BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Sunday, 25 June 2006, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Compassionate conservatism
On Sunday 25 June 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed David Cameron MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

David Cameron MP
David Cameron MP

ANDREW MARR: Now, when he stood for leadership of the Conservative Party David Cameron warned that a vote for him would be a vote for change.

The Tories must change the way they look, and talk, and think, and feel, he said. In the six months since he took over he's focused on what he calls quality of life issues - the environment, families, and now, as he revealed when I spoke to him yesterday, human rights.

I began by asking him whether his compassionate Conservative Party is as far from its Thatcherite past as New Labour was different from old.

DAVID CAMERON: It is a large leap for the party because, you know, we're recognising we've lost three elections in a row. We're recognising that what people want at the next election is not a party that's going to try and turn the clock back to 1997, but that's going to build on what Labour have done. There are some good things that have been done and there are some bad things. And they want a party that says right, let's keep the good stuff, let's change the bad stuff and let's move on from there.

So it is a big change. Some of the changes I'm making are about for instance, making sure we've got a better balance of men and women candidates. Some of the changes in terms of the very clear commitment to the National Health Service and building on that. Some of the changes in terms of not saying, you know, here are up-front tax cuts but let's put stability first. These are changes, they're important and they're a start. And I'm pleased with the way people are responding. But it's going to be a very tough contest the next election, and I've got a lot of work to do.

ANDREW MARR: How far further does the Conservative Party have to go to change? I mean, just the small things like changing the logo, the torch and so on. I don't know if you're going to change the name as well!

DAVID CAMERON: No, you're going on about it, it's not, it's not the appearances that need to change. What we need to do is show that. I mean all politics is really about is showing that you're the right bunch of people to meet the big challenges facing the country, the competitive challenge in a world of China and India and economies like Brazil. The challenge of reforming public services, the challenge of the environment. People are going to asking at the next election, who's right for the future, who's identified the big challenges, who's changes their own party to meet those challenges. That's what we're doing.

ANDREW MARR: There was a very interesting piece in one of the magazines this week saying that the strategy was to create an aroma around the Conservative Party, suggesting that it's all still a bit fuzzy, and it's going to remain pretty fuzzy for a long time to come.

DAVID CAMERON: I read that, but I don't really think that's fair. These aren't aromas, these aren't or whatever, these are proper changes that people can see and people can see what the modern compassionate Conservative Party that I lead stands for.

ANDREW MARR: Let's just stick with aroma for one further question. To what extent do you think that you can make a change simply by the way you speak, raising issues, and to what extent is it going to then be about tough laws, changing people's behaviour by the tax system, ultimately by sending them to prison if you have to?

DAVID CAMERON: Well it is a mixture of those things. I think one of the problems this government's got, and the Labour party has, is they do give the impression of all you can do is change a law and everything is for the government to do. And in my view they don't share responsibility. The truth is if you want to deal with the really big problems of today, whether it's the environment or whether it's knife crime, you've got to recognise we're all in this. We have a shared responsibility.

Governments should do some things - yes - change the law on carrying a knife. But we also need a change in popular culture, we need parents to take their responsibilities, we need schools to take their responsibilities. So talking about shared responsibility is important for politicians. Because if we pretend that we have all the answers, which we don't, all you get is more cynicism and more frustration about politics. So let's explain what the shared responsibilities are.

ANDREW MARR: But the thing that makes you different, any politician different, is in the end you can change the law. Everybody else can talk, you know, vicars can talk, journalists can talks, but you can change the law. Let's come on to specifics. Tony Blair was talking this weekend, last couple of days, about changing the culture again when it comes to knife crime, when it comes to violence, when it comes to anti-social behaviour, more summary justice, more use of ASBOs, a different culture in the courts. Do you go along with that?

DAVID CAMERON: Well we do need changes. I think Tony Blair's problem is frankly he's had, you know, nine years, three big majorities, and 54 pieces of criminal justice and Home Office legislation to sort out these problems. And to the extent to which there is still a problem and there is, is that he is not the right person to fix it because he's the person running the country for the last nine years. But yes we do need to make changes...

ANDREW MARR: Would you agree that judges are in denial, for instance?

DAVID CAMERON: I think in some cases there are problems with judicial decisions, no doubt about it. But we can't point the finger of blame endlessly. We might come with constructive suggestions. And I've got one particular suggestion I'm going to be making on Monday, in a big speech in this area. The Prime Minister says he wants to re-balance the criminal justice system in favour of the victim. I agree with that and I'll be putting forward how I think we can do that. Let's take the Human Rights Act. I don't think it's been a success. It has actually hindered the fight against crime. It's stopped us responding properly in terms of terrorism, particularly in terms of deporting those who may do us harm in this country.

And at the same time it hasn't really protected our human rights. We've got a government that's tried to get of jury trial, for instance. So I think we need a new approach. Let's look at getting rid of the Human Rights Act and say instead of that, instead of having an Act that imports a, if you like, a foreign convention of rights into British law, why not try and write our own British Bill of rights and responsibilities, clearly and precisely into law, so we can have human rights with common sense. That would be a constructive way forward.

