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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 November 2005, 12:42 GMT
Cabinet capers
On Sunday 13 November 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, MP

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

Tessa Jowell, MP
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, MP

ANDREW MARR: As we have been hearing from the government, it's come in for a heck of a battering this morning.

And the issue is not just what went wrong last week, why Tony Blair miscalculated and lost a crucial vote on holding terror suspects for 90 days, the issue now is whether Blair's other reform schemes are also set to hit the buffers.

One of the Prime Minister's most loyal lieutenants, Tessa Jowell, is here this morning. Tessa, good morning to you, welcome.

It has been a heck of a week for Tony Blair, do you think that, if he, you know him terribly well, you've been watching him closely all the way through his time in government, he now has sort of a choice, I suppose, on schools, on health, on invalidity benefits, does he pull back, does he water down those reforms, or somehow go round Parliament, or does he go full frontal for those difficult votes and put his reputation on the line time and again?

TESSA JOWELL: Well it hasn't just been a heck of a week for Tony Blair, it's been a heck of a week for the government, because we are all in this together and what the Cabinet discussion on Thursday reflected with absolute clarity was the solidity and the support for what the government is trying to do around the Cabinet table.

But I think that the answer to your question is really a very simple one, which is that six months ago we were elected with a very clear mandate for reform of public services: schools that would do the very best for the poorest children; health services that would be available for all, free at the point of need, but to a higher standard of availability and access than has been the case in the past. That's the deal, that's the contract on which we were elected, re-elected with the British people, so in effect you can't compromise on that, that's the job that we've been re-elected to do.

ANDREW MARR: So you go straightforwardly into those votes, votes on core matters from the manifesto, even though it's possible that you could lose some?

TESSA JOWELL: Well look, every single Labour Member of Parliament stood on that manifesto and was elected on that manifesto and -

ANDREW MARR: Which wasn't the case for the 90 days ...

TESSA JOWELL: No, that is absolutely the point and I entirely accept that. I mean, you know, a manifesto isn't a kind of al a carte menu that you select the bits of that you like. You know, we are in this to reform public services, not for some folly of members of the government but because if you have reformed public services, you deliver on what the Labour Party exists to do which -

ANDREW MARR: I absolutely understand that.

TESSA JOWELL: - is to extend opportunity to people who without public services that work in their interests, work for them, are without those opportunities.

ANDREW MARR: Sure. But if you're Tony Blair and you take, shall we say, invalidity benefit and changes there, or the changes on schools, and you go to the House of Commons and you are voted down on something that was core to what you were going to do in the first term, you can't stay on.

TESSA JOWELL: Oh, well look, again, I think that that is, that's a bit previous to say, as they might say -

ANDREW MARR: It's not that previous - I mean this vote, the vote last week was quite remarkable.

TESSA JOWELL: We haven't yet published the proposals on the reform of incapacity benefit, although we have a very clear manifesto commitment to reform this particular aspect of the welfare state and to get more people who are in this kind of cul-de-sac which is incapacity benefit, more back to work, to help those that can get back to work.

But I go back to, I think, the most important point, which is that our legitimacy comes from our very recent re-election and that - I mean I think it's very easy to get carried away by the sort of, the vortex of Westminster comment - but two things are certain, we were re-elected on a manifesto committed to reform and Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, was re-elected on the very clear understanding that he would serve a full third term -

ANDREW MARR: But he and you -

TESSA JOWELL: - it is now the duty of the parliamentary party to get behind that -

ANDREW MARR: Yes, and a quarter of them aren't -

TESSA JOWELL: - and do what people are expecting of it.

ANDREW MARR: A quarter of them aren't behind that. What can you possibly do about that?

TESSA JOWELL: Well there are some members of the parliamentary party who didn't support Tony Blair when he stood as leader of the opposition back in 1994 -

ANDREW MARR: But Tessa, you know it's up to a quarter now. I mean we're talking about a lot of MPs and we're talking about hardened rebels and people who are looking towards those new votes and they're not going to flinch.

TESSA JOWELL: There are some people - you know, you're absolutely right - there are some people in the parliamentary party who will look for any opportunity to vote against the government -

ANDREW MARR: And there's nothing you can do about them -

TESSA JOWELL: - well with some of them there is nothing that you can do, but I mean they have face, I suspect, the increasing fury of their colleagues in the parliamentary party. They have to face the sense of betrayal by the people that elected them -

ANDREW MARR: There is fury, there is betrayal, a sense of ... in the government -

TESSA JOWELL: I think there is a sense of great frustration among the majority of members of the parliamentary party about the behaviour of a minority. But there are certainly people, there are certainly people who voted against 90 days, last week, who did so from a combination of conviction and conscience, and I think that what Tony Blair has said, I think what we all accept is that whereas in the past we have had periods of sort of periodic engagement, involving backbenchers and so forth, we need to do that in a completely different way and on a completely different scale.

But again, I say, you know, the important judges of this are the people who elected us. The people out there, way beyond Westminster, who I think are looking at what's going on at Westminster with a growing sense of bemusement.

ANDREW MARR: Alastair Campbell, we read in the papers this morning, suggested to Tony Blair that he should stand down earlier and let Gordon Brown take over. You know both of them, you know all three of them -

TESSA JOWELL: Exactly. It's complete rubbish. You know it, the clearest statement made during the course of the election was that Tony Blair would serve for a full third term.

That is the deal that has been done with the British people. Just as the deal is to reform and take forward the reform of public services - and that's what we're going to do.

ANDREW MARR: Are these rebels in the position where they could destroy the agenda, destroy the authority of the third term Labour government?

TESSA JOWELL: Well if you have, you know, a group of MPs who wilfully set about doing that, of course the answer is yes. I do not believe that there is a majority or even a minority of the parliamentary party who want to destroy the great opportunity of the third Labour term and the prospect, the hope and opportunity that it will bring to millions and millions of people - many of them dispossessed - up and down the country.

ANDREW MARR: Tessa Jowell, thank you very much indeed.

TESSA JOWELL: Thank you.


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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