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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 February 2007, 10:39 GMT
David Cameron interview
On the Politics Show, Sunday 18 February 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed the Conservative Party Leader, David Cameron MP.

David Cameron
Why not replace the Police Authorities with a single elected Police Commissioner?
David Cameron

DAVID CAMERON: I think at the moment we've got a situation where the police feel incredibly put upon by regulations and targets and instructions from above, from the Home Office, rather than actually looking down at the people they're meant to be serving and responding to their concerns.

And that's the big cultural change that needs to take place in the police.

One way I believe we can do it is by, if you look at the moment, the police are supposed to be accountable to the police authorities, but I don't think anybody knows who sits on Police Authorities or what they do.

And so we've said, why not replace the Police Authorities with a single elected Police Commissioner, not a police chief, he wouldn't or she wouldn't run the police, but they would be the chief focus for public accountability.

JON SOPEL: Well hang on.

DAVID CAMERON : I think that would make a big difference.

JON SOPEL: A couple of very interesting points there. So you'd have something like a directly elected sheriff maybe. I mean I don't know what the term would be. Can it .. (interjected) .

DAVID CAMERON : Directly elected police commissioner, it works, if you look in America where the police chief reports to the directly elected mayor, it's created great public accountability, great public faith in the police and it's also encouraged the police to do what I think everybody wants, which is to have beat based active, community policing.

JON SOPEL: And your former Home Secretary and Chair of the Democracy Task Force, Ken Clark says, the idea is mad.

DAVID CAMERON : Well it will come as no surprise to you that Ken and I don't always agree. I don't agree with Ken about this. He's looking into democracy, he's not looking into police and this will be our policy on the police and... (interjection) ... I think it will be very successful.

JON SOPEL: ... No... it read ... he says, "if you have locally elected police chiefs, who is going to say what sort of mad things will happen? People with wildly populist views, who know nothing about running a large organisation ... as soon as you have excessive local discretion, you have public outrage about the post code lottery.

DAVID CAMERON : Oh, that's an argument that democracy is a bad thing and I don't agree with it; I think democracy is a good thing. Let's look at where in our country are we seeing more beat based policing, most quickly. Are we seeing officers on the beat in teams. We're seeing it in London. Why are we seeing it in London. I would argue it's partly because we've got an elected mayor and the elected mayor has been putting that pressure on the police for that sort of community policing.

Now, I want to see that right across the country; this isn't the only part of police reform but I think accountability, making the police accountable to the people they're serving rather than upwards to the Home Secretary. I think that would be a big change. Now let me tell you, one of the things police officers say to me at the moment is that they're having to do things in order to meet targets for sanction detections that they wouldn't otherwise do. It's crazy in this country that we train police officers... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: But you talked about targets as well for the police.

DAVID CAMERON : But yet - hang on, but we train these people as professionals and then we don't trust them. And our whole approach is to say we've got to stop this top down central control and instead have far more trust for the professionals on the ground.

JON SOPEL: But you've talked about targets for the police themselves, that they have to meet certain targets. It should be easier to sack bad police officers...

DAVID CAMERON : (interjection) That's not a target, that's just a management issue that at the moment, if you've done your two years probation and you become a police officer, it's very difficult to get rid of a bad police officer. Now, in any organization, it should be possible to manage those who aren't performing out of the organization. That's just good management. And if you go and walk in to a police station ...

JON SOPEL: (interjection) But then presumably you're going to set certain criteria by which you judge whether the police officer has been successful or unsuccessful. In other words, setting them targets or you know, judging their pay according to how well they've done.

DAVID CAMERON : Well I'm not going to set the targets. Jon, this is a big cultural change. We've got to stop trying to run the police service. The Police Force, as I prefer to call it, from the Home Office. We've got to actually empower local managers. You know I, your performance as an interviewer is judged by your manager. That's the right way of doing it. You can't have someone right at the top of the organization, trying to run the entire thing. That's what we have at the moment. It's got to change.

JON SOPEL: But don't you think that people in this country, rather like the fact that their police force is not politicized and their real concern would be, with what you're proposing and Superintendent Rick Naylor, from the Superintendent's Association, has said as much. You know, that we're not very enamored with the idea of elected police chiefs or sheriffs because they believe it will lead to the politicization of the police force.

