Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg defended his plans to scrap tuition fees when he was challenged by JMU Journalism as he came to Liverpool on the first full day of General Election campaigning.
Mr Clegg was in Wavertree lending his support to party candidate Colin Eldridge in what has become the city’s key battleground as the Lib Dems look to take control of the seat from Labour in the poll on May 6.
After taking part in the final Prime Minister’s Questions of this Parliament, Mr Clegg immediately flew to Liverpool, where he visited the Penny Lane Development Trust Centre.
While there, he said that if his party were elected to govern they would begin to abolish university fees for students straight away. With the plan to scrap tuition fees, as well as make the first £10,000 you earn tax free, his party has been criticised for saying anything on the basis that they are unlikely to be in power.
Mr Clegg explained to JMU Journalism: “From day one our plan would benefit students because we would remove tuition fees for the last year of study for undergraduates on their first degree course.
“And then the next year we'd move on to the penultimate
year and to part-time students and so on.
“So it's not something you have to wait six years for. It
actually starts on day one but it's rolled out in steps so
that it takes you six years before it's implemented in full.
“We are the only party saying that we have a plan to
remove tuition fees. It is wrong, when a time that our
economy is crippled by debt to ask other people to take
on yet even more debt. The answer to debt is not yet more
debt,” he added.
Mr Clegg did not elaborate on how these ambitious proposals would be afforded, but instead pinned his faith in the Lib Dems' Treasury spokesman Vince Cable as the man with all the answers. This theme has also been repeatedly used by Wavertree hopeful, Mr Eldridge.
In reality the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to form the next government but could become crucial if there is a hung parliament whereby no party has an overall majority with which to govern.
This would mean Labour or the Conservatives may need the support of the Lib Dems. Mr Clegg would not be drawn on who his party would be aligned to if this were the case and spent much of the day criticising both parties for the “rotten corruption in Westminster”.
He said: “What people have got to understand is that these parties may talk the talk of political reform.
“But they have every interest in keeping going this whole stitch up of being the two old parties and all the secrecy in Westminster going, because it's just the way things are.”
Mr Clegg added: “We've got brilliant candidates in Liverpool Wavertree, like Colin Eldridge. I think people in the North West feel so angry and so let down by Labour. We're hoping to win this constituency after years and years of people here locally being taken for granted by Labour.”
Mr Eldridge, who is in a tough battle with Labour’s Luciana Berger and the Conservative's Andrew Garnett, was delighted to welcome Mr Clegg and acknowledged the pressure is now on him to deliver victory.
He said: “It’s his first stop to support my campaign and that demonstrates how seriously he is taking it and how confident we are that we can take the seat. Obviously we’ve been really pleased to have him.”
By Hugh O'Connell, Website Producer
JMU Journalism Election 2010
Nick Clegg made Liverpool his first port of call after leaving the House of Commons on Wednesday