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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 April 2007, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Tory strategy
On Sunday 15 April Andrew Marr interviewed David Cameron MP, Leader of HM Opposition

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

David Cameron MP
David Cameron MP, Leader of HM Opposition

ANDREW MARR: Now, in a few short weeks the Prime Minister will leave the political stage.

And while Labour contemplate the post-Blair era the Tories are enjoying the new sensation of being strongly and consistently ahead in the polls so David Cameron has reasons to be cheerful.

But next month's elections are a big test for him too, and of how far the Cameron effect has spread.

Well I met David Cameron during a break in canvassing at a hospital in his Oxfordshire constituency.

This is, of course, home turf for him, but I put it to him it would be a real failure if his candidates didn't break through in the northern cities which are still Tory deserts.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I want the Conservative recovery to take place in every part of the country, that's absolutely right. But I think you've got to look broadly across the country, I mean take Yorkshire where I was this week, actually we control already more councils than Labour in Yorkshire.

Take the north-west, yes we haven't yet broken through in Manchester itself, but in greater Manchester, we're doing well in Bolton and in Bury, in Salford. Not necessarily heartland areas, but areas we are doing well in. But I want to see that recovery right across the country.

ANDREW MARR: Let's talk about Scotland where the Conservatives are not in a particularly strong position, to put it gently. It has been suggested that you might hive off the party in Scotland, and Scottish Conservatives might effectively organise themselves to give them a new chance.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I don't have a plan to do that. I think it's important though that we do emphasise that the Scottish Conservatives are a Scottish party - they elect their own leader, they write their own policies, they're responsible for their own manifesto.

It's devolution at work, so they are able to come up with the right policies for Scotland, not always the same policies that we might have in England, that's right. And we need to emphasise that. And I think that's important, but I don't have plans to...

ANDREW MARR: Would you be against them choosing a new name, for instance?

DAVID CAMERON: Well it would be up to them to make that suggestion if they wanted to. I think actually they are very much running under the banner of being Scottish Conservatives and I think it's important that they emphasise that they are a party for Scotland.

ANDREW MARR: If, as a result of these elections, Scottish National Party are forming an administration in Edinburgh and calling for there to be a referendum, what will your response be? Don't they have a right to have a referendum if people in Scotland want a referendum and they say they do, they've got a right to that haven't they?

DAVID CAMERON: If there is a referendum I will campaign as actively as I can for a no vote because I want to keep England and Scotland together. But we've always said if that there was a referendum, and if the result went from my point of view the wrong way we would have to honour that. I think that's that the only way to be open and frank with people in Scotland about this, but I desperately, you know, hope that it doesn't happen.

ANDREW MARR: You never know what's round the corner. If there was a snap election and you found yourself in No. 10. How would you be dealing with the Iranian crisis?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think the first thing we've got to do, and this can't wait for an election, but if I was elected tomorrow I'd do it tomorrow, is we've got to have a proper board of enquiry equivalent into what actually happened. How was it that 15 of our service personnel were taken captive by the Iranians when in Iraqi waters?

Remember, this is the second time this sort of thing has happened in three years, and we've got to get to the bottom of why it happened, of the lessons we learn, of the rules of engagement we need - all of those things have got to be properly considered so it doesn't happen again.

ANDREW MARR: Britain's been humiliated around the world in this, haven't we?

DAVID CAMERON: It has not been a good episode, I think it's been made much, much worse by the appalling decision that was made to, you know, really encourage service personnel to sell their stories to the media. It was a dreadful decision. I mean, our armed forces are fantastic people, they work incredibly hard for our country.

They take great risks, they're fighting in two wars thousands of miles apart, a long way from home. They are great people. But, you know, their reputation I think has, you know, is in danger of suffering because of the dreadful decisions the government made.

ANDREW MARR: Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, is to make a statement on that. And so far you haven't called for his resignation, you're waiting to see what he says. But if he signed off this decision, or his officials were told about it, do you think it's a resigning matter?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I've got a rather old-fashioned view which is that ministers should be accountable to parliament. And one of the tests I've set for Des Browne is that he's got to give a full account of himself to parliament on Monday, and explain the actions that his department and that No. 10 Downing Street took.

