BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Last Updated: Sunday, 13 January 2008, 09:44 GMT
Conservative way forward
On Sunday 13 January Andrew Marr interviewed David Cameron MP, Leader of H.M. Opposition

The Tory leader talked about political funding, Northern Rock, and plans to give greater independence to the Bank of England.

 ...Jeff Overs/BBC

ANDREW MARR: Now, as promised earlier, the irrepressible David Cameron. Welcome and good morning.

DAVID CAMERON: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: All the election hoo-ha at the end of last year. Did you think at one point that, if we were sitting here discussing life at this point this year, I would be addressing you as Prime Minister?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I thought that we were going to have an election after I'd told my team at central office, get ready it's going to happen, and I think that certainly Labour would have lost that election.

I think they would have lost their majority, I think there's every chance we could have won it. But there are lots of outcomes between not winning it and winning it, in terms of hung parliaments and the rest of it. But I certainly think Labour were going to lose.

ANDREW MARR: There's not a part of you that thinks Gordon Brown actually, without meaning to, did you a bit of a favour in the sense that you shot up in the polls afterwards?

DAVID CAMERON: No, well, you're wrong actually. What changed was that at our party conference we set out, I think, a really compelling vision for the future of the country.

Giving people more control over their lives, helping first-time buyers with stamp duty, making families stronger, making the country safer and greener. I think we really inspired people at that conference. And that is when the big change took place, when people I think looked at the Conservative Party and said, yes this is a strong team, yes these people could take our country forward. We then shot up in the polls and that's why the Prime Minister cancelled the election.

So it wasn't the cancelling of the election that led to the Conservative revival, it was the Conservative revival that led to the cancelling of the election. What the outcome would have been depends on millions of decisions, on millions of people, but I was quite sure we had every chance of winning it, and certainly I think Labour would have lost it.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. Where you are in the polls now is pretty much where you were immediately after the announcement of that election being cancelled. So you went shooting up.

DAVID CAMERON: Well, again, it was actually where we were before the announcement of that election being cancelled.

ANDREW MARR: Well, about seven points immediately afterwards actually. And you're about seven points now. What I was going to ask is whether the sort of vast lead over the Christmas period was slightly frothy and that where you are now is realistic in terms of, you've got a long way to go to absolutely make sure of the overall majority and all of that.

DAVID CAMERON: Of course, I've said, sitting here many times, there's a bit mountain for us to climb and we've still got a long way to go, we've still got a lot to do. But what I take heart from, because polls do come and go, and I have poll leads, big ones, I've been behind, you know, they come and go. But what matters is are you actually setting out the things that people want to hear, that will make a difference to our country?

And I really think the Conservative Party is showing that we are getting ready for government and we're also showing people that we can deliver the change that they want. We don't have to put up with the Health Service where Accident and Emergency departments are closing, we don't have to put up with us falling down the league tables for school results.

You know, we don't have to put up with so much violent crime on our streets, and I think people are looking at the Conservative Party and saying, you know, yes they're making really progress, still further to go, still a lot to do, no slackening of the pace. But I think, you know, you keep seeing us on issue after issue, recently on welfare, setting the agenda about how to get Britain back to work.

ANDREW MARR: I'd like to talk about some of those in more detail, but before I do, just, I'd like to hear what you say about Peter Hain, clearly in deep trouble in the papers this morning. Do you think his time is up?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think if he goes on like yesterday, I think his time will be up. I think it's no good when all these questions are being asked, just to sort of come out and read out a statement and then scurry back indoors again. He has got questions he needs to answer. There are enquiries underway so I'm not jumping the gun.

But I think he can't go on as yesterday, and I think this does go back to the Prime Minister as well, I mean if I was in the Prime Minister's shoes I would say to Peter Hain, look you've got to get out there, you want to explain yourself, you've got to answer all of the questions. And if you can do that then maybe your job is safe, but if you can't you will have to go. And I think that's where we ought to be, instead I sense the Prime Minister is dithering over this issue.

ANDREW MARR: Does the same apply to George Osborne who, in the Mail on Sunday today is accused, and indeed has conceded that he took a great deal of money to run his private office that was not reported in the normal way in parliament?

DAVID CAMERON: No, I think the two cases are completely different. The money that we're talking about with the Conservative Party, all these donations are declared and published by the electoral commission.

