Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has accused Ukip of pretending that blaming foreigners can solve problems in Eastleigh.
Deputy Prime Minister Clegg made the remarks while on a visit to the Prysmian factory in Eastleigh to celebrate 100 years of cable making in the south by the company that was formerly owned by Pirelli and he took the opportunity to make the case for EU membership and endorse MP Mike Thornton.
Clegg was also celebrating a 90 per cent increase in the number people starting apprenticeships in the region.
The government says it has nearly doubled the number of people starting apprenticeships, compared to the last parliament and is just days away from being able to announce the 2 millionth apprenticeship since 2010 in England.
The Deputy Prime Minister said:
“Gone are the days when a vocational education was seen as the poor relation when it came to choosing a career path. We’re seeing more and more young people choosing apprenticeships and hearing from more and more businesses who say they simply couldn’t function without the talent and ambition they bring.”
Prysmian is the largest global manufacturer of power and communication cables and although the local workforce has contracted since Pirelli’s heyday it is still a major employer in Eastleigh.
Nick Clegg, who was accompanied by Eastleigh MP Mike Thornton, took part in a question and answer session with a selection of the workforce including 45 of the company’s apprentices.
Topics covered included Student tuition fees, disabled student allowance, climate change and early years funding but with a general election looming in what is a very marginal seat he took his time in addressing a question about Ukip from one apprentice who asked:
“How much do you fear the threat of Ukip especially in this constituency?”
The Lib Dem leader replied:
“Politics is in a fluid time. All of the mainstream parties have their challenges and problems, whether it’s Ukip here or the SNP north of the border; or Mr. Grillo in Northern Italy, or Mr. Wilders, or the Tea Party in North America or Marie le Penn in France.
Populists – people who tap into people’s anger – are doing very well in politics because people are understandably very angry for lots of reasons.
The biggest reason of all is that we had this monumental crash back in 2008, which wasn’t anybody’s fault here, but we are all picking up the tab for the greed and the mistakes and the irresponsible behaviour of the banks in the City of London.
As people struggle to take their kids away on holiday like they used to, or pay their bills in the way that they want to or feel they are having to pick up costs and are having to make savings – this produces understandable frustration and anger.
Then Ukip trot along and say: “Oh don’t worry. All your problems will be solved if we just pull out of Europe” and that’s the bit I completely part company with them, the idea that just closing the door and turning our back on the outside world is going to create a single job; or create a single apprentice; or help a single graduate get ahead in life is a nonsense.
It’s a false promise.
If you want solutions to the genuine dilemmas about life; how we get people into work; about how we create jobs; how we make sure our economy stays open so that are more jobs in the future so we can look after our families, keep our streets safe; fund our NHS properly.
Simply cutting ourselves off from the outside would not work it would simply make us poorer. It would not solve any of those problems.
I challenged Nigel Farage to a debate. It didn’t go quite as I’d hoped but I would take the opportunity again because I think they are getting away with coming up with fantasy land – that everything will be solved if you simply wish the rest of the world away.
I’m afraid you can’t.
We live in the world we live in.
You’ve got to deal with it and grapple with it to find solutions. Not give people false solutions that don’t actually help.
The European union is flawed and desperately needs reform, I am a passionate believer in reform and less bureaucracy but not quitting.
Quitting would be an act of self-harm.
We gain so much more from the EU then we put in.
As a government we spend 40% of the country’s wealth on government spending the EU’s budget is less than 1%. It’s miniscule.
The European club, flawed though it is, is the world’s largest market place of 500 million consumers. There are 3 million jobs in the UK dependent on us being in that market place and another million – four million in total – of other fellow citizens who are in work and better off because of our place in Europe.
We spend over 700 billion pounds as a government on public services. Next year this government will spend 59 billion quid of your money just paying the interest off on our accumulated debts, that’s about half the NHS budget.
Settling a much smaller bill with the EU to keep 4 million people in work is, I think, a price worth paying.”
During press interviews Mr Clegg then had to field a further series of questions about Ukip.
Eastleigh News asked him if Mike Thornton could hold off Ukip as they say they would only need a 2% swing on the by-election result to win Eastleigh.
“A lot of people speak very highly of Mike Thornton.
He won a dramatic by-election he has worked incredibly hard and is very proud of the fact that because of Liberal Democrats in government, pensioners in Eastleigh have got the biggest increase in the state pension ever, there are more apprentices in the South East than ever before.
We’ve given people a whopping tax cut, £700 – soon to be an £800 tax cut -for every basic rate tax payer in the whole area because of the Liberal Democrat plan to start raising the point at which you start paying income tax; free healthy meals for little toddlers at primary school; all of these things are things we’ve done not just talked about – we’ve done it.
What has Ukip done?
All they’ve done is gone round and pretend that somehow blaming it on foreigners can solve every problem in Eastleigh.
People know that’s not the case.
Of course we have to sort out immigration of course we need to sort out the European union but in their heart of hearts when people come to vote and they ask themselves who is going to o the right thing by me and my family they’ll vote for Mike Thornton because they’ll see that has done so many things in the time he has been MP.”
Before leaving Mr. Clegg posed for photographs with apprentices and presented a large crystal bowl to staff to mark the company’s centenary.