"For Britain to be a success, we need to take the tough decisions that will enable us to compete and thrive."
Two and a half years ago, Nick and I put party differences aside to come together in the national interest and form the first coalition government in Britain for over 65 years. We were faced with a national economy in difficulty, with our nation’s finances in debt and disarray after years of mismanagement and neglect.
This was always going to involve tough decisions, and some people thought our coalition wouldn’t make it through our first Christmas. But this government is now well into its third year. Because this coalition was not and is not some short-term arrangement; it is a serious five-year commitment to give our country the strong, stable and determined leadership that we need for the long term.
At the heart of that commitment is one simple fact: Britain is in a global race. And that means an hour of reckoning for countries like ours. Some countries will sink; others will swim. And for Britain to be a success, we need to take the tough decisions that will enable us to compete and thrive. We need to fix the nation’s finances by dealing with our debts. We need to rebalance and rebuild our economy, and we need to back the aspiration of hard-working families and businesses who want to get on and do the right thing.
The challenges are great, and there is still a long way to go but we are on the right track, and we are making progress. In just two and a half years, we’ve cut the deficit by a quarter and set out a credible path towards our goal of a balanced budget. The economy is rebalancing. There are over a million new private-sector jobs. In the first two and a half years of this government, exports of UK goods to both India and Brazil went up by over a third, and exports of goods to China went up by almost a half. Last year, Britain became a net exporter of cars for the first time since 1976.
We’ve cut income tax for 25 million taxpayers; we’ve halved it for those working full-time on the minimum wage, and we’ve taken over two million of the lowest paid people out of income tax altogether. We’ve introduced a benefits cap. We’ve delivered the biggest ever cash rise in the basic state pension. And we’ve guaranteed real-terms increases in the NHS budget, with more of that money reaching the frontline. Compared with 2010, there are over 5,000 more doctors working in our NHS, and there are 6,500 fewer managers.
We’ve not baulked at the tough decisions necessary to secure our future. Instead, we’ve ended the chronic short-termism that has too often let down our politics in the past and seen far too many previous governments just leave vital issues in the pending tray marked ‘too difficult’.
So we’ve broken the monopoly of state education with free schools providing excellent education free to parents who send their children there. We’ve also established 2,000 academy schools. We’ve stopped dumbing down. We’ve introduced tough new powers on discipline in the classroom.
There’s a whole set of issues that are subject to this long-term reform from this government, issues like putting our universities on a sustainable footing so they can compete with the very best in the world and give everyone a chance to go to them irrespective of their background or income; modernising our energy and transport infrastructure so we can keep up with our competitors in the global race; regulating our banks properly, so that immoral behaviour and the gross mistakes of the past are not repeated. We’re dealing with the challenges of an ageing population. We’ve reformed public-sector pensions so they are both affordable and fair for both public-sector workers and the taxpayer. In every case, we’ve put the national interest at the heart of this government and put this country on a path to being a winner in the global race.
Now, today is all about taking stock of the progress we’ve made and setting out some of the next steps that we want to take. Now, of course there have been difficulties along the way. With public finances as broken as ours, that was, I think, inevitable. But I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and today we’re publishing a document which shows what we’ve done and what we still have to do. And between now and the budget, we’ll be setting out an additional set of reforms that go even further in taking the long-term decisions that are necessary to put us on the side of hardworking people, to create a bigger and stronger society, and to help Britain win in that global race.
These reforms will include the following: new investment to provide more help to working families to cut the cost of childcare; more help for families who could afford a mortgage but are unable to raise a large deposit so they can buy their own homes; and new measures to limit state powers and extend personal freedoms.
