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Page last updated at 12:39 GMT, Sunday, 14 March 2010

Kenneth Clarke interview with Andrew Marr

On Sunday 14 March Andrew Marr interviewed Shadow Business Secretary Kenneth Clarke.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Kenneth Clarke on The Andrew Marr Show

ANDREW MARR:

And so to the man who took Britain through the last recession and is back as a living rebuke to those who say the Tory front bench is "devoid of experience." Ken Clarke, Shadow Business Secretary, Midlands man, wants to revive manufacturing with tax breaks, but will he have the cash? Welcome, Mr Clarke. Let's start, if we may, on those opinion polls. Your party has an absolute bare knuckle fight ahead of it of a kind that perhaps you didn't expect a few weeks ago.

KEN CLARKE:

No, I always thought it would be difficult, but I don't … I'm not impressed by what's happening in the polls because very little's happening in the polls. We always score about 38, 39, 40%. We're up against a glass ceiling. We ought to go above 40%. But we've been there for a long time. We've always been in the lead. I think the press are really rather manufacturing stories out of wobbles between the Labour and Liberal parties further down. I think the polls have been rather boringly stable for the last 12 months. The problem of course we face - and it's certainly a tall order to win an adequate and overall majority - is we have to win so many seats. So many seats have to change hands. Indeed we need to have a bigger score in terms of net gains than any party that's succeeded in doing to get into office since 1931. So that's a better measure of where it's always been. I don't believe the polls at the moment are pointing to a hung parliament, but the risk of a hung parliament is there, which is why the Liberals are in such a dilemma.

ANDREW MARR:

What about that glass ceiling that you mentioned? Why is it there? Why can't you break through from 38, 39, 40 points?

KEN CLARKE:

I think the disillusion with politics has a lot to do with it. I don't think the public are prepared to have heroes again. It's difficult to enthuse people who tend to curse the political class because of recent scandals and disillusion with the Blair regime when Blair did succeed in arousing enthusiasm and persuading people he had a new politics. So I think it's the understandable scepticism coupled with the alarm that the public feel about events that is holding us back, and the main aim in the campaign obviously is to get safely above that because I want to see a government with a proper working majority. We need a strong government. We need political willpower to make the changes necessary to save us from financial calamity and that's got to be the main aim. But …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) A lot of peop…

KEN CLARKE:

… all this stuff week by week about you know Labour's up 1% this week, you know so that's a crisis, I don't think …

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

KEN CLARKE:

… I don't think it's having any effect on many Conservatives. Certainly not on me.

ANDREW MARR:

What about the perception that one of the problems the Conservatives have got is that people still aren't sure what kind of government you'd be? Would you be a really sort of radical Thatcher style government coming in, reshaping the state, slashing public spending? Or would you be pretty much a bit to the Right of the Labour Party - pretty much heir to Blair, steady as she goes sort of party? A lot of people feel they can't tell.

KEN CLARKE:

Well I won't argue about what Thatcher actually did because I think the mythology of what Thatcher did in the opinions of the Left is pretty silly. But getting up to you know the 21st century, we're obviously a free market, open trading party, and, we believe good, competent market economics combined with a social conscience. So we firstly tackle debt, savers from crisis, create the conditions in which small business and all business can thrive again. But at the same time reform of the education system plainly has to be resumed to get standards up. Reform of the health service is necessary - to keep raising its standards without spending money on bureaucracy and flow to payrolls and so on where they exist. And I think a socially reforming government is how I see us with more emphasis than has been placed for a very long time, except by really hardcore one nation Conservatives, on doing something about the deprived parts of our cities, the people disadvantaged. I mean I'm a meritocrat, so talk about social mobility and giving people from difficult backgrounds a better chance in life now features very heavily in Conservative speeches. So we have the opportunity with such a dramatic change to be radical and reforming, but I think in a pretty enlightened way.

ANDREW MARR:

But when it comes to the numbers, we all know the country faces some really hard decisions.

KEN CLARKE:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

People don't feel that they've heard some really hard answers coming back from your party yet. How do you respond? You took the country through the last recession and you had to raise taxes and you had some trouble over VAT and all of that. How do you respond when you hear a Labour minister saying, "It's alright. We won't have to raise taxes again"?

KEN CLARKE:

Well he had to correct that straightaway. I mean nobody should go round saying that, and certainly not in the middle of financial crisis. And whenever I hear Gordon Brown minimising the problem we face, I think that is dangerous in democracy. I hope people aren't lulled into complacency. I think we've been very clear. The deficit is enormous. It's historically very big. It's as bad as that in Greece. It needs to be tackled straightaway. You need the political determination straightaway to start reducing the deficit. You've got a Parliament to get the overall level of debt under control by getting rid of the bulk of the structural deficit. And I think we've been clear all the way through. People again are reading, making newspaper stories out of tiny nuances of phrase, but the Conservatives play … I mean I certainly before I was on the front bench was warning about the folly of going along on a sea of debt. Vince Cable and myself …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But that means, sorry …

KEN CLARKE:

… were probably saying that. Now I've joined a front bench where we've always said debt unfortunately is going to dominate the next government. We've been the clearest about tackling it.

