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The Conservative Leader, Iain Duncan Smith MP
The Conservative Leader, Iain Duncan Smith MP
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW:
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH,
CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER
DECEMBER 2nd, 2001

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

DAVID FROST:
Now the leader of the opposition came back this week from a whirlwind trip to the United States, where he met with President Bush, the New York mayor, Rudolph Guliani, and tonight he's off to Stockholm on a fact finding mission to learn more about the way the Swedish health service is funded, so we're delilghted he's found this opportunity - this window of opportunity - to be here this morning. Starting with the trip to Washington Iain, did the talks you had with the various leaders, including Dick Cheney and the others in the administration, strengthen your belief that we do have to move against Iraq?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well one thing I did discover while I was out there, which was fascinating, is that there's a real new found sense of their nationhood over there and also a sense of purpose, and the administration reflected that and they were all very much singing the same thing all the way down from the President that I met to Dick Cheney, to Rumsfeldt, right the way through, all of them were on the same line. And their point is very simply this - it's not about retribution for September the 11th. What we now must, in the civilised world, recognise that for too long we've turned a blind eye to people being harboured, terrorists harboured in countries, like Iraq, like Afghanistan, who've then gone on to grow, become very dangerous and the result is what happened on the 11th. But before that as well. And they also pointed out to me that there were difficulties, after all the first attack on the Trade Tower was an Iraqi inspired attack in '93, which nearly, if it had of succeeded, would have done to one of the towers what happened this time round. So they're saying it's time for us to get together and say we can't just say it's only here, wherever it arises we now must demand that this is stamped out. And if you add to that - and this is the real nightmare - the Iraqi work on weapons of mass destruction that George Robertson talked about, it is horrifying, the scale of the disaster that could happen next time round.

DAVID FROST:
And so you would endorse military action if the United States decided to do so - against Iraq?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well I think what we need to do now is look at a stage by stage process with all of these countries - not just Iraq there are other countries too that have been harbouring terrorists - and have put themselves beyond the rule of law. We need to look at, for example, the demand that Iraq meets the UN requirements and puts the inspectors back in, which they kicked out, and I talked to Richard Butler about that. If they won't do that, what do we do about sanctions - because there were some countries who are now in the coalition who turned a blind eye to sanctions busting. We now need to ask whether or not it's possible to really tighten that regime up in a way that really does put pressure on Iraq and what we do next. And then you look at well how do you mount any sort of military action - after all the RAF are engaged in military action, probably not almost as we speak, in the no-fly zone at the moment.

DAVID FROST:
But President Chirac said this week, asking about the question of, when he was asked about the possibility of attacking Iraq, he said "that is not a topical question," he said. Because it would splinter the entire coalition as it currently stands.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
I think we can't avoid questions David, I'm sure you've been around this long enough. If we avoid questions because we worry about what they do to people's sensitivities, then we will never arrive at conclusions. And that's what's been going on for years. We just wanted to avoid the big question, what do you do with these countries. And I think Britain is hugely important in that, and I'm very pleased the Prime Minister has been supporting the President and has been trying to find a way through this, because the important thing here is for us to recognise that not to do anything, not to discuss anything could lead to - from two years from now - an even worse disaster because we ignored the problem. And I think the British people, and every other citizen of every civilised country, will want to know that we did our best. That's all I'm asking, that's what I think they want, let's find a way to actually resolve this serious, serious problem.

DAVID FROST:
What about the great quote from this week from Gordon Brown about significantly higher share of national income - a significantly higher share of national income has to go to health, to the NHS, as he put it, but to health. Now would you agree - I know you don't agree with the way it's funded or whatever the - but would you agree with that statement - significantly higher share of national income going to health?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well this much I do know and everybody knows is that we spend less on health treatment in this country than any other of our contemporaries - be it in Europe, America, Australia, any of our major developed nation competitors. And so the answer to that question is:
1) if as it should be, and eventually it will be, that we will be spending more on our health treatment - it's almost inevitable - the question is how. And it's rather like an alcoholic, you know the trouble with politicians in this country, and I've tried to do this all the way, is that we don't take, you know, we don't say the pledge. The pledge is that we all have to say with our hands in the air, this system is not going to work. And you can go driving more money into it, as we saw in the News of the World poll today, but it still isn't going to work because the system itself was designed for an era that has gone. A Soviet-style system that just doesn't allow people to get choice, and it doesn't allow them to get the best treatment.

DAVID FROST:
Soviet-style?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
It is literally a Soviet-style system when you think about it. And the trouble is, for example, we now see the highest levels of waste we've seen for years, ten billion pounds a year wasted. And this year they're going to underspend by about three-quarters of a billion pounds, seven hundred million pounds, because the system can't take the extra money. So the Chancellor says he wants to put more money in - my answer is how? How are you going to do that, if the system right now is creaking to the point it can't take that money? So the first thing he has to do is stop this nonsense about saying "this system is the best system in the world," and say look, it's not, every other country has better health treatment, let's find out why and let's look at a system, and a form of systems that we can actually bring here, then we can talk about how much money, where it comes from, how the financing works. Let's start with the system first.

DAVID FROST:
Start with the system first. And things like hypothecation and so on must wait, do you think?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well these are all part, I think, of the general discussion as to how we go about funding the service. Funding and reorganising the service are hand in glove but you must make it clear - and this is the trouble for the Government, they've run away from this now for five years, and it's now come and bit them very hard - it isn't just a case of saying that lot will cut spending and therefore cut the health service, because they don't want to just do it through the, as the NHS stands, we're the only ones who that will guard that. I think the public has had enough of that puerile debate. What they want to see is their politicians say once and for all "let's get this right".