We’ll also set out big new steps on some of the hardest and most important long-term issues that will shape the future for generations to come. On pensions, clarifying incentives to save and restoring dignity in retirement by tackling poverty in old age without relying on pernicious means-testing. On social care, capping the potentially huge costs of long-term care faced by many families today, so that people can have the certainty to plan for their long-term needs. And on modernising our transport infrastructure, consulting on how to get private investment into our motorway and key trunk roads network, and extending High Speed 2 from Birmingham to the North to create a rail service that joins London to the northern cities in just under two hours, with the aim of bringing the journey from Scotland to London down to under three hours. All of these are yet more examples of a coalition and a government that is determined to fix the long-term problems that hold our country back.
Now, of course, the road ahead won’t be easy. There have always been issues on which we disagree, and doubtless there will be some more in the months ahead. But the key point is not whether you have disagreements; it is how you handle them. Where we disagree, we should do so and we do do so respectfully, in a reasonable and civilised way.
More importantly, Nick and I are completely united on the big issues that brought our two parties together in the national interest, and which remain this government’s sheet anchor today: on cutting the deficit and building a stronger, more balanced economy; on putting responsibility back at the heart of our welfare and education systems; on backing aspiration, getting behind the hardworking and people and businesses that will enable our country to succeed in the global race.
Government is at its strongest when making these big arguments, and on all of these issues, our resolve and our sense of shared purpose, if anything, have got stronger over these last two and half years.
So over the next two and a half years, it will as far as we are concerned be full steam ahead as we continue to put political partisanship to one side and do what is right to serve our country and its national interest. Thank you. Nick, over to you.
##Deputy Prime Minister
Everything this coalition government has done is there to serve one big purpose, which is to build a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone in this country to get on in life. And I think what’s striking as we publish the mid-term review today is that when you look around the developed world, look at America, Europe, here, actually all governments are facing some very big political as well as economic challenges as we clear up after the mess that was created in the crisis of 2008.
And politically, that requires two things. Firstly, an ability to reach across party lines to act in the national interest; and secondly, an ability to act fast and boldly to deal with those challenges. And the dangers of not doing so, I think, are pretty obvious. You look at the kind of cliff-top political brinkmanship in Washington last week; look at the failure of some European governments to get to grips with some of their economic problems quickly and boldly enough. And it’s a source of immense pride to me, and I think everybody in the coalition government, that we by contrast have put partisan differences aside to act in the national interest, and have acted fast, and have acted boldly to deal with the economic and other challenges that this country faces.
The other thing which strikes me as we publish the document today is that, of course, rescuing, repairing, reforming the British economy is the big task for this government, it’s the big challenge of our times. In fact, in my view, in many ways, it’s many of the other reforms that this coalition government has initiated - long-term reforms, social reforms, public-service reforms and other reforms - that will outlast and outlive the immediate economic challenges in front of us, and will stand the test of time, whether it’s making the tax system fairer, reducing the burden of income tax on millions of people on ordinary and low incomes by raising the point at which they pay income tax, aggressively closing tax loopholes and asking people at the top to pay their fair share. Whether it’s the Pupil Premium, two and half billion pounds of new money in the school system, to crack this problem of educational underachievement for far too many of our youngsters from the poorest families; giving people in retirement the reassurance they’ll get a decent state pension through our ‘triple lock’ guarantee; revolutionising apprenticeships on a scale that this country hasn’t seen in a generation; reforming welfare to make sure there’s always an incentive to work; creating the world’s first green investment bank.
These and many other reforms are big, bold, long-lasting reforms that will in my view stand the test of time. And it’s that same willingness, if you like, to set differences aside and to act in the long-term interests of the country that very much underpins and informs the choices of the six new areas that David’s just highlighted, where we’ll be taking new steps and new initiatives in the remaining two and a bit years of this parliament.
That’s why we will act to provide better childcare. We will act to provide a single‑tier pension. We will act to make social care more affordable. We will act to get more investment in our transport infrastructure. We will act to help people with their mortgages and build more homes for them to live in. We will act to enshrine and protect people’s everyday British freedoms.
