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Former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind
Former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND JULY 29TH, 2001

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

PETER SISSONS: Now as we saw earlier the Sunday papers are still awash with stories on the Tory leadership race, this week there was another twist in the tale, the former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind threw his weight behind Kenneth Clarke's bid to take the helm of the party. An arch-Eurosceptic backing the man who wants to take Britain further into Europe. Sir Malcolm Rifkind joins us now from Edinburgh to explain. Good morning Sir Malcolm.

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Good morning.

PETER SISSONS: You're, you're widely respected as a man of judgement yet only a few weeks ago when you were backing Michael Ancram you said Kenneth Clarke's pro-European stance made it, and I quote "impossible for him to be leader".

MALCOLM RIFKIND: It is a real problem and I think Ken Clarke is the first to accept that he will have a real challenge on his hands with that particular issue and if the campaign we're involved in at the moment was only about choosing a leader on the specific subject of Europe then clearly Ken would not be the most attractive candidate. But I think the judgement we all have to come to is we're now down to two candidates, if it's not Ken Clarke it's Iain Duncan Smith and one has to look at the whole spectrum of their skills and abilities and come to a judgement as to who can best lead the party at the moment accepting that in both cases. In Iain Duncan Smith's case he is a hardline Eurosceptic who couldn't even join John Major's government he was so antipathetic to the Conservative policy at that time. So I think there are problems with both candidates and that's why people like myself did have difficulty in reaching a clear conclusion.

PETER SISSONS: But the problem is nobody has satisfactorily explained, have they, how Kenneth Clarke can unite the party when he's out of tune with 80 per cent of party members on Europe, I mean John Major a moderate on Europe failed to unite the party?

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Well I think there's two, there's two points here, the issue in which Ken is most at difference with the majority of the party is on obviously the question of the single currency, but that's not going to be decided in the House of Commons or by general election, that's going to be decided by a referendum and there'll be an all-party campaign on both sides of the argument so that's, will be an unusual consideration but it's something we can resolve. On many other European things, European matters, Ken's not as at variance with the rest of the party as is often suggested, for example he has said very clearly that he would be against a rapid reaction force that weakens Nato. He said just a couple of days ago he confirmed that he would vote against majority voting to try and harmonise taxation, he wants decentralisation, deregulation in Europe, he said he's not a Federalist. So I think although there are important areas of European policy where Ken is the minority in the party there are very wide areas where it his views and the views of myself and most of the party are very, very close. So I think we have to concentrate on the wide area of European policy where Ken is in harmony with the rest of the party, accepting that there are areas where he's not.

PETER SISSONS: Do you, but do you know of any historical precedent for a party being successfully led against the instincts of its membership?

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Well one could say equally if Iain Duncan Smith, who I greatly respect, if he was to become leader of the party, almost unheard of for somebody without any experience, having just come really almost from nowhere, suddenly taking on the Conservative Party Leadership and leading it to victory. So I think in either case we're in uncharted territory but I've known Ken Clarke for many years, we've worked together in Cabinet, I've agreed with him most of the time, occasionally we've had disagreements but I see him as a man of tremendous character and integrity and do you know if, if there are problems he doesn't hide them, he doesn't pretend to be anything other than what he is. So the party knows that he's someone who has a rapport with the public, the public clearly like him, they respond to him, I was walking down Princes Street with Ken just a couple of days ago in Edinburgh and one saw the warmth and the friendliness that people give to him has not been true with all Conservative leaders, I have to say.

PETER SISSONS: Now there are reports this morning that Margaret Thatcher is about to declare for Iain Duncan Smith, would that be a blow to Kenneth Clarke?

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Well Margaret Thatcher is in exactly the same position as I am, she has one vote and she, of course, carries enormous respect in the party and rightly so. But she is known to be from the very right of the party, she is known to have very hard-line views on Europe. It would be pretty astonishing in these circumstances if she was to choose anyone other than Iain Duncan Smith in terms of her own personal preference.

PETER SISSONS: But is the endorsement by Margaret Thatcher these days a help or a hindrance to a candidate?

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Well I wouldn't like to express a clear judgement on that, of course there are some people who will be influenced by Margaret Thatcher's view but I suspect most people will say, well you know that would be her view, of course we would expect that, it would have been astonishing for it to be anything else.

PETER SISSONS: Andrew Rawnsley who was here earlier wrote recently, there is no other contemporary politician I can think of, at home or abroad, who would have prepared for a bid to lead a major political party by flogging fags to the third world - now there's a serious point isn't there, this, Kenneth Clarke's notorious lack of sensitivity and political correctness can easily backfire on those who back him?

MALCOLM RIFKIND: I think that's a bit, a bit unfair language, as I understand it it was actually a meeting of the Audit Committee of the company of which he is a member of the, of the board which happened to be meeting in Vietnam at the particular time. They were not going on a tobacco selling exercise but that is in a sense irrelevant. What is interesting about Ken Clarke is that he doesn't actually pose, he doesn't do all the things that you and the image makers and the spin doctors expect of party leaders, you know we were just discussing a few moments ago in your interview with Sam Younger, the low turnout at the elections, that's partly because we all know there is a cynicism that the public now have for politicians and for politics. They believe it's all spin, it's all artificial, it's all posing and I think Ken Clarke's strength and his popularity is partly because he manifestly couldn't give a damn about spin doctors. He says this is what I am, this is what I enjoy doing, this is my lifestyle, take me as I am or reject me and I think the public warm to that and understandably so.

PETER SISSONS: The Daily Telegraph saw Mr Clarke as a man of the past and Iain Duncan Smith as boring and uninspiring, in your heart of hearts Malcolm, do you wish that the party had a better choice on offer, yourself perhaps?

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Now that's a very unfair question. No I think you live with politics as it develops, the election produced a parliamentary party, of course we are a party with a big problem and when you have a big problem it's not surprising the choice of leader becomes a very complex and complicated one. Ken Clarke would have been chosen as leader some time ago but for the reservations people have had on the Europe side. So no one suggests that isn't a factor, of course it's a factor that you have to bear in mind. But at the end of the day most Conservatives are hungry to get back into power and the question is what gives us the best prospect in four years time of winning but also in the meantime there's a wider national interest. We're in opposition at the moment, it's very frustration being in opposition but the national interest is that this government has a strong and effective opposition and an opposition led by Ken Clarke is likely to be a pretty impressive one. One knows that if Ken Clarke is facing Tony Blair across the Despatch box it's Ken Clarke who speaks with the experience and authority far more than even the current Prime Minister.

PETER SISSONS: Before, before you go Malcolm could I just ask you to comment on the events in Genoa last week, as a former Foreign Secretary what's your reaction to the behaviour of the Italian Police and the reaction to it of the British government so far?

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Well clearly there may have been a gross over-reaction by the Genoa Police and that's something hopefully which an inquiry will identify. The quite separate issue but it's obviously been linked in people's minds is the sheer size of these G8 Summits and so forth and for some years long before these riots and demonstrations began a lot of us have argued that there is a lot of sense for eight or nine of the major heads of state getting together privately to discuss issues in an informal way without this huge caravanserai of pressmen and aides and assistants and so forth. And so if one of the consequences of these very sad events is that the heads of government get rid of most of their followers on and actually get into informal discussions, whether it's in the middle of the Canadian Rockies or on the South Pole I don't mind, but the important thing is to get back to informal discussions. Because what's happened up 'til now in the last few years is they've spent most of these summits just deciding the communique rather than having real discussions about real issues.

PETER SISSONS: And that's where I must stop you, thank you very much Malcolm for joining us.

MALCOLM RIFKIND: Thank you.

END

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