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Margaret Beckett speaking on Breakfast with Frost
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: CHAIRMAND OF THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION IEUAN WYN JONES, 3RD MAY, 2001

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

DAVID FROST: Well a little later, a very little later in the programme we'll be talking to William Hague but first two high fliers from the other parties. In a moment I shall be talking to the former Leader of the House of Commons, Margaret Beckett, up there in Derby but first of all Sir Paddy Ashdown, looking, in his back garden - is that right Paddy?

PADDY ASHDOWN: Of course.

DAVID FROST: In the back.

PADDY ASHDOWN: As we've done on many occasions previously.

DAVID FROST: I know but it's looking particularly green today, perhaps that's the pleasure of having a little more time to tend it. But what, what's your reaction?

PADDY ASHDOWN: Absolutely.

DAVID FROST: What's your reaction at the moment, Paddy, on this question, everybody is coming up with the fact of tactical voting, people are saying they're doing it, Lib-Dems are doing it, Labour are doing it, do you think there'll be more of it this time?

PADDY ASHDOWN: I think there probably will, I mean I, I advise people across the country in every corner, in every constituency to vote for the Lib-Dems because that's the only way you vote for more teachers, more nurses, more doctors, more police on the street and the more honest form of politics that tells you how you'll pay for them. But you know I can't complain with our flawed electoral system David, I don't encourage it but I can't complain if people use their votes intelligently, that's what they'll do, that's what they've always done and as people got more and more used to it at the last election, to use their votes to achieve what they want for themselves, I suspect this practice is growing.

DAVID FROST: And so they're, so they're free to do whatever they want to do locally but centrally they can't be

PADDY ASHDOWN: How can

DAVID FROST: Fully encouraged to do so?

PADDY ASHDOWN: No it isn't, I mean how can you stop people doing what they want to do, the vote's there for them to use. I mean I want them to vote Liberal Democrat, I want them to vote Liberal Democrat across the country, the bigger popular share of the vote and incidentally I think we'll get our biggest one in recent years, bigger than 1997, the more Lib-Dem MPs in the House the more we'll have the power to argue for the things that we've argued for in this election, the more we'll have the power to bring a rather more honest form of politics, less spin-doctoring and more truth to, to politics which is I think is what a lot of people want and why the opinion polls for the Liberal Democrats and for Charles Kennedy are rising. But people will use their vote in the way that they think is best for them, however much I may hope they vote Liberal Democrat I can't complain if they use their vote to achieve what they want to achieve.

DAVID FROST: Now after the last election everybody was sort of saying it was pretty impossible that the Lib-Dems or Labour would maintain the size of vote, the number of seats that they had in '97, that that was a one-off, and yet here we are, it's bewildering isn't it, here we are four years later and it looks as though they probably will maintain their figures last time, maybe improve them, that's an extraordinary fact?

PADDY ASHDOWN: Ah I think. It is an extraordinary fact David, and you're right no one would have predicted it after the last election. Incidentally I think the Lib-Dems will increase their number of seats, everybody said it was a high water-mark in 1997, I never thought it was, I think Charles Kennedy's fought a brilliant campaign and I anticipate, indeed for the first time in my life David, I have money on it that we will have a greater number of seats than we currently have. I think the thing that is so different now is the fact of the Tories, I mean they have fought a catastrophic campaign, it has had no theme, it has been all over the place and I just think it has been a disaster for them. One caveat however I'm not sure I fully subscribe to the landslide theory yet because I'm quite worried about the effect of differential voting. If, as I suspect, the highest number of people ever don't vote at all then because we know that the Tories will turn out in greater percentages of the Tory vote than Labour or the Lib-Dems differential turn-out may have a very significant effect which will mean that the outcome may well be substantially different from what the polls are telling us today. I don't think the Tories can win or anything but it may be substantially different.

