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Charles Kennedy MP, Liberal Democrat leader
Charles Kennedy MP, Liberal Democrat leader
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: CHARLES KENNEDY MP LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADER APRIL 28th, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: Now the three main party leaders have all been out and about canvassing for votes in this coming Thursday's local elections and therefore that means that our next guest, that's the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, Charles welcome.

CHARLES KENNEDY: A very good morning to you.

DAVID FROST: Can I just start with this headline in these papers here today, what do you think of this idea, Blair parents of tearaways should lose child benefit, Blair plans to punish bad parents - are you in favour of that?

CHARLES KENNEDY: No not at all and we've been round this circuit before, it's a big mistake in politics to identify the problem and there's no doubt, of course we all know that from our own constituencies, that you've got these tearaway children, as they're so called, but simply to take away the source of social support from the parents is going to end up damaging those very children that you're trying to get to, it is not a good idea, it's on a par with Tony Blair's ideas which were quickly shelved some time ago, you know get them by the ears, take them to the local cash machine and make them pay a fine, that one died a death, this one will die a death too.

DAVID FROST: This will die a death as well?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

DAVID FROST: What about the recent stuff to do with the budget, I mean you've said, you know of course it's too late, it could have been sooner and they should have...at the last election and so on, but apart from that obviously you, you have to welcome it because it's 14 billion more than you were going to do?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well we welcome the fact more investment is going in and you'll be talking to Iain Duncan Smith a little bit later I know, now the Conservatives have voted against this extra investment, he has got his own argumentation for that being the case, I think they're making a huge political mistake.

DAVID FROST: Do you?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes I do and I think that they will rue the day that they have taken this particular approach, the Conservative Party, that is not to say that the government are on terra firma as it were when it comes to these issues.

DAVID FROST: But why will they rue the day, that's quite dramatic?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Because, well because overwhelming public sentiment, before, during and since the last general election was that our public services, health being probably the primary one amongst them, need more public investment. What did we say during that election, we said, I said it to you, I said it to everybody who cared to ask at the time, you can't get something for nothing, you have got to be willing to contribute that bit more on a fair basis related to your ability to contribute to invest properly, to make the health service, the education service, transport, whatever it might be, more efficient, more effective. Now the government have now seen the light but you know, at a time when people are getting so cynical about politics I think an awful lot of people, this is what I pick up as I go around in the local election campaigns, are saying, well they're saying this now, why didn't they say it in the last budget just before the last election rather than admitting it afterwards?

DAVID FROST: But obviously that means you were, you were thinking of getting rid of it anyway, but you certainly don't have to ask now for an extra 1p on tax because you've got it and so on, but you will be proposing on current, on current form, you'll be proposing an increase in income tax, the rate of income tax for people, 40 to 50 per cent?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well I think that a lot of people watching this programme will question the way in which Gordon Brown's chosen to go about raising the money, if you go down the National Insurance route which he has, an awful lot of employers are obviously going to pay more as well as employees. Now we would have said it is much fairer to go down the income tax route which was related to people's ability to pay, that way everybody, if you like, pays into the system. At the moment an employer in my own constituency was saying to me I'm not responsible for people's ill health, as an individual tax payer as opposed to somebody running a business I'm quite willing to contribute towards helping with ill health because it affects my family. But the way that Gordon Brown is going about it, it's almost as if he's skewing it towards the private sector having to bail out the public sector. This is a big argument that's yet to be had and I still think that fair transparent income tax and those who are better off like you and me contributing that bit more, that is more socially accepted.

DAVID FROST: What about David Blunkett, got the headlines this week talking about swamping, talking about the fact that asylum refugees children could swamp schools or GPs offices and so on and so forth. Now was the word swamp a mistake, should he said overwhelmed or is it the same word and the linguistic fuss is nonsense?

CHARLES KENNEDY: The thing that really occurred to me about this was that I think swamp was the wrong word to use, this is the most senior British politician since Margaret Thatcher was the leader the then Conservative opposition to use that term and this is a Labour Home Secretary. Now how many Home Secretary's have you interviewed over the years?

