Young voters give Nick Clegg a grilling on immigration
Nicholas Cecil, Chief Political Correspondent
London Evening Standard
Young voters turned on Nick Clegg today over his plans for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, and his expenses.
The Liberal Democrat leader faced his most severe criticism in the election campaign so far during a radio phone-in with first-time voters. He struggled to give an estimate of how many people would benefit from the amnesty proposed by his party, which would apply to illegal immigrants who have been here for at least 10 years and have not committed any other crime.
Questioned on BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat over how many would be given legal status, he said: I think it will be very, very small. But he was pressed by one listener who said: You must have an idea. Mr Clegg responded: Of course I don't because I don't know how many people could possibly prove that they have been here for 10 years, have not broken the law since they arrived here.
Grilled by another listener, called Adam, over how many illegal immigrants would have utility bills or other documents to show they had been here for a decade, he appeared to lose his cool, saying: You can pretend that this is not a problem. You can pretend that they don't have utility bills. They do.
The Lib-Dem leader, who has been seeking to woo young voters, also faced tough questioning from listeners over his expenses; he is seeking to portray the Lib-Dems as cleaner than the Conservatives and Labour.
Asked why he had charged the taxpayer for a 2.49 cake tin from Ikea, he admitted that he, like other MPs, had lived in a complete parallel universe. He was quizzed on other claims totalling more than 80,000 over four years, including hundreds of pounds for gardening. Mr Clegg stressed the practical fact was that he had to live in two places, his Sheffield Hallam constituency and London, where he has a home in Putney.
But a listener said: It seems that when you were put in the practical position to walk what you are talking, you did the same thing as they all did. Mr Clegg insisted he had bought a derelict house and was simply trying to keep it in basic nick, and that the garden had been an eyesore. He said any profit from the Sheffield home, which he bought with a 279,000 mortgage shortly after becoming an MP in 2005, would be returned to the taxpayer.
Earlier today, Mr Clegg had enjoyed a double boost for Lib-Dem policies. A group of retired generals supported his call to find a cheaper alternative to a full replacement of the Trident nuclear deterrent. Then the International Monetary Fund backed a tax on the profits of banks, and his party's plans for funding schools.
Related Links :
Nick Clegg poll surge is soft as supporters admit they may change vote
Blog: Nick Clegg's deadly cake tin