Speech

Deputy Prime Minister's press conference in New York

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A transcript of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s press conference in New York.

It’s about trust. It’s about fulfilling the commitments the rich world made to the developing world 10 years ago. We’ve only got five years to fulfil those promises. Many of those promises have either not been fulfilled in the way they were made or are slipping back, so it’s an immensely, immensely important moment in terms of restoring the credibility of the whole Millennium Development Goal process and, of course, a particular challenge for many of the donor countries in proving that even in a time of difficulty in our own finances we are going to stay the course as far as our commitments to the rest of the world are concerned.

That’s not without its political controversy, of course. I’m acutely aware of the fact this coalition government – the new one in Britain – has stuck to its commitment of raising development assistance as a proportion of national wealth to 0.7% by 2013. We will do that. We will write it into law. And we have a job to explain to people back home that this isn’t only the right thing to do for all of the obvious moral reasons, for the reasons upon which the Millennium Development Goals were founded in the first place – to heal these grotesque divisions between wealth and poverty in the world, to tackle human suffering, to restore a greater sense of balance between one part of the world and the other – but that it is also in our enlightened self-interest.

I think it is right that 22 of the 34 countries that are furthest away from the Millennium Development Goals are steeped in conflict. Conflict affects indirectly and directly: 80% of all asylum seekers to Britain come from conflict zones. Conflict breeds radicalism, extremism, terrorism. If you want to deal with the huge challenge of climate change in the round, there is an intimate link between environmental degradation and economic underdevelopment. If you want to deal with the issue of the mass migration of people across borders, across continents, you’ve got to deal with poverty back home as well.

So there is an overwhelming moral case for us to fulfil the pledges we made ten years ago. There is also a very strong case of enlightened self-interest. And that is an argument myself and the Prime Minister are very keen to make in Britain, but also a message that we bring to this summit here in New York.

As for the details, there are a number of particular initiatives that we are focusing on. I will be announcing later today a very significant increase in our commitment to meet MDGs 4 and 5 - maternal health and child health - which have slipped back particularly badly in recent years. Our commitment will save the lives of 50,000 mothers, who would otherwise be dying during pregnancy or childbirth, and up to 250,000 infants. Ten million couples and families will have access to family-planning facilities, which they wouldn’t do otherwise. And that will be delivered by and through a very significant increase in our annual investment in those programmes.

So that’s something I will be doing at an event later this morning, which will be matched I was told by the Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon yesterday evening by a number of new commitments from other countries as well. He mentioned a number of specific countries who will at the same event also unveil new commitments, which hopefully will total a very significant contribution to dealing with something which we think is absolutely key. If you don’t have strong, empowered, healthy women, you don’t have strong, healthy societies.

It is as simple as that – there is a huge link between the role of women, their freedom to decide when to have children, the support they’re given when they’re pregnant and through childbirth. It has a huge knock-on effect on so many other indicators of social wellbeing.

So that’s the main focus today. I’m obviously also speaking at the summit itself, where I’ll be setting out some of the thoughts and ideas I have just described to you, but will also be confirming our announcement on malaria – a very significant increase in malaria aid, which will translate particularly to programmes in Zambia and Ghana, which we can tell you about in greater detail if you like. We will also be joining an alliance - which Hillary Clinton will be announcing shortly before I speak - bringing together the Gates Foundation, the United States, Australia and ourselves, an alliance that particularly focuses that new investment I talked about on family planning and family clinics that are so important to child and mother wellbeing.

So that’s a rough thumbnail sketch. I’m very keen to take any questions from you.

Question:

After you left the conference yesterday, a number of speakers talked about the impact of cuts on the most vulnerable back home, so how do you say to those people, when you come here bearing gifts for those overseas?

Deputy Prime Minister:

That, as I say, I think it’s not a sort of act of naive altruism. There is enlightened self-interest at stake here. We can’t cut ourselves off from the rest of the world. If the rest of the world is poor, susceptible to extremism, susceptible to conflict, susceptible to the volatile effects of runaway environmental degradation, it affects us. It affects us directly. It affects the safety of British families on British streets. It affects the people who come and seek to live or seek refuge in the United Kingdom. It affects our shared environment. It deprives us of economic opportunities as a trading nation. So it is incredibly important for people to understand that this is not a commitment we made 10 years ago, which can be lightly discarded when times get tough. There is a huge, long-term benefit to us all in sticking the course and that’s exactly what this Coalition Government’s going to do.

