Nihal: How do you conduct a debate on immigration without resorting to scaremongering?
Baroness Susan Kramer: “I think the scaremongering is totally unacceptable and a real distortion of immigration in this country. My mother is an immigrant and if you live in London it’s hard to find someone who isn’t an immigrant themselves, or someone who has an immigrant in their family.
“This is a group which has been the most productive and contributed so significantly to making our country a very special place, with an extraordinary future.
“There’s nothing unfair in saying that an administration that manges immigrations needs to be doing its job properly, it’s one of the reasons we called for exit checks. It will make a difference because there’s a sense of certainty to people when they can finally count who’s left and not just who’s coming in.
“We have to celebrate people who were immigrants and are now part of our community. We were right in attacking those coming here in order to get benefits, that is not acceptable - but coming in here because you intend to work, that’s a very different message.”
Ivan Lewis: “It’s not racist to be concerned about immigration. We need rules that are fair, clear and applied consistently. Immigration has made a massive positive contribution to our society, economically, socially and culturally, in every way. We should make that clear.
“But we do believe there are problems - such as employers undercutting the wages of local workers by importing migrant workers and paying them peanuts. We need to stop that and will introduce a law to do so. We need to be clear about the link to contribution and benefits, which is always at the heart of our welfare state.
“I accept we made some mistakes - we should have introduced the points system for non-EU and highly-skilled and low-skilled migrants much earlier.
“We already have a points system, that’s not new.
“We think it was the right thing to have singed up to free movement of labour.
“We also believe in the importance of integration. There is a massive difference between integration and assimilation. Two words that are often mixed up. Assimilation is saying that every body is the same and they shouldn’t be allowed to celebrate their own cultural identity and their own faith. “Integration is very different. It’s about people developing mutual respect, I’m a supporter of faith schools but I believe that children in faith schools, as part of their eduction, should be mixing with children of other and no faiths. It is important at an early age that children are encouraged to have relationships with people from different cultures.
“There is muddled rhetoric from the Home Office at one time which mixed up integration and assimilation.”
Michael Gove: “I think it’s important to keep your language temperate and to deal in facts and that applies in any policy area, but of course there are particular sensitivities when you’re dealing with immigration.
“It’s fair to point out that there have been huge benefits to Britain as a result of migration over generations - economic and cultural benefits. But there are parts of the country where the number of new arrivals have put a strain on public services. It’s also the case that the welcome that the British offer to people who want to come here and contribute, that welcome has been, in on or two areas, weakened by the sense that some people who come tot this country do not contribute, but take advantage of the welfare state.
Nihal: “Was it temperate to send a lorry around saying “illegally in the UK? go home or face arrest”. Was that temperate?”
Gove: “I think it was an appropriate way of alerting people who were here illegally to deal with the situation responsibly to report themselves to the authorities or face the consequences.”
Lewis: “Ed Miliband has said that we got some things wrong on immigration, and I think it would be great if Michael said that it wasn’t very helpful as a positive contribution to the debate.”
Nihal: What should be done to ensure senior levels of British society, in both the private and public sectors, reflect the diversity of the UK?
Michael Gove: “I’m proud the first Muslim cabinet minister is a Conservative, my colleague Sajid Javid. In this election, we have the highest proportion of BME candidates when compared to the other main parties. Part of what we need to do is call out and challenge organisations that don’t seem to promote not just people from BME backgrounds, but also people from working-class backgrounds.
“One of the patterns of migration to this country has meant that many people from Asian communities have, when they’ve arrived, made their career and achieved successes in the private sector, often because they’ve encountered prejudice elsewhere. It goes back 200 years.
“It was often the case for people from non-conformist backgrounds who would find that the Church of England had a lock on establishment positions and so they’d find success in business.
“As times changed and some prejudices vanished, we had more people from a wider variety of backgrounds in those positions.
“In the 21st century we need to accelerate that process by pointing out where there are institutions and organisations that seem not to have been successful in making themselves more diverse. I’d add some of our sporting organisations to this.”