You can go to their website, they are all fully declared. There was then a separate question, and by the way George Osborne's staff are employed by central office and paid for by central office.

ANDREW MARR: So are your staff.

DAVID CAMERON: Absolutely. Although I get short money as well, but that's a complicated issue. The question was asked well should George separately declare these to the Registrar of members' interests. And unlike Peter Hain who seems to have done nothing, actually the Chief Whip, our Chief Whip had a face to face meeting with the Registrar for members' interests to ask advice.

The Register of members' interests is now saying the advice they gave was unclear and they'd like to look at it again. And we're only too delighted for them to look at it again.

ANDREW MARR: Huge amounts of money were put into Mr. Osborne's office and everybody else put them onto the Register of members' interests.

DAVID CAMERON: No, that's not the case. The money was paid into Central Office, it was fully declared, Central Office employs George Osborne's staff. These donations unlike Peter Hain's are fully declared, fully legal, he hasn't broken any laws.

ANDREW MARR: He hasn't declared to the Register of members' interests until the newspapers got in touch.

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, but we asked the Register of members' interests how it should be declared and we got the email saying that, you know, effectively they didn't need to be declared.

So, you know, if George went to... that's the most important thing is, you know, are you complying with the law, and if you're not sure are you asking? And that's exactly what we did. And if Peter Hain had done the same thing he wouldn't be in the mess he's in now.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah. But this, as I say, was after the Mail on Sunday contacted...

DAVID CAMERON: No, no, no, the meeting between the Chief Whip and the Register of Member's interests was way before.

ANDREW MARR: Anyway, the only point I'm making is that both parties seem to have some difficulty in getting these regulations absolutely clear.

DAVID CAMERON: But I think the two cases are completely different because Peter Hain didn't declare his donations, hasn't answered the relevant questions, has this sort of front organisation of the progressive policies forum, or whatever, which he can't seem to explain why it doesn't employ anyone and hasn't produced any policies.

So that's a totally different situation to the Conservative Party where all of the money has been declared, where we sought advice about whether extra declarations were needed and if extra declarations are needed we'd be only too delighted to make them.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. Just before we leave the money side, and we will then move on. Lord Ashcroft pays you, funds you to a very considerable extent. Are you absolutely clear and happy in your own mind that he is a resident voting British citizen in the full way that it allows him to do so?

DAVID CAMERON: I'm happy as I think we've talked about before that he gave assurances when he was created a life peer some years ago, and I've sought reassurance that those undertakings are being met and I'm content that that's the case. But let's be clear that, again, all the donations that he makes are fully declared, you can see them all on the Electoral Commission website.

He gives less to the Conservative Party recently than Lakshmi Mittal or Sainsbury have given to the Labour Party, so I think it's complete, I think Labour like to try and sort of build this up as some great big issue. It's all declared. And by the way, I'm the only party leader who said look let's have a 50,000 cap on donations, that applies to everyone, to Lord Ashcroft, to the Trade Unions, to everybody else.

I'd be happy and I suggested it first, because I think that would help actually, to present to people a politics where you can see where the money is coming from and you can see that no party is in hock to either big business or big trade unions or big anything else.

ANDREW MARR: If there was a deal and everyone's a way, way from a deal. If there was deal would you be content with the position which the Conservative Party was spending considerably less money at general elections than it is now?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes. I mean I think what is required as part of the funding reform is a cut in what you're allowed to spend at a General Election. It was, I think, 20 million. It's now 15 million, I think it's now 15 million. I'd be happy for a tight cap on General Election spending because that's when I think parties get carried away.

What I'm less happy about is the idea that we should try and have controls on spending every single year, because I think then you're asking every political party to make a sort of return on every cheese and wine party it has. And pretty soon you find you sort of snuff out all political activity.

ANDREW MARR: It also allows Lord Ashcroft to build up good organisations in your key constituencies as well.

DAVID CAMERON: Well yes, let's have a look at that one as well. If you're a sitting member of parliament you now have huge sums of money to spend in your constituency including ridiculously, a 10,000 communication allowance! I mean what are MPs meant to do anyway if it's not communicate?

