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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN PRESCOTT MP DEPUTY LEADER OF THE LABOUR PARTY MARCH 10th, 2002
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: And now joining us from his home city the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is with us. John, good morning.
JOHN PRESCOTT: Good morning David, I've already rung up and give my Mother's Day communication, have you?
DAVID FROST: No, no I haven't, the, well yes I have, I've done for Carina, I've done her Mother's Day greeting, my dear mother is out of range as it were. Tell me John one vital thing to start with which has concerned everybody, all those rumours and so on, will you just set the record straight for us about rumours that you were going to stand down at the next election, or you were going to stand at the next election but not make yourself available for the Cabinet or both or none of the above. What's the truth?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well absolute trash by the papers, most of those papers that are recording today similar stories, they're not worried about the truth David, I mean in the case that you're talking about, whether I stand, I actually told the reporter that wasn't the case, it wasn't true. Sunday Times also knew it but they still printed the story, it really isn't about getting at the truth any more in much of our press it's just about printing what they think is a good story. So can I say yet again, no truth in it whatsoever, I am very happy in what I'm doing, I'm certainly happy working with Tony Blair and getting on with the job that we've committed ourselves to do. So just a load of press prattle.
DAVID FROST: Right and indeed unlikely this, but if Tony Blair was to step down or something would you stand again for the leadership?
JOHN PRESCOTT: No.
DAVID FROST: You wouldn't?
JOHN PRESCOTT: No these are matters that the party will decide in its own way, we have rules about these matters, but I certainly wouldn't want to stand for the leadership of the party again.
DAVID FROST: You wouldn't, you've done enough?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Oh no I've a lot more to do I think but I think that at my age anyway I would just want to get on with the job, I'm delighted to do what I'm doing and I think I've still got a lot of energy and peaceful [sic] people would generally recognise want to do the job that we've promised to do but I've certainly no intention whatsoever to run any more for leaderships.
DAVID FROST: There...
JOHN PRESCOTT: I'm very happy by the way to be the Deputy Leadership, Deputy Leader of the Party, that's something that's very important to me and I enjoy doing as much as the Deputy Prime Minister's job which I'm honoured to have.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of the, this weekend's press and so on, what with the, the fall out from the whole business, the Jo Moore business, the transport business, the metal business, the public service business, the trade union support could haemorrhage because of the explosive cocktails says John Monks, and all the headlines about PM to relaunch party after Jo Moore fiasco. It's a, you may say this is a communications problem but it looks as though it's a bit more serious than that?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Now again a lot of those stories are absolute rubbish, some of them have got substance in as we know and you pointed out some of those but our job is to get on with the long-term development of our country, to carry out the promises that we made and our first four years we made it absolutely clear that we had to get the economy right, we did that in a spectacular way. We said the second stage would be reforming of public services, when we made the decisions in the economy they were controversial and we were constantly attacked in the press, but we came through. Now we're at that stage with public services. Our job is to keep our eye on the main ball, we promised the British electorate that we were going to deliver on public services and it's going to take a considerable amount of effort which is now being put into it to make sure that we deliver.
DAVID FROST: But I mean how are you going to deal with the problem of the unions, I mean they seem, I mean John Monks is very clear and he's very moderate indeed, I mean saying that for instance support may accurately, or may haemorrhage, people may stop giving funds to the Labour Party. Could you do without trade union funds if you had to John?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well all political parties need financial support, and as you know there's been considerable debate and I've always been a supporter of state financing. There's controversy about that issue, we receive money from trade unions, we receive money from businesses but what we make clear is that it's actually openly declared, we brought in legislation to make that so. But could I say in regard to John Monks, a man I greatly respect and I think most people do as well. He's an open-minded man, he's a fair man and he puts the point of view of the trade unions but you know it's not unique to say that I might talk about having a disagreement with the Labour Party, even to the talk about we're open, open minded about other political parties. I think George Woodcock said that, something like 40 years ago, the trade unions are a group who operate as a vested interest group and they're entitled to put their view and it's quite true that the Labour Party will take proper account of the trade unions. We have a special relationship with them and that continues. But that doesn't mean to say we agree in every dock and tittle of policy, of course we don't, that's why we have conferences of the party to agree those decisions, we have a manifesto and then we carry it out. Something like well over 80 per cent, a record for this, for a Labour government, to implement its manifesto in four years, that's quite a good record that we're really proud of.
