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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 12:58 GMT
Lib-Lab alliance denounced
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy

BBC Breakfast With Frost, interview with Charles Kennedy MP, Leader, Liberal Democrats, 27 January 2002

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

DAVID FROST: And now for the third of our leader interviews, a fortnight ago I spoke to the Prime Minister, then last week of course Iain Duncan Smith was with me here in the studio and this morning live from Inverness the Leader of the Liberal Democrats joins us by satellite, that sounds surprising, Charles Kennedy. Good morning Charles.

CHARLES KENNEDY: David, a very good morning, by satellite from Inverness, gosh that's a, an arresting thought isn't it.

DAVID FROST: It is an arresting thought, absolutely. Tell me what are your thoughts this, this weekend on the Rose Addis affair, which of the two sides are you on, or as I suspect neither?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Neither, your, your suspicion is correct, I think that politics doesn't really edify itself with the, the carry on that we've seen over the last few years, last few days, it's the war of Jennifer's ear all over again isn't it and the point of the matter is this, that if you're a constituency MP, I've been obviously here at home in the Highlands over the weekend and doing constituency surgeries and so on, you get individuals coming to you on a private basis and some, alas, have got unfortunate stories to tell about their experience with the National Health Service. Well you raise that as a local MP on their behalf but that is not the generality and I think that as a party leader you've got a wider responsibility involved and that you shouldn't seek to elevate one particular distressing case up to the level that leaves people with the impression that the whole system is a shambles, because it's not, it's still a very good National Health Service, could be better, should be better funded but it is not the, the totality of what Iain Duncan Smith was suggesting.

DAVID FROST: What about another great institution, the House of Lords and House of Lords reform because you're very close on several major points here to the Conservatives rather than the government, about 300, about 80 per cent elected, call it the Senate and so in, there's two points that you'd have to sort out between you, one on the method of election and the other on the length of the elected term but you could probably trade those two. Is there an opportunity here for you to work with the Tories in a way that would be much more powerful than you doing so separately and you'd probably win in the House of Lords again and again?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well this is one of the almost unspoken stories so far since the general election that if you look at the House of Lords, indeed if you look at the terrorism legislation after September the 11th the government had to back down on quite a number of civil libertarian principles because the votes weren't there from the government's point of view, that the Liberal Democrats, the cross-benchers and the Conservatives reach a degree of common cause then the government has got to think again. Now that's a very healthy thing I, I feel but I would say that where reform of the House of Lords is concerned, yes we want a predominantly elected second chamber, it's got an important revising function to do and I think that quite frankly the government's proposals here are shambolic and I don't think they'll ever see the light of day.

DAVID FROST: Have you considered cooperating with the Tories on this one? Have you had any, have any of your people had conversations with them?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes there have been conversations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in the House of Lords and the nature of the House of Lords is very different is very different from the House of Commons and that there is if you like informal discussions about things on a day-by-day basis and therefore it comes as no surprise that we've been talking about this. There isn't some great plot at work here but I do think that if we can pressurise the government into a more democrat House of Lords that would be a very good thing.

DAVID FROST: Tell me something there's rumours that you might be going to drop the 1p on income tax for education or whatever, there was a throwaway remark of yours the other day where you said you might go into the next election vowing to lower taxes, is this really a discernible trend, Mark, Mark Open your man has said the 1p is tired, out-of-date, crude and simplistic, I mean are you thinking of, of making that move on tax?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well what we're doing at the moment internally in terms of the Liberal Democrats which I've set up since the general election is to have a sensible policy review because what we go into a next general election in three or four years time may not obviously make sense in terms of what we were saying at a previous general election, I mean the world will have moved on, it's as simple as that. Now we've already been a taxcutting party because we want to take people at the lower end of the taxation spectrum out of tax altogether, at the same time we have been very focused on the fact that taxation should be transparent, it should be honest and it should be accountable. Now I don't think we're going to depart from any of those principles but quite what our specific levels of commitments will be in terms of taxation policy and what that helps deliver in terms of quality public services, whether it's decent railways, good hospitals, quality schools and so on, that remains to be seen.

DAVID FROST: You signalled the sort of end of the project when you were with us in December

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

DAVID FROST: And you've spoken about it since, in terms of the next election, because obviously one of the reasons you're not as close as you were to Labour is that Labour obviously doesn't need you any more and therefore they won't give as much, but which would you rather happen at the next election Charles, would you rather have 60 seats yourself but a Labour majority of 150 or go down to 40 seats but a Labour majority of 20 which would make you much more powerful, which would you prefer?

CHARLES KENNEDY: This is a, when did you stop beating your wife question isn't it?

DAVID FROST: Well no your fiancee I think you should say.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Fiancee yes indeed, the, well she'll be watching this and she will comment on, on, on this matter in due course but the, I think the point is what I want to see is to maximise the Liberal Democrat input in Parliament, in public life, in politics as a whole and I think that the way we do that is by taking opportunities like this discussion, to talk about what we're in favour of, what we want to see achieved, what the potential is for our country and not spend too much time getting bogged down in what the others are up to.

DAVID FROST: But tell me in terms of a project being over and things going forward, what's going to be your big idea for the, for the next election, someone, some people always say there's no real big idea behind the Liberals, now is the big idea of the next election supplanting the Tories as the effective opposition, as the official opposition?

CHARLES KENNEDY: I think that the big idea is a composite if you wish of a set of values and an approach which adds up, which actually relates to people, we've got to reflect upon the fact, all of us in politics whatever party, why are so many people not participating in the political process, they're not joining political parties, they're not bothering to vote come the election time, this is very bad news indeed and I think that if we enunciate an approach which is firmly rooted in civil liberties, looks to the future in terms of environmental policy, is international, not least where Europe is concerned and is about delivering quality public services fairly funded, I think that's something that will find a real chord with people.

DAVID FROST: In the news there there was an item about the, the three British prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, what do you feel about the current conditions there and some people's suggestion that they should be brought back here to trial?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well I think there's two points there, I think first of all that the Americans, I was in New York last week and there is no doubt about the prevailing sentiment, very understandably so, within the United States as to the atrocities that took place. The Americans I think have conducted themselves and I pay tribute to Tony Blair because I think he's had a, a significant role in this too, they've conducted themselves in a sensible and a sustained measured manner in response to the awful events that, that occurred. However they must not lose that broader global consensus which has emerged, which has been built politically and internationally and I worry that some of the images and some of the impressions that are coming out from the situation in Cuba is going to unfortunately damage that and they need to think carefully.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much Charles, we must conclude in the way we would all wish to do so with congratulations on your engagement to Sarah.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well thank you very much and on behalf of both of us much appreciated.

DAVID FROST: And she is now going to show you how to put politics in third place, the right place, yes, first of all love, then rock and roll and then politics?

CHARLES KENNEDY: That sounds quite a good agenda, yes.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Maybe that's, maybe that's the big idea.

DAVID FROST: Charles Kennedy there joining us. Thank you Charles.

END

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