Now, there are lots of things that we’ve all learned - I’ve certainly learned - over the last two and a half years during the course of the coalition government so far. I’ve certainly learned - we’ve all learned - that the damage done to the British economy back in 2008 was deeper, more severe and worse than anyone predicted at the time. That means that the economy is taking longer to heal. I’ve learned that, when you take big, difficult, controversial decisions, you get politically attacked from all sides. I think pretty well from day one there were voices on the right saying that the Liberal Democrats were too strong in the government, and voices on the left saying the Liberal Democrats were too weak in the government. I’ve always thought that, if both sides make diametrically opposite criticisms, we’ve probably got it roughly about right.
But the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that, for the vast majority of people in this country - whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you do, whoever you vote for - what you rightly expect is for politicians to set aside their differences and just get on with the job. That’s why this coalition government in the next two and a half years will use every day of every working week, will use every penny of taxpayers’ money, will use every department in Whitehall, to make sure we build that stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person in this country to get on in life. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister. Some say that this marriage of yours is stronger than ever; others say you’re planning a divorce. Could I ask you both how would you sum up the state of your union?
And can I ask you: I notice that both of you have talked about every day, two and a half years - are you pledging, both of you now, and telling your parties no break‑up, no pulling away, no clever arrangement before the election in May 2015? You’ll be in this room working together until the day that election is called, on time and on schedule.
Let me take the second bit of the question first. I’ve always said and Nick has always said this is a full five‑year coalition. The public wants us, as Nick has just said, to work hard on their behalf, right through this parliament, to fix the problems that we’ve inherited and to set out and deliver the long‑term plans we’ve spoken about. For me, absolutely it is a five‑year plan, a five‑year parliament, a five‑year government. And it’s about work. It’s about delivery, not partisanship.
On the first point of your question, I hate to sort of spoil the party, but let me put it like this: we are married, not to each other. We are both happily married. You know, this is a government, not a relationship. It’s a government about delivering for people, because of the mess that we were left in by the previous government, because of the huge challenges that we face. What we said to people two and a half years ago was that we would come together for a five‑year parliament. We would tackle these problems.
To me, it’s not a marriage. It is, if you like, a Ronseal deal: it does what it says on the tin. We said we would come together. We said we’d form a government. We said we’d tackle these big problems. We said we’d get on with it in a mature and sensible way, and that is exactly what we’ve done.
Two and a half years in, we haven’t chosen to separate and do something different. We’ve chosen to continue just as we said, with a five‑year government, to tackle these deep‑seated problems. I think this is a strong, decisive, active government that is doing the right thing for our country. Nick.
##Deputy Prime Minister
A Ronseal deal: you could call it the ‘unvarnished truth’, but anyway. Well, I thought it was alright. Look, on this issue about whether we’ll carry on, we’ve legislated for it. What more evidence do you need that we’re committed to doing what we’ve said, what it says on the tin, which is to provide stable effective government to this country, for five years, when we’re faced with unprecedented challenges?
We’ve legislated this fixed‑term parliament. It might sound terribly techy. It’s actually kind of a really important change, because it means that prime ministers can’t play cat and mouse with the British people about when the next general election’s going to be held.
Of course we can fight, as we will do, as two separate independent parties. Of course we’ll set out different visions of the future, and of course we can start explaining that before the general election, but we will govern and provide this country with good government until the election is held in May 2015.
This is a very nice document. Thank you for giving it to us, but I think a lot of people are going to wonder what the point of it is tonight. I can tell you the one thing they do want to know, which is what’s going to happen to the economy this year. Can you both give us a picture of where you think we are? Is a triple‑dip recession possible? Likely? Are you really both confident that the economy is going to grow this year? If not, why not? Are you contemplating other measures if it doesn’t come out the way you want?
