TNS is 10: Interview - Nick Clegg
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You call your polices a ‘liberal alternative’ to the discredited polices of ‘big government’. What do you mean by this and how will the Lib Dems be different to the other parties? I joined the Lib Dems because I'd had enough of being dictated to by people I didn't believe in. The liberal vision is progressive, green, internationalist, anti-establishment and committed to giving people greater control over their lives. The Liberal Democrats are now the only party calling for profound reform of a political system which has left so many people angry and frustrated. Labour and the Conservatives are part of a cosy consensus that protects the status quo because it allows them to take it in turns to govern. We, on the other hand, want to fundamentally rewrite the rules. How much debt were you in when you left university? I was lucky enough to have parents who were able to help me a lot when I was at university, so not much. But I am well aware - not least as a Sheffield MP with a huge number of students from two universities in my constituency - that most students struggle to make ends meet while they are studying. Many have to take on part-time jobs, which really adds to the pressure, especially at exam time. These years can be some of your greatest, and no student should have that spoiled by the stress of unmanageable debt. What’s your party’s position on tuition fees and the funding of higher education? We remain totally committed to universal access to education and we believe that young people from all parts of society should be able to attend university if that’s what they want. But there are some big anomalies which need to be addressed: the discrimination against FE Colleges compared to Universities, and the increasingly large number of part time students who are not properly catered for. That’s why we are reviewing our policies at the moment. I hope they'll be finalised by next Spring. What importance does ‘image’ play in modern politics and what problems, if any, do you think this causes? In a media driven political culture image has undoubtedly become very important. The cult of celebrity is everywhere these days. As a politician, there's no point complaining about it - I went into politics with my eyes open about the highs and lows, the good and the bad. My main concern goes far wider than the effect on individual politicians: I fear that a focus on celebrity creates conformity in politics. People should feel able to be who they are - great change only happens when people dare to be different. How do you think the continuing growth in violent crime amongst young people can be tackled? It does no one any good to vilify and criminalise young people. If you believed everything you read in the papers or heard from Labour or the Conservatives you’d think that every young person is a knife wielding thug about to attack you. It just isn’t true. Violence cannot be tackled by tough talk, ASBOs and overcrowded prisons – the poverty, alienation and disempowerment that contributes to crime needs to be tackled too. Of course we need to be tough on perpetrators of violence, but we need to involve local communities as well. I want to see community courts set up throughout the country where offenders have to face up to their victims and then do visible work in the community. That way the people who commit crimes can really understand the impact of their acts and make amends to the local community. You were a lecturer at Sheffield University – tell us a little bit about your time there.
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