Nick Clegg was greeted in Nottingham last Thursday by a packed lecture theatre that reportedly could have been filled twice over. The visit of the Deputy Prime Minister comes just a few weeks after Speaker John Bercow also stopped off in Nottingham as part of his Parliamentary Outreach Programme.
The question and answer session, organised by Nottingham Post, was part of the long running ‘Nick Clegg meets…’ series touring the country every week. The event was hosted in the city centre and attracted a wide range of different people – from businessmen and architects to Sixth Form students and pensioners. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that there was a wide range of questions posed to the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party – on the NHS social welfare, asylum, gay marriage and the economy to name just a few. Throughout he was refreshingly frank in his views, harking back somewhat to the ‘I agree with Nick’ leaders debates in 2010, referring to certain Government plans as ‘big bananas’ and claims they are trying to privatise the NHS as ‘utter bilge’.
Mr Clegg, of course, generates strong emotions amongst the student population. He has taken the overwhelming majority of criticism over the government’s decision on tuition fees, which many see as a betrayal by the Lib Dems – a party which has previously enjoyed relatively strong support amongst students. Surprisingly the issue was barely mentioned although Siân Green, the Students’ Union Accommodation and Community Officer, got the chance to ask whether Clegg agreed that Nottingham City Council’s decision to charge students in Lenton for parking permits (when local residents get them for free) was unfair. Clegg agreed that it is in effect a backdoor tax and, given the fact students are nationally exempt from council tax, therefore wrong.
I have only two criticisms of the event. Firstly, it was too short. After an hour’s session there were still hands raised across the room who hadn’t had the opportunity to ask their question. Secondly, and this might sound a little pedantic, a number of the questioners took the opportunity as somewhat of a soapbox. Yes – we all have a reason to ask the questions we do and further our own causes, but questions should not go on for close to 5 minutes. Whilst many of the points raised were interesting, the same argument could have been made in less than a minute. They took valuable time away from Mr Clegg to answer or allow others to ask questions. Several questions could have been much shorter and would have definitely been sweeter for it!
Overall, the event was both enjoyable and informative. It was a chance to listen to a high ranking member of the government giving unscripted answers to unpredictable and uncensored questions from real members of the British public on issues that really matter to them. It’s not very often you get the opportunity to really question politicians in a public forum, so I say “Well done, Mr Clegg”. Ok, so not everyone had the chance to ask a question or enquire as to how much influence Mr Clegg actually has in final government decisions, but in a world where we are increasingly cynical about Politics, MPs and the system as a whole it was most definitely a worthwhile exercise. Regardless of any one’s personal opinions on Clegg’s politics or track record in Government, from what I saw the ‘Nick Clegg meets…’ series can only be applauded.
Read a full account of exactly what was said at the Q&A on Nottingham Post’s live blog