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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 September, 2004, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Iraq looms over Labour
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

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.

On Politics Show, on Sunday 26 September, 2004, Jeremy Vine interviewed the Secretary of State for Health Dr John Reid, MP.

Dr John Reid, MP
Secretary of State for Health Dr John Reid, MP

Jeremy Vine: And I'm joined now from Brighton, by John Reid, the Health Secretary. Welcome to you.

Too Scottish to be Prime Minister we heard of Gordon Brown there in that film.

John Reid: Yeah. I heard Tom Brown say that the English had a down on Scots in the Cabinet. That comes as a great surprise to me and Ian McCartney and Gordon Brown, and Alistair Darling and so on, and you know people who'd been in it, Robin Cook, George Robertson. So I think that's all nonsense.

But key point is, if I might say so with respect, so is the premise of your programme. You see the premise is that if somebody is doing very well in the Cabinet, or is a big beast as you call it, that that somehow diminishes everyone else. Now that isn't true.

The whole point of having a collective and strong leadership is that when people do well, it reflects well on the rest of us; so as Gordon himself said, in this morning's interview, we all have our jobs to do and the Prime Minister has his job to do as Leader and Prime Minister; so you know, when we do well, whether it's Alan Milburn and his planning or David Blunkett on anti social behaviour, Charles on education; we don't diminish the collective effort, we enhance it.

And really what you asked, you ought to be asking is: our team of Gordon Brown, David and the rest of our members, Tessa Jowell, Patricia Hewitt, from all backgrounds, now with a lot of people who are achievers like Alan Milburn, Alan Johnson, Ian McCartney, myself, John Prescott, all different backgrounds, different sexes - Patricia Hewit and Val Amos and Tessa Jowell - how do we compare with the other teams? And I think that taken together, that we have a good team, and this week we're going to show we've got the policies and the programmes to take us forward ...


John Reid: ... that really is what this issue is about.

Jeremy Vine: If I may say so, it's the first time I've heard a cabinet minister talk like that about, about the team. Almost as if you don't want to say, this is Mr Blair's government any more.

John Reid: No, no. Look you, you work on a zero sum game as well. You know, when I talk about my colleagues, as I do regularly, and have done regularly, for about twenty years actually, at various levels in the party, you ignore it and then when it suits you, you say, oh this must mean if you, if you believe in a team approach, a collective approach, you must be abandoning Tony Blair.

Actually, the essence of socialism is collective approach. I have worked with people, including Gordon Brown for quarter of a century in a team approach, and I find that our distinct qualities, what we bring to the table, all our different talents, do not mean that we diminish each other, it means that we enhance each other as a team. That's the essence of democratic socialism; it is acting collectively. And incidentally, ...

Jeremy Vine: Yes.

John Reid: If and when the Prime Minister decided to go, which I don't think will be for a long time, whoever takes over, will be decided, whether it's David Blunkett, Gordon, Alan Milburn, or whatever, all these things that excite the media, the policies and the direction of the party will not be decided by one man or one woman, and it could be a woman of course, they will be decided by this conference here, by all of us collectively again.

Jeremy Vine: Okay, we might come on to that. But just on the team and the structure of the team as you go in to this, this election, there's just some confusion around to-day because the Prime Minister said this morning that Gordon Brown will have the same role in this election as he's had for the last two. Now it was most people's understanding that that role had now been taken by Alan Milburn. Can you clear up that confusion?

John Reid: Well that confusion was created by people like yourself with respect Jeremy. Let, let me tell you what I have understood right from the start; Alan Milburn will be heading up the Policy Unit at Downing Street and the st(fluffs), and the Strategic Unit at Downing Street, neither of which, actually had a politician at the control before, so he hasn't taken anything there.

He will be heading up the co-ordination for the General Election, and the Planning Committee for the General Election, both of which jobs were done by Douglas Alexander. And along with Gordon Brown, and John Prescott and others, he will sit on the Strategic Election Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister.

That's always been the case and unfortunately, you know there are some in the media who don't want to concentrate on the policies, but the soap opera, and having created the confusion, they now say, Oh dear, we're surprised that this has been clarified in a way which is different from the confused picture we put out.