DAVID FROST: What about at the same time, transport, this week city bodies said that the confiscation of Railtrack had caused considerable damage to the relationship between the government and the whole of the business sector in particular the city and the whole, and transport seems to be falling apart. Now is that your fault or Stephen Byers because I mean the answer is surely that you didn't think it was falling apart so therefore it's Stephen Byers fault not yours?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I mean the transport one is very clearly one of long-term investment, massive disinvestment we inherited in our schools, in our hospitals, in our transport system and that's what needs, we've got to put an awful lot money, more money back, that's why we have a ten year plan for the hospitals and Health Service, we have a ten year plan for transport. Nobody's doubted that the transport in a long term view of the investment was absolutely necessary, we still have more trains than we ever have before running on our tracks, adding admittedly to some of the congestion problems. There are more buses than we've ever had and more people travelling on them, we have a bigger merchant fleet under the British flag, there are many incidents of where we've shown a growth in dealing with the problems of transport but it does take time and every transport minister has always become unpopular. I can remember them on the motorways where Marples must go showing my age again David. But it shows that transport ministers who had to take long-term decisions will be criticised but the trouble is previous transport ministers have always taken short-term decisions and we are getting on with the long-term way of dealing with the problem.
DAVID FROST: But everybody seems to report, including Charles Clarke, that even Tony Blair as well as the government have been damaged by the Jo Moore incident and all of these incidents, I mean you've made the point about the overall policy but I mean things have gone dramatically wrong and all of you are suffering because of what, what went on at transport?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well it's, it's quite true, it's not been an easy situation for us after the Jo Moore affair but that's now behind us and we can get on with the job. But at the end of the day Jo Moore isn't total policy, I know the press are absolutely obsessed with it, it's still down, basically, to an advisor, we have a government here, we have a Parliament and we're getting on with the job, though of course the press are more interested in reporting that kind of material then getting on about the moves in transport.
DAVID FROST: What about at the same time, Iraq, all the papers say that you've, there's dismay in parts of the Cabinet but certainly there's demonstrated dismay, John, among back-benchers for us going into war, into battle with Iraq. I mean do you think you can sell that one?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well there's a lot of press prattle about what went on in Cabinet discussions, absolute nonsense but of course they can write that but if you start correcting it or changing it you're then giving information about Cabinet discussions. This is one of the most united Cabinets there's ever been in a Labour government, just read the past diaries of previous governments. Admittedly they were largely about economic matters, devaluation, inflation, cuts in public services but because we got the economy right we don't have those kind of rows. So it is nonsense, it is a most united Cabinet, it has concerns, of course it has but so do the back-benchers as well but they have them about Afghanistan where they all thought it would go for an awful long time and with many deaths, not true. They had the same concerns about the Gulf War, some of the people who say that, that we were really going into Iraq, we didn't, I mean all these kinds of concerns are properly expressed and it's right to do it in Parliament but it doesn't mean to say that they're right in their judgement.
DAVID FROST: But I mean the, but the point is that the back-benchers are signing on for motions, you say the Cabinet's united and you will, and you were admitting there absolutely that the back-benchers are concerned, they're concerned, I mean 68 people signed one thing and then there'll be more, that's, that's quite considerable?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Oh I think early day motions, I mean they're an indication of signs but they don't say necessarily that's what they feel. At this stage there is a genuine concern, as there was in other times of our history when we may be involved in some form of conflict, that's quite proper and it's expressed by EDMs but at the end of the day that doesn't necessarily mean the final view takes place. When we had the debate over Afghanistan these concerns were hammered out on the floor and I think we came to what was a reasonably successful conclusion, particularly for Afghanistan and we all welcome that, not much criticism about that now.
DAVID FROST: Thank you very much John, we've got to take a break there for a moment for the news, the news headlines from Bill, thank you very much John, here's Bill.
[BREAK FOR NEWS]
DAVID FROST: Thank you for joining us this morning too, thanks to all our guests in a packed morning, next week the Home Secretary will be here among others, so will the Chairman of the Conservative Party, until then top of the morning, good morning.
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