Interview with former MP and Home Secretary – Charles Clarke

Charles Clarke, former Labour MP and Home Secretary, visited the University of Nottingham (UoN) on 21st October to give a talk on ‘How best can we meet the international and economic security challenges of our time?’

Clarke held the seat for Norwich South from 1997 to 2010. He was Education Secretary from 2002 to 2004, where he oversaw the introduction of top up fees for universities. He served as Home Secretary from 2004 to 2006, introducing several anti-terrorism laws, including the Identity Cards Act in 2006, which some saw as an invasion of privacy, but Clarke saw as a necessary precaution.

He lost his seat in the 2010 election by a margin of 300 votes. He is now visiting professor in social sciences at the University of East Anglia and Lancaster University.

Impact News spoke with Clarke before he gave his talk to get his opinions on tuition fees, student activism and politics, the current state of the Labour party, the upcoming general election and the voting age.

Do you think it’s likely that tuition fees will be raised again and do you think they should be? (The raising of tuition fees was discussed at the recent Conservative Party Conference).

I don’t think they should be. I don’t think that reducing fees to £6,000, as some parts of Labour are suggesting, will work though, because it will take about £2 billion out of the universities and the net effect of that is less money for universities.

I don’t think the cap of £9,000 should be increased

I think it’s fair that students make a contribution towards their education and pay back through the tax system as graduates rather than as students before they go. The biggest weakness is the lack of sustainability in the current system which comes as a result of the coalition deciding to raise the salary at which you start paying back from about £15,000 or £16,000.

But I don’t think the cap of £9,000 should be increased. I don’t think we should be talking about university fees of £15,000-£20,000 like in America.

What policies for students would you suggest that the parties pursue for the next general election?

I think the worse thing that this government has done is to remove the Education Maintenance Allowances which directly hammered some of the people who would benefit most from higher education and I think that’s a very unfortunate thing.

I think  a system of loans for post-graduates should be introduced

I think  a system of loans for post-graduates should be introduced. At the moment if you want to do postgraduate education of any kind, it’s basically bank of Mum and Dad which enables you to do it and I think that’s very socially divisive. I think it should be possible to get a system that people are able to fund themselves going into their future.

Would you like to see more student activism, because I know a lot of people suggest that it’s a thing of the past?

Well, I don’t know, I know people do but I don’t accept that. When I look at my children and the friends they have at university and what they do, I see a generation which is very positive about society, very positive about the future, very interested.

I’m not worried about the so called lack of activism of the current student generation

I mean it doesn’t manifest itself so much, [in] big demonstrations and stuff like that, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d be pretty surprised if most of the students here aren’t quite socially aware, quite confident, don’t want to make a serious contribution to society. Whether that all adds up to activism or not… maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but I’m not worried about the so called lack of activism of the current student generation.

What do you think the current state of the Labour party is, its leader Ed Miliband and its prospects for the 2015 general election?

I’ve been very pessimistic about prospects for the election. I think it’s likely the Conservatives will get an overall majority which I think would be completely terrible and a disaster. That’s really because Labour is not currently strong enough and are not challenging the Conservatives enough with an alternative set of policies and choices for the country.

We should be much clearer in answering the questions that people are worried about… whether that’s welfare reform, immigration, [the] European Union.

Labour is not currently strong enough and are not challenging the Conservatives enough with an alternative set of policies and choices for the country

Our lack of clarity, in my opinion, gives the Tories a much easier run than they should be having as they go up to the next election.

I don’t think Ed Miliband has been successful in really getting the party up as an effective fighting machine which is what it needs to be at this stage before a general election.

In light of the recent controversy about the leadership debates, do you think that UKIP and the Green Party should be included?

I think it would be sensible to find some device for both of them. The truth is the Conservatives and the Labour Party are in quite different positions from the other parties since one of their leaders will inevitably be Prime Minister and will be the major part of any future government and they, in a sense, need more scrutiny than the other parties.

If you are allowing UKIP in, I most certainly think you should allow the Greens in. The Greens are now ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls and so I think if you are going to have a two tier system of debates, which they’ve talked about, I think having Tory and Labour in one, and all five in another might be the way to make it go.

Finally, after sixteen year olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum, do you think that should be extended to other elections?

Yes I do, and I have argued for that for a long time. There are of course sixteen and seventeen year olds who are not mature enough to vote but there are also sixty five year olds who are not mature enough to vote and I think here you’ve got to say that the future of the society belongs to those who are part of that society. I was encouraged by the Scottish experience.

Caroline Chan and Yasemin Craggs-Mersinoglu

Image: Huffington Post

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