Question:

Does it feel quite strange, having to come out to New York while the party conference is still going on? Especially when Vince Cable’s causing such a stir.

Deputy Prime Minister:

I don’t think it is such a stir; I think it’s a bit of a storm in a teacup. I’m incredibly privileged to be able to represent the government at a summit on an issue that I personally, by the way, care about massively. I mean well before I went into politics I worked for two years and I oversaw and managed development-aid projects in some of the poorest countries in Asia, so I’ve got a lot of personal experience and commitment to development work as a whole and have a fair amount of personal experience of it, so for me it’s an immensely important summit. I don’t think it can be overstated what’s at stake here. We’ve got five years to deliver this. If, in three years’ time, we’re basically sitting around the table as a world community really having done nothing more than been treading water over the last few years, I just think we’ll have let millions and millions of people around the world down.

Question:

Just on the Vince Cable thing, capitalism doesn’t work very well for a lot of countries in the world. How does capitalism work in the international sense for the international community? Do you think it’s a weak system?

Deputy Prime Minister:

The point that Vince was making, which is a totally legitimate one, is that he, as actually a free-market liberal, believes that you’ve got to look after the small guys as well as the big guys. You know, competition is really, really important in any modern market economy. You can’t allow the big players on the block, whether it’s in banking or retail or legal services or any other, you cannot let them crush competition underfoot, so I think to say that you need strong regulation in a market economy.

A market economy’s not a free-for-all. There is always this great misnomer that a market economy’s something which spontaneously arises. It has to be properly regulated, and what we saw [Party political content] was, particularly when it comes to financial services, it was woefully under-regulated, and there was a tendency towards excessive risk taking and excessive leverage in the banking system which should have been anticipated by regulators – and wasn’t.

So I think the point that Vince is making is one which I think is a very, very wise one – which is that, if you want a sustainable market economy that works well for everybody, you have to have effective regulation.

Question:

Is that true internationally?

Deputy Prime Minister:

Absolutely. If you look at world trade, separately to my other experiences I talked about, I used to work as a world-trade negotiator. It’s always one of the great myths about world trade that it’s a free for all; it’s actually one of the most regulated, rules-based economic activities around. And that’s why you get these constant negotiations between countries trying to set the rules for how you trade with each other. And it’s right, and those rules – and that’s why we need to get this Doha Development Round back onto its feet – have got to work more in favour of developing countries.

At the moment, bluntly, they’re stacked against the interests of developing countries, for very good, obvious reasons. They’ve been built over years by very powerful vested interests in the developed world, which have, inevitably enough, protected their interests and not done enough to allow the developing world into the international economic system.

Question:

There is a lot of debate on free schools, Trident, and now this controversial delay at the conference. Do you feel like you’re taking your party with you at this stage? Do you think you are winning all the arguments?

Deputy Prime Minister:

[Party political content]

Question:

What are your priorities in Washington tomorrow? You’re seeing the Vice President, I know. Do you have any particular message? Are you going to focus on Afghanistan?

Deputy Prime Minister:

Well, yes, we’re certainly obviously going to compare notes on Afghanistan as we have done on a few occasions before – we’ve done a number of video conferences – but also Pakistan, an area of very shared interest. I mean, I’m also, if you like, beyond his formal position, and indeed mine, I’m also very keen to look at what he’s done on some of his work for President Obama on middle America, and the whole issue of social mobility, which I’m pushing very hard within government, to see whether there are things that we can learn.

Question:

Anything in particular?

Deputy Prime Minister:

Well, I’ll tell you more after I’ve seen him. But I think the whole debate about how you make a tax system reward work and reward social mobility, rather than penalise it, how you make an education system reward social mobility and deal with disadvantage – these are things which he’s grappled with, clearly, here domestically, and I was very keen to compare notes with him.

