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Leader Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy
Leader Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: CHARLES KENNEDY MP LEADER LIBERAL DEMOCRATS DECEMBER 9TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST:

And now we welcome to the yellow sofa none other than the Leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy who's here right now, Charles good morning.

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Nice to see you David, good morning

DAVID FROST:

First of all I don't know whether you heard what, do you have any comment on what Geoff Hoon was saying there about the war?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well I, I agree with what Geoff Hoon was saying, the Defence Secretary has said, I think that there's a need here, we've certainly been emphasising this over the past couple of months and beyond since the September the 11th outrage that a measured and considered approach is what's needed and we must keep the emphasis both of course on getting to the root of the terrorism but at the same time emphasising the humanitarian considerations that are involved and I think that the position of the British government has been a very sensible one, broadly speaking.

DAVID FROST:

It does seem as though the cascade of aid that was going to follow victory, or victory in those parts where we have victory, the cascade is sometimes seen more like a trickle?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well I think that there have been shortcomings, I mean it's a terribly, terribly complicated situation obviously as we all know, where Afghanistan is concerned and as Geoff was pointing out there are varying warning tribles and this is a historical situation as well as position that we're dealing with at the moment. But we would like to see further attention given by, if you like, the developed world towards making sure that the aid gets through, particularly before winter begins to set and after the turn of the year because that will make what is an appalling situation for so many people with whom we haven't got any quarrel at the end of the day, it's a regime it's not the people, an appalling situation for them even worse.

DAVID FROST:

Actually the, the weather hasn't got as bad¿

CHARLES KENNEDY:

No¿

DAVID FROST:

Since November the 15th, everyone said November the 15th was the cut off date for being able to travel around Afghanistan but at least it's held out for a period?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Thank goodness, I went actually quite, quite recently to the meteorological centre that the Royal Navy run for a briefing and all of this and we have been fortunate in that this has not been as severe winter as might otherwise have been anticipated and their expectation is that it's probably the end of January beginning of February before the position will, will get more difficult in practical terms so we've got a window of opportunity there, let's use it for effective aid relief.

DAVID FROST:

And from all we read you're about to get another Liberal Democrat MP, Mr Paul Marsden, will you welcome him if he joins you, will you welcome him with open arms?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well I will welcome anyone, your good self included with open arms, who subscribes to the values and the philosophy and the principles of the Liberal Democrats. Now at the end of the day that would have to be a decision for, for Paul himself to take but I think he's, he's made pretty clear in his own words rather graphically over the last while his unhappiness with the state of the Labour Party, but what decision he reaches, that has to be a matter for him.

DAVID FROST:

Has he had any conversations with any Liberal Democrats?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Oh yes, I mean he's got Liberal Democrat MPs who are neighbouring MPs and they're pals, I mean they're personal friends. I think this is one of the things that sometimes the newspapers perhaps don't convey to people rather fairly which is that there are all sorts of cross-party friendships amongst people who are never going to switch party but just get on with folk because they work by them or they work with them on regional issues or local issues and so on. So of course he's, he's, he's talked in personal terms to, to some of my colleagues but you know I'm quite sure he's probably talked to some Conservatives as well¿I don't know.

DAVID FROST:

You're not concerned that everybody says he's a bit of a handful?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

No, no, no, I've, when you're Leader of the Liberal Democrats a bit of a handful goes with the in-tray in my experience, no that's not a source of concern.

DAVID FROST:

Now what about this business of being the effective opposition and how does that work and when, when might you become the official opposition?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well one step at a time I think given those two descriptions. I think at the moment that we are emerging as the more effective opposition compared with Iain Duncan-Smith's Conservative Party. I think that's been on display in the last couple of weeks for example, both in terms of what we were talking about at the outset which is putting forward a supportive yet a rationally constructive and where necessary critical view of some of the ways in which war aims or anti-terrorism aims have been prosecuted and keeping in mind the political objectives that this is all about, much more so than the Conservatives have basically just signed a blank cheque and said anything goes, whatever the Bush Administration wants, they say jump we'll jump higher. Well I don't think that's what most people in Britain actually want. Also if you look at big domestic issues like the Health Service, I think it's our questioning in Parliament over the last couple of weeks which has really put the government under some considerable focus.

DAVID FROST:

But hasn't that¿doesn't that give you a big problem straight away there in the sense that, as some people say, new Labour's rediscovering tax and spend and so on, and promising more money, massively more money for the Health Service, and even the Tories have, have pledged that they now put public services ahead of tax cuts, I mean aren't they both stealing your clothes and leaving you naked?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well I think first of all there's a lack of credibility where the Conservatives are concerned and when the attention as it now is begins to focus more on the domestic political agenda I think that they will unravel all the more. Anyway that remains to be seen but I suspect that's going to be the case, but I think as far as the government's concerned they are going to pay a price and indeed I think they're paying it already in terms of public esteem for having implied one thing at election time and then beginning to switch gear six, six months or so later and acknowledging that there is a case to be made for fair, transparent and accountable taxation if it delivers better public services. Well that's what we've argued all along and I would like to think that when people reflect upon that they will say well who do you trust the most and you should trust the people who have the guts to say it honestly at election time.

