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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 September 2005, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Tory leadership
On Sunday 25 September 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Dr Liam Fox MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary

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

Dr Liam Fox MP
Dr Liam Fox MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary

ANDREW MARR: So far in the phoney war for the Conservative Party leadership three candidates have formally declared themselves, though up to half a dozen more runners may be poised to declare.

The beauty contest starts to get really serious next week when the Tory conference opens and the candidates are going to be seeking support from delegates and each other I suppose in earnest.

Now Liam Fox is one of those runners who is formally crouched on the blocks and he is in the studio in London. Good morning Liam.

LIAM FOX: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: I don't think it's unkind to say that you haven't been mentioned generally as one of the top two front runners, but I suppose it's also the case that traditionally in the Conservative Party the favourite never wins. Realistically, how do you view your own chances now?

LIAM FOX: Well I've always said from the outset that I was going to set out a very clear agenda and let my colleagues make their own decisions. And so I've been discussing a number of issues that I can get publicity for at this time but I might not get coverage for at other times.

Today for example I'm giving a big speech to a mental health charity because I think that the way we deal with mental health problems in Britain is completely unacceptable.

So I'm going to use the time I have to make the case for the things that I think are important, and my colleagues can judge just what the chances are but we'll have to wait and see as you correctly say's a very uncertain thing, a Tory leadership race.

ANDREW MARR: It certainly is. One of the things that you have been talking about is abortion, and your feeling that the time limit should be cut to something like 12 weeks as it is in some continental countries. Now, when I talked to him last week, Ken Clarke was very hostile to this idea and he said it's not the kind of thing that should become involved in party politics, it's much more for the private sphere. Is that a sort of indication of the politics of Liam Fox should you become leader? A little bit more on the moral side, the family side, the traditionalist side?

LIAM FOX: No, I think it's very clear that I've held these views for some time. And I think people have responded to this in one of two ways. People have said well we don't like what you say, you've no right to say it, which I think is ridiculous.

Or people have said we don't necessarily agree with what you say but it's good to hear politicians actually telling us what they believe.

This is an area in our politics in Britain which is about individual, MPs making up their minds, it's not a matter of party politics, and it would remain that way. But, you know, when I've got a strong view on something I'm going to say what I think.

And I think that we've got far too mealy-mouthed politicians in this country telling people what they want to hear, rather than what they themselves believe.

ANDREW MARR: David Cameron has said that if it came down to you versus David Davis we would end up with two right wing candidates, and that that would be catastrophic for the party. How do you respond to that?

LIAM FOX: Well I think it's up to the Members of Parliament to decide who they think are the two best candidates, and then for the party to decide which one they want to lead the party. I think this left-right description of people is something that's rather out of date and a bit simplistic.

And I think that we need to look at a range of issues that we would want to prioritise as a government, and we need to look at the personalities that we think best would deliver victory. I think this rather gross characterisation of left and right is something that really belongs in the political past.

ANDREW MARR: We've become familiar with Liam Fox on health matters. We know Liam Fox as Party Chairman and organiser. What about Liam Fox on some of the other big issues of the day, like the economy and tax? Where would you stand on flat tax for instance?

LIAM FOX: I think the first case for the Conservative Party is to make the case for lower taxes. We've seen in Britain in recent years, taxes going up and up, we've not seen any delivery in the public services that match that. And I think if you look at examples of Britain in the past and other countries where you get lower taxes you actually can end up with higher growth in your economy and better revenues for the government as a result. The congress is true, over-taxed Britain now is starting to have growth levels way below trend.

So I actually believe in lower taxes. Which taxes we would want to lower and in what way I think is part of a later debate. I certainly wouldn't rule out concepts such as flat tax, but I think that what we need to do is to reduce the burden on hard-working people in Britain who pay too much of their income now to a government that's getting greedier and greedier and failing to deliver the sort of economic and public sector reforms that they promised.

ANDREW MARR: And what about the Tory party itself. Do you think that the party has to reach out to all sorts of groups it's failed to get to in the past, notably I have to say, in the last General Election?

LIAM FOX: Well I think this is the point. It's not that we've failed to reach out to a wider range of voters in the past, but that we have failed to reach out to them recently. And I think that we need to set out our stall, we need to give people an optimistic view of what we want Britain to be. At the last election I think that we set out what we didn't like, what we were unsure about from the current government, but we didn't set out a positive and optimistic view. And we didn't reach out to a range of voters on a range of issues that matter to young families, to people on lower incomes - these are groups that we need once again to connect with because up to the '92 election we did just that.

ANDREW MARR: One thing that strikes me is that that if you did become Tory leader, Liam, we would be in a situation where we might very well have three Scots leading the three main parties at the next election. So I have to ask you, what do you think middle England would think about that, and where do you stand on the so-called English question?

LIAM FOX: Well I think that devolution has produced a demographic problem. I think it's produced a democratic deficit in England and I think one thing is very clear, that in the whole question of devolution no one ever considered what impact it would have on England. Now I represent a seat in Somerset. Now Gordon Brown can vote on education policy in my constituency - I have no impact on education policy in his. Now that is very unfair. What I want to see is the Speaker of the House of Commons having the right to declare a Bill, either a UK bill or an English Bill, and where it's an English Bill affecting only England on issues that are devolved in Scotland, then only those who sit for English seats should be able to vote on those issues. That is a fair and balanced settlement for the UK.

ANDREW MARR: And so that would mean that for quite a lot of the time we had in effect an English Parliament sitting in London?

LIAM FOX: It's a matter of fairness and balance. If we want to make sure that the voters in England are treated in the same way as voters in Scotland, then we have to get some change in the balance that we have at the present time. Devolution has produced an imbalance in our constitution, that needs to be changed. And I think that the question that you should be asking, are those who represent seats in Scotland whether they in fact think that they could be Prime Minister when they're unable to deal with certain issues in their own constituencies.

ANDREW MARR: Very good question, I will try and do that. Next week we're going to be talking to David Davis who the bookies have out in front in this race. Dr. Fox, just before you go however, I wonder if you'd consider this - we've all been intrigued by a very large voting sheet used by the Afghans in their elections last week. I don't know whether you've ...

LIAM FOX: I've got on here, yes.

ANDREW MARR: And what's wonderful about it as you can probably see is that alongside every party is a symbol and there's an alarm clock, I can see there's a deer, there's inkpots, a globe, there's even some flying bombers and so on. And we've got the Republicans and the Democrats in the States with their party symbols, their donkey and their elephant. I'm just wondering what the Fox symbol would be? A stethoscope, alarm clock?

LIAM FOX: I might surprise you Andrew, but amongst our MPs they are perfectly literate and certainly capable of dealing with at least three letter words.

ANDREW MARR: All right, Liam Fox, thank you very much indeed.


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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