Question:

Have you met him before, ever?

Deputy Prime Minister:

No, no, no, as I say, we met each other remotely on a number of occasions. But I think, you know, judging by fairly lengthy remote meetings we’ve had, I think it’s going to be really a very good meeting. He’s got a huge amount of experience on foreign affairs, as you know, and I’m kind of very keen to listen to him on all of that.

Question:

Your first trip to the White House?

Deputy Prime Minister:

Certainly in this capacity, yes. I’ve visited the White House in a previous incarnation, but yes, no, of course. I haven’t been to the United States since I’ve become Deputy Prime Minister.

Question:

Looking forward to the General Assembly, what are the big issues you expect to come up this week? There is a P3+3 Iran meeting today.

Deputy Prime Minister:

You’ve obviously got a lot going on. We had the quartet yesterday, as you say. I was talking to William Hague late last night; he’s involved with the P3+3 discussions on Iran. The Secretary-General was telling me yesterday about some of the parallel discussions on non-proliferation, so there’s a huge number of parallel strands going on this week.

It’s slightly difficult to predict, I think in time-honoured fashion, exactly what will loom largest come Thursday and Friday. In the past, it’s been someone’s speech or gestures on the podium which have grabbed most attention. I will be – hopefully be able to tell you more when I finalise my speech – making the case for, obviously, setting out the case for the new coalition government’s foreign policy across the piece, but also explaining that a very dramatically changed world since the United Nations was formed is nonetheless a world which desperately needs strong multilateral institutions like the United Nations, notwithstanding the urgent need for further reform in those bodies.

In other words, not to discard the principles and multilateralism in a fast-changing world, but actually saying that we need to do more to create new kind of rules that make sense in a very volatile, very volatile world. So that’s kind of some of the sort of drift of my thinking in terms of what I want to say.

Question:

Paddy Ashdown yesterday said that the Lib Dems could become the main centre party. I wondered whether you agreed.

Deputy Prime Minister:

[Party political content]

Question:

Do you see yourself and the things you are doing in government as left of centre?

Deputy Prime Minister:

I see them as liberal. I’ve never, ever been drawn into this language of left and right. I just think there are three big traditions in British politics, they’ve been there for over a hundred years. The one is the collectivist instinct of the left: the state dispenses social justice from the top, treats people like as if they’re sort of big groups. We have got the conservative tradition which, as the name applies, tends to be less ambitious in terms of aiming for social change, and we have a liberal tradition which stretches right back to the 19th century which starts with the primacy of the individual.

That is why we have got this great emphasis not only on civil liberties but also social justice, giving every child a chance to get ahead in life, our internationalism, our emphasis on environmental sustainability has been a big strand in liberalism over the last twenty years or so.

I just think there have always, to my mind, been three very clear, distinct traditions and I thought it has never helped the liberal cause to constantly use the language of the other causes. You just don’t describe yourself in your opponent’s language.

Question:

Would you use the same language as Vince in describing capitalism as being bad for competition? Did you see his speech before he gave it? Did he clear it with anyone at Number 10?

Deputy Prime Minister:

Yes, we have all circulated speeches to each other. As I said before, we are grown up about this; we don’t control every noun, adjective and adverb in each other’s speeches. Vince is an extraordinarily authoritative and popular and insightful politician and I think the point he was making, as he has been explaining today himself, was a very good one.

Question:

But you would have made it differently, wouldn’t you?

Deputy Prime Minister:

Look, I am a different person; whether you use different language or not is not really the point. The point he was making is a totally valid one which is that we have just suffered a huge cardiac arrest at the centre of our economic system because of the failure to properly regulate one of the most important sectors in our modern economy, financial services.

In that context, to make, as he did, comments about the need to strike the right balance between how markets operate and how regulation intervenes in those markets, I think it would be a very odd thing to deny that is something which we need to worry about.

Question:

Are those sorts of comments making people nervous in the White House?