##Deputy Prime Minister
The first thing I’d say is that we’ve been very open with the British people about the fact that the time needed to get the job done, that the time needed for the economy to heal fully, is taking longer than frankly anyone expected. We’ve been very open about that. We’ve actually said that dealing with the structural deficit, balancing the books, is going to take longer. We couldn’t have been more open that it is going to take longer and it does mean that the next parliament, the next government, will need to complete the job that we have initiated, but we’ve made huge strides. The deficit is 25% lower. Now, hang on; it’s important.
My question was about are you confident, both of you, that we are on the track to growth.
##Deputy Prime Minister
I am confident that the British economy is healing. I am confident that we are doing the right things to tackle the terrible black hole in our public finances we inherited. I’m confident that we’re doing the necessary surgery to our banks to make sure that the implosion of our banking system doesn’t happen again. I’m confident we’re putting money back in people’s pockets.
This April - this April - people get the biggest uplift in the personal allowance income tax system ever. That means that 23 million basic‑rate taxpayers will be £600 each better off than they were when this government started. That means for a two‑earner family, on the basic rate of tax, they will be £1,200 better off. We’ve created a million new jobs in the private sector. Of course we want to go faster; of course we want the healing process to take place faster, but look at the headwinds we’re having to deal with: still a damaged banking system. Many, many households in this country are still trying to shift mortgage and credit card debt. Look at the problems in the eurozone, in our own European neighbourhood.
I think we’re doing the right things. I don’t think anyone should start making foolish statistical predictions about what’s going to happen to something as unpredictable as the global economy, but we’re doing the right reforms and implementing the right changes to ensure that healing process continues.
I’ll just add - and I agree with every word of that - but I’ll just add to that point that we don’t now make our own forecasts. We’ve given that to the Office for Budget Responsibility. They are forecasting growth this year, as are almost every other economic forecaster. That’s what the forecasters say. It begs the question: what should the government be doing? Now, it’s vital that we provide the low interest rates that the economy needs, and that’s why our fiscal strategy and deficit reduction are so important, but I would also point to what are the things that the business organisations, that Britain’s wealth creators, have asked for.
They want backing of apprenticeships. We’re doing that. They want low corporate tax rates. We’re doing that. They want a competitive top rate of tax. We’ve done that. They want enterprise zones around the country. We’ve introduced those. They want business rate relief. We’ve done that. They want a real export drive where we get behind our exporters. We’ve done that. On every issue, where Britain’s wealth creators have said to us, ‘Get behind us. Do everything that you can to make this a competitive and successful economy,’ we’re doing that.
I think we are playing our role in helping Britain in this global race, but it’s undoubtedly, as Nick has said, a tough environment, when you’ve got recession in the eurozone; you’ve got difficulties in the banking system; you’ve got uncertainties in the global economy. But this is a very pro‑business, pro‑enterprise, pro‑growth government.
Well, thank you for what’s become relatively rare: a prime ministerial news conference. Looking back, do you two think you would be standing there in coalition if it wasn’t for the television debates? Looking forward, will you commit now to doing them on the same basis, with the Labour leader, as you did in 2010?
On the outcome of the last election, I think that actually, from memory, the polls going into the start of the last election were pretty similar to the polls coming out of the last general election, so I suspect that the result would have been pretty much the same anyway. The point was that we responded maturely, properly, sensibly to a hung parliament. Well, one can have - people can have - all sorts of ‘what might have been’ debates about that.
On TV debates, I’m in favour of them. I think they’re good and I think we should go on having them. I will certainly play my part in trying to make that happen.
##Deputy Prime Minister
The reason why we came together in coalition is because no one won the election, and then we had a big choice: whether we were going to sort of throw rocks at each other, you know, one party against the other, when we were teetering on the edge of an economic cliff; or were we going to come together in the national interest, pull the country back from the bring and start this painstaking job of rescuing, repairing and reforming the economy.