DAVID FROST: 74 - I don't know.

CHARLES KENNEDY: A lot, a lot. Could you imagine Roy Jenkins as a Labour Home Secretary in the 1960s at a much more pressing time in many respects on race issues using the term swamping in the context of a dialogue about immigration, asylum, race issues, I think not. I think this was a great mistake and you know there are times, you know we're all accused of being too sound-bitten these days, but there are times when words convey a meaning and I think that the meaning, that the use of that word conveyed was extremely unhelpful for good race relations within this country.

DAVID FROST: Drugs are in the news again today and this week your international development spokesman, Dr Jenny Tonge came out with the proposal that cocaine should be legalised, sold over the counter rather like wine or beer or something like that, does that have your support?

CHARLES KENNEDY: No it does not and Jenny to be fair to her has made quite clear that that's a personal view and it is certainly not Liberal Democrat Party policy and it's not something that we are either supporting or promoting.

DAVID FROST: Do you discipline someone in a situation like that?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well no I don't see the need, I think if you're leading something called a Liberal Democrat Party then by definition you've got to allow people to have their say and I'm in favour of people being open with the public about what they think. But let us be quite clear we reach our conclusions as a party on a democratic basis and we have ruled that out quite firmly.

DAVID FROST: Alienation, you touched on it earlier on and cynicism, alienation here, alienation apparently very much so in France, are there any common factors between the two countries in this area or is it just simply, it's, I would have said impossible that a Le Pen would ever rise in the UK or is that complacency?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well we must never be complacent about these things but again I'm critical of David Blunkett as Home Secretary, Charles Clark as Chairman of the Labour Party in the way in which they've almost talked this issue up. At the end of the day this is a miniscule as well as a malign political element in the body politics. What are they fielding, less than 70 candidates out of thousands upon thousands of candidates, they're not going to get anywhere, they don't reflect British opinion any more than for a moment then I think that Le Pen reflects main stream French opinion but the sad thing is if you want to engage people - I mean there's two points I think to be made here, if you want to engage people in the political process, go out as I have been in Hull, in Huddersfield, in Norwich, in the London boroughs, all over the country and what are people talking about, they're talking about the state of the local services, they're not talking about these kinds of issues but listen to the media and you would think that this issue about reactionary extreme forces gaining ground is the sole topic of conversation. It is not and I think you know that the media has got a responsibility as well as the political classes to make sure that we keep people focused on what it is. The other thing I would say is, people are disengaged and I'm deeply depressed about this in terms of the political process, if the Le Pen example, and it seems to be having a resonance on the streets of France and it will be seen again today in huge numbers, if it's got anything to teach people it is don't just sit back and complain and say they're all the same, join the political parties, participate in the political process, I hope people will do that on Thursday.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you very much, just going back to what we were saying, just to sum up, I did get it right, didn't I, you said you're not now advocating as a party an extra 1p on income tax, but you are advocating lifting the 40 per cent rate to 50 per cent, is that accurate?

CHARLES KENNEDY: No our position, what we set out at the time of the budget, remember we've still got the comprehensive spending review to come up before the summer and you can't see the budget unless you see the context of that, so therefore we remain at the position that we're at as a party at the time of the last election which is the one pence, which is for every pound above that 100,000 your top marginal rate goes from 40p to 50p. But we will have to review that like everybody else, what we're not going to do is make the mistake of the Conservative Party which is to say no, no, no...

DAVID FROST: But are you, are you, are you going to take away the extra 1p on employers?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well we will engage in the argument and I said this when I replied to Gordon Brown in the House of Commons, he said we must not have an earmarked tax for the Health Service, now there are arguments for and against, I'm inclined in favour of an earmarked tax and I think that he shut down that argument too soon and he said that income tax is not the route to go. We still incline towards that, we want the investment, that's why we supported the extra investment which the Conservatives did not, but there is an intellectual worthwhile debate to be had and we are certainly going to be in the middle of it.

DAVID FROST: Charles thank you very much indeed.

CHARLES KENNEDY: My pleasure.

DAVID FROST: Always a joy to have you with us.

END


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