Deputy Prime Minister:

I think, dare I say it, most people look beyond rhetoric and ask themselves what is someone trying to say, and it is so obvious – as Vince himself has explained – that he is actually a passionate free-market liberal as I can attest myself, but he is passionate about competition. What went wrong in recent years was that we didn’t have enough competition in a particular sector that became lazy and started taking risks with other people’s money, which they shouldn’t have done, and lending money to people who couldn’t pay that money back. That happens when you get markets which aren’t properly regulated or where you get players which are too big for their boots.

Question:

Just going back to the MDG summit for a moment –

Deputy Prime Minister:

Yes. Gosh, we are oscillating wildly from the future of the world to –

Question:

The Secretary-General has announced this initiative on women and children’s health but, that aside, we have got 192 leaders and 192 speeches – is that going to change anything for the poor of the world?

Deputy Prime Minister:

I don’t think speeches themselves do, do they? I am new to this; I have never been to one of these summits before and you might have more experience than I do. I come at this with a great deal of enthusiasm for the objectives for the summit but a fair amount of intuitive impatience that there is no point in having these summits unless it actually makes a difference to people in the villages and the communities and the societies in which they live.

So the proof of the success of something like this is not whether the rhetorical flourish of leader X or Y catches your attention this week, but whether actually the pledges we are going to make, such as the pledges on malaria, such as the pledges on maternal health, such as the pledges on child health, actually translate into something.

That is, by the way, why what you all hopefully have detected in the language which myself, Andrew Mitchell and the Prime Minister talk about this new government’s commitments. It is not to constantly talk about writing cheques worth X or worth Y, but actually saying, ‘This is what we will do and this will be the outcome.’ I think the sort of bidding war between countries for so long became dominated by a bank balance account; who has got the longest number of zeros behind their pledge rather than, ‘This is actually what it means in human terms.’

So you will probably have detected that we are constantly trying to explain to people what we think the outputs will be, so that if the number of lives improved and saved is not delivered you can then hold us to account.

Question:

There is an idea which they call inventory financing, which is basically a tax on financial transactions to help the poor.

Deputy Prime Minister:

The Tobin tax?

Question:

Yes. What is your view on that?

Deputy Prime Minister:

We are happy to look at it and we are looking at it primarily in the context of the European Union. The obvious problem which has always presented itself is how do you do it in a way that makes sense across all the big financial sectors of the world, how do you create a system which is binding rather than partial. The IMF published a report – was it four weeks ago or something like that? – which had very interesting insights into how some of this might work.

Separately we are looking at how we could develop a financial activities tax on pay and bonuses, so we are very involved in all of these discussions and certainly understand the instincts behind them. But, as ever, the devil is in the detail.

Question:

On the announcements this week on malaria and women’s health, is this new money or is this money from within your budget?

Deputy Prime Minister:

It is obviously from within the 0.7%.

Question:

So what are you taking it from?

Deputy Prime Minister:

But of course it is additional resources. Yes, because the budget is increasing massively. It is huge.

Question:

So it’s not taking money from aid or any other areas?

Deputy Prime Minister:

No, no, it is using the fact that the DFID budget is increasing and increasing significantly, as Laura said, in a context where other budgets are not and this is two examples of areas where we are using those additional resources, we hope, to good effect.

Question:

How much of the 0.7% of GNIB in 2013 would you estimate is going to be the actual figure?

Deputy Prime Minister:

I don’t know off the top of my head. I can find out if you want.

Participant:

The final estimate is going to be on the spending review, we don’t have a –

Question:

With maternal health, is there a pound or dollar figure on how much? You gave us that the outcome is going to be, a quarter of a million children, 50,000 women, but is there a dollar figure?

Deputy Prime Minister:

It equates roughly to an extra £400 million a year for the 2010-15 period, so that’s a lot of extra investment for something which I think makes a very dramatic difference.

Question:

Are you going to legislate on it?

Deputy Prime Minister:

On the 0.7%? I think it’s in this Queen’s Speech; we have got a long parliamentary session, two years, and I will need to double check with George Young and the powers that be in parliament exactly where it’s placed in the queue. But we will be very, very clear, both of us actually in opposition and now we want it in primary legislation. Thanks very much.