And I - I have never for one minute doubted the wisdom of that decision. You know, you get plenty of kind of rocks thrown at you in government but I think it was absolutely the right decision and I think the history books I hope will judge us fairly for believing at the time that the worst thing for the country then - which would have led to more unemployment, would have led to people’s living standards declining further, would have led to greater economic dislocation, which leads to everyday hardship to millions of fellow Britons - would have been politicians simply indulging in point-scoring and yet another general election a few months after the last one.
So I think it was the right judgement then; I think it’s the right judgement now. And if anything, I think, with the passage of time people have kind of got used to the idea that I think in many ways actually the idea of coalition - you know, unsurprisingly, because it’s kind of an unfamiliar thing for the British political system - has matured.
And I think people now understand that we can have our disagreements but you can deal with it in a business-like professional and respectful manner and also get on with the big decisions in the national interests. It’s that balance between retaining your identity, being open about your differences but do that in a professional way, and getting the job done on behalf of the British people.
And sorry, yes - no, I’m a firm believer in the TV debates.
A subject which you may not agree on quite so much, Europe: as the Deputy Prime Minister, why do you think the Prime Minister’s idea of repatriating powers from Europe is a ‘fantasy wrapped in a Union Jack’?
And to the Prime Minister, if you win the next election, can you give a guarantee to international investors in British business that Britain will remain a member of the European Union and will be so in 2020?
##Deputy Prime Minister
I’m surprised this one didn’t come up earlier. Look, of course we come at Europe from different points of view and I’m not going to sort of - I don’t think it will help very much if we provide a running commentary to each other’s views right now. My attitude’s very simple which is that - what is it? One in ten jobs in this country are dependent on our - in one way or another - in our position in the single market. We can’t tackle things like global climate change on our own, we can’t keep our citizens safe on our own when you’re dealing with cross-border crime.
Of course the whole thing needs to be reformed and refreshed, made more accountable and made more efficient but there are just areas of our life where we’re stronger together and weaker apart. I’ve believed that all my political life, I always will do. And for me - you know, for me it’s jobs, jobs, jobs. What’s the best way of ensuring jobs? And I think a wholehearted commitment to our leading role in the European Union is part of that.
But one thing I would say is even though we might come at these things from different directions, actually we’ve been remarkably successful as a coalition at prosecuting the British national interest in European discussions.
We’ve been working in lock-step with each other, for instance on the budget: taking a very, very tough line on the budget, one of the toughest approaches of any government, something I fully, fully support. Of course you can’t justify a massive increase in the European Union budget when we’re having to introduce so many cuts elsewhere. We recently worked very effectively as a coalition government to make sure that the British interests in the new banking union were properly protected.
Now, I mean - look, of course at the election we’re going to set out different approaches based on our two parties about the European issue. And that’s perfectly natural for two independent political parties to do at the election time.
But I would echo what Nick said: if you actually look at how we’ve handled the European issue over the last two and a half years, we’ve worked together to deepen the single market and make it more effective, and made real progress there. We have actually repatriated a power - the bail-out power - so we no longer contribute to the bail out of eurozone nations. We’ve helped put in place very tough sanctions against Iran and Syria, so we’ve actually managed to deal with, you know, quite a difficult European situation but, I think, in a very sensible - in a sensible way.
Now at the next election I’ll be putting forward what I’ve spoken about, a new settlement and fresh consent for that settlement for the United Kingdom. I think that is right for Britain. I think the opportunity to get that is opening up and so that’s something I’m looking forward to setting out in my speech in January. But I do believe, as I’ve said many times - including at the weekend - I think Britain’s interest is to stay in the single market, to stay committed to that. We’re a trading nation where we don’t just need access to Europe’s markets, as Nick has said. We need a seat round the table to write the rules of those markets. So that is absolutely what we want.
So as I say, you can have two parties working together, managing the real issues ongoing with our relationship with Europe but then setting out, at the next election, quite properly, different approaches.
Prime Minister, can you just confirm that it is your plan to serve as Prime Minister, the British people permitting, until 2020? And if that is the case Deputy Prime Minister does that fit into your plans?
