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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 January 2006, 09:51 GMT
In the lead?
On Sunday 15 January 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Sir Menzies Campbell MP

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

Sir Menzies Campbell MP
Sir Menzies Campbell MP

ANDREW MARR: Now this week Sir Ming Campbell, now the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, told us that if he won the contest to become leader for the years ahead he would keep his party to the left of Labour.

He's the bookies' favourite until he left his flanks slightly exposed in the Commons on Wednesday and was promptly bitten by the Prime Minister. Here is the ouch moment.

[clip from Prime Ministers Questions]

Now Sir Ming has long been nicknamed Ming the Merciless in Westminster. Highly respected, tough, a man who has won on the race track, the fastest sprinter in Britain during the Swinging Sixties.

[film clip]

But now in his sixties it's a merciless trade Ming, what about that moment in the Commons? Some people said Oh dear, that his David Davis moment, you know, it was disastrous.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well, you need a pretty thick skin in this business as you know. What's interesting is that I'm now getting letters from people complaining that the Prime Minister never answered the question.

And in fact, rather interestingly, as part of his go at me he talked about how difficult it might be to get people to head up dysfunctional organisations.

There'll be the parents of pupils in one or two of these schools who perhaps won't see the joke quite as readily as members of the Labour Party.

ANDREW MARR: Nevertheless, it is a rough house.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Of course it is.

ANDREW MARR: It's an aggressive place. And I suppose one of the things that people are asking about you is whether you are aggressive, populist, robust - in a sense nasty enough, to lead a party in such a rough house atmosphere.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well you don't get to run at the top flight in international athletics unless you've got a certain amount of determination and commitment.

And one of the reason why I want to lead the Liberal Democrats is because we've reached a new phase. We've passed beyond mere parliamentary survival, and I believe that my qualities, experience and judgement would be an important way of taking forward the next stage in our development.

Not least of course because we've got this enormously bright young collection of MPs - male and female - who are the future of the party. I believe that with the blend of experience and their youthful enthusiasm we can do a great deal for the advance of the Liberal Democrats.

ANDREW MARR: With a blend that some people would say why not jump straight to the youthful enthusiasm?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I think you need experience too, and I don't just offer myself - I would remind you of the fact that Vince Cable has established himself as one of the most serious commentators on the economy in this country. I think the combination of myself and Vince Cable, and people like David Laws and Ed Davey and others. Indeed, I mean the three youngest MPs in the country are all women and they're all Liberal Democrats, in Scotland, in England and in Wales.

ANDREW MARR: Of course, you know, the voters aren't all young fresh-faced 30-somethings either.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: By the next election more than half of the population will be over 50, those who vote will be over 50. And of course if Adair Turner's proposals for pensions are ever implemented we'll all have to work a bit longer, even if I may say so, distinguished commentators like yourself.

ANDREW MARR: Well indeed. Now, the other thing that people have been saying openly at the hustings yesterday, but to the newspapers as well, MPs like Mike Hancock, the suggestion that there was skulduggery, that somehow Charles Kennedy was removed unfairly and he shouldn't have been, and that you were partly responsible for that?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I deny that completely. I've been deputy leader of the party for nearly three years. During that period then there have been, let's not disguise the fact, a number of quite difficult moments, difficult for everyone, difficult for Charles Kennedy, difficult for me, difficult for other senior officers of the party.

I'm, one can never be content or satisfied about these things - but I believe that I did everything in my power to try and assist him. And when eventually he had to go, I think there was, if you like, a confluence, and events came together in such a way. But let me not leave this answer without pointing out that Charles Kennedy got the best results for the Liberal Democrats in 80 years, and the party will for ever be in his debt. And nothing, I think, was more dignified or courageous than the speech he made to indicate that he was stepping down finally.

ANDREW MARR: And you weren't briefing against him over the last weeks?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: I certainly wasn't.

ANDREW MARR: But unlike Mark Outen who said it was wrong that he went and he wished he hadn't gone, you actually feel overall it was the right thing to happen to the party?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: I think it was the right thing for Charles and his family, and for the party. Because I think a point had been reached at which the pressure of trying to deal with a problem which he has now freely admitted, and running the affairs of the party, had become impossible to sustain for any man or woman.

ANDREW MARR: I mean, he is a considerable political figure...


ANDREW MARR: If he succeeds in the battle which he's got ahead, do you see him coming back to the front line?


ANDREW MARR: You'd have him alongside yourself.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Of course - he'd make a jolly good foreign affairs spokesman. I'm in no doubt whatsoever that Charles Kennedy's talents and ability and capability ought all to be at the disposal of the party.

And once he's dealt with this problem then I, whoever's the leader, would be very, very foolish not to have Charles Kennedy on the front bench.

ANDREW MARR: Now, let's look forward, and talk about where you want to take the party. I have to say to you Ming, I find it difficult to see you as the left wing contender...

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I'm not, and you said that I was, in fact, I didn't say that. A national newspaper with which you're not unfamiliar, put that as a headline. If you've read the article which was below the headline, it said nothing of the sort. What I'd said, I was asked what my priorities were, and I said they were the environment, the environment, the environment.

And it is staggering to me in some respects the extent to which the public are now well aware of the problem of the environment, and what needs to be done. And I also said poverty. Because it's time in this country we did something about the shameful fact that the 10% of the poorest people in Britain pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the 10% who are the richest...

ANDREW MARR: ...that was translated as left wing which, interesting to see where that would leave David Cameron by the way.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: If we're going to have the kind of society which is fair, in which we have the kind of taxation which is not high for its own sake, but fair for the purposes, the social objectives like taking people out of the poverty trap - then obviously one's got to be willing to consider how the burden of taxation can be better shared. But I don't think it's left wing to want to take people out of poverty.

ANDREW MARR: So what would be the word or phrase that you would use for the direction of the party? Because people have said that for too long the party's not been quite sure which way to swing, that there's kind of younger, more right wing people, there's people like Simon Hughes, more on the tax and spend side of the party, and this is constantly being fudged and it can't be fudged forever.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well let me tell you what my approach would be. And I know you've got David Cameron later. But I think the contrast is very stark. The Prime Minister has essentially squeezed values out of politics in my view.

David Cameron comes along and no doubt he'll talk to you about this in more detail in due course. And he says, look, I can manage all of this better than Labour, indeed I can manage this better than Gordon Brown. What I think is necessary for our party is to return to values. The values of liberalism as now enshrined in the Liberal Democrats are necessary, now in this 21st century more than ever.

And we've got to be open to ideas. What I was saying yesterday, we've got to have the kind of openness that characterised people like Joe Grimmond, or even if you want to go further back, Beveridge. We've got to be receptive to new ideas, not daft ideas, ideas supported by intellectual rigor, but ideas which embody and enshrine the values of liberalism which have been driving forces in the British political system for over 100 years.

ANDREW MARR: It was said in one of the papers again this morning that you've been in talks with Gordon Brown, that you know Gordon Brown well. Some sense that there's a potential alliance between yourselves and the Labour Party.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: I made it clear in that same newspaper article I referred to a moment or two ago, that as far as I am concerned it's about maximising votes and maximising seats. Gordon Brown is my neighbour in Fife - we often travel up and down together - he's part of that collection of Scottish Members of Parliament who were all drawn together.

Indeed were all drawn together perhaps most recently on that saddest of occasions, Robin Cook's funeral. Scotland is in many respects a political village, we all know each other, we all like each other. That doesn't mean to say that we all share the same views. As I used to discover in the early hours of the morning with John Smith who would give me a really hard time because I wasn't in the Labour Party like my father.

ANDREW MARR: As a fellow villager, I suppose, from Scotland, do you think it's possibly the case that too many Scots are running British parties these days?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: I don't believe so. People have got judgements to make. I think - I have no problem about Scottishness or Britishness. I mean I noticed that Gordon has raised this whole question...

ANDREW MARR: ...raised the flag...

MENZIES CAMPBELL: ...the flag. I hope, I don't have any problem, about asserting Britishness. I'd be concerned lest the enormous significance of Remembrance Sunday was in any way diminished. I mean, at Murrayfield I support Scotland, at the Oval I support England.

In the Ryder Cup I support Europe. I've no difficulty with Britishness. And I don't think the rest of Britain should have any difficulty with Scottishness either.

ANDREW MARR: Sir Ming Campbell, thank you very much indeed for that.


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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