DAVID CAMERON : I don't think it will. We have, on police authorities at the moment, there are Conservative members and Labour members and Liberal members, that hasn't led to the politicization of the police force; so why should replacing...


DAVID CAMERON : Hang on. Why should replacing a police authority with a single elected police commissioner, who at least everyone would know who they are. Why should that be politicisation. I don't think it would. What it would mean is that people would have a means of calling the police force to account. Of making sure they're doing the things that people care about.

And the police would find that good too. I'm fed up with going to police stations, where they say, if only we could respond to public concern, we'd do far more on anti-social behaviour and less of meeting the targets and the form filling that's driving us mad.

JON SOPEL: And what about you supporting some of the measures that the government are introducing, which they believe will help tackle crime, for example identity cards, biometric passports and these sort of things.

DAVID CAMERON : Well let's take identity cards. I think this is going to be a gigantic waste of money. I think this is going to be Labour's plastic poll tax. We're now reading through parliamentary questions about the police, about the government setting up finger printing centres, all over the country.

Some people are going to have to travel, even the elderly and infirm, who've never done anything wrong in their entire lives, are going to have to travel up to sixty miles to these finger printing centres.

This is not Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, I'm not making this up. This is a parliamentary answer. And this is going to cost a fortune, and the government, this is the government that cannot deliver the child support agency properly, to find thousands of absent parents.

They can't make the rural payments agency work to pay you know, tens of thousands of farmers. And they're expecting us to believe they can have a national data base for sixty million people. Frankly, it is beyond belief and that is why we would pull the plug on the identity cards and we'd use the money for much more sensible things like prisons and drug rehabilitation.

JON SOPEL: Well let's come to where your party stands on some of these issues because we've spoken to Sir Tim Bell in our film and he said of you, ' I think he's got to occasionally show some steel. He's sometimes got to lose his temper sometimes. He has to say some tough things which aren't cosy and easy and virtuous values'. Some people would say that all we've heard from you are virtuous values - we've got to be better parents, we've got to love our kids more. It's motherhood and apple pie.

DAVID CAMERON : Well I think it was important over the last year, after I became leader of the Party, to get the Conservative Party back in to the mainstream of debate. We've been on the fringes for too long. Frankly, we've become rather irrelevant to the great debates in our country.

Now, the Conservative Party is the one that's leading the debate on the National Health Service, on the environment, on how we actually try to build stronger families in our country. Getting rid of the failed model of multi culturalism. We've been leading some of the mainstream debates and I'm pleased about that. And I think you're going to hear from us this year, and you're already beginning to hear, a series of detailed substantial approaches and directions and policies, some of which people won't necessarily agree with. I mean you mentioned ID cards, many people support identity cards.

I often go to party meetings and some of our more elderly members hold up their old national identity cards, saying why can't we have them back. And I say, because I think it's a waste of money and it wouldn't work. Politics is often about saying things people disagree with, actually quite a lot of things, people in my own party haven't always agreed with. That is who I am, that's what I'll do and you'll see a lot more of it this year.

JON SOPEL: Do you think the pace of modernisation in the party is fast enough.

DAVID CAMERON : Well I think we need to keep it up. I think there are further changes that need to be made. I think we have to prove to people that it's for real. I think you know, there's no doubt we've made progress in the opinion polls but we need to go further and faster. We've still got a big mountain to climb.

JON SOPEL: Okay. Well you use the mountain metaphor, have you hit a plateau.

DAVID CAMERON : I hope not. I think, you know we use... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: Isn't the polling evidence suggesting that you're sort of there.

DAVID CAMERON : Well we're ahead of where we were. But I mean I'm not a pollster. If you want a comment on the polls, get a pollster here. I'm a participant. I want to move the policy... (interjection)...

JON SOPEL: Well where do you think you are.


JON SOPEL: Are you in a winning position.

DAVID CAMERON : Not yet, we've made good progress. I mean I like to think we're half way up the mountain and we've got the other half still to climb. But there are further changes to make. I think there's more of demonstrating what a strong team we've got. I think that's difficult in today's environment where so much focus is on one person. You know, look at William Hague as a Shadow Foreign Secretary, so much better than what we have from the government.

Look at David Davis, a genuinely tough, rigorous and thoughtful Home Secretary. You know look at Andrew Lansley and what he's doing with the Health Service and how much better he would be than Patricia Hewitt who think it's having its best ever year. You know, we've got a really strong team and I want to push that forward over the next year as well.