So, in order to actually try and, you know, give people a choice in marginal constituencies you need to make sure they're funded properly because MPs have got so much money and so much staff and never stop voting more money like the ridiculous 10,000 communication allowance, which we would get rid of.

ANDREW MARR: From your point of view it's a kind of anti-incumbent fund, as it were>

DAVID CAMERON: Well it's to try and make it fair and try and make it balanced. And in any event recent research showed the Trade Unions spent more in marginal seats than the Conservative Party did.

So, you know, I think as I say, tough controls on General Election spending, good. Let's have tight caps on donations, good. But I think the idea of sort of nationalising the whole of politics and trying to control every year's spending I think is very, very worrying.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Speaking of nationalising, Northern Rock, that seems to be nationalisation, seems to be coming up as the government's likely, not ideal but where we are now best outcome. How would you react to an announcement to that effect?

DAVID CAMERON: Well it would be the most complete humiliation and failure for the government. I mean, let's be clear about what's happened here. The taxpayer is sinking sort of 55 billion into Northern Rock, and this has been really, really badly mishandled. I think there are two points at which the government should have taken a very different step. First of all, when there was the offer from Lloyds TSB to take over Northern Rock before the effective bank run, I think that should have been looked at far more seriously.

And the second was, after the bank run had taken place we now know that the advice from the city advisors to the government was, you know, get on and sell Northern Rock because this will get worse rather than better, and the taxpayer will be at greater and greater risk, and also the City of London and Britain will suffer as a consequence. And I rather suspect that because of the planning for the early General Election the government didn't want to take a decision.

So I think they have seriously failed and if it ends in nationalisation that will be a massive failure for the government. Let's hope it doesn't, let's hope that a private sale can still go ahead. But it is looking clearly more difficult.

ANDREW MARR: So if there is a regulatory problem here what can be done about it?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think it's quite obvious, look, if you have the first bank run in 140 years, something that isn't happening in other countries, it's quite clear you've got a regulatory problem.

And I think we need to step back and really look at the big changes we need to make. And above all it's because financial stability and security matters more to people in this country than anything else.

ANDREW MARR: So what are the big changes?

DAVID CAMERON: Right, OK, we need a Bank of England Act. We had one a decade ago, we need a new one, and it needs to do three very specific things. First make clear who is responsible in the event of bank failures like Northern Rock, and in our view it should be the Bank of England that is up front and centre in terms of taking responsibility for that. The tripartite system I think has led to some very confused lines.

The second thing it needs to do is make sure the Bank of England has got the necessary powers to intervene early and swiftly. The Bank of England has suggested these powers, we think they should be granted. The third thing we'd like to see is a longer term for the Governor of the Bank of England, a single non-renewable eight-year term because we think that will further strengthen the bank's independence.

Today we've got this ridiculous situation where nobody knows whether Mervyn King is going to be re-appointed as Governor of the Bank of England. And as the government are sort of holding this over him I think it questions the independence of the Bank of England. Now that is bad for Britain, bad for the bank, bad for our financial system. So put it beyond doubt with one single eight-year term. That I think would be a much stronger approach, so our Bank of England Act which would be a real priority.

ANDREW MARR: Would you do what Gordon Brown did in a sense, and push it considerably further?

DAVID CAMERON: We would take it considerably further because while it was right to make the Bank of England...

ANDREW MARR: And you would do this in power, would you?

DAVID CAMERON: It has to be done early on in power, because nothing matters more than financial stability and financial security. And at the moment we see a system that is not secure and I think we see some real failures with it and we need to sort that out.

ANDREW MARR: Can I ask you about another thing that you said you would do in power which is you said you'd give a cast iron guarantee to the British people that if you were Prime Minister there would be a referendum on the EU Treaty. Does that cast iron guarantee still hold?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, as soon as we have an election the sooner we can have a referendum, that is absolutely the case.

ANDREW MARR: So to be clear, if it passes through, if the Treaty passes through parliament this spring, and I understand you don't want it to, but assuming it does, and is then ratified around Europe by all the 27 Member States, you would still have a referendum to re-open that issue if you come into power afterwards?

DAVID CAMERON: If it's passed through Parliament we can still hold a referendum. The difficult question, I accept it is a difficult question, is well what if it goes through Parliament, if it goes through every other country and is implemented by every other country, if no other country holds a referendum, if the election isn't till, you know, 2010, what then?


