BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Audio/Video: Programmes: Breakfast with Frost
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Steven Norris - Conservative Party Vice Chairman
Steven Norris - Conservative Party Vice Chairman

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

Only days to go now 'til we find out who's going to lead the Conservative Party. The contest has got increasingly bitter over the last few weeks with a war of words between Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith over subjects like race and Europe, of course, I'll be speaking to Iain Duncan Smith in just a few moments but first Steve Norris. The reason we've got Steve here is that when we had Ken Clarke on a week or two before we had one of his opponents first and so following that fairness we have Steve Norris who is not a supporter of Iain Duncan Smith, he's support Ken Clarke, and originally supported Michael Portillo. Do you think that this contest, by the way, do you think some day there's a chance that Michael Portillo's time could still come?

I don't know, I think only Michael can answer that, I mean the speed with which he, he decided he was not going to even been in Front Bench politics might, might mean that frankly he's decided to count himself out. But I think what was important you know, Francis Maude said this, it is not just Michael Portillo but what it was that Michael was saying and fundamentally what he was saying is that we have to really re-think from the ground up what the Conservative Party looks like and what it stands for. If we're going to have any possible chance of getting the 5.7 million people back that we lost in the last decade. That, after all, is the key and I personally felt that Michael was the, was the candidate who was saying that most powerfully and I think of the two on the ballot paper, clearly Ken's the man who gives us a chance of doing it.

And, and it's interesting isn't it, that really both, both parties, both parties within the party, they all, they're saying, not saying that it'll be fine if the other one wins but that it will be Armageddon if the other one wins, that our party will be ruined, will be out of office for years if X wins. I mean it's, it's a very clear statement from both, both sides?

Well you know we're at a pretty difficult time in our fortunes, I mean we, we, I mean it was understandable that the Conservatives might have lost in 1997 after 18 continuous years. I mean you know the odds were massively on the likelihood of us losing in '97. But to lose in 2001 in a sense as badly as we did in '97, not to be able to come back at all against a Labour government, frankly not many of us have a great deal of time for. Now that really sent out some danger signals and that's why, you know this contest is not a tea party, there are those who think that the minute that there is any sort of engagement between the two opposing views here, that somehow this is against the rules. But that the reality is there is a real battle going on, I think here at least, for the future direction of the, of what is at the moment Britain's oldest and now serious opposition party.

And why do you think that Ken Clarke could save the day and that Iain Duncan Smith cannot?

Well I think two things really, one because I think Ken comes across to the millions of people who actually represent voters rather than simply party members as much the more serious candidate, as a grown-up member of the human race, he is somebody who actually understands the realities of life in Britain to a greater degree than I think Iain does, I think Iain represents to so many people, even in the party, a sense of the party talking to itself, fighting with itself, convinced that issues like Europe, for example, are absolutely uppermost in people's minds. Well you know, I actually rather agree with Iain for example about opposition to the single currency, that it was quite clear from the last election than when we campaigned you know on asylum and on Europe and on tax that the rest of the world said, yeah, jolly interesting but actually there are much more important issues that you should have been addressing. I mean parties that talk into themselves inevitably are on a downward path.

Somebody has said, several people have said that there is a danger if the party makes a wrong decision, that the Lib-Dems could end up in second place and the Tory Party has the possibility of ending up third, is that a danger?

Well I tell you what the one thing I got seriously wrong about the last election when I used to tell people that we were bound to win 50 seats, I think I said it sitting here, was that I actually thought that '97 marked the lowest point the Tories fortunes were likely to go, you know, one, and one could see that Labour would not be, frankly, as popular once the, the myth turned into reality. But actually we did, you know, drop votes from even our '97 performance, anybody who imagines that we've got a God-given right to be the principal party of opposition isn't looking at history. And Blair is clearly trying to position himself as the sort of centre-right establishment party in British politics, the Lib-Dems are there to be the centre-left opposition, a little bit more tax a little bit more spend. And the challenge for the Conservatives is to actually fight Blair on the ground that we have traditionally occupied rather than spinning off to the right into the sort of dark twilight zone, no doubt getting huge cheers from the small audience at the party conference but utterly relevant to the rest of the British people.

So what, what if Iain Duncan Smith wins, Steve, I mean would you be willing to work for him or would you be tempted, is it possible, as one of the papers hinted and so on, that you might leave the party?

No let's be clear, I, I said some weeks ago that if anybody, and particularly if Iain were to drag the party off far to the right than I and many, many other people would simply say what on earth are we doing here, of course I'll work with Iain, of course, we'll all work with Iain. But I think Iain has to understand that the only way if he were to win, I don't think he will, I think Ken Clarke is going to win, actually by quite a substantial margin that might actually surprise people because you know the sort of polls we've been seeing in papers that are very partial to Iain Duncan Smith don't represent the reality out there. But which ever of them wins the job is to make sure that we as a party start talking about the issues that millions and millions of ordinary people face and they think are important so that we can actually be a constructive opposition to quite frankly a fairly cynical government.

And so you're encouraged, I suppose, by the fact that in his interview today in the Telegraph Iain Duncan Smith is talking about Section 28 and talking about cannabis and so on like that, that's a move in the Portillo direction?

I'll tell you what I think that's a sign of a candidate who's deeply rattled as he has every right to be, I mean I'm sorry but you know policies, you can't just pull them off, off the shelf like library books and put them back a couple of weeks later. If half the paper have already voted for Iain Duncan Smith had read this interview I imagine they'd be ringing central office now asking for their ballot papers back. I mean you know Iain has got the people who support him who characterise his campaign, it's a campaign characterised by wanting to be more right wing even than William Hague to want to replicate what Hague actually did in the four years between '97 and 2000 and as far as I'm concerned at least, you know that is not a recipe for success.

Steve thank you very much indeed for your kind words┐

Or not so kind words┐

A few unkind words may be as well. Thank you very much anyway, Steve Norris.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Breakfast with Frost stories