JON SOPEL: You don't think that you know, there are big elections coming up, that if you don't do that well, people will say actually, you know what you need to do, you need to go back to reassuring the core Conservative voters.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I won't do that because you don't win elections at the fringes and you don't serve your country by being at the fringes. You win elections and serve your country...

JON SOPEL: You just singled out William Hague, that's exactly what he did when he was... (interjection)... Tory Party leader.

DAVID CAMERON : And William recognises that that was a mistake and William is actually you know, one of my strongest supporters in saying, this is the right direction. The huge effort we've put in to campaigning on the National Health Service and putting that front and centre. The big change of saying, you know the environment is not just an important issue, but actually, securing a good and green environment, is as important as the strong society and the strong economy that we believe in.

That's really important. And he's a big supporter of that. So we won't change that approach. That is, it's what I believe. That's the sort the Liberal Conservative I am. I've got this fantastic opportunity, as Leader of the Party, to take the Party in that direction, to set out what I care about... and to offer it to the British people. It's a great opportunity.

JON SOPEL: We've just heard in the film there that Harry Turner, who's from Surrey Heath Conservative Association saying, the tipping point, that is really dangerous is when died in the wool loyal Tories, who've been trudging the streets and stuffing the envelopes, decide that the polices that are being articulated from you, aren't so different from what you could hear from Tony Blair any day of the week. They're no different from what Labour are offering.

DAVID CAMERON : Well I think he's wrong. I mean we've talked about identity cards. They want identity cards, we want to scrap identity cards. They want regional assemblies, we want to scrap the regional assemblies and have much more local control. There are so many examples and I don't have to make them up.

But I would say to that gentleman and to others in the Conservative Party, one of the things we've got to do is look at the run of the last ten years and keep the good things as well as get rid of the bad things. So the School Academies, that are bringing hope to inner city kids, we keep them. We improve them, we expand them. You know, the foundation hospitals, that actually we support because they're got greater control over their land and buildings and employment, we keep them - we expand them. That's the sensible way to do politics.

JON SOPEL: Let me just ask you finally, it's been a pretty extraordinary week for you, I mean the old old chestnut it's been a week is a long time in politics. You've rarely been out of the headlines. I just wonder whether you'd reflect whether the story last weekend about cannabis use has been damaging to you.

DAVID CAMERON: I think that's for others to decide. I mean I handle these things in the way I choose to handle them, but I think politicians are entitled to a private past and I've stuck by that principle and I'll go on sticking by that principle. And I think it's an important one. And people will make their own decisions. All you can do in politics is try and set out what you believe in, set out how you're going to achieve it and try and show you've got a realistic prospect of getting it done.

JON SOPEL: Sure, but I'm sure you've reflected on it over the past week and I wonder what you think you know, one week on.

DAVID CAMERON: Well as I say, I think it's just for others to say. I'm...


JON SOPEL: What do you think.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I'm very comfortable that I'm doing a job that I really believe in. That I think I'm leading a great team of people, I think I'm making the right judgements about the future of the Conservative Party. I think I'm highlighting the right issues for the future of our country - the importance of families, the importance of the environment, the importance of de-centralising our over centralised country.

You know I think I've got the right judgements, I've got the abilities to do the job. As I said, I'm human, I've made mistakes, I will make more mistakes and it's for people to judge me as a person, as a politician, as a character, as a leader, and in the end, they'll make the judgements and I just have to do my best.

JON SOPEL: ... I'm just going to try one last time, just to see if I could get you to engage on this. Has the this, has the way the week has panned out, been better or worse than you feared because you knew this story was going to come out.

DAVID CAMERON: I just, I don't know, I mean I just don't know how to answer that question. You know, you're always, in this job you're always being told that this is going to happen and that's going to happen and you've just got to steel yourself and get on with it and do what you think is right.

If you spend your whole time looking back and thinking, well how did that go and how did this go, you'd never have any time to look forward. And I get up every day and think, right, what are we going to do today to try to succeed in politics and to do for the good things of this country. If I spend all my time thinking about last week or the week before, I wouldn't get anywhere.

JON SOPEL: David Cameron, thank you very much.



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NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

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

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The Politics Show Sunday 25 February 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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