ANDREW MARR:

Which means spending is going to have to be drastically cut …

KEN CLARKE:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

… and probably taxes are going to have to go up again as well.

KEN CLARKE:

But everybody knows a Conservative government will try to avoid tax increases because we … I think the problem has been excessive spending. Anyway there is really some very wasteful public spending that has got into the system during the Brown years as Chancellor. But our …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Doesn't any government have to do both?

KEN CLARKE:

Sometimes you have to do both. We …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You had to do both last time, didn't you?

KEN CLARKE:

I did - I raised taxes and I controlled public spending - but I mean that was a less severe fiscal problem than George Osborne will face. But we are going to tackle public spending in a determined way and we hope to avoid tax increases. I think that is perfectly clear. It gives clear indication of our priorities. We think the big problem's been that the state is now taking over 50% of GDP. My target when I was Chancellor was to get it down to 40% of GDP, and because they stuck to my figures for their first two or three years, it went down to 38% of GDP. We have just seen a monumental growth of public spending - largely on payroll, numbers of people, all the new jobs being created in the public sector as this rush of money went in. All that has to be reversed. And at first there are some quite low lying, hanging fruit as it were for the Treasury. There are some pretty silly pieces of expenditure, but you've also got to take some tough and difficult decisions in some areas.

ANDREW MARR:

Can I ask about your own, your own position? Are you going to go back and serve in a Conservative cabinet if that's what the country elects?

KEN CLARKE:

I hope so. I mean obviously I'm not one of those eager young people trying to catch the selector's eye, but I'd like to serve in a Cameron government. But Cameron is a sensible chap. I admire him as a leader. He isn't going to promise anybody, so you know these things aren't bankable.

ANDREW MARR:

And if he said, "Ken, do you know what, I'd like you back as Chancellor", what would you say?

KEN CLARKE:

I'd say, "Well have you slightly lost your marbles? What's wrong with George?" I think he's quite obviously going to appoint George Osborne as Chancellor. I would advise him to appoint George Osborne as Chancellor. I actually think that George Osborne would be an extremely impressive Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think the country would be a better place if George had been my successor. But I look forward to George as successor. David always describes me as part of the economic team when we appear together, which is very nice of him. And I've done it before and as a source of advice, that gets me working closely with George Osborne …

ANDREW MARR:

Right.

KEN CLARKE:

… and I can't imagine that he won't appoint George Osborne as Chancellor, which he should.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) What do all of you need to do over the next few weeks that you haven't done so far to turn these polls away from pointing towards a hung parliament to pointing to giving you a good, useful, workable, real majority in the House of Commons?

KEN CLARKE:

Well I don't think the polls do show a hung parliament and I don't think the polls have been wobbling about. I've already said that. But we are very, very ……. We've got to actually try and get through the glass ceiling by getting over really more Liberals who I think should see that the present dilemma, the fact the press are saying it might be a hung parliament, it shows the futility of being the Liberal Party. I mean I like the Liberals, I like Nick Clegg, but he's in a hopeless position because he's having to admit that in the next Parliament whoever forms … whichever is the bigger of the other two parties will form a government. And he then is going to have to allow them to govern if he isn't going to form a financial crisis. Nick is a Conservative. His views are very like mine. And he didn't join my party because we were going through civil war when he entered politics.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Okay, alright.

KEN CLARKE:

Vince Cable is a Social Democrat, as Andrew Adonis said. And the party is all over the place …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Can I ask you about …

KEN CLARKE:

… and I think they're in a hopeless dilemma. I can't hear you. You're probably trying to cut me off.

ANDREW MARR:

I wasn't trying to cut you off. I was trying to ask you one last question.

KEN CLARKE:

I can hear you again.

ANDREW MARR:

You were Home Secretary when the ghastly James Bulger case actually happened. James's mother is now calling for the resignation of the Children's Commissioner and there's the controversy over whether Mr Venables can face trial because of identifying him. Any observations on that ghastly mess?

KEN CLARKE:

Well I don't actually agree with the Children's Commissioner, but she obviously shouldn't resign for expressing an opinion on a perfectly serious and quite difficult subject. I do think Venables should be allowed a fair trial on whatever it is he might be charged with.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright.

KEN CLARKE:

I do think we ought to have some commonsense on this subject.

ANDREW MARR:

Indeed.

KEN CLARKE:

I mean there's too much media. Newspapers and the media cannot replace judges and juries. This is a particularly difficult and anguished case and I still have confidence in the rule of law, courts, juries, and proper respect for the principles of justice.

ANDREW MARR:

Kenneth Clarke, thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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