##Deputy Prime Minister
My being Prime Minister till 2020, how about that?
I think I’ve probably said enough about this subject, I answered the question very clearly. I don’t agree with the person on I think it was The Telegraph website who pointed out, it’s 2051 and he’s still Prime Minister! Come on, we’re a bit slow today.
Deputy Prime Minister, are you happy with the idea of the Prime Minister continuing as Prime Minister that long?
##Deputy Prime Minister
Come the next general election we’re all of course going to fight our corners to win as many seats and votes as possible. That’s - you know, that’s what you do. I think to start - everybody - I don’t think anyone should criticise a politician for being ambitious, there’s nothing wrong in that and I certainly want to see Liberal Democrat presence in British politics and British governments increase over time, as I believe it will.
Thank you very much, Gary Gibbon Channel 4 News. Deputy Prime Minister, can I ask you: some of your supporters told me that they’d like to hear you in front of the Prime Minister attack the rhetoric of skivers and scroungers very directly. I wonder if you’d take this opportunity to do that.
And Prime Minister, you’ve been quite clear that you’re not in love with Nick Clegg but you did, at the beginning of this coalition, sound a little bit in love with coalition. You talked about it bringing a better politics: do you still think that?
And for the avoidance of doubt, one of your MPs suggested I ask you if you’ve got a majority so much as one or above in the next general election that will rule out a coalition?
##Deputy Prime Minister
What a mixed bag of questions. I’ll do the first bit, you think about -
I’ll think about how much in love…
##Deputy Prime Minister
Look, on the first point, this relates to this important vote that we’re having tomorrow about our decision to propose a 1% increase and no more in the rate of increase of benefits for the next three years. And I’ll be very clear with you, I don’t think it helps at all to try and sort of portray that decision as one which divides one set of people off against another - the deserving or the undeserving poor people in work or out of work.
Well, actually to be fair, I think the Prime Minister explained exactly what I’m about to on the television yesterday. The point is this: we have already taken a decision - a decision supported by the Labour party - to take precisely the same approach to doctors, teachers and nurses in the public sector. In fact, the Labour party went even further - they said they would support a freeze: 0%, never mind 1%. And we are taking exactly the same approach to people who receive benefits.
It’s not a decision I relish, but it’s one of the many difficult decisions you need to take in order to fill the black hole in our public finances. That decision alone saves this country about £5 billion - just over £5 billion over the next three years. That’s the equivalent to employing 140,000-odd classroom teachers. And we’re doing that because we’ve taken separate decisions, as has already been explained, to protect the money for the NHS, to protect money for schools.
So the challenge for people who don’t want to take that decision, which as I say is consistent with an approach we’ve already taken on a cross-party basis towards public sector pay, where would you find that £5 billion? What would you cut? Schools? Health? Defence? Local government? Social care? That’s the question you’ve got to ask yourself and I just really think it’s time for the Labour party to stop constantly indulging in opposition for opposition sake. Be more consistent. They should be more consistent. If they support 1% on public sector pay, why don’t they support 1% elsewhere? And if they’re not going to save £5 billion that way, how on earth are they going to find £5 billion through other means?
In relation to your question about coalition, look - I’m absolutely in no doubt that forming a coalition was the right decision after the last election. It was a hung parliament; I didn’t have a majority and the country needed strong, decisive government with a majority that could get things done. And I think we have benefited hugely from that decision to form a coalition and having that sort of government. And it’s also been at a time when you’ve had to make difficult decisions.
And you see this all over Europe, all over the world: countries having to do difficult and painful things. It has been a positive benefit that there have been two parties putting aside party interest, acting in the national interest, in order that we try and take the country with us through very difficult decisions.
It is not easy to put freezes on public sector pay, remove benefits from some families, change rules about public sector pensions. And I think having two parties doing that - who said, ‘Look, we both looked at this problem; we both have come to the conclusion that this needs to be done,’ - is a positive benefit.
