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David Willetts MP- Shadow Social Security Secretary
David Willetts MP- Shadow Social Security Secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DAVID WILLETTS MP SHADOW SOCIAL SECURITY SECRETARY SEPTEMBER 9TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST: Well the race for the Conservative leadership is in its final phase now, party members have just under 48 hours to get their votes in, in fact they've got to post them today more or less, then on Wednesday we'll finally know who William Hague's successor will be. Here to look ahead to that day and beyond is the man who wrote the General Election Manifesto, one of the most experienced members and yet most young of the current Cabinet, the current Shadow Cabinet, a key moderniser in the party, the Shadow Social Security Secretary David Willetts, good morning to you David.

DAVID WILLETTS: Morning David.

DAVID FROST: Welcome back, now you said in an article that you thought that William Hague, although he was superb in the House of Commons would probably agree that his time as leader had been unproductive. How can one of these two men make their leadership productive?

DAVID WILLETTS: Because thinking above all about those six million voters who used to vote Conservative and no longer do so, and thinking about the towns across our country which used to elect Conservative MPs who no longer do so, Swindon and Bolton and Watford and Birmingham, and focusing above all on how we reach out to those people and not fighting the battles of the past.

DAVID FROST: Because in fact in this rather divisive battle we haven't really heard any blueprints for what the new Conservative policy will be on health or education, that still needs to be done, doesn't it, I mean we haven't learnt much about that?

DAVID WILLETTS: Yeah well obviously during the contest you get all the, the argument that we've had and that's natural for a democratic contest and we should be proud that we're running such a democratic process for choosing our leader. After the new leader is elected whoever it should be, either Iain or Ken, they'll be entitled to expect the loyalty and support of the entire parliamentary party and the party in the country because of their mandate at having been democratically elected and I'm sure and believe that whichever one it is they will then be focusing on exactly the sort of areas you rightly talk about David, it is how we tackle the problems in the Health Service.

DAVID FROST: Will there be any difference in the way they, they tackle them?

DAVID WILLETTS: I don't know, I think one of the things that has encouraged me in the last few weeks, having been a supporter of Michael Portillo, is how both Iain and Ken have been talking about the need for the party to change and have been talking about the need for fresh thinking. I don't think anybody has got a fixed blueprint at this moment but what we will be having, I believe, in the weeks and months ahead is fresh energy put into tackling the problems in our public services because we owe it, not just to our party but to the country, for the Conservative Party to speak up for people who are fed up with a Third World standard of Health Service, fed up with poor quality education, worried about the risks of a recession.

DAVID FROST: And if, if invited would you agree to serve in a Shadow Cabinet of either man?

DAVID WILLETTS: If invited I would, I think that it's the duty on all of us to serve whoever is the democratically elected leader and to help that leader reach out to those millions of voters and to help, help the party reach out - yes of course I would.

DAVID FROST: At the same time some of the best people that you would like, referring to but not by name, have decided that they're going to serve for neither, so that you are going to lose from the Shadow Cabinet Francis Maude, and you're going to lose from the Shadow Cabinet Archie Norman and so on and obviously Michael Portillo, they'll be missed won't they?

DAVID WILLETTS: Well it's a personal decision for them, every individual can decide for themselves but I hope that even outside the Shadow Cabinet if people of the talent of Francis and Archie are outside the Shadow Cabinet I hope and believe that they will also be wanting to serve the Conservative cause and the Conservative leadership and there's more than one way of doing it and they want to serve the leadership by developing ideas on policy with the freedom of not being in a Shadow Cabinet then that's also a way that they can loyally help whoever is the newly elected leader and I believe they're going to, I'm confident they're going to approach it in that spirit.

DAVID FROST: What would you say is the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of each of these two men?