Ivan Lewis: “We’ve said we will have a proactive approach to tackling under-representation in public life. We have done more than most parties, both in terms of our representatives and in other ways, but we’ve made no way near enough progress.
“If you look at the parliamentary Labour Party, it has a proud record, but it’s nowhere near good enough. There are many marginal seats where we believe we’re going to win them. We have many ethnic minority candidates in those marginal seats.
“We have a 106 key seats where believe Labour had a realistic prospect of winning them, we have a significant number of those seats where there are ethnic minority seats.
“Where you have people of a similar ability and talent competing against each other, when you have a white person competing against an ethnic minority person, the likelihood of the white person getting the job in certain senior positions of our society is extraordinary, so there’s something wrong with our system.
“I do believe in positive interventions, to say that our organisations is not looking like the society we serve.
“On the questions of race, we are not shattering enough glass ceilings, I’ll acknowledge that and say we need to do better.”
Baroness Kramer: “My party hasn’t achieved what it has wanted to achieve, quite frankly. If we had a surge in the 2010 elections, we would have seen a different set of faces. And this applies to women as well as BME candidates but that didn’t happen to us, we ended up losing seats. It’s tough and we don’t like it. We have always been leaders on the equality and human rights agendas.
“For us it is something that leaves us saying ‘how on earth can we achieve this’. We do have some brilliant candidates in the BME community. When we do have a ethnic minority candidates, it seems to be extraordinary how often the tabloids are following them.
“My party has also stood very strongly against quotas, but we have taken enormous steps in the affirmative direction. So we have, right at the heart of the party, a steering group in diversity. We have got a leadership scheme over many years, giving them all kinds of support and training. We are reaching out hard. We have 52 people standing tin the BME community and I hope we see a few of them win.
“One of the areas where we saw extraordinary leadership from business secretary Vince Cable was on the inclusion of women on boards as non executives. He worked through with others to try and set up a voluntary structure to get boards to change. That has seen a big change.
“The FTSE 100 has responded, we are now seeing 25 per cent women in boards. I would want to do an equivalent for the BME community. Using his position and role, he (Vince Cable) has driven that agenda forward for women. It seems to me, this is something we can now use that and take that around the BME community which is vital.”
On the economy
Nihal: “Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the number of low-paid jobs being done by black and Asian workers has increase by almost 13 per cent from 2011/2013, while the number of white workers in low-paid jobs has increased by only 1.3 per cent. Black and Asian workers are also twice as likely to be trapped as temporary workers as white workers. Why do you thimk this has happened?
Ivan Lewis: “The issue is what are we going to be doing about it. The only party which has very clear policies is Labour. First of all, increasing the minimum wage by £8 an hour by 2019; second, giving tax breaks to employers willing to pay the living wage; and third, banning exploitative zero hours contract. People are at home in the mornings waiting to get a text message, waiting to hear how many hours work they will get. We got this whole culture in our country where people are trapped in exploitative low pay and we have said it’s time to call time on it. Any good business person or good entrepreneur does not run their company in that way nor do they not treat their workers in that way, because they know it does not lead to productive, competitive, successful business. That is a radical agenda from our party.”
Michael Gove: “In many cases, people will enter the labour market in jobs that may not immediately give them the security they aspire to. Once they acquire that experience, it can often be the case that they rise quickly to get the security they deserve and the promotion that is their right.
“Fewer children are living in poverty under us than was the case when Labour left office in 2010. “They would have been in greater poverty if their parents didn’t have a job, a job is nearly always the best route out of poverty.
“There still more to do in order to help. It’s important to recognise the dignity that comes from work and the opportunity that rises from a job.”
Lewis: “You’ve got a commitment to cut £12 billion of so-called welfare, which means child benefits and tax credits. The definitions of welfare which Ian Duncan Smith means is working poor. The people being hammered are people on low pay, in work; they are doing their best to do the right things by their communities and families. We are in the society of bedroom tax and food banks.”
