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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 June, 2001, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Conservative party electoral prospects
William Hague MP speaking on Breakfast with Frost
William Hague MP speaking on Breakfast with Frost

BBC Breakfast with Frost interview with Conservative leader, William Hague, on 3 June 2001

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

DAVID FROST: And the man who was just being talked about there so fondly by, by Paddy is here with us now, we started the election campaign with the Prime Minister and we conclude it with the Leader of the opposition William Hague. Let's start William with, since it came up there, with landslides. You're warning about landslides, is it, as Margaret is saying, to try and dissuade people from going to the polls at all?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No my warning is about any Labour majority at all. Remember it's the Labour Party that's been talking about a landslide, interesting change of tune by Margaret Beckett just now. Alastair Campbell's been giving out opinion polls wherever he could to the press saying "Labour are going to win by a landslide", Tony Blair's written to all the Labour MPs saying "you're all going to hold your seats, we're going to win by a landslide". Today Margaret Beckett is saying oh we're feeling a lot of anxiety about that, it's the Tories who are talking about a landslide they started talking about a landslide.

DAVID FROST: That means your tactics have been right then, in terms of talking about a landslide?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I'm talking about any

DAVID FROST: You've got the other side worried?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Any size of Labour victory, I'm pointing to what happened last time when they won by a landslide, we've never had a government that have so sidelined Parliament, so arrogantly abused the democratic institutions of this country, made all their announcements out of Parliament where they couldn't be scrutinised, reduced Prime Minister's questions to once a week so we couldn't ask them so many questions. You know that is how they have behaved and they won a landslide last time.

DAVID FROST: But in that, but in that situation though why, why are they, today I mean I think probably you would agree that the polls can't all be totally wrong, they can't, they don't necessarily have to be right on Thursday but, but as of now they're probably saying the same message which is despite that list of terrible things that Labour have done it hasn't got through that they should be replaced by, by you?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well let's see, I don't agree that polls can't all be wrong, polls have all been wrong on many previous occasions, general elections have been won when the polls were all massively the other way on polling day. When I won, we won the European elections two years ago, when even the BBC's own highly reputable Exit Poll said, said that the Labour Party had won.

DAVID FROST: No they say it wasn't an Exit Poll, I checked on that and they said it was only a phone poll during the day?

WILLIAM HAGUE: It was a poll they did on election day

DAVID FROST: On election day but not on election night.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Even that said that the Labour Party had won those elections and we won by a sizeable margin¿of MEPs so polls

DAVID FROST: And yet.

WILLIAM HAGUE: sidetracked or put off by polls.

DAVID FROST: No but you must, you must when you wake up and find the latest polls I mean every, every day, I mean you're very good at saying, you know are you enjoying this campaign William? You say yes it's absolutely wonderful, I'm loving every minute of it but aren't you sometimes tempted to say it's been hell, waking up every morning with bad news in the papers, then with being heckled by crowds waiting for the next egg of the campaign, maybe even from one's own colleagues, people plotting behind the scenes then insolent interviewers and hostile press conferences and so on - it's been hell?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, not at all, I enjoy every day, I've enjoyed every day of it so far and will continue to enjoy every day of it. And I enjoy politics and I have an important message to convey, I'm fighting for what I believe in and if people want a different government next week that will hit crime hard, bring down petrol tax, do something about the public services and keep the pound they've got the chance to get that government and it hasn't been decided yet. This election is not decided until the votes are cast and indeed counted.

DAVID FROST: And you've said that you will take responsibility for whatever happens?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh of course, absolutely, I'm the Leader of the Party, I know, I get the credit for its successes and the blame for its failures and I'm very comfortable with that but we continue to fight to win on Thursday.

DAVID FROST: Well, well, let's take that thesis for a minute, that, okay you win on Thursday and you go into 10 Downing Street, you've already passed on a list of things you might want to do, what's the first thing you would do, if you, if you, if you win this election what would you do first?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well the first thing is to, is to appoint a Cabinet and it would be smaller Cabinet. The first thing I would do is reduce the size.

DAVID FROST: The three main posts would be the three people we've got now?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes I would imagine so but you know you're never absolutely committed to a Cabinet until you take office, but yes they're all great people, they do very well in their jobs and I want to see Michael Portillo as Chancellor, Ann Widdecombe as Home Secretary, Francis Maude as Foreign Secretary and I think each of them would be better at their jobs then their counterparts in the Labour Party. I think Michael would be a more honest Chancellor than Gordon Brown, I think Ann would be a tougher Home Secretary than Jack Straw, I think Francis would be a real Foreign Secretary instead of sending Robin Cook round the world.