DAVID CAMERON: Now, obviously we will not be content to rest at that point because we think too much power would have been passed from Westminster to Brussels. But I don't want to explain exactly what we'd do in those circumstances because we've got to wait and see whether they actually take place.

What I want to do now is maximise the pressure for a referendum and while that Treaty is still being discussed, anywhere in Europe, while it hasn't been implemented, that referendum could take place absolutely no problem at all, and that is absolutely right for that to happen.

ANDREW MARR: So that is not a cast iron guarantee. That's saying that if it's all over it's all over, you don't like the fact it's all over but you've only then got two choices, you can try and re-open the Treaty and that means persuading another 26 countries to go back over this which seems most implausible, or you can hold the threatened withdrawal.

DAVID CAMERON: Let me stop you there, no, we've already said that we're not happy with the transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels, that's already taking place. We think that things have gone too far.

I've said throughout my leadership campaign, throughout the last two years, I think that it'd be much better if social policy and employment policy was determined here in Britain rather than determined in Brussels. So we're already committed to saying there are some things that Europe is currently doing that we think it shouldn't be doing. And so that is a perfectly sensible and reasonable thing to do.

ANDREW MARR: But in the old analogy - you are on board the bus, it's accelerated and the doors are locked, and what I'm asking you is what you can possibly do about that?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think Margaret Thatcher showed in recovering the British rebate that if you have a very clear, very straightforward approach in Europe and say look, we want to be in the European Union, we believe that trade and co-operation between our countries is good, but we're not happy with the status quo and there are some things we want to change. If you're single-minded about that then there's no reason why you cannot achieve your objectives.

ANDREW MARR: You'd sort of operate guerrilla tactics to try and shake things up enough to get what you want?

DAVID CAMERON: Well it's not guerrilla tactics, it's just a question of being open and up-front and honest and saying, look, this is what we want to achieve. And right now what we want to achieve is a referendum. You know this is the European Constitution like any other....

ANDREW MARR: But you won't absolutely promise one by 2010 if all the other are ratified?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I don't know whether those circumstances are going to appear, it may be that other countries will have referendums, it may be that ratification process will take longer, we may win the vote in either the Lords or the Commons, so you're asking me to answer a question well if, if, if, if, if all these things happen, then what, and I'm telling you...

ANDREW MARR: It's not unlikely, and a lot of people are very interested....

DAVID CAMERON: Well I'm tell you that we wouldn't be happy to let matters rest there because in our view too much power.

ANDREW MARR: I'm just not sure what "letting matters rest" means.

DAVID CAMERON: If those circumstances come about then I'll come on your programme and tell you very clearly what it is that we will do.

ANDREW MARR: And under any circumstances do you have in your inside pocket a gun which says right we actually, we actually come out?

DAVID CAMERON: No, I don't want to..

ANDREW MARR: Under any circumstances?

DAVID CAMERON: Well if it wasn't in Britain's interests to be a member of the European Union I wouldn't argue for it but I think it is in our interests and I do argue for it. But unlike the Labour Party who just believe in sort of lying down and taking whatever is suggested in Brussels. And in the end saying well we have to go along with it, I think we should have a clear view. You know, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown told us they didn't want a European Constitution. What have we now got? a European Constitution.

They told us when they changed their mind about that, "well we must have a referendum". And they fought an election on a referendum. They made what Brown calls a solemn promise about holding a referendum and they've broken that. I believe you've got to try and stick to what you want to do, and that is to hold the referendum on the constitution and, as I say, if all those things you talk about come to pass then we then have to say "right we're not happy with the situation", we have to address it.

ANDREW MARR: But you won't pull out and you may not be able, and it may be too late. I'm just saying that, you know, your options may be very, very limited indeed when you, if you become Prime Minister.

DAVID CAMERON: Well you're asking me if, in all these circumstances, we'll go into that, I'm sure there'll be plenty more occasions to come on the programme and talk you through it.

ANDREW MARR: I'll look forward to that. Let's turn to nuclear power. Are you basically on all fours with the government when they, after their announcement about private companies being given the go-ahead to build more nuclear power stations?

DAVID CAMERON: Well we've taken the very clear view that there shouldn't be subsidies, so if nuclear power stations can make their case in the market and be built, then they should be able to go ahead. That been our view for a long time.

