Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, making radio history today by becoming the most senior British politician to submit himself to a regular phone-in, was confronted by voters angry at his record.
Clegg, who heads the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition, was forced to defend government policies including public-spending cuts. He wound up his half-hour session by admitting he owns a “big green onesie” -- an all-in-one garment favored by television viewers for its warmth.
On the first of his weekly shows on London’s LBC radio, Clegg was confronted by a former Liberal Democrat county-council member identified only as John from Woking, southwest of London, who told Clegg he had “torn up” his party membership card and asked how the deputy premier could reconcile the party’s values with “this government’s attacks on the poorest.”
“I am immensely proud that, facing the biggest crisis this country has seen in a generation, the Liberal Democrats took a big, collective and brave decision -- at some political cost -- to say we are going to step up to the plate and fix this mess while also trying to make society fairer,” Clegg told him, citing the U.K.’s deficit, which stood at a record when the coalition came to power.
He asked John to give the party credit for measures like raising the tax threshold on lower incomes and helping poor children.
In other questions Clegg was challenged over benefit cuts, international aid, job losses in the military and the rise in university tuition fees. He was also asked whether he thought it was right for U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration to signal that it wants Britain to remain a strong voice in the European Union, from which some Tory lawmakers want to withdraw.
“They are perfectly entitled to say ’Look, if you’re interested in the American perspective, we think Britain stands tall in the world if you stand tall in your own neighborhood,”’ Clegg said.
The last question was from Harry from Sheffield -- Clegg’s parliamentary district -- who asked if the deputy premier had ever worn a onesie.
“I was actually given a big green onesie in Sheffield, which I have kept in its packaging, but I haven’t worn it yet,” Clegg said.
Asked by the LBC radio host, Nick Ferrari, whether he would be willing to wear it in public for charity, Clegg replied, laughing: “It’s almost certainly something I would do in the privacy of my own home.”
Clegg’s office said the garment was an Incredible Hulk one-piece, won by Clegg at a Liberal Democrat charity dinner. It was part of a hamper donated by a group of university students affiliated to the party that also contained alcohol and instant noodles.