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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Tory Policy
On Sunday 09 April 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Oliver Letwin MP

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

Oliver Letwin MP
Oliver Letwin MP

ANDREW MARR: You may remember Tony Blair telling his party he had no reverse gear. Well yesterday David Cameron, who was occasionally accused of mimicking the Prime Minister, told the Tories now is not the time to put our foot on the brake - now is the time to press on the accelerator, we must fast-forward.

Oliver Letwin has a key role on that journey, he's in charge of the Tories' policy review and he joins me now from his constituency home in Dorset. Welcome and good morning Oliver Letwin, thanks for joining us.

OLIVER LETWIN: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: All those accelerators and brakes and gears and so on - if the Tory party was a car which car would it be at the moment? Would it be a Chelsea tractor, would it be a hybrid? What do you think?

OLIVER LETWIN: Well it's got to be a hybrid in order to be environmentally sensitive. But it's also got to be very robust, and it's got to move at a reasonable pace, but it's also got to be able to keep up a long journey. And if you know a car that fulfils all those criteria we'd all love to know about it.

ANDREW MARR: I think you've got a job in car design ahead. It's clearly a car that is still being built. Which is, I suppose, the point of David Cameron's speech. He was urging people to change faster. And yet already the voices coming out from all sides are saying, hold on a minute, aren't you ditching fundamental Conservative beliefs and instincts/ The papers are full of disaffected Conservatives writing in. At the conference there were people rather upset, clearly, about that. Hasn't he pushed it - haven't you pushed it too far already?

OLIVER LETWIN: No. We have to go faster, we have to go wider, we have to go deeper. And the reason is very clear, which is what this country needs is a government that applies timeless Conservative values, values of trusting people, of sharing responsibility, of letting people get on with their own lives and readjusting the balance from state back to society.

But, a Conservative party that's doing that, that's applying those timeless Conservative values to a modern agenda, an agenda which tackles the real challenges of our time which are the environment, the quality of life and the desperate need in this country for social justice. And, yes, of course we have to build a platform of economic stability in a competitive economy. We have to do it with a purpose and the purpose is to try to tackle those great challenges that this country faces.

ANDREW MARR: But if five years ago I had said to you that a Conservative leader would address the conference and would not have a passage in his speech about crime, wouldn't talk about immigration, wouldn't talk about Europe, you would have said that's absolutely absurd.

And yet all of those subjects, all those sort of core traditional Tory concerns just weren't there. There are millions and millions of people round the country for whom those things matter a lot.

OLIVER LETWIN: Of course they matter. Of course crime on our streets is a very important issue. But, Andrew, you and I know, and in fact the very many people who are watching this programme know, that these things are not unconnected with issues of social justice.

The fact is that we've got in our cities, and this was a conference in great part about our cities and Conservatives going back into our cities - we've got in our cities considerable numbers of people living, trapped in multiple depravation. And it's not just a question of money. There are in fact a million and a half people living in Britain today on less than about 100 a week. That's a pretty dire situation. But it goes much, much deeper than money. We're talking about neighbourhoods, we're talking about schools, we're talking about drug and alcohol dependency, we're talking about family breakdown.

We're talking about conditions that are terrible for the people who are trapped in them, but that also have, as Michael Heseltine was saying in the conference, a very considerable effect on the rest of society. If you're on heroin you're going to be stealing to feed the habit.

ANDREW MARR: This is a characteristically shrewd analysis. What we don't have from the Conservatives at any level are answers, policies. When are we going to hear something back about what you'd actually do?

OLIVER LETWIN: Well I know, Andrew, that there's an awful lot of people saying, so they're saying the right things, they're concentrating on social justice and environment - we like that. But where's the policy?

And then of course, if we went off into a sort of room and produced policies ad lib they would quite rightly say, but hold on a moment, these haven't been thought through. We're determined not to make that mistake. We're actually spending the time which opposition gives us, we're not running the country, we have the time. And we're spending it on working out in serious detail how we can have a properly coherent policy programme that does address these challenges. And we recognise that as a genuinely difficult thing. If it weren't difficult the government would have succeeded more.

But the government has not succeeded in reducing carbon emissions, hasn't succeeded in tackling the million and a half forgotten people. Why not? Because the policies aren't good enough. Can we invent them overnight to deal with it? No. Can we do it if we work for the next 18 months or so at it unremittingly in the policy groups that we've set up, using the experts or really working out how by...


OLIVER LETWIN: ... applying conservative principles and trusting people we can get there? Yes we can. Then produce policies that will stand the test of time and work.

ANDREW MARR: While you work in private for 18 months the voters may be drifting away from you. There are suggestions that you could lose 100 seats in the local elections which at this stage in the cycle would be pretty, pretty poor. And then you've people like Francis Maude saying, well look, you know, we are in the situation where we might well not win the next election, looking at the numbers, looking at the raw numbers of seats the Conservative party has to win back. That's probably common sense, isn't it?

OLIVER LETWIN: Well, we know we have a mountain to climb. And we're very realistic about that. But, it's not the case that we're doing all this work in private. We're doing it on a very transparent basis. We've announced the policy groups, we've announced their memberships, they're going to be holding seminars and discussions and debates. The interim reports they produce will be posted, everyone will be able to look at them. There will be a debate and discussion about those.

We are putting forward propositions to them for testing. And the fact is that there's a lot of exciting policy discussion going on in the Conservative party again. And that's what there needs to be. And I accept that what the public will have to see at the end of that process is a fully coherent programme. But I think what you and your viewers, and the rest of the public can do in the meanwhile is to participate with us in working out how we can address the great challenges, how we can produce more social justice, how we can make the environment better by applying Conservative principles.

ANDREW MARR: That's very generous. Do you think that UKIP are fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists?

OLIVER LETWIN: I think that you have to ask the question, what did the founder of UKIP say on a BBC, the Today programme, when he was asked whether he agreed with David Cameron. And the answer was he said he thought David Cameron had a point. So we have not to rely on Conservatives here. You can ask the founder of UKIP.

ANDREW MARR: Well, I was wondering what your view was. Lots of letters about this in the Telegraph this week. I'll just read you one. It's a very characteristic one: Sir, is David Cameron a closet recruiting sergeant for UKIP? If he continues to ignore or dismiss the concerns of serious-minded, right-of-centre Conservatives in the way he's doing, UKIP will be the major beneficiary at the next election.

OLIVER LETWIN: Oh, but let's get clear Andrew. And you know this already, and I know this. The great battleground of British politics today is not a battleground between the Conservative party and UKIP. The great battleground is in the centre of British politics.

ANDREW MARR: So these people don't matter to you?

OLIVER LETWIN: People in the mainstream...

ANDREW MARR: ... these right-of-centre people no longer, sorry, these right-of-centre people who associated themselves with the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher for many, many years no longer count?

OLIVER LETWIN: Everybody counts. Of course. And I know very well as somebody sitting on a marginal seat, how much every single elector counts.

But the fact is that the great battleground of British politics is in the centre, it's over the mainstream issues, it's not about a particular issue to do with the European Union, important though that is. It's actually about these great questions, it's about how this country prepares itself to deal with a more competitive world, it's about how we achieve social justice, it's about how we make our environment better, it's about how we improve our public services.

Those are the great issues. And actually the Conservative Party, right through time, has always been at its best when it's focused on those great issues, and when it's applied Conservative principles to resolving them. We're not going to make our Health Service better until we trust our nurses and doctors more. That's the kind of debate we have to have in this country.

ANDREW MARR: Oliver Letwin thank you very much indeed for that. Thank you for joining us.

OLIVER LETWIN: All right, bye bye.


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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