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Former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine MP

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST:

And now to the last guest of the morning, earlier this month the Tories held their spring conference in Harrogate, it was meant to be the launch party for the general election campaign and certainly enthused those who turned up to hear the speakers. But the closing speech from Party Leader William Hague proved somewhat controversial and polls since then including today's one in the Sunday Times indicate that Labour retains an overwhelming lead, the Sunday Times has Labour at 51 per cent and the Tories at 31 per cent. And Michael Heseltine the former Deputy Prime Minister is here with us, I'm delighted to say, this morning, good morning Michael.

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

David, good to see you as always.

DAVID FROST:

Bless you, top of the morning, you said something very interesting, well you always say things that are interesting of course, but a couple of weeks ago on Radio 5 Live you said probably the worst political mistake I ever made was to be part of the process which said we should opt for a referendum, that's not going to be about the erudite arguments about a single currency, it's going to be about bashing the Germans, giving in to the French and so on. What did you have in mind that you, you wouldn't have joined Britain in Europe or, or you wouldn't have been in favour of the Tories' original policy under John Major of having a referendum, what, what did you have in mind?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

John was under great pressure from the Eurosceptics and I think it's well known Ken and I were very reluctant to move in the direction that they were trying to push the Prime Minister and he was looking for a bridge in order to keep the party together and, and that is absolutely the right thing for him to be doing. The vehicle he saw was to offer the commitment of a referendum and there was a meeting with John, Ken and myself in which I think I did play a, a, a important role in persuading Ken that we could accept the concept of a referendum in the one Parliament because there couldn't be a manifesto commitment and therefore as we didn't know whether to go in or not and therefore a referendum would be appropriate. But of course the moment that happened the one Parliament qualification went, it became a permanent referendum and what I was saying in that programme is that of course when referendum comes we're going to see a vicious outburst of xenophobia and every sort of historic sort of war will be re-fought, it won't be about the single currency it'll be about a whole range of Eurosceptic issues, fanned largely by the, the newspapers in this country that are owned by North Americans.

DAVID FROST:

And fanned by some of your successors in the Tory Party?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

On, well in all parties, that is one of the interesting things about the European issue, that the, there are extreme anti-Europeans in both Labour, Liberal and the Conservative Party.

DAVID FROST:

You, you said that you'd been, you'd had a dilemma about whether you'd vote Conservative or not?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

This, this I tell you is a gross exaggeration of what I said.

DAVID FROST:

Is it?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Yes I mean you only have to say to me question is, look Europe is a big issue, Europe is sympathetic for Britain's self-interest in Europe, I say yes. Your party is a Eurosceptic is there an issue? I say well of course there's an issue, of course the moment you put the question to me there's an issue but I'm going to vote Conservative.

DAVID FROST:

But you said you'd had a dilemma about it?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Well that is, that is, I've explained the dilemma.

DAVID FROST:

Yes but then, but then later on that same day William, William made his speech about this becoming a foreign land and so on, which is not a phrase I think I can ever imagine you using¿so did that give you a new dilemma?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

No well it didn't give me any dilemma about voting Conservative, what it did was to force me to ask the question, look the point of the foreign land was that being part of the European Union makes this country feel like a foreign land, that's the suggestion. To which I say, look do you really think that there's anyone in France who thinks being part of the European Union makes France a foreign land to Frenchmen? Does anyone think the Germans are wandering round Germany saying well this is all a foreign place now? It is the exact opposite of what they feel, they believe that French interests are best served in partnership and cooperation with their neighbours, I believe that for Britain, not for France or Germany's sake, but for Britain's sake.

DAVID FROST:

For Britain's sake. But what happens to your wing of the party Michael, do you think, I mean if, if the Tories don't win the next election or even if they do, your wing of the party is so eclipsed now, how can it make a comeback?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Well you know I personally believe that these generalisations are extremely dangerous, I mean if I just make the most obvious point that William was a first-class colleague in Cabinet and before he was a Cabinet Minister, extremely bright, enormous grasp of his brief, a very good Secretary for Wales. Michael Portillo who is, it's suggested is of the right of the party was my number two for two years and I don't ever remember a doctrinal division between us, I mean the issue, of course we discussed issues but I, I, I personally formed an admiration for both those guys and I accept over the issue of Europe where there are divisions in all parties the idea that there is a sort of, you know, intellectual division in the party that separates us all off is nonsense. And the most interesting example I've given you of this was the fact that I failed to persuade a very limited number of people in the party to let me privatise the Royal Mail, they came from the extreme left of the party, from the extreme right of the party and from one or two people who would broadly be difficult under any circumstances.

DAVID FROST:

What about, I remember you were, you were bounced around before the last election, strongly predicting a Tory majority of 60?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Nudging up in the end, nudging up.

DAVID FROST:

Yes, yes.

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

What are you to say? What are you to say?

DAVID FROST:

Well you're not predicting a Tory majority of 60 this time are you?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Well I think it's perhaps a shade less.

DAVID FROST:

But could there ever be ever again a, someone from your wing of the party lead the party, or is the party now so strongly Eurosceptic with new candidates having Eurosceptic views and so on that in fact there could not be elected a leader of the Tory Party without that body of people in the House of Commons, could never really elect someone who was not Eurosceptic ever again?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Well I, I would, I have argued and I do argue to my colleagues in the Tory Party that they shouldn't believe that Europe is the over-arching issue, it certainly is a divisive issue in all parties but what it doesn't do, in my view, is to excite the generality of the electorate to vote one way or another. You know the Euro-vote in the polls are very low, there's no evidence in the last election that being relatively Eurosceptic actually helped the government of which I was a member and there's been no evidence that I know that taking a more Eurosceptic view since the election has actually helped the Conservative Party. But it divides the party as it does other parties and that division is damaging and so if one could just get the European issue down a lot of notches and bring up the other issues that the government's insidious increases in taxes, the collapse in the health service, the appalling failure of Blair to fulfil his education, education, education commitments, you know, the fact is there are big serious issues and that's where the interest of the British people lies.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of Europe, I mean obviously his policy on Europe is much closer to you than William Hague's policy on Europe is closer to you, but do you think that Tony Blair could do more on Europe?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

You know I think that Tony Blair has a very great deficiency as a Prime Minister, he likes to be liked and that's very dangerous, the job of a Prime Minister is to take tough decisions and deliver results and this government and I think it reflects and Tony Blair's judgement, he's obsessed with always keeping on the right side of public opinion, that means you never take any big decisions and my own view is that this country is now sort of marking time. The reforms we need particularly in education are not happening, the Health Service is in trouble and the only reforms we've had were driven by Tony Blair's obsession with being liked which are the constitutional reforms and they are an unmitigated disaster.

DAVID FROST:

So come the next election in four or five weeks' time or whatever, will you, will you be campaigning and would you be happy to share a platform with William Hague?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Of course I would, I should be delighted to share a platform with William, I don't think he'll invite me for the very simple reason he's got a lot of talented front-bench people and they'll be the ones he wants to project. But I mean William and I have a very good personal relationship, I think it is one of the tragedies that people think because you disagree on a particular issue that you dislike each other or you're trying to knife each other. The fact is that William and I worked extremely closely together in, when I was Deputy Prime Minister and I have a high regard for him.

DAVID FROST:

Simon Buckley said talking of Britain and Europe that the group has lost ground, the cause has lost ground in the last 12 months, is that true?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Yes and that's the Prime Minister's fault because he's not prepared to tell the British people the absolute unavoidable facts about our self-interest in Europe. We are, we are seeing the world change very rapidly and there is a growth of a power structure in Europe which is absolutely essential in our interest to be part of and every Prime Minister knows that. I mean if you think of, you know of the most Eurosceptic Prime Minister of recent times, Margaret Thatcher, she signed the Single European Act, she took us into the Exchange Rate Mechanism because in power you just know that in order for Britain to fight its corner it has to be in the Council of Europe.

DAVID FROST:

And did you see 45 Tory MPs have chosen to be photographed with Margaret Thatcher on their local manifestos rather than William Hague?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

Well it's a matter of taste, I mean they must decide what suits them.

DAVID FROST:

We'll get, we'll get the news and then we'll come right back.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST:

We're right at the end of our time but Michael they say what is this man going to do after the next election, people say he would love to sit in the House of Lords, he might even sit on the cross-benches, any truth in that?

MICHAEL HESELTINE:

I've not been invited to go to the House of Lords, it is inconceivable that if I did I would sit on any cross-bench, I have never been a cross-bencher psychologically, politically or in any other way.

DAVID FROST:

Michael thank you very much for being with us this morning. Michael Heseltine, thanks to all of our guests this morning and I should just say something about next Sunday's show as we limber up for an expected election campaign we've invited three heavy-hitters to come on and take questions not only from me but from each other and from you as well, John Prescott, Michael Ancram and Simon Hughes, a dream team of three there, they'll be with us next Sunday and if you have a question you'd like to put to one of them or all of them you can email, fax or post your thoughts to us, please write to Breakfast with Frost at Television Centre here in London or you can email us at BreakfastwithFrost@BBC.co.uk or fax us on 02085764945. We can't guarantee to use every question of course but we'll guarantee to look at every question and work in as many as we can, that's all for this week and that's next week, top of the morning, good morning.

END.

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