Gove: “Ivan’s basic complaint to us is ‘you haven’t cleaned up the mess that we’ve left quickly enough’. As far as I’m concerned, the only way we can secure prosperity for more people is by following the economic path we have been treading for the last five years, which has allowed people to get back into work.”
Baroness Kramer: “The biggest cause of poverty was the economic collapse and you have to hang that around the necks of Labour because that’s where it belongs. We had a crash from the banks but they [government] had absolutely no contingency plans. There was a global crisis but you can sustain and recover from that rapidly if you have got a cushion within your economy, that’s what any sensible economy does. Labour had spent and burrowed on the assumption there would never be a setback. You can’t do that and it’s irresponsible.
“We are in a much better position to understand the national finances than we were ever able to do as a small oppositions party. We are extremely careful in how we deal with this.
“We have been absolutely keen on pushing about apprenticeships and they have not been on anyone else’s manifesto.”
On expanding the role of pharmacies
North-east London local pharmaceutical committee: “One in three GPs plans to retire over the next five years, nine out of 10 GPs don’t want to work longer hours, according to a British Medical Association survey. What are your plans for the role of community pharmacy to improve access?”
Baroness Kramer: “There is a huge potential in pharmacies – they have already taken a lot of the burden of dealing with smoking issues, advice around obesity, advice around contraception, it’s been crucial. We don’t use those skills as well as we should, we absolutely need to have an integrated system. There has to be engagement with pharmacists – they are really important healthcare providers, they know the patients in a really individual way and are trusted by patients.”
Ivan Lewis: “The big challenge is to move towards prevention and early intervention. A big part of Labour’s manifesto is generally in terms of the state and the use of public money, shifting from reactively dealing with crisis and failure to early intervention and prevention. In addition to that, we will recruit new doctors and 8,000 new GPs. We will give people access to GPs within 48 hours but we have to use the full range of community services in an appropriate way. We also need to tackle people going to A&E unnecessarily, it’s about using community services in the appropriate way.”
Michael Gove: “We’ve already funded hundreds of thousands of people to have more access to seven-days-a-week GPs and extended hours, and we are going to continue that programme. GPs are changing the way they work themselves through clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). Those at the head of the BMA have always been…they have tended not to be the sunniest figures when it comes to commentating on what’s happening in the NHS. In my constituency, the CCG and GPs which operate in it were delighted with the changes that have given them greater flexibility and a greater degree of control over their budgets.”
On tobacco plain packaging
Alpesh Patel, a Londis retailer in north London: “Sales of tobacco are essential to small retailers throughout our country, driving footfall to the small businesses. These stores provide employment in local communities and keep neighbourhoods alive. In March, parliament passed legislation to introduce legislation for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. Based on evidence from Australia – the only country to have introduced plains packaging of tobacco – the measure is unlikely to achieve the public health goals but risks increasing the illegal tobacco market. It will also take choice away from consumers and damage thousands of small businesses.”
Michael Gove: “I don’t want my children to smoke. I used to be smoker myself, and I’m glad I gave it up. As far as I’m concerned, the public health arguments in favour of plain package, along with the public health arguments in banning smoking in a number of places, have convinced me. I used to be a libertarian on this issue, I am no longer. One of the reasons for that is that I’m a father who doe not want their children to smoke.”
Ivan Lewis: “First of all, we are committed to reducing and then freezing business rates for small and medium-sized business if we win the election. The Tories talk about corporation tax which is important, but we also think that small businesses do struggle in a big way, so by cutting business rates and then freezing them over two-year period, we think it would help companies like yours.
“In terms of public health, when we introduced the smoking ban, I remember getting quite a lot of abuse on the doorsteps in my own constituency from people who like going the pub and having a pint and they felt this was somehow an infringement on their lives. But it was absolute the right thing to do. It was an example of brave and strong political leadership in the overall interest of society, which undoubtedly upset some people, no question, but it was absolutely the right thing to do from a health point of view. I think those business that are enterprising and imaginative always find a way through difficult times and new challenges, so the question really is, what kind of alternative service can you offer to replace the damage you feel will be caused this policy.
