does not support a system of fines, though.
And he does not support charging people to see their GPs.
But some GPs’ surgeries are much more effective than others at checking on patients and reminding them not to make appointments they won’t keep. Other surgeries could learn from these ones.
Clegg is asked about simplifying the tax system for freelancers. The DPM says that in addition to “massively simplifying the tax system” by increasing the tax threshold, he says HMRC has improved the PAYE system and its digital support.
Ferrari asks about the Sun “green crap” story.
Clegg says “it isn’t all crap, of course”. These policies support tens of thousands of people in the “booming” green energy sector and help consumers by saving them money in the long run through insulating their homes.
“I don’t think that’s a fair reflection of his views,” Clegg says of Cameron.
Of course we are going to try to reduce the cost of these measures, he says. One option is for the government to pay for them.
“That’s my view and by the way I also know it’s the prime minister’s view.” He says he is not going to “abandon the environment”.
“When the Lib Dems are condemned to political history at the next election … ” the next question begins, will Clegg hire out special advisers to the government?
Clegg tells the listener to place money on his prediction the Lib Dems will face political oblivion: “you’ll lose your money”.
Clegg says there are 96 or 98 special advisers in the government, about 70 Tory and about 20 Lib Dems (he does not mention the other six or eight).
Ferrari says the wage bill for them is £1.3m. Clegg says the average wage of special advisers is 9% lower than it was under Labour.
Clegg says he accepts they are controversial and so he is transparent about their role.
You need some of the advisers in government to make sure coalition works effectively.
Clegg is asked about Vince Cable’s description of small investors in the Royal Mail as “fly-by-night investors”.
Clegg says he will talk to Cable about this. He says Cable was not referring to small shareholders – in fact he had wanted to ensure access for individual investors. But he had wanted to avoid “big money” coming in from people “betting on its value”. He had wanted institutional investors, and he’s broadly got the balance right, Clegg says.
Ferrari says Cable did get the valuation of the Royal Mail wrong though.
Clegg says you can’t judge a company like that in a matter of weeks or months. Markets tend to “gyrate wildly one way and then the other”. The price he settled on was at the upper end of what he was advised. “Politicians don’t pluck these prices out of thin air.”
Is he getting on all right with Cable, asks Ferrari.
Clegg thanks for him for his “pastoral care”.
Ferrari says Vince wants to be taken out for a pint.
Clegg says they’ve eaten together at his home, and at a restaurant recently. But next time they’ll have a pint. “Thanks for the relationship counselling,” says Clegg.
Would it matter to Clegg if Cameron had taken cocaine in the past?
It has never occurred to me to quiz my colleagues on their previous habits, he says. Clearly it wouldn’t matter to me if it hasn’t occurred to me. People’s past is people’s past, he says.
Should Ed Miliband return Paul Flowers’s donations?
Clegg says every week there is another series of question marks about who “runs and funds” the Labour party.
Clegg says it sounds “extremely murky” and asks why the Labour party did not realise Flowers was an inappropriate figure. “I think there’s some very searching questions to be asked”, he says, and “the Labour party will want to account for itself”.
He adds that Labour “almost acts like puppets on a string” for the unions.
He wishes there could be a cross-party deal on party funding, but Labour and the Tories blocked it.
He says he has never knowingly met Flowers.
Next Clegg is asked about the reductions in the British army and linked rise in the reservists. How will a recruiting campaign and money for reservists be paid for?
Clegg says the number of reservists will go up from 19,000 to 30,000. The government will provide more money and make it more effective, but the system is broadly speaking in place already, he says.
He says this will create a more effective way of deploying military personnel.
Many people put themselves forward for the reservists not for financial reasons, Clegg says.
The caller uses the example of someone in the dental corp – so presumably a well-paid dentist in civilian life.
Call Clegg begins. The DPM is asked if he is being unpatriotic and self-serving in wanting to stop people discussing leaving the EU.
Clegg says making ourselves poorer, less safe and “less sustainable” by leaving the EU would be the wrong decision.
But of course the EU needs reform, he says.
He adds that it is not in Scotland’s interest to leave the UK either.
The caller says the people want to discuss this. Is Switzerland doing badly outside the EU? They are actually, says Clegg.
Presenter Nick Ferrari plays a clip of Clegg saying the view that the UK should leave the EU is “unpatriotic”.
Clegg says it is, but he welcomes the debate.
He says he is “the leader of the party of in”.
The caller says he wants EU membership to be renegotiated, but he doesn’t want to leave the union.
Clegg says when the treaties next change, there should be a referendum, “and the question should be ‘in or out'”.
Nick Clegg’s phone-in is coming up shortly. You can listen to it online here.
No 10 has been drawing a distinction between “tackling climate change” and the green levies on energy bills, in the wake of the Sun’s “green crap” story. A Downing Street source told the Press Association, in reference to David Cameron’s vow to the Commons last month to “roll back” the green levies that fund renewable power subsidies and programmes to insulate homes:
He has been quite clear about rolling back the impact of levies on energy bills, but only last week in Sri Lanka he was talking about the importance of tackling climate change.
On that trip to Sri Lanka for a Commonwealth summit, Cameron said:
I’ll leave the scientists to speak for themselves about the link between severe weather events and climate change. But the evidence seems to me to be growing. As a practical politician, I think the sensible thing is to say let’s take preventative and mitigating steps given the chances this might be the case.
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