DAVID FROST: What about, foreign issues for instance, what would you do, you felt very strongly that Labour has been too weak with Mugabe, would you withdraw our man, our Ambassador from Harare?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well we would certainly take a much tougher approach through the Commonwealth so the problems in Zimbabwe which are, which are terrible, which are getting worse.

DAVID FROST: So what would you do, what would you do?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well we would work through the Commonwealth but we would say to the Zimbabwean government unless this is going to get sorted out then we're going to take action through the Commonwealth.

DAVID FROST: What sort of, what sort of action could you take?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I don't think we should lay all that out in advance but there are all kinds of sanctions the Commonwealth can impose as they have done on previous, previous countries and previous situations.

DAVID FROST: What about, what order would go out on Friday on the question of detaining asylum seekers and how soon would the first ones be in detention centres or camps?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well clearly we would say on Friday that this country was changing its policy on asylum applications, that the genuine refugees would be welcomed into this country but that we would be tightening up on the whole process of asylum applications by having secure reception centres and making sure that the genuine refugees very quickly were welcomed and brought into this country but that abuse of the system was no longer allowed.

DAVID FROST: But how soon would your system be in action?

WILLIAM HAGUE: It would require some changes in the law so obviously that would require Parliament to sit and therefore it wouldn't all be in, processed next week and there would need to be some change in the physical arrangements but the signal would be sent out straight away, the signal that this country now has a different policy, was going to be a safe haven but not a soft touch, that would be sent on Friday afternoon.

DAVID FROST: Right now the next week, you've mentioned there, the next week you would be off to Gothenburg for the European Summit where one of the things you want to do is to renegotiate the Nice Treaty, can you see, and it would have to be unanimous, can you see getting support from, well how many countries would support you - none?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I can see us getting some changes because remember previous British governments have been in this position and they've had exactly the same kind of cynicism about whether they could do it.

DAVID FROST: Ah no but in both cases there, the difference in both cases there is in both cases they were having agreed negotiations about the future and for instance when Margaret Thatcher and indeed Harold Wilson went in there there wasn't a lot of opposition to him and they were talking about the future, you're talking about altering the past and the redoing, scrapping of treaties?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I think that is a fair description of what happened before, you know when Margaret Thatcher went and negotiated the rebate and everybody said nobody agrees with you, no way can you get this rebate which we're still benefiting from 17 years later, no way can you get this rebate, that was changing the financial arrangements of the European Community.

DAVID FROST: Ah but it was agreed financial arrangements were temporary and, and a lot of other countries supported her, the smaller countries, Italy and so on, who's going to support you?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I don't remember anybody supporting her at the time, I don't remember anybody at all supporting her at the time and to take your other example, when Harold Wilson went and re-negotiated the original terms of entry into the European Community they were re-negotiating something that had already happened. So they were going back over something that had already been signed, we are saying we would have to address again something that hasn't yet been ratified.

DAVID FROST: But what, what, there isn't one country that would support you¿14, 14-1?

WILLIAM HAGUE: In all these previous situations where British governments stood up for what this country needed they got their way and don't under-estimate how on some of the things that we do want to see in the European Union, there is a growing movement of opinion in our direction. Common agricultural policy, we want to change so that more decisions about the countryside are made in this country.

DAVID FROST: Things like the Nice Treaty and so on, there's no movement in your direction on that. I mean what would happen, what would happen William if you work hard but in the end they say no way Jose, it stays the way we've negotiated it, your predecessors agreed and so on and so forth, take it or leave it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh we'd take the same approach as Margaret Thatcher, as John Major when they successfully negotiated things that¿

DAVID FROST: But if you're unsuccessful, if you're unsuccessful?

WILLIAM HAGUE: But we would be successful because we would say as they said, if you want our agreement on other things then we are going to have some concessions on these things and they are, there is nothing wrong with having a government that stands up for our own national interests.

DAVID FROST: But in the end would you have to say if you don't agree with us we're leaving, would you ever leave the European Union?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, no I'm not envisaging that at all, I believe in being in Europe but I believe in being not run by Europe, I believe we have to draw a line and say, we're in there, we're going to make the best of it but we are not going to hand over more and more of the rights and powers of our country. Now that is something that is at stake in this election, next Friday we will either have a government that is dedicated to saving the pound and stopping the loss of the rights and powers of our country or we'll have a government dedicated to ditching the pound and giving more of those rights and powers away. It is a big choice, it's a clear choice.