ANDREW MARR: So, let's be clear, you're talking about withdrawing from the European Human Rights Convention?

DAVID CAMERON: No, we're not talking about that. I think the alternatives are this: you can have the government's approach which is the Human Rights Act, that allows people to look in a court in Britain at the European Convention of Human Rights, for all the reasons I've given, and for all the reasons in a way the Prime Minister's given, it's not working.

You could just get rid of the Human Rights Act and allow people to go to the European Court, as happened before the Human Rights Act. It is one way of doing it, but it's not really satisfactory because it means British citizens have to go into a foreign court to enforce their rights. So why not instead look for a more British solution of actually writing down into British law, British rights and responsibilities, in a commonsense way.

ANDREW MARR: And to be clear, this would be a sort of special form of law. We don't have a Constitution, a single written Constitution in this country.

DAVID CAMERON: That's right.

ANDREW MARR: But this would be something analogous to the German's basic law or the French Constitution when it comes to Human Rights.

DAVID CAMERON: We need to look at that. One thing we could do, for example, this is a possibility. You could say that a Bill of Rights couldn't be amended under the Parliament Act, so you couldn't have something where the Lords and Commons disagreed and you just crashed it through, as the government sometimes do.

That is a possibility. So I do think it's important in a world where you've got these big bureaucracies, whether it's the Inland Revenue and big government. We do need a way to make sure that people can protect their rights. So I think this could be a very positive step forward. A lot of work will have to be done on it. I don't pretend we've got all the answers, of course not. But this is, I think, a positive step forward. And looking at how we really could rebalance the system in a way that will work.

ANDREW MARR: Sure - another area of constitutional argument just at the moment is the whole business of the Scots and the English. Lots of people are saying now there should be English votes for English laws - Ken Clarke is clearly attracted by that - and there's quite hubbub now saying that the Scots are getting too much public money, that the old Barnett formula, in fact Joel Barnett himself has said this, needs to be looked at again. Are the Scots getting too much public money at the moment, proportionately?

DAVID CAMERON: I don't have any plans to change the arrangements. Obviously we're in opposition, we have the opportunity to look at these things and we should do so. But I don't have any plans to make changes. And we should look at funding on the basis of need. And I think that's the right way, right way round. But I want, you know, I am a passionate Unionist, I think that Scotland brings a huge amount to the United Kingdom. The Scottish people bring a huge amount to the United Kingdom and I don't want, and I'm a Cameron, there is quite a lot of Scottish blood flowing through these veins.

ANDREW MARR: It's clearly the problem that you could have is in effect one party, shall we say the Conservative Party, had won a majority of seats in England, and was therefore in effect the government of England when it came to most of the things that voters were interested in, and there might be another party, Lib-Lab party or whatever it might be, still formally the British government.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I would put it another way which it would mean in the future that you couldn't have a government that could override the wishes of MPs sitting for English constituencies on matters that affect England in terms of health and education and transport.

ANDREW MARR: But it's tricky?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I don't see why it should ... I want parliament to be back at the centre of national life. I think one of the problems under this government is Parliament and the House of Commons has been so by-passed.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's turn to another Scot, Gordon Brown, who's made it very clear recently he wants to see Trident modernised. It could cost a vast amount of money - anywhere between 10 billion and 25 billion. Are you in favour of that?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I've always supported the British nuclear deterrent. I was never a member of CND and I've always thought it's right that we have a nuclear deterrent, and that's what Trident is. And then Trident comes to the end of its life and clearly we need to look at ways we can replace it.

ANDREW MARR: What does Trident, or its successor rather, really protect us from in the post-Cold War world?

DAVID CAMERON: We live in a more unstable, and often and in many ways a more dangerous world. And I think that as a nuclear power you always have the advantage of not being threatened in terms of being threatened in terms of blackmail. And I think that the British nuclear deterrent is, if you like, a long-term insurance policy.

ANDREW MARR: And what about civil nuclear power, because that's the other great debate at the moment? Now I know you've always said you've got other people looking at this at the moment. But what's your personal instinct in terms of, you know, the importance of having different sources of energy.

DAVID CAMERON: But my instinct is that we should have a proper energy review and I think the Prime Minister set up a review and then suddenly he gets out of bed one morning and says, no, I know the answer is nuclear. Well that's not how you have a review. The right way to review these things is to ask, right, what do we need in terms of carbon emissions, and how are going to cut carbon emissions in this country?

What do we need in terms of security, what's safe in terms of how much fuel to get from one source or one part of the world? Let's set a framework like that. And that's what our energy review is looking at, and it will make its announcement, probably in advance of the government's announcement. And I'm not going to pre-empt it by ...

ANDREW MARR: Fair enough.

DAVID CAMERON: ...picking this technology or that technology.

ANDREW MARR: Fair enough, but nuclear isn't the magic bullet from what you're saying.

DAVID CAMERON: I don't think there's any magic bullet. I mean, I think there's no magic bullet, there's a direction I'd like to see the country go in, which is far more de-centralised energy.