But also be in no doubt that when it comes to the next election, in 2015, after five years of coalition government, that we’ll have done a huge amount of work to turn the country round and deal with deficit and debt, I will be fighting for a Conservative victory for a Conservative-majority government, and that is what I want to achieve and that is what I hope to achieve.
And you wouldn’t under any circumstances go into a coalition if you had a majority more than one?
Like I say, what I am aiming for will be a Conservative-only government.
Last week, the Treasury number-crunched the official fiscal figures for the first 12 years of Scottish devolution and calculated, if Scotland were to become independent, rather than produce a £500 a year per head dividend for Scots as the SNP suggested, it would actually produce a £1 a year loss for every Scot. But the Yes Campaign has seized on this and suggested that £1 for Scotland is a good thing and, because the amount is so negligible, the Treasury strategy has actually backfired. Can I ask you both what your feelings are about this?
Let me start with this: I think there are important arguments of both the head and the heart that need to be made in this great debate about the future of our United Kingdom, and I profoundly hope that Scotland will vote to stay in the United Kingdom.
Now, I think when it comes to the arguments of the head - things like, ‘Would Scotland be better off?’ - I think we will be able to show categorically that Scotland will be worse off, will be less well off, and I think those figures that you quote indicate that. And of course there’d be a changing pattern as North Sea oil runs down over a period of time. You’ve also then got to look at all the arguments about defence jobs, jobs in financial services, about what companies might do with an independent Scotland.
So, there are arguments of the head, but I profoundly believe we must win not only the arguments of the head, but also the arguments for the heart - that we are better off together in a United Kingdom, there is a solidarity that we show each other. When different parts of the United Kingdom have a difficult time, we’re all there, ready to stand behind those parts of the United Kingdom. We’re stronger together; we’re better off together; we’re safer together. So, those heart arguments will also, I think, win the day, and I think it’s very important that the yes campaign, and I think that, sorry, the Alistair Darling campaign - Alistair is doing a fantastic job - makes all of those arguments, and I will be supporting him as he does that.
You both talk about your ‘immense pride’, I think was the Deputy Prime Minister’s words in the Coalition - putting your differences aside. Your task will continue into the next Parliament to reduce the deficit, or the political task will continue. So if it’s such a good thing, why stop it in 2015? If the electorate delivers the same verdict it did last time, the Tory party the larger amount of seats, would you both consider doing this again?
##Deputy Prime Minister
What I said countless times before the last general election, and I’ll say it countless before the next general election, which is it isn’t for individual politicians to decide how this country is governed. It’s quite rightly in the hands of the British people.
Now, as it happens, the British people gave pretty clear marching instructions to us, the politicians, in the last general election. No one won an outright majority and there was only one possible combination that could provide a stable government to this country: a coalition of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.
And I just think - I just think it’s a complete mug’s game for people to start peering into a crystal ball and saying what will happen if this or that will happen. It’s up to the British people to decide partly based on our records so far, but also partly based on what we’re saying as separate, independent parties about the future.
I don’t turn up often. I was going to ask why on earth Lord Strathclyde had gobbled the cyanide tablet today, but instead, Prime Minister, you mentioned - you said that where we’ve stopped dumbing down in education. Well, that may be true in schools, but in universities there’s a man called Les Ebdon, who is the access tsar - very much supported by the Lib Dems - who’s a swivel-eyed, down-dumber. And there seems to be a bifurcation, if not something else, in education. And so what on earth is going on? Are you - have you stopped dumbing down in universities?
Well, first of all, let me - just on Tom Strathclyde. Let me pay tribute to him. He’s served for 25 years without a break on the front bench. He’s done, I think, a great job for the House of Lords, for the Conservative Party, and for the coalition government. I’m obviously sad to see him go because he’s a brilliant public servant, knows the House of Lords inside out and has been a really valued colleague to me. But he told me after Christmas that he wanted to step down and so I’ve agreed that he’s going to do that.