“There are times, such as with the smoking ban and this is another example, where we deserve some credit for doing the right thing and providing the leadership that people have the right to expect.”
Baroness Kramer: “For many people, frankly, smoking is a death sentence, so anything that we can do that reduces it and reduces the chances of young people taking it up is good, and it’s happening, which is good news.
“There are other ways to help small business. Giving local people control over the businesses rate which is currently paid into the Treasury so they use that to enhance the possibilities for business in their area including small business, strikes me as a far more constructive way to build your trade than having to rely on something you don’t even want to sell.”
On whether Labour is pro-business
Question: Five of the people who signed a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph, warning a Labour government would threaten jobs and deter investment, were Asian. What would you say to change their minds?
Ivan Lewis: Any successful business person I’ve ever met feels strongly that if their business is going to be successful, they need a government which creates the right environment in terms of infrastructure and skills, deals with the presence of red tape and gets the education system right. They also accept that workers need to be treated properly with dignity and decency and respect. What we’ve had for too long is governments which have not said that people who work hard and do the right thing have a right to expect decent terms and conditions, and have a right to a minimum wage. None of those conditions are a threat to decent enterprising business people who want to succeed and generate wealth in our country.
Do you accept as an entrepreneur that your success is partially as a result of the contribution that people who work for you make, and they deserve to be treated with respect? Or are we going to continue to have a situation where the economy of the country works purely for the people on top? What we are saying is, don’t ask me to choose between profit, which is not a dirty word, and ethics.
On the threat to small shops
Question: Can you do something to stop giant supermarket chains setting up local stores which impact very heavily on small independent shops?
Baroness Kramer: “It has got to be a local decision. What you can do is make sure the local authority is in a position to be able to look at that particular set of circumstances and either put in conditions or set it up in a such a way where they [large retailers] are not able to set them up.”
Ivan Lewis: “It was a fault in the 1980s and 90s when we allowed these massive edge-of-town supermarkets to be developed. You need a local authority with vision and a strategy that is willing to work with business to look at the infrastructure, the environment and the attraction of small businesses and support them in small town centres. You need to say, ‘the character of our community depends on us supporting these independent small businesses’. We also have to consider our own behaviour – are we supporting our small businesses?”
Question: At a time when IS (Islamic State) doesn’t seem to be disappearing, when there are issues with Ukraine, I’m very interested in Trident – why on earth did the Lib Dems want to adopt a part-time nuclear deterrent and what is the Labour party’s stance if you were to team up with the SNP on Trident?
Ivan Lewis: We’ve made it absolutely clear there will be no coalition with the SNP and they will not have ministers in an incoming Labour government. Finally, the Trident renewal is non-negotiable. We made it clear we are totally committed to full replacement of Trident.
On career politicians
Kamlesh Patel: Do you think life experiences [alone] are enough to qualify someone to lead the country, as Ed Miliband describes himself as qualified to do so?
Ivan Lewis: Ed Miliband is the son of immigrants, people who fled the Holocaust, so growing up in that environment is quite a learning experience. He’s a dad to two sons, he’s an American football supporter but you get your life experience, your strength, vision and beliefs from a variety of influences in your life. This demonisation of Ed Miliband is way over the top - what we have seen is a relentless vicious, consistent assault on him personally over the last few months.
When asked a question before the last election on why he wanted to be the prime minister, David Cameron said, “Because I’d be rather quite good at it.” Ed Miliband said, “Because the gap between those at the top and everybody else in society is the greatest challenge facing the world and our country and I believe that I have a vision to deal with it.”
Michael Gove: “Some of our great leaders of the past haven’t necessarily had much experience outside politics. I think Ivan is right that what is in someone’s heart and the ide