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Conservative Party leadership contender Michael Ancram
Conservative Party leadership contender Michael Ancram
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: MICHAEL ANCRAM QC MP CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP CONTENDER JULY 1ST, 2001

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

DAVID FROST: Now, as promised, Michael Ancram. Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL ANCRAM: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: A reflection first of all on what Ken Clarke was saying there about the four wasted years and his other points. Are you agreeing with him on how much of what we've just heard?

MICHAEL ANCRAM: Well I agree that there has to be change and change is an inevitable part of politics. But the important thing is not to rush into change until you've made a proper assessment of where you are, and what the reasons for our defeat were. And to talk blandly about four wasted years is a real insult to all those people who carried the Conservative standard at the last election on a number of policy areas on which I hope we can build and can actually show that we have got answers which are relevant to the things that matter to people. I'm coming into this leadership campaign, unlike Ken, not saying that everything has been wrong. And not lay at Ken again, saying that I have a policy which is going to divide the party. I think he admits himself he has a policy which is not going to find acquiescence from the vast majority of Conservative members. I am coming in saying that I am the candidate who can unite the Conservative Party. I can bring people together. I can get away from the sort of divisive arguments of the past and I can actually lead the party to victory at the next election.

DAVID FROST: And the people who say, your opponents are saying that a vote for Michael Ancram is a vote for no change. That's not true?

MICHAEL ANCRAM: That's wrong. What I am saying is you, it's very unwise to say we lost the election so we're all going to jump into a totally different camp and with a whole lot of new policies. First of all you've got to analyse what went wrong. Secondly I think it's very important that we reassert our basic principles again, and as a Conservative Party re-unite around them. One of the reasons I think we've had such difficulty over the last four years is we've appeared to be divided and in some ways we have been divided. I come to this contest, not bringing any baggage which is only going to appeal to one part of the party. I say that I can reach into all parts of the party and that I can unite the party. I think I'm the only candidate who can do that.

DAVID FROST: What about the save the pound, Ken mentioned it? But in general people say that save the pound, and that emphasis on Europe was a mistake, that the public didn't care about it. Do you think in hindsight there's anything you would do differently in the campaign?

MICHAEL ANCRAM: I think the important thing is to look forward and I think the context of that has changed. The last election we were talking about not having a referendum if we won it. Well we didn't win the election and I think the assumption we have to make is there's going to be a referendum. When that referendum comes I think it's quite right that in our party we should all be able to speak our minds, that we have a free vote and freedom of expression during the referendum. But my position on the euro is quite clear. I believe it is wrong for this country politically and economically. I think actually the next few years will show that it's going to create enormous tensions within Europe as well. It would be wrong for us to say we're not going to talk about Europe. Europe is there, it's a reality, we need to address it. But we need to address it in the context of all those broader issues as well, health, education, pensions, law and order, which matter to people, matter to people in their ordinary lives. We've got to show that we're in touch with those particular concerns. And that over the period of this time that we can develop the right answers to address them.

DAVID FROST: Because you're really, the party is really fighting for its very existence in a way. Someone said yesterday or the day before that, what Michael Portillo said we could lose a third time unless we make the right changes and so on. And someone else said that we've got to win back the people who've not voted for us twice now. Because if they not vote for us a third time, it could be curtains.

MICHAEL ANCRAM: Of course we've got to win them back. But the first thing we need to do to win back people is to show that we are a party which is united within ourselves. And that's the first task that has to be done. And you don't do it by coming along and saying I have the answers for the next election already before you've actually consulted with the party, you've got agreement on the basic principles about which we can unite. Otherwise we're just going to spend the next few years as we have the last four years finding ourselves arguing about those things which divide us rather than pressing on with those things which unite us. And I think it's an enormously important task that the new leader has to do and they have to take the time to do it, to go back to the party, the party in parliament, the party in the country, to agree those principles, those beliefs, and those concerns which we can unite around and then we build our policies on those.

DAVID FROST: To what extent, though, will you be judged by the fact that it was such an unsuccessful campaign? And that you bear half the responsibility, with William Hague?

MICHAEL ANCRAM: Well obviously I have to take responsibility as chairman for what happened at the election. But I've always believed in politics you learn from your experiences. And my experience is that one of the things that did cause us problems, not just during the election, but in the run-up to the election, which turned people off so that they didn't vote, was that they believed that we were dis-united, that we were divided among ourselves as a party. And I think there are key issues, those issues of health, education, law and order, where we can enunciate very clear principles of what we want to achieve where we can agree those as a party in parliament, in the country, then we can go to the best brains in the country, we can go to the best think-tanks in the country, and we can ask them for the ways in which we can actually articulate those beliefs and those principles in practice.

DAVID FROST: But when we hear your words, Michael, and the words of Ken Clarke, doesn't it undermine in fact, on Europe, in fact that really the Tory party will only become united when the Europe issue is settled and, ie, you one way or another, whatever the result, you urgently need a referendum so you can clear up after it?

MICHAEL ANCRAM: Well the referendum obviously will certainly resolve that problem once and for all but it would be wrong to say that we can't do anything until there is a referendum. We as Conservatives are Conservative because we believe in important principles, the freedom of the individual, what that means in terms of promoting choice, in terms of promoting responsibility in the community. We believe in less government, in taking government off the backs of people and off the backs of business. These are important Conservative principles. I believe passionately in my country, in the United Kingdom, in preserving the rights of the United Kingdom to determine its own future. These are things which I believe the Conservative Party can unite around and once we've united around those then those issues on which we disagree become less important because we can pursue those areas where we have agreement and on which we can win the next election.

DAVID FROST: Where are the younger voters coming from? All those statistics about how many people under 35 vote for the Conservatives and so on are lower percentage than the rest. How are you going to attract the young back to the Tory party, average age members, Tory party, 62 to 64?

MICHAEL ANCRAM: I think we have to show we believe in something. I think part of our problem over these past ten years, if I may say so, is because we've been so busy arguing about the things on which we disagree people haven't seen that there's a fundamental area of principle and belief in the Conservative Party. Quite unlike Tony Blair's Labour Party which I have to say I watch with amazement because it actually believes in nothing. We've got to show that as a party we have very strong beliefs in people, in individuals, in opportunity, in taking part and being responsible within your community. Things which I think the young do actually respond to and when they see that we not only are saying these things but actually meaning them in practice, I think we can engage their attention again. The terrible thing at this election was not that people voted against us but people didn't vote at all, they disengaged from politics and we all bear responsibility for that. My view if I was leader of the Conservative Party is we've got to engage their interest again. We've got to show that what we are saying has a relevance to them in their lives, and the things they mind about.

DAVID FROST: And when Douglas Hurd was running for the leadership he was sort of a little uncomfortable, people felt, because he was, his upper class background, or such a mandarin, and so on, and he tried to put over the light blue sweaters that Michael Heseltine had worn the week before and all of that, but to what extent is your status, family background, wealth, a plus and to what extent is it a minus?

MICHAEL ANCRAM: I don't think anybody's every accused me of being a mandarin, so I think I can put that to one side. I think I've always lived with my background, obviously it's part of my life. But I've been a working person all my life, I've earned my living from the time I left university. I did ten years in the criminal courts in Glasgow, that's a fairly tough school to learn about life. I was a minister in the Scottish Office dealing with very relevant matters such as the terrible housing estates and conditions that we found in Scotland at that time. I had four years in Northern Ireland, part of, what was at that time a very complicated and difficult peace process. I think I've shown in my life that I work, that I apply myself that I try and find answers to very difficult problems. And I hope people take me at face value. I always take other people at face value.

DAVID FROST: Terrific. Well at that point we've got to switch to Ireland, but, Northern Ireland, but as you say you served in Northern Ireland and so we'll try and come back after that and have a word with you on Northern Ireland as well. Or if the line goes down as it sometimes does, of course.

Michael, you've heard these dialogues, you were there in Northern Ireland, had a distinguished career there. What are your reactions when you hear this is, has there been any progress over the past few years or are you hearing echoes of what you heard when you were there?

MICHAEL ANCRAM: No, there's been progress in terms of the Belfast agreement, where there has not been progress is in terms of dealing with the IRA's illegally held weapons. And that is always going to be something which has to be resolved if you're going to get a final settlement of this particular problem. I understand totally why David Trimble has done what he has done because you can't go on expecting movement from the IRA and not getting it and pretending that that doesn't matter. It matters very much indeed. I hope now that one element will come into play and that is that the nationalist community on whom the IRA in the past have relied so much for understanding will now turn round to the IRA and say, look, our whole quality of life now depends on you playing your part in this process and let's get some action finally on getting rid of these weapons.

DAVID FROST: Thank you Michael.

END

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