DAVID FROST: One, one other thing there for instance, there is in addition to that, there's raising the minimum wage, that's going to happen in October, would you go through with that?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes we'll go through with that, that is already announced as a, as a government plan, we will go ahead with that.

DAVID FROST: And would you apply immediately your freeze on civil service numbers?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes I would, yes we would immediately reduce the running costs of government departments, one of the things we've asked the civil service to prepare already is a reduced budget for government departments. It is outrageous that the number of civil servants are going up by thousands after declining all through the 1980s and 1990s, it should be possible to run government more efficiently¿

DAVID FROST: I saw a figure the other day that the figures were down by 8,000?

WILLIAM HAGUE: The figures went up by 4,000 in a single year, the cost of running the government has gone up by £2.1 billion in four years.

DAVID FROST: But that, that doesn't take into account inflation?

WILLIAM HAGUE: There hasn't been inflation, inflation is quite low and inflation was quite low in the final years of the Major administration and we kept the cash costs of running government departments absolutely flat, didn't go up at all. It doesn't need to go up, government should be more efficient.

DAVID FROST: What would you do about the Savile inquiry, you've criticised it, would you stop it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No I think we would, I think that would go ahead.

DAVID FROST: It would go ahead?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes.

DAVID FROST: Even though you disapprove of it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well some things do have to, you know we're not coming into office to just change everything that is going on, we're not coming into office to say we are going to reverse every single thing that is going on under the previous government. We're saying there are big problems now after four years of Labour government, the biggest problems¿the loss of our powers to Europe, the next biggest problem is the decline of our public services, morale is so low among teachers, nurses, doctors, police officers. The next biggest problem is our taxes are going up and then crime is rising. These are the things we can address under a Conservative government.

DAVID FROST: Did you, did you welcome Margaret Thatcher's contribution, was it a big asset to the campaign?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think it's always good to have a former Prime Minister taking part in an election campaign, she won three elections herself and Margaret Thatcher and John Major have spoken out very clearly in this campaign, that's obviously, it's great to have them on my side.

DAVID FROST: Ted Heath not so much on your side?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well it's part of the badge of honour of being Leader of the Tory Party when Ted Heath has a dig at you, but even Ted is voting Conservative, of course he is.

DAVID FROST: But I mean one thing you obviously disagreed with Margaret Thatcher on was when she said so loudly and resonantly, never scrap the pound, you don't agree with her on that?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I, it's me that's standing for election and I say we're being elected for the next Parliament, we can't bind future Parliaments, we can't decide what successive Parliaments will do, this election is about this next Parliament.

DAVID FROST: But on this issue, you're saying, you disagree with Margaret Thatcher?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well she supports my approach and my policy so

DAVID FROST: No but when she says never

WILLIAM HAGUE: I, I put it differently, I say yes that's right

DAVID FROST: You disagree it's a disagreement

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes and so what, you know so Margaret says that every other day and she would much rather have a government that was going to keep the pound than one that was going to ditch it so she supports my policy having a Conservative government that is the choice what happens in this Parliament, do we keep the pound or do we scrap it.

DAVID FROST: But what happens, this is for one Parliament, this policy on the single currency, because you say you can't bind future Parliaments and so on, does that mean that all of your policies are for one Parliament only, for instance an NHS free at the point of delivery, is that only for one Parliament?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well all of the Party policies really of all the parties are for one Parliament, of course we're committed to the National Health Service, we're committed to matching the funding that the Labour Party have set out on the National Health Service but we can't go further ahead than the next few years, they don't go further ahead than the next few years. So in general policies in party manifestos are for the next Parliament, and our policy to keep the pound is for the next Parliament and it's a crucial decision in the next Parliament, it will stay or go in the next Parliament.

DAVID FROST: But, but you don't want to say now that the NHS free at the point of delivery will last until another Parliament?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Oh I'm in favour of a National Health Service free at the point of delivery, always have been, now I'm in favour of that, that is in our manifesto, I use the National Health Service, I'm against giving up the pound, I'm against the Euro, but all of these things are in our manifesto for this Parliament and I see no contradiction between those things. It is a crucial choice about these things, you know not just about the Euro but about the National Health Service, the, the, you saw the ballot of the GPs on Friday. GPs, their morale is the lowest it has been in many, many years, after four years of a government that said it stood for public services and now comes out with promises about how many thousands of doctors they're going to recruit, they can't even keep the ones they've got, they can't even keep the nurses and teachers.