DAVID FROST: Well we'll come back to you again in a moment Paddy, let's got to Margaret, to Margaret Beckett in Derby. Your reflections on Paddy's reflections about tactical voting?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well we're not talking about tactical voting, we're saying that we want people to vote Labour in every part of the country. But I entirely agree with him and I don't always agree with Paddy, but I think he's absolutely right that it's much too early, I mean you said it's a fact that Labour and the Liberals may¿there is no fact and there is no fact until June the 8th and I think he is right to say that history suggests to us that Tory voters are more likely to turn out and I have this great anxiety, I'm remembering in '92 and I remember in Queensland reading things said, oh you know people are bound to win but you don't want them to win too big do you, so let's make sure they don't. And what happened was that people got a wholly different result from the one they'd been told they were going to get and so have a lot of nervousness about that.

DAVID FROST: And in fact do you think therefore the warnings about windfalls and land, landslides and so on, do you think that that's a danger?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think they are designed by the Conservatives who are leaping on this bandwagon, to try and make sure that they get a much bigger vote than they might otherwise get and we get a smaller vote than we might otherwise get and I can assure you David that the day after the election every vote for the Tories and every vote that isn't cast for us, every vote that is an abstention, will all be counted as support for the Tory Party in its present state and for the way William Hague has fought this campaign.

DAVID FROST: When you say the way he's fought this campaign there have been lots of comparisons in the sense of starting this campaign and getting praise for the way he was running it at the beginning, a lot of comparisons made between, between his running of this campaign and Neil's unsuccessful campaign in 1987, do you see any parallels?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think it's too early to judge to be honest, I mean we need to look back, one of the problems is that in the middle of a campaign the politicians don't see all the things and read all the things that everybody else is seeing and reading. So it's, it's hard to, to come to a judgement. I think undoubtedly if the Tories do badly then there will be a huge inquest and people will look at those things but I think it's a bit early to tell yet.

DAVID FROST: And do you believe the polls?

MARGARET BECKETT: I'm always very nervous of believing polls, no I don't, the only poll that matters is the one on June the 7th or it's when people give their postal votes, that's what will determine the results and not stuff that we read in the media. And I repeat every vote cast for the Tories or every abstention because people don't want to show support for the other parties will in the end be counted as being in favour of William Hague not least by the voices in the media that so strongly support him.

DAVID FROST: And do you, how do you respond to the voices who say, like Roy Hattersley does, a landslide is in fact dangerous?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well I mean Roy has a very fine record in the Labour Party but I think, you know this is not, people who encourage this notion that Labour's going to have a landslide so let's make sure it's not too big, let's try and teach them a lesson, as I say look at what happened in Queensland, look at what happened here in 1992, it's a very dangerous way to talk and I disapprove very strongly of it. I think that part of the problem that the Conservative Party had in the last Parliament, where they were - particularly towards the end - an appalling opposition was because every single Tory MP thought that he or she was there for life, if they'd won in '97 it didn't matter how they behaved, it didn't matter what views they expressed, they personally were safe. I think it would be a good idea if that complacency were jolted.

DAVID FROST: Margaret thank you very much indeed, one last question, back to you Paddy, what do you feel about the dangers or otherwise of a landslide?

PADDY ASHDOWN: Well I, I, again I don't like to agree with Margaret too much, I mean I think it would be bad for democracy if there wasn't an effective opposition and I feel the Tory Party are going to break up after the election and start fighting amongst themselves and that's why a Liberal Democrat force, powerful in the House of Commons and united can hold this government to account. But let's be clear why the Tories are talking about this David, William Hague is talking about it for one reason, it is to save his personal skin, there is no other reason. If he can reduce the Labour majority he stays on, now there are many good decent Tory voters who believe in one nation tolerant Toryism and who believes their party's been hijacked from them and if they use their vote to vote, for instance, for a Liberal Democrat they'll be sending a message to the Conservative Party to get rid of Mr Hague, who they dislike, and to make sure that they come back to centre-ground and that's a very good reason for voting.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much Paddy, thank you again to Margaret.

END

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