I think we've still got a very 1930s system of the big national grid, the huge power stations, there's often waste, a lot of electricity, and we can have far more local generation, far more investment in energy efficiency and far more local projects that actually are green, lead to greener and cleaner energy.

ANDREW MARR: You are going to have to take a decision.

DAVID CAMERON: Absolutely...

ANDREW MARR: ...on nuclear power, because if these plants are going to be replaced.

DAVID CAMERON: Andrew, let's have a review, let's have a proper review.

ANDREW MARR: You actually have to write the cheque, if you come into power, you have to take that decision.

DAVID CAMERON: We have to set the framework and say what do we need in terms of carbon emissions? What do we need in terms of security? Then you make the decision. But let's try and get these things in the right order.

ANDREW MARR: You've been famous for your windmills and your bicycles and all of that stuff. At the end of a Cameron administration would we be seeing much less cheap air travel? Would travelling around in petrol-driven or diesel-driven cars be much more expensive? Would you actually put in place the changes that would force us to change our behaviour?

DAVID CAMERON: This shouldn't become an issue of doom and gloom and taxes. You know, there will always be some things, there will have to be tough decisions and I won't flinch from them, because actually in terms of tackling climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face in our world. But I will not flinch from touch decisions. But it isn't true to say, as some do, that, you know, there's like a choice between sitting with the lights on and the planet going to hell in a handcart, and sitting in the dark. You know, we can all invest in energy-saving lightbulbs. And each energy-saving lightbulb you know saves you 7 a year, so it's good for you as well as good for the environment.

ANDREW MARR: Sure - but we're all hypocrites. We all, you know, if there are cheap flights to the South of France people are going to take them. And in the end politicians are going to have to change the system so those cheap flights disappear.

DAVID CAMERON: Well politicians have got to create a framework where we meet the carbon emission targets. And if you look at the biggest producer of carbon at the moment in terms of the British economy it is electricity generation. So the energy review is absolutely vital. And I think sometimes people single in on air travel because it's a small area, but it's very fast growing, so people single in on that. And I think much better to try and create the framework and then work out how you're going to meet it and that's what I'm determined to do.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about something that's come under the general heading, since your speech, of general wellbeing which apparently includes tax credits for families and all of that. Suggestions that you've made up to now would spread the amount of government money going to families with children much more widely. And because you are focusing on the tax system it would help people with a bit of money more than it would help people right at the bottom of the pile. For all the arguments about means testing, doesn't it actually get the money to where it's most needed?

DAVID CAMERON: Well there obviously are advantages in a means tested system in terms of making sure you're hitting a particular group. But there are disadvantages in terms of the bureaucracy. And what I was doing in that very wide-ranging speech on the family - by the way I was saying it isn't all about money, that's the point - there are many ways in which we can help families, and we ought to recognise that the family is the answer to so many of the problems in this country in terms of poor educational achievement, and drugs and alcohol and the poor housing.

Actually families do a fantastic job in our society, and there are many things that aren't about money. But I think it is worth looking at this issue of child care, and I think it is worth looking at tax relief on child care. The point I was making is you can get tax relief on your mobile phone bill but you can't get tax relief on the money you spend on child care. Now is that right? Is that really sensible? And I think we should look at that.

ANDREW MARR: Is there a bit of a personal journey for you in all of this? Because it wasn't that many years ago when you were voting against paternity leave, against an extension of maternity leave and maternity pay, against some of these flexible working pro-family policies?

DAVID CAMERON: I don't think this is all about passing laws. One of the things I've been saying is that actually if we want to have more flexible working, which I do, and want to have more, a better balance for people between their work and family life. A lot of this is actually about celebrating the great things that companies do.

A lot of companies say to me, if you do too much legislation then you get the top down solution that won't deliver. And a lot of companies are doing amazing things. I was talking to a bank recently that has the right for everyone in that bank to ask for flexibility in terms of hours and shifts and all of that. Well that's great, and so we shouldn't think this is all about passing a law or issuing a regulation - it isn't.

ANDREW MARR: You take on Tony Blair across the despatch box, you're beginning visibly to square up to Gordon Brown. Assuming that Gordon Brown does become Prime Minister in the not too distant future, do you think that he should call a General Election as a new Prime Minister with a different direction?

DAVID CAMERON: Well, it's hard enough running one political party without trying to work out who's going to run the other one. I don't know when we're going to have this...orderly transition, I don't know. I mean the Prime Minister said he's fight, he'd run a full term but he's obviously come back from that. I think if there's a very early changeover and suddenly he's not running a full term then people haven't got what they voted for and I think there'd be a very strong case for an early election.

Clearly I would like a General Election tomorrow, Andrew. I want to get on and get rid of this government that I think's doing such a bad job, and I want the Conservative Party to offer a really good moderate, sensible, centre-right alternative. That's what I'm dedicated to doing. I'd like a General Election as soon as possible.

ANDREW MARR: That's a friendly message to the Chancellor. David Cameron thank you very much.



NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

Have your say

Your comment

E-mail address
Town or City

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific