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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: KENNETH CLARKE MP, CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP CANDIDATE AUGUST 19TH, 2001
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
PETER SISSONS: Right now it's Ken Clarke's turn and he's with me now. Good morning, Ken.
KEN CLARKE: Good morning.
PETER SISSONS: Back and hungry for power, according to your interview in the Times. Three years off retiring age, what suddenly brought that on?
KEN CLARKE: Well, I enjoy politics. I enjoy the House of Commons as much as when I was first elected, I'm a very strong Conservative. I very strongly disapprove of the present government which I think is helping to dumb down politics by reason of their lightweight national leadership and the chance of getting back into the mainstream of politics, helping my party win the next election, has got my enthusiasm very much roused and I'm enjoying the campaign.
PETER SISSONS: Now, William Hague is backing Iain Duncan Smith, we learn this morning, is that a disappointment to you?
KEN CLARKE: Well it's not a disappointment, it's not particularly a surprise. I mean I think he takes the same view as Michael. My position in this campaign has been can we not take a more balanced view on Europe, put it on one side, talk about it less, embrace a wider range of views. We were on the wrong subjects, we had the wrong tone in the election, we should have been talking about the health service, and education, putting forward ideas. And that, and as you've just Michael say, Michael's interview I think is probably similar to what William would say if he was here, which is no to the Euro that matters. We must stick with being very much anti-European and that's echoed by the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph, again not to my surprise for this morning's newspapers.
PETER SISSONS: Is the backing of a former leader, or former leaders, important?
KEN CLARKE: I think it's interesting for all membership to see what different people are doing. The great thing about this leadership election is it's not going to be the members of parliament who decide. It's not going to be the party establishment which hasn't been very successful in recent years. It's going to be the voluntary membership who determine it. But we'd better see what all the party leaders do and my guess is that Lady Thatcher will support Iain very strongly, which is no doubt a great advantage to him and we wait and see what, for example, John Major does. But it's entirely up to them. The great thing about the new constitution is that William, Margaret and John have one vote like everybody else who's paid a subscription in the Conservative Party.
PETER SISSONS: It would be a real disappointment to you if John Major didn't back you. I mean I remember you saying way back in the early 1993, I think the party conference, any enemy of John Major's is an enemy of mine. There was a real bond between the two of you.
KEN CLARKE: Well, that's when the party first began this frightful internal struggle and faction fighting which has dominated us since which we all say we wish to put behind us. A marvellous week after the general election everybody seemed to agree we should drop the subject of Europe down the agenda and we should get back to the mainstream questions that interest the public and then I follow my old friend Michael going on and on about how we can't be led by anybody except a hardline Euro-sceptic. You can see that echoed by too many people in the party.
PETER SISSONS: But this, this is the centre of it and people do keep coming back to it. You will be a leader if elected who will be in disagreement with his party on what most people believe is one of the most fundamental issues of our time. The future of the currency and the constitutional implication should we abandon the pound.
KEN CLARKE: Well the future of the currency is going to be decided by a referendum. And ordinary members of the public, you know, sensible members of the public know that's going to be decided by a referendum. It's not going to be decided by a general election. That's what they told us rather forcibly in the general election a few weeks ago and everybody knows this, the Conservatives and Labour will be on both sides in the referendum.
PETER SISSONS: And doesn't the leader of a party have to broadly reflect the views of the people sitting behind him, and especially on his shadow cabinet?
KEN CLARKE: But I think broadly is the point. What I've said is not that people should change their mind. I respect other conviction politicians, I respect their principles. So that why don't we actually have freedom of speech inside the cabinet, why don't we have a freedom of vote at a referendum. And therefore say that on other things particularly the fact that none of us are federalists, all of us want a union of nation states, all of us want a deregulated, decentralised European Union. If it is the case suddenly that all of us want to stay inside it, which I think we've still got to discover, but if that's what we're all agreed upon, why can't we have a sensible position on Europe and why on earth don't we all stop, not just repeating, because I'm glad to hear people now saying as Michael did let's talk about the great public services. For heaven's sake we need some sensible voices.
PETER SISSONS: How is it going to work if a shadow cabinet meets after say a big European summit and you have to come out with the line and the line is clearly among your colleagues that you say one thing when you have to face Mr Blair across a despatch box, but all your principles say to you I can't do that, I have to take a much more pro-European line or more cautious line or not as extreme a line as my shadow cabinet colleagues want. What do you do?
KEN CLARKE: Well, firstly I think we have been more effective if we'd stop taking such an extreme line on Europe. I think the public are quite Euro-sceptic. They probably agree with me that most of the institutions of Europe need very radical reform which I've been arguing for as long as I can remember. But the sheer extremism of our position on Europe I think has not turned out to be an advantage, that's why I'm very worried. I hope that Iain's changed some of his opinions. I hope he makes it clear quite soon that we're not going to get even more Euro-sceptic if he takes over. What I will suggest is, I can't recall an occasion when it was not critical actually of some of the details which the social democrats in Europe keep coming up with. The problem in Europe is that Jospin, Schroder, Blair are weak men who keep producing rather peculiar results from their councils. I can oppose that. But I want to oppose it from a constructive, Conservative basis, saying what we're for which is a union of nation states, which is more effective, actually only does what it is supposed to and does it in a more cost-effective and effective way that's in the British interest.
PETER SISSONS: But cabinet ministers, when you were in cabinet, you've gone out time after time as a minister and made a case for policy I should imagine which you disagreed with. But that's what they do and you hear it all the time, well that's part of collective responsibility. As leader of the Conservative Party would you not feel that occasionally you had to go out and make a case because it was the consensus of your cabinet that you did not believe in. And if that was an anti-European case that was at odds with your opinion you'd go out and bit the bullet and do it.