DAVID FROST: One of the things that worries people, as you're well aware is the, the, your £8 billion in cuts and so on, and everybody takes aim at that and very few people seem to believe it. I mean for instance, just take a couple of examples, the famous £205 million from not having regional assemblies when they haven't been committed to and the money hasn't been committed to anyway means that's absolutely non-existent £205 million?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well the Labour Party are committed to them so it should be.

DAVID FROST: It's not even an aspiration, well maybe it's an aspiration, they haven't, they haven't put a pound, you can't say even a pound because they haven't put a pound on the table for it yet?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well they can't have it both ways, you know they say that in order to try to cast some doubt on our figures. The fact is they have rising budgets of government departments and this is one of their plans and the future plans of the government should be in the budgets of government departments. Now if that amount isn't there in their plans that's a tax increase that the Labour Party are going to have to impose. So they can't have their criticism both ways and I think we are entitled to assume that if some things are declared government policy they are in the figures that the government puts forward has put forward in its budget.

DAVID FROST: No, no, what is declared policy but that is not declared, that's still an aspiration. Anyway they said in the last manifesto there would be no additional public expenditure overall on that, on that anyway?

WILLIAM HAGUE: They said a lot of things in their last manifesto, none of which have actually happened.

DAVID FROST: Everybody does it. What about this thing that's causing concern which is to do with your endowment of the universities, £6 billion endowment of the universities and you're going to save £1.3 billion by it. As Adam Bolton pointed out there's nowhere you can get that rate of interest?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well there are several things here, first of all there is, the privatisation of the student loan book, a value of student loans, we're then going to change the whole way that student loans works. Now they would have a different interest rate but it would be much easier for students to repay because they would only start repaying at £20,000 income rather than £10,000 of income.

DAVID FROST: But at the same time that is a quiet way of saying that the interest rates paid by students, the burden on the students is going to go up because you're going to have to let it fly free in order to get some money for the student loan book, so actually it's more than a tax than a saving?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No what happens, that provides money that is then able to endow, endow the universities, give them a block of money. But we also help the students through our changes to the tax system because they don't have to start repaying their loan until they reach a much higher level of income and then they have a tax allowance to help them repay so that is part of our tax reduction package.

DAVID FROST: But how, how do you get £1.3 billion from a base of £6 billion, there's no interest rate in the world that would do that?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well we get it from the sale of the student loan book, we get it from the changes to the - not it is much more than that, the changes to the student loan interest rate, but that's compensated for for the student by the changes in the tax system.

DAVID FROST: But the good old IFS which is independent said you would need in fact a booty of not £6 billion but £32 billion to get that £1.3 billion?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well obviously then they hadn't worked through all the changes to the student loan system and the compensating tax changes. It is all set out very clearly, in fact, I think the remarkable thing about this election is that actually nobody has disproved or shown that we can't make our £8 billion of changes, they've set about it but they haven't succeeded instead they've tried to make out that we're going to make a different number, that it's going to be a different number. But the figure is £8 billion of spending changes and £8 billion of tax reductions therefore to people who have really paid a lot of extra tax in the last few years.

DAVID FROST: But at the same time when you talk about only £1 billion, you're going to save only £1 billion from fraud, Labour's already got down that they're going to save £1 billion so that means you've got to save £2 billion?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well they

DAVID FROST: It's a hell of a lot?

WILLIAM HAGUE: They don't save any money, they've talked about welfare fraud, you know they were going to think the unthinkable all that, Frank Field was brought in, then they stopped thinking anything at all let alone the unthinkable, got rid of Frank Field. They've admitted that there's £7 billion of welfare fraud, welfare cheating going on out there and we say what you can do about it, give the benefit inspectors the same powers of the tax inspectors, we've listed the specific proposals that we can bring in in order to do something about it and we only assume we'll save a seventh of it, it's not that ambitious to save one of the £7 billion and give that money back to the hard-pressed taxpayer as well.

DAVID FROST: Well that's, yes that, but that adds up to two out of seven doesn't it, one from them and one from you which is a lot, and much more successful in all the Conservative governments of the last 18 years didn't find £2 billion of fraud?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well we were doing very well on welfare fraud until they came in and then relaxed on this subject. So I have no doubt that it is possible to save from the total of government spending about two per cent of what the government would spend over the next three years. I don't know any organisation anywhere in the world that can't save two per cent of what it spends. DAVID FROST: You've also, you've ruled out about half of that, things like health, education and all of that, so in fact it would be four or five per cent not two per cent. However the other point, u-turns, everybody talks about your u-turns William, opposing the minimum wage, Scottish and Welsh devolution, independence for the Bank of England, reform of the Lords, acrobatics over the tax guarantee, Ann Widdecombe's zero tolerance, pensions and the¿benefits versus the increase and so on. Have you not done more u-turns, well than Margaret Thatcher would have done only because she said the Lady's not for turning, but have you not done a great many u-turns in a relatively short space of time?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I don't think so, some parties, some policies of all parties change when they're in opposition and in fact we would have a huge amount of criticism if they didn't change in opposition. The world changes, some of these things, independence for the Bank of England, Scottish Parliament and so on, they've been introduced, there is no point on going back on them, the world has changed and so of course our policies are updated for that. Have we done u-turns and other things? Well I certainly don't see it as that, we have set out clearly from the beginning of, when we went into opposition to be a party that would keep the pound, to be a party that would reduce taxes, to be a party that would stand for fighting crime hard. And yes our proposals on those things have become more specific as the Parliament has gone on, that's a good thing, people now can see the detail of what we're advocating. So those aren't u-turns, that is saying yes we are going to reduce taxes and keep the pound and hit crime hard.

DAVID FROST: But have you, have you then in that case not changed enough, why isn't the message still, still not getting through, is the hairstyle right, should you, you always say you won't be repackaged, should you have changed more things?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I don't think so

DAVID FROST: Should you have changed yourself, I know you say proudly I will never

WILLIAM HAGUE: In fact a minute ago you were saying have we changed too much¿

DAVID FROST: I know

WILLIAM HAGUE: Now you're saying we've not changed enough¿image sort of thing and I must say I don't believe in all of that, there isn't any choice about my hairstyle anyway and that's like, I can't adopt a Beckham even though he adopts my hairstyle.

DAVID FROST: No that, you wouldn't consider a wig I don't think?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I don't think so, no, certainly not. There is a limit to what people will take of these things, you know that we have a government, we have a national leadership at the moment that is endlessly repackaged, that is sold as an image, that is so often artificial, New Labour is an artificial construction. I don't want the opposition to that to be another artificial construction, I want it to be someone and a party where what you see is what you get, we're straight forward and honest and when we say we're going to do things that is what we're going to do.

DAVID FROST: And what about the key to the resilience factor, I mean everybody, even your enemies marvel at your resilience factor in the face of all the discouragements around, they all say that you've kept up your resilience extraordinarily well in this period except for a brief period on Wednesday where they thought you were looking sad and down and lost it for an hour or two. But what is the secret of that, do you find your strength, it's not, not from religion particularly is it? You're not a religious person are you?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No I'm a Christian but I'm not, I don't wear religion on my sleeve, where does that come from? Well I think some of, some of the commentators don't see what I see, I get a huge amount of encouragement as they go round the country, everybody says poor William Hague gets a lot of criticism. But actually I get a huge amount of positive encouragement from thousands of people every day and that of course always spurs me on and I think only I see that. Secondly I've got a wonderfully supportive wife, family, friends, I've got tremendous stability and happiness in my personal life and third I suppose I've got my Judo training and however often you're knocked over in training you get up and you fight again because to the last second you can win and that's true in an election too.

DAVID FROST: Alright well we'll take the news there.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Can you see a danger at some point that the two wings of the Tory Party will split, that you'll have a gang of four who go off to join with the Liberal Democrats and the remaining right-wing Tories are marginalised into a small rump?

WILLIAM HAGUE: No I think the Conservative Party has really drawn together in the last few years, you remember at the time of the last election everybody said oh the Tory Party's going to split after this election and of course it hasn't done at all, it has drawn together. People were hoping they'd get all sorts of stories in this election that, you know Ken Clarke says this, Michael Heseltine says that, well that hasn't happened. The Conservative Party is fighting together to win.

DAVID FROST: And whatever the outcome, whatever the outcome you intend to continue as the Leader of the Tory Party?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I take my responsibility for whatever the outcome but I've no plans to do anything other than continue doing the job I'm doing.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Thank you very much.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much. Our thanks to William Hague, thanks to all of my guests and of course our thanks to you for watching, so for now top of the morning, good morning.

END



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