DAVID FROST:

Well people have said £2 billion extra for health, or £10 billion extra for health or £17 billion extra for health, those three figures have been quoted.

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Indeed.

DAVID FROST:

Where, where do you find money like that?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well.

DAVID FROST:

If it was you?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well obviously we wouldn't have started from here in terms of the government's approach as first denunciated in this very position to your good self by one Mr Tony Blair some time ago. But what we have said and what we've argued at the election time is that you can find through, for example, take the top level rate of income tax and income tax is the fairest tax, that can be increased from 40p to 50p in the pound for every additional pound above £100,000 income a year. Now that is something that I think people recognise as fair, as equitable and the evidence does seem to be that people are willing to contribute on a fair and proportionate basis that little bit more if they can see what it's going on and if it's going on the Health Service in particular that is something that¿

DAVID FROST:

How much will that raise?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well you're talking in that sense over the course of if you'd implemented our policy after the last election in June then you're talking about year-on-year increases which would rise to about, over the course of a four-to-five year Parliament, about in the region of £10 billion, now that is a significant improvement. Still probably won't be enough, let's be quite honest about this, but I think it's better to be fair with people in terms of what is realistic and deliverable rather than raise false expectations.

DAVID FROST:

What about the project, the project as originally conceived by Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown is, is really over isn't it? I mean you've taken steps that the joint Cabinet Committee doesn't meet any more, there's not going to be a referendum on PR probably in this Parliament and so on, things have changed and the project is over or at least on hold?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well time has moved on inevitably, the fact that this is actually the first time I've heard the term the project used for quite a while in itself tells its own story, I think that we're in a better position now because I would like to have seen the government move on things like proportional representation, doesn't look at all like they are, I'm quite happy to do business with other political parties where there's business to be done but at the moment it looks as if the constitutional reform agenda is not going to be further advanced. Well we are an opposition political party, we're independent, we've got our own agenda and we're campaigning for our priorities and we get on with that.

DAVID FROST:

And at the same time as people of your, people who work for you have said that it's better that you not be too close to Labour, I mean you've got to make an appeal in what is it, 44 of your seats the main opposition is a Tory, you've got to, you've got to make inroads on the Tory vote haven't you?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well I think the main thing we've got to do and I've always taken a quite straightforward approach about this, is what we must do as a political party is we must talk about ourselves and our values, whether it's commitment to Europe, whether it's bigger emphasis on environmental policy, a better transport policy, whether it is fairly and more effectively funded public services like schools and hospitals. Now the more we articulate that and the more people hear that lo and behold the more that actually rather attracted to it and I think it's better to do that than get too diverted by talking about the others all the time.

DAVID FROST:

And what about the situation we mentioned to Tom Strathclyde, Liberal Democrats have been in the forefront of the battle with the government over the anti-terrorism legislation and David Blunkett's made his appeal that people not block this or sabotage this and are you, are you tempted to stop the battle?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

No we're not going to stop the battle in terms of there is an important Parliamentary job to be done to scrutinise far-reaching legislation which affects civil liberties. But I must say about the Home Secretary given the increasingly extreme nature of his pronouncements, it's one thing for him to be rather dangerously illiberal but I think it's even worse for him to be rather irresponsible in many of the issues that he's now addressing, whether it's race, whether it's terrorism, whether it's anybody who happens to take a slightly contrary view to him.

DAVID FROST:

What about this quote, someone said that although you said you're not opposed to the private sector being involved in the delivery of public services, yet your health spokesman opposes you on health, your education spokesman on education and your transport person on transport, are there any areas where you're actually in favour of it?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Well I don't think that that's a fair characterisation of any of my three colleagues so named that what we've said is that we want to establish the principle which we are quite firm about that you use the general wealth, the tax funded monies available from the country as a whole for good public services. But if there's imaginative creative ways that you can also factor in private involvement or use of private facilities no problem with that, but just make sure you don't lose sight of the basic philosophy that underpins your approach in the first place.

DAVID FROST:

And what about the controversy we heard about earlier, how do you feel about the way that Elizabeth Filkin has been treated?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

I don't think that Parliament emerges well out of this at all, I was a member of the Select Committee in Privileges before I became leader and indeed at the time that Elizabeth was, was appointed as the Parliamentary Commissioner. I fear that we're now at the stage that we can't probably go back and reinvent the wheel but I would like to think that there can be a slightly more dispassionate sit down by the powers that be to examine the lessons that do need to be learned.

DAVID FROST:

Yes because it's a terrible word, always sounds terrible, a cover up, it does look as though a cover up is being attempted?

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Yeah I'm not, well I simply don't know enough of the detail in terms of who said what to whom and when, I'm not sure that there is a cover up but I think what there has been is clearly a pretty profound breakdown in communications amongst all the principle players which seem to be involved here and that, at the end of the day, doesn't serve any of us well at all.

DAVID FROST:

Charles thank you very much for being with us.

CHARLES KENNEDY:

Pleasure.

DAVID FROST:

Always a pleasure, thank you very much. That was Charles Kennedy.

END


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