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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 April 2007, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Lib Dem strategy
On Sunday 15 April Andrew Marr interviewed Simon Hughes MP, President of the Liberal Democrats

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

Simon Hughes MP
Simon Hughes MP, President of the Liberal Democrats

ANDREW MARR: With me now in the studio the president, no less, of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes.

Welcome Mr. President.

SIMON HUGHES: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Let's start by talking about your party's position in these elections because many people would say that, oh Cameron there has put you under a bit of a squeeze, that his politics sound relatively "small l" liberal, and certainly green.

And that that gives the Liberal Democrats an historic problem?

SIMON HUGHES: I don't agree, I've been to all parts of the country. I've been to Scotland, I can assure you in Scotland we're likely to go forward.

How many extra seats we win is up to the Scottish people, but we will go forward. There's no great sign of a Tory revival in Scotland. I was in Sheffield this week, in the north where the Tories admit themselves they need to make progress, no sign of Tory progress in the north. We're likely to be making progress.

I've been in Wales, no sign of a great Tory revival in Wales, we're likely to go up and win seats, and I've been in the West Country and the south of England where again I know from my experience the canvas figures coming in we're going to be making progress against the Tories as well as against Labour.

ANDREW MARR: Because in the south, particularly last time, pretty disappointing for you. Are you not facing a Tory squeeze there?

SIMON HUGHES: No, I mean we're the only party which is likely to make progress in all three countries of Great Britain - north, south, midlands, west, east, all parts of the country.

The Tories are not in that same league. Of course they will do better because they're in opposition as we are, they're likely to win seats and Labour are likely to be in difficulties. But I don't see any huge sign of a Tory revival at all. What I know is that we will continue to build. I looked at the figures - in the 70s we got under 10% of the vote, in the 80s we got between 10% and 15%, and in the 90s we got 15% to 20%.

We're likely to go building. And last time, last year, we were within 1% of overtaking Labour as the second largest party in terms of share of the vote in local government. I have them in my sights, and yes, the Tories will end up with more councils as they start with many more than us. But they're not in wonderful fettle, as David would like to wish.

ANDREW MARR: You've got, so you've got Labour in your sights.

SIMON HUGHES: Absolutely.

ANDREW MARR: And yet you've been working closely in government with Labour in Wales, and in Scotland. Ming Campbell's a neighbouring MP to Gordon Brown. A lot of people on the Conservative side of politics have a suspicion that the Liberal Democrats' role is going to be as the sort of blood transfusion service for the Labour Party at the next election.

SIMON HUGHES: I can assure you that's not how it is, on the ground in Scotland, because there's a proportional system and there will be in local elections for the first time, we'll see lots of Labour councils losing their hegemony in central belt and so on.

But in Scotland no party had an overall majority in the Scottish parliament and so negotiations happened and there ended a coalition of much of the very good policy, free care for the elderly, more school places, all those sorts were delivered because the Liberal Democrats were in government. Jim Wallace and now Nicol Stephen have done a fantastic job.

The Scottish people will decide the balance of parties and we have absolutely said, I talked to Nicol Stephen, our leader, the other day, all we are concentrating on now is winning the seats and the votes. And there is no thought, there's been no conversation, no arrangement with anybody about what happens after the elections.

In Wales similarly, Andrew, just quickly because it's a similar point. Yes, we were in coalition for one of the two periods at the Welsh Assembly. Labour ran the Welsh Assembly for the last four years, they're not going to be in overall control again, so yes, there will have to be talks. But there has been absolutely no discussion about what happens afterwards.

ANDREW MARR: Well let me ask you about Scotland, because this matters to everybody.


ANDREW MARR: The SNP have said they want to have a referendum if they form an administration. Your party has said we don't want a referendum. The SNP has now countered by saying, well we could have a referendum which included greater powers for a Scottish parliament, which is your party's policy. So does that help make a deal possible?

SIMON HUGHES: No, Nicol Stephen has said very clearly is that because we're a party committed to the United Kingdom, to more devolution in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland and England. Then our sole purpose is to keep that together and we're against a referendum.

ANDREW MARR: So no referendum that discusses independence will happen if the Liberal Democrats have anything to do with it?

SIMON HUGHES: That's what we've said, we're not into that at all. Now, after the next election in Scotland on May 3rd, we may be in government, we may not be. We want to be in government, obviously that's why we stand for election.

The SNP may discover that they're not quite as popular when it comes to the polls as the hype is going. Now if I may say so the BBC, for all its attempts to say to us, oh we're going to be totally impartial, presents the Scottish election as if it were a Labour-SNP battle. It is not a Labour-SNP battle.

ANDREW MARR: But here you are correcting the balance.

