Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg last night spelled out his vision for Britain when he answered questions from voters in Watford.

Mr Clegg, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, entered Beechen Grove Church hall, in Beechen Grove, to rapturous applause from his supporters, which included a number of borough and county councillors, ahead of his 61st “town hall meeting”.

Wearing a dark suit, blue shirt and lime green tie, he was introduced to the audience, more than 100 strong, by Sal Brinton, the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Watford, before taking questions from the floor.

Mr Clegg spoke for an hour on subjects ranging from Afghanistan and the economy to bankers' bonuses.

He described climate change as “undoubtedly the greatest crisis of our age” and said he was “appalled” by how much money had been wasted in the NHS.

And when asked whether Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill, who collects the same £63,000 salary as a backbench MP, was “value for money”, he called her “one of the best mayors in this country”.

Here are his comments on a number of other subjects.

Are the Liberal Democrats too close to the Conservatives?

“I'm the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I have only ever been a member of the Liberal Democrats. I'm a liberal to my core. Having said that, I have read headlines that say the Liberal Democrats can do a deal with [Conservative leader David] Cameron, a deal with [Prime Minister Gordon] Brown.

“In terms of the kind of values I care about in policy, I advocate they are unmistakeably different to either Labour or the Conservatives. I am driven by fairness, fair taxes, putting more money into the classroom.

“Though I have never been a politician that wants to create differences where they don't exist I do think at this time as people focus on how they will vote, it's important to spell out the differences.”

The Liberal Democrats and the media

“We're in a transitional period in politics generally. We're coming out of an era of duopoly where a two party system was completed. We're moving towards something else, greater pluralism. Understandably we have a culture and a language and set of terms of reference which the media reproduce of old politics. It [greater coverage] will come. But I wish it would come a little quicker.”


“I want our troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. I want them out of harm's way. But I do want them to come out with their heads held high having done the job we have asked them to do.

“We have probably got one last chance to try and get it right. What we're seeing with this new operation is the beginning of the final phase. I don't know how long it will last but the public won't stomach another unlimited commitment to a war most people think we're not winning.

“We were losing until fairly recently. I spoke out saying this is a nonsense but the most unfair thing to do is ask these young people to go into harm's way because there's no plan.”

The generation gap

“We are failing our young people. How else can we describe the situation. People leaving university are saddled with the burden of debt before they have taken their first step into adult life. That creates an intense feeling of despair.

“We're really failing there and we're also failing the elderly. We have a chronic pensions system, we have a care system that is completely in tatters. We have got no assistance to millions of people who give care and get no respite, support or recognition. We have got fuel poverty.

“I think we are failing the young and the old. We allowed the language of solidarity between generations to be replaced with the language of totality.”

Restoring faith in politics

“We have got to do something different and that includes electoral reform. I don't think fixing expenses will fix the problem. It was the tip of the iceberg. It was a symptom of arrogance in politics in a system that gives hundreds of MPs a job for life. We have got to renew the way we do politics.”


“The decision where our housing is built and how housing developments are financed need to be devolved to you, to the local community. We're still working to regional housing blueprints.

“1.8 million families are on the national waiting list for affordable housing. Five million people don't live in an affordable house they call their own. Housing policy is over controlled, undemocratic.”

The Middle East

“I would persuade both the Israeli government and the two factions of the Palestinian government that a two state solution is still the objective. I wish our government and others would be much more uncompromising.

“The blockade of Gaza is immoral. It's a humanitarian catastrophe.

The economy

“We make the savings when the economy can deal with it. If we do it too soon, it would cause the economy to go into a double dip recession.

“We only start cutting back when employment growth starts again, when banks are lending on reasonable terms.

“We have a plan to cut £16 billion from current government expenditure. We would use less than a third for our immediate spending priorities – jobs for young people, small class sizes, scrap tuition fees.

“There's a real urgent need for whoever's in government next to be sensible about the timing of cuts and then also when we start doing it, we have a plan about how we're going to achieve it. If they don't, people will lose confidence in UK Plc.”

Bankers' bonuses

“It's morally wrong we bailed them [the banks] out and they engorge themselves on bonuses. These are banks that are only in existence because they were bailed out by the taxpayer.

“These banks are essential to lend money to local businesses in Watford and they are not doing that. Lending has plummeted because they are hoarding capital because they think they want to get out of public ownership as soon as possible so they can do what they like.

“The priority is lending. Lend more and hoard less. They still haven't got it.”