An interview with Nick Clegg, Britain's deputy prime minister
LONDON -- Nick Clegg rose to stardom in British politics this year during the parliamentary election debates, when the young Liberal Democrat attacked Conservative candidate David Cameron. But when the Conservative victory fell short of the majority needed to govern, Cameron unexpectedly turned to Clegg and formed a coalition with the Liberals -- a party that had not been in power for nearly 100 years. Now the two men have embarked on an ambitious economic program to slash their nation's deficit, and many of Clegg's supporters -- who are to the left of Britain's Labor Party -- feel they are not getting what they bargained for. Clegg sat down Wednesday with The Washington Post's Lally Weymouth in his London office. Excerpts:
Were you friends with David Cameron before you became his deputy prime minister?
No, we barely knew each other.
I don't think either one of us looks to the other for friendship. But we work well together -- we cooperate well. I think we both surprised ourselves and each other.
What is your biggest disagreement?
The Liberal Democrat Party and the Conservative Party come at things very differently when it comes to Europe. When it comes to political reform, we have a much greater tradition in the Liberal Democrats of social justice and fairness than the Conservatives do. We went in different directions on the Iraq war -- they supported it, we didn't.
In the campaign, you said Britain should be more independent from the United States. Is that what you and David Cameron believe?
We want a relationship which is strong, driven by shared interests, but not one of excessive diffidence on our part or excessive dominance on the part of the United States.
Was supporting the Iraq war excessive diffidence on Britain's part?
My own view was that the Iraq war was clearly driven as much by a judgment by the then-British government that the most important thing of all was to stick close to the United States. I don't think it is healthy in any relationship -- personal or geostrategic -- for a relationship to be driven entirely by sentiments and diffidence.
So there is no real difference in your attitude toward the United States and that of the prime minister?