Our view has always been no subsidies, but if they can come forward as part of the energy mix then that's fine. If only the government did, I mean we've had a government who've dithered about this for ten years. I mean Gordon Brown sat here a week ago and said this is the big decision for the future of our country. He's been running the country for the last ten years he could have taken these big decisions at any time. Actually I thought...

ANDREW MARR: But it would be an unpopular decision to go ahead with another generation of nuclear power stations, you know, your party under your leadership said that it would be a last resort, it wasn't the favoured resort. It now looks like being a very likely resort, it looks like being a first or second resort. And I'm just asking whether that's acceptable.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I don't think it will. What I think is, you have to look at the time line on this, I mean even if the nuclear stations start being built relatively shortly and as I say we haven't had one built over the last ten years, it'll still be a long time before they appear and I worry now that the government is almost putting all its eggs in the nuclear basket. And what we ought to be doing is moving to a more decentralised energy system where we actually encourage all sorts of micro generation and smaller generation schemes.

Just like has happened in Holland and in other countries where they said, look, we are worried about very high oil prices, we are worried about being so reliant on imported fuel. So instead of having a big national grid system with big power stations, actually what we need to do is decentralise energy and have what are called feed-in tariffs so that if a business wants to generate some of its own electricity or a new school wants to be set up with a combined heat and power boiler it can sell that surplus electricity back into the system. That is what ought to happen, otherwise we are just saying let's go on with the big top down, state-controlled system that may well not deliver for us.

ANDREW MARR: There is a vast gap, as you know, opening up in terms of what, where we're going to get our energy from and turn the lights on. Will you back what the government is doing?

DAVID CAMERON: Well we support the idea that no subsidies for nuclear but if they can pay their way then those stations can be built. So, yes, I mean that is the bottom line. But I don't think that is enough. I think if the government just says right...

ANDREW MARR: I don't think they think it's enough either, by the way... but...

DAVID CAMERON: Except for they're not doing anything about decentralised energy. They really need to because otherwise they're just saying nuclear is going to fill this gap and it may well be later on that the nuclear operators will come back and say, "well actually it's very difficult to make these stations add up, and we do need a subsidy".

And if the government are going to stick as I believe they should to their no subsidy policy they need to have a decentralised energy system and to encourage all of the renewable technologies as well.

ANDREW MARR: A word you've used about five or six times in the last 30 seconds is "decentralised". And that's central, as I understand it, to your political vision. You want to decentralise power, you want less targets, less minute management from the centre.

And yet when it comes to something like welfare you just announced you were going to take 120,000 people off IB, benefit, every single year, which sounds very much like the old target culture that we've been living under?

DAVID CAMERON: No, absolutely not. If you look at our welfare reforms I would say they too are much more decentralised and much more open faced rather than the big top down.

ANDREW MARR: So can you control

DAVID CAMERON: Well let me explain, the big change that we are going to make. We are going to make two very important changes. The first is to say when it comes to running back to work programmes and training and getting people into jobs we want to use the private and the voluntary sectors. All the evidence from around the world shows that they are often better at getting people into work. That's big change number one. Big change number two is there will be a regime of quite tough penalties that will say to people, look, if you don't accept a place on a training scheme then you can't take your out of work benefits.

And if you don't accept a reasonable job offer you'll have out of work benefits removed from you. And if you've been on out of work benefits for two out of the last three years you have to work for your benefits. Now, the government's never done that and it is, I would say, a more post-bureaucratic open system because we're using the private and voluntary sectors to deliver this change. And we're trusting them rather than saying let's have the big state-controlled system which we know has just been a revolving door where people get a little look at a life on benefits, a little look at a life on work and then back onto the benefits.

ANDREW MARR: This is the old Tory Party, this is old rhetoric and it's working.

DAVID CAMERON: No, it's not old rhetoric at all.

ANDREW MARR: People like it.

DAVID CAMERON: What is, you know, I think it's actually new and compassionate and about social justice, to say to people that a life on benefits shouldn't be a long-term option, that you should have the chance to work and to make something of your life. This is what is working in Australia, in America, around the world. What is new about it is saying let's do it here in Britain.

ANDREW MARR: All right, a man making something of his life. David Cameron thank you very much indeed.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

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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