Originally Published 17th September 2011
Today I met Nick Clegg. I’m not joking. Thanks to the amazing UpRising programme I was invited to take part in a presentation on said programme to the Deputy Prime Minister.
When I was told I was going to be doing this I assumed that the venue would be some massive conference hall and the UpRising Alumni Advisory Board would just shuffle on stage, say our bit, be vaguely acknowledged, get a brief round of applause and shuffle off again before a representative from another programme took the floor and the discourse moved on. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The event took place in the intimately small Nomad Room at the Custard factory and a relatively entourage free Nick Clegg sat front and centre, mere feet from those presenting. On top of this Nick, who has been a patron of the UpRising programme for the last three years, revealed that not only was this the first event he’s attended in Birmingham this visit (before even his own party conference) but in fact the only non party related event he’s going to be going to. And that’s not for want of invitations. It was also being filmed and beamed out live to BBC and Sky News 24.
There was a brief introduction from Zehra Zaidi, the brilliant Birmingham UpRising co-ordinator followed by the UAAB presentations in which I took part (and sneakily managed to promote the gender equality project I’m working on). At this point I should probably explain what the UAAB is: it’s the UpRising Alumni Advisory Board: the board is made up of committed UpRisers who were selected out of a range of applicants for their dedication to the programme, we now work with the organisers to act as a sounding board for the programme and represent UpRisers at amazing events like this.
The UAAB presentations took the form of each of us talking for 2minutes about what the programme means to us and what our best moments from it were. Each did ourselves proud (if I do say so myself) but the highlights for me were Michael Olajide talking about his journey from Nigeria, to innercity London to Birmingham and the UpRising programme, Jessica Woodley talking about the programmes dedication to diversity and how coming from a mixed race, working class, innercity background it’s helped her believe in herself and her own potential and Daniel Bridgewater talking about how its helped him gain the confidence, know-how and networks to set up his own company/social enterprise: the North Wall Theatre Company before he’s even started uni. Their stories really summed up what UpRising is all about.
Then it was Nick’s turn; he offered his response to the programme and, after a couple of pre-selected questions from chair and UAAB member Mobeen Amin, he opened the Q&A session up to the floor. Prior to the event we’d been told that all questions had to be cleared by his office first. In fact just before he arrived we were given a sheet of paper with said questions on and told to hand them out to other non-UAAB UpRisers to ask. So you can imagine my surprise when, instead of merely taking questions from the designated people he just picked whoever had their hand up, including me. I wont bore you with the details of all that was asked and said (I believe the event went out live on BBC and Sky News 24 so if you’re interested I’m sure you can dig out the whole thing somewhere) but I will give you some edited highlights:
In response to my question of ‘the latest statistics show 3/4 of those convicted in the recent riots already had numerous criminal convictions, what do you think the government can do to identify wayward individuals, preferably after their first offence, and educate them and help get them out of that lifestyle and involved in their communities before they become habitual offenders?’ (originally even more poorly phrased and in a nervous manner of course) Nick told us about his views, some of which are already being made into policy:
– He agreed with the need to educate, not just condemn and abandon convicts calling the current prison system ‘university for criminals…all it does is churn out better more hardened criminals’
– Stated that ‘all prisoners are now met on release by someone whose job it is to keep them on the straight and narrow, the coalition government pays for them’
– And talked about wanting to implement ‘restorative justice’ whereby criminals are forced to meet their victims, apologise and help rebuild their lives. He also talked about putting criminals to work, paying them a wage and teaching them skills but having a portion of their wage go into a ‘victims fund’
– He stated that whilst it is important to help criminals so they don’t repeat offend, you can’t overlook the fact that they have committed a crime and should be punished accordingly, and you can’t ignore those who come from tough backgrounds and don’t commit crimes; they should get just as much, if not more extra help.
In response to questions about how to improve the diversity of political parties, both ethnically and in gender terms, he stated:
– He couldn’t agree more, the major political parties are too much like him ‘pale and male’ and he’s implementing programmes within the Lib Dems to try and address this issue within his own party
And of course there were the inevitable questions about education and tuition fees:
-Whilst he didn’t necessarily defend the obscene hike in tuition fees he did say that he hoped it would do some good to the country; he believes that we place far too much importance on academic qualifications and we should also be focusing on sorting out vocational qualifications which he referred to as currently being a ‘spaghetti’ like ‘mess’ and ‘mistrusted by employers’.
– He brought up a new coalition policy which provides all very young children 15 hours free pre-schooling a week to help take some of the strain off working parents and give them a better start in life. (In my opinion it’s a damn good policy and, bless him, he clearly thought so too saying ‘I wish the people would talk about some of our other policies like this one sometimes’)
Overall Nick Clegg came across as a really nice guy. During the speeches he was attentive and I know that during mine whenever I made eye-contact with him he smiled encouragingly, which was much appreciated given the pre-presentation nerves I’d been suffering from! He even made jokes about his own and the lib dem’s reputation commenting ‘Up Rising would a be good slogan for my party given what’s happening to us at the moment!’. And even without all that, he took an hour out of his obscenely busy schedule just to come and talk to us. After the event he made no attempt to network with prominent individuals, promote his own policies or anything like that he just posed for some photos with us UpRisers and left. Admittedly, having some nice soft press about how Nick cares about young people may of been part of his motive for coming, but it certainly didn’t come across like that. He seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself and eager to meet and help inspire young people, as well as support the UpRising programme as a whole.
So in short, whatever his successes and failures in parliament, when it comes to personality I like Nick Clegg. And regardless of his motives, the media coverage he’s afforded the UpRising programme just by meeting with us will do a heck of a lot of good when it comes to recruitment and finding funding. Ta Nick!
Oh for a brief bit of news footage covering the event check this out: