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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 10:37 GMT
Lib Dem agenda
On Sunday 05 March 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Lib Dem leader

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

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Lib Dem leader

ANDREW MARR: Sir Menzies Campbell, right now, is preparing for his first big speech to the Liberal-Democrats since they elected him leader on Thursday.

They're going to be looking for a steer about the direction of travel because the party's has often been seen as divided between the traditional centre-left, who are sometimes unkindly called the bearded, sandal-wearing types, and the young Turks, who are a bit more on the right wing.

Charles Kennedy managed to hold the ring between them but an awful lot of people said he was fudging this, so when I spoke to Sir Menzies a little earlier, I asked about his formula for fixing the direction of the party.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I'm a traditional Liberal and Liberal-Democrat of the centre-left. I made that clear throughout the leadership campaign. It was Joe Grimond who first attracted me into the Liberal Party, he was of the centre-left, and that's from where I want to lead the party. But I don't believe that that is inconsistent with accepting that we have to have economic liberalism to the extent that we have the sort of economy that will produce the resources to enable us to ... on health, education and transport. There's nothing inconsistent in that.

ANDREW MARR: And so when it comes to something like the old 50p rate of tax for high earners, I gather that you are not as hostile to that, as an idea, as some of your colleagues have been.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: No I, I found it quite easy to defend that in the last general election campaign, and I find it easy to do so again because why shouldn't those who have done best of all, like for example High Court judges who earn 160,000 a year, not pay a little more. But I think it's important for the party to understand you can't construct sensible tax policies round one tax rate.

ANDREW MARR: You made a lot of the importance of the environment and global warming in your campaign, as the other candidates did too. Almost every leading politician, who talks about this, says it's terribly important and then when it comes to the really tough questions about car use, about cheap flights all around the world, about whether or not we have to go for more nuclear power and not simply solar panels and all the rest of it. Every single politician then flinches away from this. Are you going to be any different?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: I hope so. Let me try and deal with some of these. On nuclear power, I'm firmly opposed to that. I think the illustration of the cost of the clean up of the existing regime of nuclear power stations, now estimated at 56 billion pounds, tells you that this is something that we should be very chary about. But even more compelling is the fact that we have no notion of what the long term environmental consequences may be. So I have little difficulty in rejecting nuclear.

So far as the other elements, that you mentioned, are concerned - you're quite right. Aviation is making an enormous impact upon climate change. I think we've got to be honest enough to say to people, look cheap flights come at a cost, they come at a cost far greater than what you actually pay for them and if it's necessary then we may have to have a system of taxation on aircraft movements, so as to discourage unnecessary use of aircraft, so as to help preserve the environment. I think that's the kind of directness and honesty that our party ought to subscribe too.

ANDREW MARR: Can I ask you about the democracy - we've had this power commission making all sorts of proposals, ranging from lowering the voting age to 16 and so on - is there any hope, do you think, from a Liberal-Democrat perspective, of a new constitutional settlement, whether or not negotiated between yourselves and the other parties, the Labour Party seems to be looking again at the constitution.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I think there needs to be a new constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom for the 21st century, I'm in no doubt about that. We need to have proper House of Lords reform, we most certainly need to have better freedom of information legislation and of course I'm interested in having reform to the voting system so that we have, what we call, fair votes - sometimes called proportional representation. That is an issue which I want to press.

ANDREW MARR: Assuming that Gordon Brown takes over from Tony Blair during the course of this Parliament - everybody seems to think that is going to happen - that's going to be two major parties led by Scots. Do you think anything is going to have to be resolved as regards to what's called the English question - the fact that so many Scottish MPs have votes on what are effectively all England laws, or England only laws, at the moment? It's a big, big issue.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Look that's exactly the sort of thing that we ought to be considering in a new constitutional settlement. I think it's inevitable if we had the kind of constitutional conventions for the United Kingdom that we had so successfully in Scotland and that produced Home Rule for Scotland, that you would have to examine the relationship between Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and London. And involved in that too, would inevitably be the role of Members of Parliament.

ANDREW MARR: The issue, above all other issues, that the party was associated with during the last general election was, of course, Iraq. Can I ask how you react when you hear the Prime Minister saying that he is going to be judged in the end by God on this matter.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I understand that the Prime Minister is a man of very strong faith but when you take a decision to go to war against another country, then I think some other calculations have got to enter into your consideration - like: what are the prospects of success, what are the risks, how many casualties might we expect, what are the long term consequences and indeed what are the long term unintended consequences.

My argument with the Government is that this was an illegal war; that there was inadequate consideration of what to do after they reached Baghdad and that we're paying the price for that - a price which includes very substantial damage to Britain's reputation and influence in the world, and in particular throughout the Middle East.

ANDREW MARR: Looking ahead, we've got a crisis bubbling around the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons or nuclear power there, and we have got the continuing debate over our relationship with the United States and the Bush administration, where are you going to position the Lib-Dems in relation to those of its sort of general foreign affairs position?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I want the Liberal-Democrats to be the internationalist party of above all others, the party that is recognised for its support for the United Nations and for a rules-based system. But of the United States, since you raised that, I had part of my higher education in the United States - at one stage I even contemplated applying for American citizenship - but the point is ... candid

ANDREW MARR: Really? Sorry -

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Yes, it's a long time ago, when I was a, when I was a student - but we need to be a candid friend to the United States and there are a lot of people in the United States who share my views about Iraq.

ANDREW MARR: Not so long ago you didn't think you had any chance, really, of leading the Liberal-Democrats - well you had ruled it out personally - now you are leading the Liberal-Democrats, we remember you from those old Paddy Ashdown days and the negotiations with Labour about a possible Lib-Lab Cabinet. Do you think one day Sir Menzies Campbell will be sitting in the Cabinet?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well if the Cabinet, I hope this isn't another revelation for you, but if a Cabinet seat was what I really wanted, then I would have accepted the invitation of Labour and Conservatives to join them at various stages in my political career.

I'm a Liberal by instinct and by intuition and I am now the leader of the Liberal-Democrat Party, the largest third party in the House of Commons since the early 1920s - Charles Kennedy's glorious legacy for us. I want to take maximum advantage of that, that's my ambition and with a sense of unity and purpose, yes and professionalism, in everything that we do, I'm confident that we can move forward, not just from parliamentary survival to a substantial parliamentary presence, but to real parliamentary influence as well.

ANDREW MARR: Well Sir Menzies, I'll let you get back to the Party in Harrogate, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Thank you very much.

ANDREW MARR: Our newest, oldest party leader.


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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