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Clegg: Lib Dems 'misunderstand' schools policy

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 21 September 2010

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg tells Channel 4 News that party members who voted against the coalition government's plans to set up free schools have misunderstood what the policy is about.

Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrat party conference (Reuters).

Mr Clegg faced embarrassment yesterday when delegates at the party's conference in Liverpool approved a motion rejecting free schools because they would lead to "increasing social divisiveness and inequity ".

But in an interview with Channel 4 News, the deputy prime minister said: "As I tried to explain in my speech yesterday, some of the misgivings expressed in the conference hall I genuinely think slightly misunderstand what the government policy is going to do.

"I think there is a misunderstanding bluntly between what the free schools proposal is alleged to be trying to do and what it will actually do. It won't be taking resources and people and attention away from other schools ...... and crucially, as I stressed in my speech yesterday, it won't do what would be genuinely divisive.

"It won't be introducing selection through the back door, which I'm staunchly opposed to."

Tuition fees
With a review of university funding currently taking place, Mr Clegg was asked if he would honour the Lib Dems' pre-election pledge to oppose any increase in tuition fees.

He said: "Of course I want to honour the pledges that we have made, but we've also got a real problem in higher education which we inherited from Labour. We're trying to sort it out in a way which is as fair and as progessive as possible and doesn't discourage people, particularly from low-income backgrounds, from aspiring to go to university in the first place because they're so intimidated by the legacy of debt that they presently get when they graduate from university."

Mr Clegg said the Conservative/Lib Dem government was looking at alternatives to fees. "One of the options we are looking at - called the graduate contribution scheme, is that the basis on which graduates make a contribution to the university they've gone to is based on what they subsequently earn rather than the course that they've taken."

Faint echoes of Tony Blair?
The DPM said the reason his party voted against the independent free schools policy of the coalition was because they "misunderstand the details of the policy".  Faint echoes of Tony Blair there, writes political editor Gary Gibbon.

On the infamous IKEA cabinet fixing with David Cameron, Nick Clegg admitted he'd tried to pass on some tips to the prime minister, but said that Cameron was "building the cupboard very rapidly".

Read more

Helping the poor
The Lib Dem leader disputed claims from the respected think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, that the chancellor's emergency budget in June was regressive, saying that future budgets would take action to protect the poorest.

"I don't accept the IFS analysis because it makes a number of assumptions, it's very partial. For instance, the IFS says in 2014 or 2015, we predict X,Y,Z will happen. But there are going to be a succession of budgets between now and then.

"We, for instance, have been very open about the fact that the future budgets will do even more to make the tax system fairer. We've already taken 900,000 people out of paying any income tax. We're going to do even more on that."

IKEA cupboard
Mr Clegg was also questioned about the help he gave David Cameron when the prime minister was assembling an IKEA baby cupboard for his newly-born daughter Florence in Downing Street.

The father-of-three said he had given him some advice, but implied that Mr Cameron had not needed much help. "By all accounts, he was building the cupboard very rapidly."

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