And the second test is, does he retain the confidence of our armed services? If he can pass those two tests he keeps his job. If he fails them I think he has to go. But I think that's the right way. I don't get out of bed in the morning and just sort of ask for ministers to resign randomly, that is not what the opposition is meant to do.

ANDREW MARR: Inside the military itself, on websites and so on, there's been a huge amount of criticism of the individuals, the smoking, you know, the complaining about losing an I-Pod and all the rest of it. This is not, as General Sir Michael Rose put it, this is not exactly the Nelsonian attitude to engaging the enemy. Do you share any of the unease?

DAVID CAMERON: I think the problems is that they're not being properly respected or looked after by the government. I don't think the government understands the ethos of our armed forces. And that decision about selling of stories to the media I think tells us something about the values of the government.

They were putting first the importance of a good headline, a good bit of PR today, but they were putting at risk the long-term reputation of our armed forces. And I think there's been a bit of a pattern with this government when it comes to important institutions, that they often put short-term popularity ahead of long-term security.

ANDREW MARR: Though of course, we've also seen a lot of civil servants and diplomats selling their memoirs, coming straight out of government and going, either selling their stories to the newspapers or, more often, as books. When it comes to that kind of behaviour, as with servicemen selling their stories, would a Cameron government stop all of that?

DAVID CAMERON: I think there are problems with it. I think that some of the memoirs have been written very quickly. I think that there are problems, because government has got to operate properly, and you can't operate properly if you think all the time the people sitting round the table with you are keeping a diary and are about to publish it at the drop of a hat.

So I think there are problems that does need to be looked at, we need a clear set of rules. But what, I don't think there's a direct comparison between that and brave armed service personnel, you know, taken hostage and then selling their stories to the media straight after, so that is a different situation altogether.

ANDREW MARR: But you'd rule that out completely?

DAVID CAMERON: Completely unacceptable, and I think anyone with any judgement knew it was unacceptable. What's extraordinary about this government is they didn't think it was unacceptable, and they allowed it to happen. And I think that gave us a window into the values of just how dreadful they are.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to some domestic issues. Here we are sitting in a hospital. In your response to the budget you said that the future of the NHS was a great gaping hole in the middle of the budget statement. And yet this Labour government has poured money into the National Health Service.

You say it's been wasted. But if it's been wasted it's gone. My question is would you continue to fund the National Health Service at the same level as Labour has?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes of course we would continue to fund the NHS, and we would continue to increase funds for the NHS, and we've made absolutely clear it's our priority and it's going to be the first call on resources we make. But let's be honest, Andrew, after ten years I think if we've learned anything it is that money isn't enough.

The reason why Labour have failed with the NHS is they simply don't trust the doctors and the nurses and the managers and the professionals. They have covered them in targets, they've taken away their discretion, and they've made some truly dreadful decisions from the centre.

ANDREW MARR: Does that mean that you would treat the NHS rather as Gordon Brown treated the Bank of England on interest rates, and effectively hive it off as an operation which ministers did not have any day-to-day control over?

DAVID CAMERON: Well it does mean we've got to take the politicians out of the management of the NHS. Of course the politicians have got to set the overall envelope of money for the NHS. But we don't need another big reorganisation, that would be a disaster.

ANDREW MARR: Do you stick, broadly speaking, with the structure you have?

DAVID CAMERON: There are things that I would keep, foundation hospitals, a good idea, we'd keep and expand them. Payment by results and having that sort of internal market, if you like, that's good and we should keep that. We would like to put much more power in the hands of general practitioners, and their practices. We think that in the end they are the ones who should be commissioning care on behalf of their patients. They're the ones who should be deciding the overall shape of the Health Service.

ANDREW MARR: Are you strong enough to do that? Because what you're saying suggests that at some point an NHS manager might close this hospital, or another hospital. You might be out there protesting, but as Prime Minister you would say well, that's for them. I am not going to get involved, I'm not going to go back to the top down approach. I'm not going to introduce new guidelines. You'd really let that happen?