Jeremy Vine: So Gordon Brown has not lost part of his job to Alan Milburn, period.

John Reid: Gordon Brown is sitting on the Strategic Committee, my memory of this, is this previously was chaired by Gordon, I think it's going to be chaired by the Prime Minister now. But there's no great issue here. The real question is: do we in the Labour Party, want to bring all of the talents to the table in the leading of our party?

Whether it's men or women. Whether it is people from working class background or from a middle class background, whether it is people who've got particular talents or not. Yes, we do. And that is why Alan Milburn was brought back, to enhance that team in the run up to the General Election. That does not diminish me, David Blunkett, Charles Clark, Gordon Brown or anyone else.

Jeremy Vine: You talk about the importance of the party, Mr Reid, in shaping policy. Would it not be correct to say that the centre of gravity in your party is very much against the war in Iraq.

John Reid: I think the centre of gravity in our Party, on Iraq, is very very concerned about the fact that some of the evidence that was elicited, as the reason for going to war, has turned out to be wrong. It does not necessarily mean to say that a threat didn't exist, nor that the world is a worse place without Saddam Hussein, so I think there's concern about that. But I think it has moved on as well.

I think there is a recognition alongside that concern, that whatever the individual pieces of evidence that took us in to Iraq, the question now is, whether we abandon Iraq to international terrorism, which is seeking to make sure that Arab States, or Muslim States, can never be shown to work democratically and give freedoms to their people, because if that happens, then their extremist position will be undermined, and therefore it's the job of us, who want to see Islam, Arab States, and the Middle East offer democracy to its people, to stand shoulder to shoulder with the vast majority of the Iraqis themselves, but who celebrate the removal of Saddam, and look forward to democracy. That is the key strategic question, make no doubt about it.

Jeremy Vine: And you will be having that conversation with the people we can see behind you all week. But of course, this was to have been the conference where you start telling them and us what you plan to do domestically in this country, after the next election; so that's a frustration for you I imagine.

John Reid: Well it's not a frustration because when we have the terrible torturous and tragic circumstances of Kenneth Bigley's family, it is natural that we would have such a discussion here Jeremy.

Never the less, it is proper to say that people are concerned about other things as well and we want to lay out our programme, to make sure that people understand, that in the Health Service for instance, we will be offering quality and care for people so that there will be a maximum for instance, of eighteen weeks, not eighteen months or years as it was under the Conservatives, between the first visit to the doctor and their operation.

That on education, that we will not only be emphasising academic education, but vocational education, for those who don't want to go to university.

And in other areas - pensions a big concern. And now that we have offered care for every four year old child in this country, whose parents want it, we want to see how we extend that ... (overlaps)

Jeremy Vine: Can I ask you one ...

John Reid: (overlaps) ... the flexible working, the quality of, of, of life with the, with the application to work. All those issues - yes, they will be discussed.

Jeremy Vine: I'm sorry to interrupt you. Just one more question on a specific domestic policy point which is right up your street, which is smoking in public places. There's to be an announcement soon. Please tell us if you're going to ban smoking in public places.

John Reid: Well look, I'll wait to tell Parliament. But let me say, I have listened intently over the past four or five months, during this big consultation we've had, and I know there's very strong views on this.

On one side, some people want to not only themselves be able to go to smoke free areas, but they want to ban everyone else from smoking.

On the other hand, as Bob Geldof and others were making plain the other day, they want, you know, we want to the right to smoke sometimes they want the right to smoke, even when the vast majority are forced then to be in smoke free atmospheres.

Now, I think what we have to find here is a balance that says: the majority in this country want to be able to have their leisure time without smoke, you know, polluting everything that they do or eat.

On the other hand, we are British, we have to find our own way of saying: How do we do that while saying, while it's still legal, if you're a smoker, although we will try and protect the majority against the effects of your smoke, you will still have the right to smoke while at leisure.

Jeremy Vine: All right.

John Reid: It's not an easy one, but I will try and find a compromise in a truly British way, that protects the rights of both.

Jeremy Vine: We will wait for your decision. Thank you very much indeed Mr Reid for joining us to-day.

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.

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