But I absolutely pay tribute to him. He’s done a fantastic job. I think I was present actually at his first ever meeting in government. We both turned up to DTI Ministers Prayers in 1988 and we were both the new arrivals: me as the junior researcher at the research department and he as the new House of Lords minister. So I know he’s had no break from politics in the front rank since that day.
But he’s done a fantastic job and there’s no particular reason why he should be resigning today or tomorrow or any other day. That is what he wanted to do after Christmas and I thought the best thing was to get on and put in place a new Leader of the House of Lords, and I think Jonathan Hill will do a great job.
On dumbing down: look, in our schools, very clearly, you can see what Michael Gove has done in terms of changing exams; in terms of being clear about standards; in terms of the appointment we made of the new chief of Ofsted. I think it’s really clear that the dumbing down of the past in education is over. There is a new regime with an absolute belief in rigour in place. And I think you’re going to see much more on that front in the coming weeks and months in terms of the curriculum.
On universities, I would make this point, which is that now we are asking students to make a financial contribution in the way we are, there won’t be a dumbing-down in universities because students are going to be very demanding about what they get. And you’re already starting to see this. Because students are making a significant contribution, they want to know the course they are taking is worthwhile; that the results they get will deliver them success in their future careers; that there’s - instead of worrying about there being too many lectures, actually students are now wondering whether there will be enough.
So I think we’ve created enough of an incentive, enough of a market in higher education to stop dumbing-down from taking place.
On page 39, whether the two paragraphs in purple at the bottom are in contradiction with one another because the first one says you’re going to pass this electoral administration act and you are going to pass an amendment to prevent there being any boundary review in this parliament. And the next paragraph says, ‘We’ll provide a vote for the House of Commons on the Boundary Commission proposals.’ I was wondering if you had yet resolved your differences about the boundary review.
And very quickly just an anecdotal question for the Prime Minister: is it true that your new Leader of the Lords offered - asked to resign and you didn’t notice? And what does that say about his personality?
Can I answer that one first? That is - that is a good example of not always believing everything you read in the newspapers. So no, what you read in the papers wasn’t quite right. And if it was, it would be rather surprising if he’d agreed to become Leader of the House of Lords.
On boundaries, what we have said is that there will be a vote in this parliament in the House of Commons about whether to go ahead with the proposed boundary changes. And so that will, as it were, deal with that potential inconsistency. There will be a vote, it will take place and we’ll be giving you further details later.
##Deputy Prime Minister
There’s nothing inconsistent about the purple box on page 34. Can I just reiterate that I’m - I also want to pay tribute to Tom Strathclyde. I told him this morning that he can enjoy his state of retirement from frontline politics in an unreformed House of Lords. I hope not forever but certainly probably for some time to come.
Sorry, also on that subject: Deputy Prime Minister, you said earlier in relation to five-year parliaments that you’d legislated for it and that demonstrated your commitment. You’ve also demonstrated for the boundary changes before changing your mind about that. Are there any bits in this document that you might subsequently change your mind about?
And on - Prime Minister, on the vote in the Commons: what is the point of holding a vote in the Commons when you don’t have your…?
Obviously it’s to allow the Commons to decide whether the boundary changes should go ahead. That’s the point of the vote in the Commons.
##Deputy Prime Minister
I’m not going to rehearse the reasons I’ve explained several times before about why - because I regard the political changes that we entered into in the coalition as a sort of package. You know, we obviously - this is one of the areas of disagreement. I felt that if one part of the deal is not met then it’s perfectly right for the other side, if you like, to say, ‘Well, then we’re going to sort of tweak the package as a whole.’ And that will come to a head, as David has said, in a vote in the House of Commons, soon enough.
Thank you very much, thank you for coming. Back to work.