DAVID CAMERON: You've got to have a system here it's the GPs in the driving seat. Then I don't think you'd see community hospitals like this close. Because actually the care we'd get would be based on the decisions they make on behalf of their patients.

ANDREW MARR: But you couldn't know that, you couldn't know that.

DAVID CAMERON: Absolutely, but get the politicians out of the way, have the money divided up in a way that actually reflects the clinical needs, and the needs of the population. That will be a far better NHS, and that's the NHS that we're committed to.

ANDREW MARR: And to achieve this hived off, or devolved NHS, would that require some kind of primary legislation, would it be a new institution in effect?

DAVID CAMERON: We're now getting into the implementation phase where we look in detail at the actual legislation that we'd need in the first month, in the first year, in the first two years, of a Conservative government. Because, I mean standing back a second...

ANDREW MARR: So it sounds as if the answer is yes.

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, there would be legislation.

ANDREW MARR: In the budget response also, you had a bit of fun with Gordon Brown, looking at his forward spending plans - 2%, 2%, 1.9% over the next few years because you pointed out that expected hoped-for economic growth is rather higher than that.


ANDREW MARR: And that therefore he is sharing, sharing the growth dividend as you would like...

DAVID CAMERON: Sharing the proceeds of growth. That's right.

ANDREW MARR: Sharing the proceeds of growth, in your phrase. Doesn't that mean that broadly speaking, in macroeconomic terms he's doing exactly what you would do?

DAVID CAMERON: He is, I think.

ANDREW MARR: So that's a good theory?

DAVID CAMERON: Absolutely.

ANDREW MARR: So you welcome that?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, yes, I did in the budget speech. My approach to politics is when the government do something I approve of I say so.

ANDREW MARR: So what's the big difference between you?

DAVID CAMERON: I think there's a big difference still, on the economy, is that the Chancellor doesn't understand the whole wealth creation process. He doesn't understand business, specifically in the budget, he's putting up the rate of corporation tax on small businesses. Now small businesses are the life blood of our economy, that's where the jobs, the wealth and the investment are going to come from.

ANDREW MARR: So that would be a tax cut that you would actually put in, simplifying it?

DAVID CAMERON: We should be simplifying taxes, getting rid of allowances and reliefs and reducing rates, and that's why George Osborne said very clearly that we think that small rate of corporation tax shouldn't be going up, it should be staying down.

ANDREW MARR: Your own MPs, or many of them, are still looking for evidence that you're really going to cut taxes. The Cornerstone group, Edward Leigh and others talked about a 44 billion tax cut over the lifetime of a parliament. Are those kind of figures plausible?

DAVID CAMERON: No. I mean, the point is, what they're not going to get from me is up-front promises that are unsustainable. What the Conservative Party, and the country, is going to get from me and from George Osborne, is a very clear statement that stability has to come before tax cuts.

ANDREW MARR: But also they hear all your qualification, they think yeah, yeah, maybe one day if we're terribly lucky some of these might come ...

DAVID CAMERON: No, no, there are some things, there are some specific things they know, which is that we're going to rebalance the tax system. We've said very clearly that we think green taxes should go up, but one for one, pound for pound, every green tax that is increased we should see a tax reduction elsewhere.

So we've said yes, we will tax aviation more. It's not a popular thing to say but if you're going to be serious about the environment, if you're going to be serious about climate change, you've got to be serious about aviation...

ANDREW MARR: Rationing of family holidays?

DAVID CAMERON: No one is talking about rationing anybody, but what we're saying is you've got to, if you're going to be serious about climate change you have to tax aviation and we will do that. But pound for pound taxes will come off Britain's families.

ANDREW MARR: Sorry, just before we leave tax and spending, Labour's laid out the pattern of public spending growth over the next few years. In broad terms you would commit to that?

DAVID CAMERON: Well, we'll obviously make our position very clear when it comes to the election. But I think the idea of sharing the proceeds of growth, of increasing public spending but making sure that increase is a bit less than the growth in the economy, that's the approach I've always held to.

ANDREW MARR: Young politician, good head of hair, keen on the environment, wondering whether to roll the dice, what's your advice to David Miliband?