DAVID WILLETTS: Well I think that something that, the strength that we have now is not really enough that after a second landslide defeat we don't have the comfortable illusions we had after '97. After '97 there were all these stories going around, the problem is the Referendum Party, the problem is Tories have stayed at home because we weren't Eurosceptic enough. What we now know is that that analysis was wrong, that our problem is that we're not tackling the mainstream concerns of the British electorate in a unified way and I think both Iain and Ken are now very clearly signalling that that's what they're going to do if either of them is leader on Wednesday, I think the first thing you will hear is much less about Europe and much more about the mainstream worries of the people.

DAVID FROST: But however much they'll both say we can put, we can, with their different views on it, we can put Europe to the side and so on, that's a, a bit of a dream isn't it really, because as we've seen during this campaign it just comes up all the time?

DAVID WILLETTS: Well it's not just a dream David, I think it's a duty on all of us because

DAVID FROST: A fantasy perhaps?

DAVID WILLETTS: Well my view is that for the party to pick away endlessly at the scabs and scars of old debates about Europe is, would be a, to let down not just our party members, would be to let down the country and I think both Iain and Ken understand that and I think, I think that whoever is the leader will reach out to those millions of voters and will deserve our support for doing so.

DAVID FROST: We mentioned Lord Hurd earlier on and he says here there will be continued divisions because people will follow their convictions if IDS wins, their convictions. As he did, there have been divisions and they've got more serious and he was undermining the party and, and it would arise that the pro-Europeans were asked to vote against their belief, in that case he has set a precedent. And he's saying there really, that the, he can't demand unity because he tried to shatter it in the past?

DAVID WILLETTS: Well there's a mainstream view on Europe within the party, particular mainstream view that we're against Britain entering the Euro, but we do understand there's a range of views on the Euro, there's a range of views on the European Union, we have to be grown up and accept that and recognise that the electorate are bored to tears with us talking about Europe, what they want us to do is to tackle the things that are on their minds, the crisis of asylum seekers, there's the economy possibly heading into a recession, there's more and more pensioners trapped on means tests and I think after the leadership election you will see the party putting all its energies and efforts into those subjects, not into endless arguing about Europe.

DAVID FROST: Iain Duncan Smith who came out last weekend, when he was here and so on, talking about Section 28 and so on, this week he said that, he is in fact in favour of One Nation Conservatism, but then he redefined it as being not particularly centrist, not particularly Europhile which is the way we think of One Nation Conservatism, but as being in touch with the vast majority of the British people. Obviously the phrase one nation Conservatism is good from your point of view that he embraced that, but is that your definition as well?

DAVID WILLETTS: Well my definition of one nation goes right back to Disraeli because of course it was Disraeli who warned of two nations and as I see these government trapping more and more poor people on means tests, as I see the poorer parts of our country bogged down in a ceaseless flow of initiatives and special schemes and red tape while the core public services decline. I see a threat of two nations under this Labour government and I believe that both Iain and Ken, either of them as leader would take the Conservative Party back to its traditional beliefs in one nation which does indeed involve trying to help

DAVID FROST: But they're not just saying

DAVID WILLETTS: And getting a raw deal under this government.

DAVID FROST: I know you could be offered a job by either of them but they're not the same, are they, I mean Ken and Iain are in fact holders of some very divergent views as well?

DAVID WILLETTS: They have very divergent views on Europe, there is no disguising that and it is the dynamics of an election contest that it's the differences that are brought out because they're trying to distinguish themselves from each other, so that has been the understandable logic of the contest. But when we've got a leader democratically elected then the dynamics of the party will be very different, then I think instead of focusing on what differentiates them with each other they'll instead be focusing on what it is that we need to do to gain back those millions of people who are crying out for an alternative to this government.

DAVID FROST: Well you've voted haven't you? You don't want to say how you voted, it's a secret vote?

DAVID WILLETTS: I haven't declared, because I was Michael Portillo supporter and of course my man isn't even in the final.

DAVID FROST: That's right, so well people can try and work out, re-reading what you've said in the last eight minutes who you voted for. But anyway David, thank you very much for being with us.

DAVID WILLETTS: Thank you David.

DAVID FROST: David Willetts there, our thanks to David.

END


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