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Charles Clarke MP, Labour Party Chairman
Charles Clarke MP, Labour Party Chairman
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: CHARLES CLARKE MP LABOUR PARTY CHAIRMAN SEPTEMBER 9TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST: And the man himself, the Chairman of the Labour Party, Charles Clarke is here with us right now. An instant reaction to what we've been hearing, obviously massive fears about this involvement of the private sector and public services, very serious fears, in addition to those policies that are very different, but address that would you?

CHARLES CLARKE: I work on the approach that Dave took in that interview, throughout he's very positively said we need to invest in the public services, we need to reform the public services but let's have concrete serious discussion about the way we do it and it's the way you do it which is the most important thing. David we share the agenda, unlike the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, that we need to increase the capacity of the public sector and that's the message we got on June the 7th and that's what we're about, lots of arguments, as you say, about precisely how to do it and how to take it forward but we want to discuss those in the right way.

DAVID FROST: Well obviously yesterday's real fear, I mean the idea of schools being run by private companies for profit and the rest, and then the figures with John Edmonds had about the fact that 3 billion in profits is going to go to private companies and so on, will they be able to save that money so it won't cost the NHS any more. That one's an NHS one

DAVID FROST: Well no particular deal will be done unless it's assessed as saving money in precisely that way. If you look at the PFI deals for hospitals, for example, which have been controversial, I have the biggest in England in my constituency, the fact is it's being finished ahead of schedule to be a very high-standard product and a lot of the building projects that took place in the past in the public sector had a lot of problems in delivering and achieving it. The key test is the one you're implying and Dave was implying too, which is will it make a difference, will it save money at the end and that's the test that's important.

DAVID FROST: And that's the test, it's got to come through that one.

CHARLES CLARKE: Yes, precisely.

DAVID FROST: And what about, I think one of the other key things is that coming through all of this is there's a fear of, of loss of jobs, 24,000 hospital construction workers we heard about yesterday, allegedly, but I mean can you give that sort of guarantee that whenever private companies come in that people's jobs will be as safe as they would have been before?

CHARLES CLARKE: Well there's a whole series of issues around the TUPIE regulations, so-called, which are about protection of jobs when any of these issues move forward but the key guarantee that we're a government that wants to invest more money in the public sector, we are doing that far more than the Conservatives or indeed either of the Conservative candidates that are prepared to do and it's that investment of money in education, health, crime, transport which is what really makes the difference and that's what we're committed to.

DAVID FROST: So that will, that will continue?

CHARLES CLARKE: That will continue and in fact it was a key dividing line at the last general election, I'm sure it will be at the next one too. It's our commitment, Labour's commitment to continue investment in the public services, but David as you were implying in your remarks with, with Dave Prentis just then, it's not just the investment, it's also about reforming the public services to ensure it really is the consumer that serves, the commuter on the train, the patient in the hospital, the parent, the pupil in relation to the school, they have to be at the core and I think the vote for Labour which was very strong last June the 7th, was in a sense a conditional vote, people said we like the way we go, we prefer you to the alternative but you really have to deliver next time otherwise you won't have our confidence and that's the challenge which faces us.

DAVID FROST: Well that's the irony isn't it, that the massive majority and yet people talk about there are various ways, some of these areas that we're talking about, transport would be another one, but in some ways Britain is a Third World country and that's what's got to be attacked?

CHARLES CLARKE: Well I don't accept the rhetoric of a Third World country by the way, I really think that's quite wrong, anybody who's ever been to the Third World wouldn't remotely think that that's the case. But I do think it is the case that we had decades of under-investment in our key public services which we have to put right and that is what we're about doing and it's all, obviously the case David that as we talk about putting the money in, yes, but also reforming the public services, there will be arguments and the way to deal with that is to discuss in the way we are doing, not only with the trade unions but also with everybody else, how best we bring about

DAVID FROST: You mentioned the hospitals that have been funded by the private financial initiative, in the future, 29 is quoted isn't it, in future what proportion of new hospitals will be funded that way, would you say?

CHARLES CLARKE: I haven't got a figure for you David just off the cuff there, but I'm sure that PFI will continue to be a very important form of funding. When I was Schools Minister we were bringing PFI to schools construction as well because we were able to get some really excellent products, excellent schools built by that way. But I want to emphasise, we don't say private good, public bad any more than I think it's sensible to say a private bad, public good, what we say is pragmatically what's the best way, private or public, of delivering the higher quality of public service and most important of all a better capacity to the public service to deliver.

DAVID FROST: And what about that list that I went through with Dave about all the things, all the things they voted for at their conference, that's not, that's a different agenda, that's a different party almost?

CHARLES CLARKE: I don't think it is a different agenda, a different party, they have a serious of different views as you set out and what David's members were reflecting in those votes was an impatience, an urgency to achieve what I think we are all about trying to achieve which is a better quality provision of public services in Britain. Now there are particular policy things where I don't agree with the positions that were put forward by Unison.

DAVID FROST: All of them in fact, all of, you don't agree with any of those eight?