DAVID CAMERON: Oh I don't know, I mean I'm too busy getting the Conservative Party in a position where I think we can serve...

ANDREW MARR: But you must be intrigued, you're watching this, you must be intrigued.

DAVID CAMERON: You know what, to me it doesn't matter whether it is Brown, or Clarke, or Reid, or Miliband. I mean they're all part of the government that has completely lost its way.

ANDREW MARR: But each of them is a different proposition for you?

DAVID CAMERON: But are they, are they really.

ANDREW MARR: That's what I would have thought.

DAVID CAMERON: What they seem to be doing, to me, what they seem to be doing is they're kind of casting around for a personality that might make Labour a bit more interesting.

ANDREW MARR: If you're not interested in the prospect of David Miliband why have you set up unit to kind of follow him, and target him?

DAVID CAMERON: I said to someone, I said if you have set up a unit I said close it, it's a complete waste of time. What Central Office and what I'm concentrating on is positive policies.

I mean David Miliband talks about the "I can" generation. Yes, we can now, we can buy council houses because the Conservative government let us. We can have shares in the business we work for. That was the 80s revolution. I want us to have the new Conservative revolution which is the "I care" revolution.

ANDREW MARR: There's no part of you that looks at Brown and thinks, actually, whatever his faults we've had ten pretty good years of growth. Here is a highly experienced formidable politician, the great clunking fist or not, whatever you think about some of the details of what he's done, this is a formidable opponent.

DAVID CAMERON: Well of course he's a formidable politician. But what I see is a government that has actually destroyed a sense of responsibility. I mean I think they've actually created a, you know, there's no such thing as society Britain. They've taken away responsibility from everybody.

And what I want to see come back in Britain is a sense of the responsible society. How do we as politicians give people more power and responsibility over their lives? That's what the whole Conservative Party is about now. And that's what excites me and drives me, and Brown, Gordon Brown's like the opposite to that.

ANDREW MARR: We sit here during a very strange period in politics when we know the Prime Minister is going, and going soon.

Now, again, whatever your complaints about the style of politics over the last ten years or so, here has been an extremely adept, technically clever politician who is alleged, rumour has it, to look at you as, in some respects, a successor. What have you learned from Tony Blair that's positive, that's not merely negative?

DAVID CAMERON: I think he did do an important job for Britain actually, in changing the Labour Party. I think it's very important that we don't have a left-right split now, where one party wants to re-nationalise everything in sight, taxes at 80%, that is, you know, quite so in hock to the Trade Unions.

I think those changes to make the Labour Party more friendly to the enterprise economy, it's still not friendly enough, I think those are important.

I think that will be a very important legacy, and the way he dragged his party into the centre ground of British politics, I think he should be admired for. I think that was positive. I think the problem is that having done that there wasn't a clear enough plan about the things he wanted to do for Britain.

ANDREW MARR: You said there was a huge amount in decline.


ANDREW MARR: Do you now think that you can, at the next General Election, actually win an overall majority of seats in the Commons, and govern again as a Conservative government without looking to any other party?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, I think we can do it. I'm not one of those politicians who, every rally they go to say "We will win, it's in the bag" - it isn't, it's up to the British people. We've, I think, made huge progress, we're halfway up the mountain as I like to put it. We've got still a long way to go.

But I think people are seeing a Conservative party that's changed, that's back in the centre ground, is concentrating on the issues people care about.

ANDREW MARR: And when people say heir to Blair, a little glow of pride or a wince?

DAVID CAMERON: A wince! Look, I mean I can't, you know, how do I start naming the differences. I admire the fact he won three elections in a row.

You can't as a politician not admire that. But I mean, to me our whole approach to politics is different, because in the end politics to me is either trusting big government - that's Blair - or actually trusting people and sharing responsibility with them, and trying to create a more responsible society.

That's me. To me it's an enormous difference. ID cards, he wants them, I don't like them. Regional government, I can't bear it, he wants to introduce it. You know, the Health Service and public services he wants top down targets and government control, I want to set our professionals free.

There are so many differences, I don't have to make them up. So when he does something I approve of I say so. That's how I do politics.

ANDREW MARR: David Cameron, thank you very much.


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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