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David Davis, chairman of the Conservative Party
David Davis, chairman of the Conservative Party
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DAVID DAVIS, MP Chairman of the Conservative Party MARCH 17th, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: Well now we're joined, as we promised, by the chairman of the Conservative Party, none other than David Davis. Good morning David.

DAVID DAVIS: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: Tell me something, looking at what you've been doing over the past few weeks and months, it seems to me you've got a special plan, as it were, to try and reassure people that the party is moderate and not extreme, credible, reasonable, taking some of the things what Oliver Letwin has been saying, Michael Howard on the Bank of England independence, public services above tax cuts, the reform of the House of Lords and less on law and order, at least less strident on law and order. Is this a deliberate plan, do you want to try and create a Conservative Party that puts behind it the reputation of being extreme and right wing and that you're on a moderation course at the moment, to get across that you're sensible, reasonable and a credible future government?

DAVID DAVIS: Well the accusation of extremism was always wrong, was always misplaced, and what you're seeing is the real conservative, conservatism coming out, modern conservatism going out. You mentioned Oliver Letwin, I mean what he is talking about are, are fundamental principles like human freedom, about ... community which Disraeli would recognise, actually. So it's not new in that sense, what it is is new in its application and of course we're trying to make a great deal of how we deal with the modern problems, public services, crime, law and order, these are modern problems that worry people and what we're trying to make sure of is that they understand precisely where we stand. When they do that, the extremism argument just drops out the window.

DAVID FROST: Oliver Letwin was talking here about his trip to New York, I mean are you going to pick up on any of the ideas that he came back talking about?

DAVID DAVIS: Oh certainly, I mean he, the, the approach he's going to be talking about in the next few days, as it turns out, this idea of neighbourhood policing, focussing much more on the real problems that worry everyday people, focussing our efforts there, the sorts of the things the Americans have - they have, their equivalent of a 999 number, a 911 number, for emergencies, there's also 311 number that you can ring up and complain about the small near crime problems, vandalism, hooliganism, muggings, that sort of thing. Those sorts of approaches, very practical but almost revolutionary approaches in these days of modern policing.

DAVID FROST: Neighbourhood policing.

DAVID DAVIS: Neighbourhood policing. You're also going to see a, see him talking about how we do something to accelerate the process of law - the same things that happen in America already. Where we're going to look at the practicality, the practical delivery of a decent society for people - that's what Oliver's about. It's a very Tory agenda. In one sense it's not new but perhaps it's new in people's perception of ...

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the areas that, particularly for you, David, as chairman, are of concern, like for instance the question of women candidates - I mean that's something where gentle persuasion seems to have got nowhere. Originally you didn't think all women ...

DAVID DAVIS: I'm famed for gentle persuasion.


DAVID DAVIS: I'm famed for gentle persuasion.

DAVID FROST: Famed for gentle persuasion. Do it, do it, do it. Say God loves you - you remember that, the gentle persuasion of the teacher.


DAVID FROST: But in terms of going further than gentle persuasion, all women short lists got the ball rolling for Labour. Are you moving towards something like that?

DAVID DAVIS: Nothing like that. Nothing like that. What, what we are doing is going back to the constituencies - they're the ones who have the power in my party, and quite rightly so, that's what's kept the party able to adapt for two hundred years and we're not going to do away with that. We're going to go back to the constituencies and explain to them in some detail about each of them, each of their own constituencies, what their, what the problems are they face - whether it's the local school or the local maternity ward or whatever - and make it clear to them that they ought to be appointing candidates or selecting candidates that are appropriate, that can represent the people well. And that means more women, more ethnic minorities, more people of all orientations and that's very important and we've made it very clear that it's very important. It's not a central part of our policy ... but it is, as it were, a given, civilised politics.

DAVID FROST: And in that area, obviously you've lost some people along the way, if somebody like Ivan Massow, for instance, was to want to come back to the Conservatives, disappointed with Labour, would you welcome him back?

DAVID DAVIS: Well it's not for me to pressurise Ivan. Of course people who are real conservatives, whatever their interests, would be, would be welcome to the party. Actually I rather, I have a - how can I put it - a grudging admiration for Ivan's stand with the ICA. Whatever you think of his views on representative art and so on, he was very gutsy in doing that. So I actually rather admire the man.

DAVID FROST: And what about Barcelona, I mean economic reform slower than expected and so on, but I mean if you're not mad about Europe I suppose you're glad it was slower.

DAVID DAVIS: Oh no, absolutely not. I mean the Prime Minister is, I'm afraid, having lessons at our expense. I mean a year ago he talked about a make or break conference - I used to be a minister of the Foreign Office, I know you need an interpreter to tell you what these things mean. Now it's some progress. That's code for a disaster. We haven't won on the European free market agenda, if you like, and that's bad for Britain, it's bad for British companies going into France to sell electricity, for example. We've lost completely on a European army - that's actually bad for Europe because if they get this wrong they'll wreck it from the beginning anyway and we've lost on all the other agendas too - and now he's talking about bribing the people of Gibraltar with 30 million pounds to sell out their rights as British citizens. I mean, he's learning, unfortunately rather slowly, that the approach of sort of give something to Europe and hope they'll give it back doesn't work. You've got to be a bit tougher than that, a bit more straightforward than that.

DAVID FROST: How are you going to vote, David, on hunting?

DAVID DAVIS: Oh I shall vote for the, for the preservation of the right to hunting. It's, for me it is -

DAVID FROST: For, against or middle way - and you're going to vote for.

DAVID DAVIS: Well - given - given the option it will be for and if we lose that, as seems likely, then I will probably, I personally will probably vote middle way because for me it's a personal freedom issue and I think frankly it's been used by the Government as a cover - a cover for their problems. Whenever, whenever the Government's in trouble it brings up fox hunting, as a way of buying off its own left wingers.

DAVID FROST: I don't know -

DAVID DAVIS: It's the wrong way to approach ...

DAVID FROST: - it may be on the other hand they accidentally mentioned it once and they've been stuck with it ever since. That's the other possible theory.

DAVID DAVIS: Well if you can get the Prime Minister to admit that, I'd be interested to see that.

DAVID FROST: One last thought, both parties have financial problems at the moment, do you think state funding is more and more an idea that should be considered? State funding of political parties?

DAVID DAVIS: It depends what for. I'm, my instinct is against state funding for these things. Why should a Labour voter pay for my activities, as it were - they always do of course, about four and half million pounds is given to each of the major parties for -

DAVID FROST: Research ...

DAVID DAVIS: - in one way or another, for research and that sort of thing. Frankly, my own view, and I haven't made a policy issue of this, we haven't discussed it in the party, my own personal view is actually rather tighter restraints on the amount parties can spend. Takes away the temptation.

DAVID FROST: Right. So not 15 or 20 million but less.

DAVID DAVIS: For less, yes.

DAVID FROST: David, thank you for being with us this morning.

DAVID DAVIS: Thank you, my pleasure.


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