KEN CLARKE: Everybody who's had any experience of the party in government, but party politics in opposition as well, knows that sometimes you do that, you reach a collective view and you reach your position and the Conservative ¿
PETER SISSONS: And you would be comfortable doing that?
KEN CLARKE: I've lived for ten years in the Conservative Party that has proved incapable of doing that. When on the issue that has agonised them so much, the single currency, they have agreed that they are going to differ and have a referendum about it. On European politics generally of course we'd agree unless the policy is the so-called renegotiating the treaties which isn't about the fishing policy at all. It's about going along to the union and saying we're not going to accept our treaty obligations any more, can we still remain members, which actually any British government would reject if it was a proposal put forward by the French. That is a euphemism for leaving the European Union.
PETER SISSONS: And at the party conference in six weeks' time, if elected, can you really say anything to the faithful gathered there about Europe that they agree with?
KEN CLARKE: Yes, I think they all agree that we don't federalism. I've never been a federalist, although my opponents always described me as that. We want a union of nation states which only works together on the economy and trade principally and the European end of NATO, if we can make that more effective and a few other big issues like the environment which cross borders, because pollution crosses borders. And that we actually want a de-centralised European Union, we want a de-regulated European Union, the budget must get no bigger, the budget must be better spent. They are things I've spent my life in politics ¿
PETER SISSONS: Re-negotiating the CAP?
KEN CLARKE: The CAP should certainly be changed ¿
PETER SISSONS: The common fisheries policy?
KEN CLARKE: The common fisheries policy, the idea you've got of a national control of fisheries is I think totally unreal. The fisheries policy needs to be addressed because we are fishing out the oceans of northern, of the North Sea and we aren't going to have any fish left to argue about. The CAP needs to be reformed and I think will be reformed at last because it's got to be before we let in the new countries. These are things I've been arguing and when the Conservative Party was a little more balanced about Europe, these are things we all agreed upon, upon which I think we now need to remind ourselves. We don't want to go sailing into whole new ideas about joining the North Atlantic, North American Free Trade Area, re-negotiating the basis of the treaties, and getting away from the things you just described.
PETER SISSONS: Just briefly, do you accept that Iain Duncan Smith has never suggested for a second that he would lead Britain out of Europe?
KEN CLARKE: Oh, he has. I mean, again, quite clearly, he did a few years ago.
PETER SISSONS: Well, Michael Ancram out here a few moments ago said no.
KEN CLARKE: He always has. In order to prepare the editorials people have described one or two of my comments as attacks on Iain Duncan Smith and I've never attacked another Conservative candidate in my life. I gave a description of my views on Europe, which I've just done, and a description of Iain's. And as long as I've known Iain he's always argued vehemently that we should re-negotiate the basis of the treaties and leave if we can't re-negotiate them. If Iain's now modified his views and is prepared to say if he became leader we would never leave the European Union, then I would be very, very encouraged and he would support actually what both of us are contending that we've really got to get together as far as we can on the issue. As long as we sensibly accept that on the single currency there's a range of views and that's going to a referendum.
PETER SISSONS: Let's look at this opinion poll in the Sunday Telegraph today, Kenneth Clarke's lead over Iain Duncan Smith has been significantly eroded according to an ICM survey. Perhaps the most striking findings relate to the public's perception of the candidate's respective personalities. Mr Clarke was thought to be arrogant, by 41%, ideological, by 48%, extreme, by 27%, and out of date, by 42%. In each case fewers voters applied these descriptions to his rival, Mr Duncan Smith. Now, is that a setback for you?
KEN CLARKE: I thought you were too sensible to read the editorial in a Telegraph newspaper ¿
PETER SISSONS: It's not an editorial, it's a news report.
KEN CLARKE: It's a news report, well it's the same thing in the Telegraph. The, if you want to know where the Telegraph comes from
PETER SISSONS: This is the Tory house newspaper
KEN CLARKE: You just contrast what the reporter says with their own poll which must have come as a shattering blow to them. Who's a more natural party leader? I'm miles in front. Who's a potential prime minister? Miles in front. Who recognises the need for change in the Conservative Party? I'm miles in front. Not mentioned in the news story. I quite agree, who is more likely to attract Liberal Democrat voters? I'm miles in front. Who's more in front and likely to attract Labour voters? I'm miles in front. Iain Duncan Smith would put off Labour voters, put off Liberal voters on a much greater scale than myself. Now funnily enough in Mr Conrad Black's Telegraph newspapers, that isn't mentioned in the news story. I suppose they didn't pay good money for the poll or to report that. The poll is some of the most encouraging news I've had, and should be, should be to Conservative supporters. If they ignore the blurb and actually read what the figures tell them.
PETER SISSONS: What about adopting some of Mr Blair's methods? They've been remarkably successful in getting him elected. Have you got any of his methods in mind that you could, you could nick, and use to Ken's advantage?
KEN CLARKE: I deplore his methods. I mean, I think, it aggrieves me to have to say I think Blair has done so well because the Conservative Party has made itself seem unelectable. First in 1997 and then in 2001. And I don't want to analyse all the reasons why that's been. The vote's obvious. All this dissension is a large part of that and the fact that we've got onto the wrong issues and got the wrong tack. Blair's methods are shallow and they are superficial. I think the dumbing down of politics into something dominated by focus groups and sound bites and over powerful press advisers is one of the things we have to reverse. Even my worst critics would acknowledge is that I go into politics saying what I believe and people know that I do believe what I put forward and I put forward my views with honesty and candour. That's what we need back in British politics.
PETER SISSONS: Ken Clarke, thank you very much.
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