DAVID FROST:
And in fact of course Michael Howard announced your new policy about ten days ago, which was a major change where you were stating very clearly much as we've always loved tax cuts the public services are now more important to us than tax cuts. That's a sea change.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well what we're actually saying is not that we don't think the tax deduction important, we do. As a party we absolutely and genuinely believe that the lower tax economies are the successful one, which allows more money to come to things like health service. The problem is to get the priority right in the first instance, the public actually sees their priority to get their health treatment and their education systems right. It doesn't always necessarily mean just purely through tax it can come through a variety of different systems. Let's deal with the system, the changes that are necessary for that structure first, then let's say this is how you finance it, then you can say what proportion of the cake is divided up via tax or through various other systems. That's the logical way to do it and that's how we're going to do it, David. It's going to be grown up politics.

DAVID FROST:
Around Stockholm and so on they have this system where you pay, you get a lot of things you don't pay for, but you pay ten pounds to see a doctor, or 15 or 20 pounds to see a consultant - you make a contribution. Is that a good idea?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well that's why I'm going to Stockholm. I'm going off to Sweden tonight with my health secretary Liam Fox who himself has been to Germany and to France and we're going to go to other countries as well because what we're actually saying is somehow the citizens of these countries recognise they need a better health service and they're prepared to make the changes. What we are different here is that we as a whole are politicians who don't. I'll give you a very good example, David. I mean when the Government came to power the first thing they did was to get rid of all the health insurance incentives for pensioners, so they were all driven back onto the health service. You know, some 100,000 of them, quite unnecessarily, whereas in other countries - France and Germany and it seems now in Sweden - they're making those changes to give that flexibility. Sweden had a health service very similar to ours, they chucked a lot more money at it than we've ever done and it still didn't work. Now they're saying let's change - shouldn't we learn something from them? I think that's the simple way to do it.

DAVID FROST:
Oliver Letwin in a very honest and candid interview this week -

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Oliver is always candid.

DAVID FROST:
Yes, yes, one person's candid is another person's, there's another adjective for it. But he said that he thought it really might take two elections for you to win, rather than one, being realistic. Do you agree with him?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well actually he didn't David. I mean what he actually said in the interview, if you read it, it's one of those lovely interviews where the interviewer says to you 'can you, will you do it in the next four years? And will it be done like this?' and your answer's well, we obviously are going to try to do that but there may be problems, there may be difficulties, we don't know, it's up to the electorate, it depends how the Government comes through in the next three to four years. So the real answer is, what he's saying is, our aim and our determination is to get our policies right and to show that the Government is failing within the next four years. And I hope the public will look at that, and I believe that they will, and say we've given them enough time, we've given them two terms.

DAVID FROST:
But it is a very - you are setting yourself a very tough target.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Yes.

DAVID FROST:
Maybe a leader can't ever admit that he might not win.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well let me answer that question. In America I did two things, I obviously talked about the war and the difficulties and spoke to President Bush, but the second thing I did was I looked at the Republican Party. You know, David, you know very well, you'd have said this to them some seven or eight years ago, you'd have said 'you're finished, you won't get back, it will be three generations before you're back,' they're back in power in the White House, they control the lower house. My answer is:
nothing is impossible if we get our message right. We are about change that brings better services to people and about giving them a really competitive economy. And one other thing, it's about belief in our country and that was shining through in America. Their sense that their national sovereignty matters.

DAVID FROST:
But the tough thing is, you saw that poll this week, I mean you've got a long way to go.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Yes.

DAVID FROST:
A big hill to climb as Oliver said, and half of all people said this week they have no opinion about you - quote no opinion - and a third of Tory voters. Well at least that's better than it being negative I suppose, but it does underline how far you've got to come.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Oh David, I of all people know that. I mean I, I've not been around in politics as long as some who stood for the leadership election, so, you know, there's a long process to try and get the public to try and understand who I am. It's made difficult now by the fact that half to three-quarters of every newspaper and every broadcast is taken up with the war, and of course the Government dominates that - as they should do because the Prime Minister is in charge and rightly so. You know, as we get more and more to domestic politics, as I'm able to do more and more of these sort of interviews, show where we're going, I believe the public will say right - and I hope they will - he's talking sense, it's my sort of language, that's what I believe in, let's give him and his party a chance, they've changed, they've learnt their lessons, they know what we need and they're going to try and deliver.

DAVID FROST:
But people say the Tories are becoming a country party. They're no longer an urban party, you can count their urban seats on few fingers or few hands, and you're really just a country party.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:
Well you're talking to the wrong person here David, I have a constituency in north east London so there's not a lot of country there except a bit of Epping Forest around the top. And everybody that lives and works in that constituency works somehow, somewhere within London itself. I'm rooted here in London and my point is we have to get back in London and in Birmingham and in Manchester and all these cities and so our policies on health, on education and on transport, are about the things that really worry people in their urban environment, where the quality of their life has frankly fallen in those terms in the last three to four years. But also, we don't have to forget, people who live in the rural districts need champions as well, so we can be both, as long as we get the balance right.

DAVID FROST:
Iain, thank you for being with us this morning. INTERVIEW ENDS


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