CHARLES CLARKE: Well I don't recall the exact eight that you listed, so I'm not going to say all of them straight off the bat, but, but there are areas of difference but the whole point about the party and I think it's right, is the trade unions are affiliated to the party rightly so, but they put their point of view and we have a discussion, we have a debate. The idea that we should simply say no trade union should have any position, should only agree with whatever the government of the day says would be completely ludicrous and wrong. In fact one of the things we have to do more than anything in the Labour Party I to build a much more vibrant discussion and debate within the party, not only with trade unions but with members of Parliament, constituency Labour Parties, councillors and so on, so that we really can hammer out these issues very openly and rightly.

DAVID FROST: And what about, in terms of the, thinking of Dave and others, why, why can private industry do these things better, as you say they can save money and still take a profit now what makes you think that the private industry is that, is actually that good. We've seen this week a hell of a lot of private companies in terrible, terrible difficulties and so on, what's so clever, what can they, why can they do things that the professionals can't?

CHARLES CLARKE: Well it depends on the particular area of expertise. I was responsible, for example, for establishing the national grid for learning in schools, which is computers, we spent an enormous amount of money on it, the private companies provided the actual computers, in some cases they provided the training with public sector trainers, it's where the expertise is there. In other areas private companies are useless at it and I think it's a question of horses for courses, the whole essence that always at the central end how can we improve the capacity of the public service to serve the people, that's what we're about.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the papers today, congratulations, you probably read that the Mail on Sunday with the serialisation by James Naughtie has announced today ladies and gentlemen, that Tony Blair now regards you as his, or a political heir, that must be very gratifying?

CHARLES CLARKE: Well David you're the most experienced individual in politics and journalism in Britain if I may say so and I don't know how many people you've seen take on this mantle at various times in history, it is a fatal mantle to have and I don't believe it's true by the way, I don't believe that is Tony's view and I think this, it's part of the general speculation which always whizzes around all the time. I, I just laugh at it and I just hope it doesn't get recycled elsewhere, it's not something I shall forgive Jim.

DAVID FROST: And, and what about the situation, the membership, Charles, has gone down 7,000 below the Tory membership apparently?

CHARLES CLARKE: Well we've, we've announced our membership figures which are, as you say, a significant reduction over the past couple of years and I do think there is a real issue about involvement in politics and I see one of the key roles that I have, as Chair of the Labour Party not just as a Labour politician but generally, to increase activity in politics generally across all parties and increase engagement in politics, the turnout at the last election was very low and was a serious issue for us and I think there is a real issue there and I'm sure that one of the reasons why people didn't join, there are technical reasons about the time of their membership and so on, is that more and more people don't feel that politics is the way for them to change their lives. I think that's wrong and it's our job to change that.

DAVID FROST: As a former Home Office minister what was your reaction to the Stella Rimmington book?

CHARLES CLARKE: Well it was very personal actually, my father was a senior civil servant and he wanted to write a book and went through this process and it was vetted and I remember the day after he died people coming round to get the, get the documents from our house and I think our current processes for vetting these, these types of things are very anti-diluvian. They compare badly with the Americans, the gentleman on before from the FBI is an example, I think we could have a far more open approach on it. I don't think that it's appropriate, obviously, but I don't think Stella Rimmington thinks either, to reveal details that affect national security and they obviously have to be protected. But the line between national security on the one hand and informed public debate about the way the public sector goes about taking its decisions is a difficult one. So I, I feel very much in two minds about it, if I felt that Stella Rimmington's book was threatening national security then I would be very concerned about, I haven't seen the book actually, I've only seen the, the reports about it. But I do think the process of vetting these kinds of things is very defensive, unnecessarily defensive and damages the, the public welfare in this country.

DAVID FROST: And we hear a lot about the fact that maybe the Liberal Democrats are going to supplant the Tories and so on, and is the second party of this country, who would you rather have in the next election as the opposition, as the main opposition, would you rather have the Tories or the Liberal Democrats?

CHARLES CLARKE: I'd rather have the Tories actually but I think the Lib Dems are torn between two, being two types of Lib Dem, one is the responsible part of the centre-left progressive alliance which they do in local authorities and some areas in alliance with Labour in various parts of the country. The other is a kind of rag-bag gutter politics which just slags off everything that's coming around and on this issue of public sector reform we were talking about earlier they fit very much into that trap, they just oppose any change, they're deeply Conservative themselves. I think unless the Lib-Dems can sort themselves out as to what type of party they are they won't be a serious challenger in any way. If they can and, and then, and they do say we want to be part of a proper centre-left progressive alliance then I'd welcome that myself but I think they've got to get rid of some of the gutter oppositionism which often drives the way in which they conduct their politics.

DAVID FROST: At that moment we must just grab the headlines on the news.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Seconds to go but time to just ask you, does this ruling this week, the court ruling, mean there's going to have to be a new law on asylum?

CHARLES CLARKE: Well David Blunkett's made it clear we're assessing the whole situation again, the key things for me are firstly taking decisions quickly and Oakington was part of that. Secondly really addressing the work question which David is addressing, how we can deal with work more effectively. Thirdly focusing our efforts and fight against organised crime, trafficking in people which is appalling and fourthly getting some kind of European Union-wide agreement on how we handle it and that's what David's about.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Charles, thank you for being with us today. That's all we've got time for this morning, we haven't got a programme next week because of the Great North Run but we're back again on the 23rd when I'll be talking to the Liberal Democrat Leader about his plans to become the second opposition party, Charles Kennedy ahead of his conference in Bournmouth, top of the morning, good morning.

END


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