Nick Clegg: 'We Have to Grit Our Teeth'

Article excerpt

Byline: Lally Weymouth

On the battle for Britain.

Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg rose to stardom during the preelection television debates in which he attacked Conservative leader David Cameron. When Cameron and his party won a plurality but fell short of the majority needed to govern, he unexpectedly turned to Clegg and his Liberal Democrats to form a coalition. Last week The Washington Post's Lally Weymouth spoke with Clegg in his London office. Excerpts:

Were you friends with Prime Minister David Cameron before you became his deputy prime minister?

No, we barely knew each other.

And now?

In a strange way, there is something more open and straightforward about having a government where the prime minister and deputy prime minister are from different parties but are seeking to do things together in the national interest.

During the campaign, you said Great Britain should be more independent from the U.S. Is that what you and David Cameron believe?

We want a relationship which is strong, driven by shared interests, 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?

My own view was that [it] was driven by a judgment that the most important thing 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.

Why did you decide to join a coalition with the Tories?

We had to create a strong and--crucially--legitimate government. Without legitimacy, no government can do anything. And we have to do some very big, difficult things.

Speaking of big, difficult things, what about your economic program? Can you bring your party along?

I think so. A lot of people are going to feel quite ambivalent and uneasy along the way. And that's why as we take a lot of these very big, controversial, and frankly unpopular decisions to fill this huge black hole in the public finances, we have got to constantly explain to people two things. …