SIMON HUGHES: Absolutely, there are at least four major parties, and some minor parties. And I hope from now on till May 3rd it's presented as a battle between those parties and not a great single issue as to whether the SNP are going to make progress.

ANDREW MARR: Let me turn closer to home for you, London. You're a south London MP, and we've had these appalling spate of killings, stabbings, shootings across London, in particular in south London. Tony Blair came into the argument quite controversially, some would say bravely, by saying let's not pretend that it isn't black on black, that it's black kids killing black kids. What's your reaction as a local MP to that?

SIMON HUGHES: Well I put out some comment when asked to say that that's an over-simplification. Yes, the figures show that about three-quarters of the assailants and about three-quarters of the victims recently have been black.

But poor little Bill Cox who died in Clapham was a youngster with a white Irish dad, I think, and a Thai mum. He wasn't a black kid. The reality is it's young people from all walks of life - Asian kids, Turkish kids, mixed race kids, white kids. And therefore the challenge is for all of us. Yes, Tony Blair was saying of course the black community can't wipe their hands and say it's nothing to do with us. But nor can the rest of us. And the good news is that in spite of the terrible events there's some really good work on the ground with young people.

There's some really positive things happening. But unless we have parents taking full responsibility, schools doing more, much more youth work, and a real sense of opportunity for young people, making sure they understand that they can have constructive alternatives, the training and the work, not the exclusion from school, then there is a danger they go to the places where they can find guns and knives. Can I just add one thing? The target for the police is the people who make the guns and the knives available. They should be dealt with.

ANDREW MARR: And do we need more legislation for that?

SIMON HUGHES: No absolutely not. We don't need.

ANDREW MARR: What's going wrong, because I guess a decade ago we'd have said straightforward it's drugs gangs fighting for territory. It's not drugs gangs fighting for territory. It is people, gangs, fighting apparently purely because they want to fight and conflict. So why?

SIMON HUGHES: I can't give you a 30-second soundbite answer but just put two points, today's papers make it clear that a lot of crime is still drug-related, that a lot of the violent crime even up to three quarters has heroin or cocaine behind it.

So firstly drugs are still an issue. If we had proper border control enforcement to deal with drugs and knives over the years that would have been reduced. But the second is many young people now go out onto the streets, they tool themselves up, to use the phrase, because they're afraid. It's now often fear that drives them. They think they need it to protect themselves.

The tragedy is who are the most frequent victims of crime, with guns and knives, they're young people themselves. And it's the peer group. In Northern Ireland peace has come, yes, John Major and Tony Blair and the others have done a fantastic job, for Northern Ireland parties. But also because the women of Northern Ireland stood up and said "we're not going to allow this to happen". The families concerned would stand up and say "this must not happen".

ANDREW MARR: All right. About a year ago now, you said that Ming Campbell was on probation, and rumour had it he wasn't entirely happy with that, that assessment of his position. A year on, is he still on probation? What do you make of it?

SIMON HUGHES: I didn't quite say that, but let's not go over old ground. The answer is we've had a year in which we've nearly won a great safe seat from the Tories, the only by election there's been. Ming called it right on Iraq and said the troops should come out, I'm sure that's what should happen.

We've got it right on how we get a safe future for the Post Office, how we have a more radical tax policy that gets green taxes to the fore. We got it right...

ANDREW MARR: As president...


ANDREW MARR: You know, looking at him, he's the man to take you through?

SIMON HUGHES: On the ground he is doing fantastically well. On the ground I can assure you in Scotland and Wales and England, the team led...

ANDREW MARR: In the air!

SIMON HUGHES: The team led by Ming is doing well. The policy is right, the party's well organised, the party...

ANDREW MARR: He's the right guy?

SIMON HUGHES: And we have more people fighting these elections than Labour for the first time ever. He's the right guy, he's done a good job.

ANDREW MARR: All right.

SIMON HUGHES: He is doing a good job. He will do a good job. But it's not only Ming, it's the whole team. And we have a stronger team Andrew than ever in your political life and my political life.

ANDREW MARR: And tomorrow Des Browne stands up in front of the House of Commons. Is he a goner?

SIMON HUGHES: No he's not a goner yet but I share David Cameron's views and the views of Kate Hoey and others that the reality is that was a terrible mistake. Many of my colleagues represent service personnel in Colchester and Portsmouth and Yeovil and places.

The reality is that should never have happened. The fact it was Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and nobody was at the end of a phone, or watching, a terrible mistake, no excuse, and Des Brown will have to have some fairly clever answers tomorrow.

ANDREW MARR: Simon Hughes, thank you very much indeed.

SIMON HUGHES: A pleasure.


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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