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Breakfast with Frost
Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative party leader
Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative party leader
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: IAIN DUNCAN SMITH, CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER OCTOBER 6th, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: It's a crucial week ahead for the Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith as his party gather in Bournemouth for their annual party conference. The party house magazine, The Spectator, will warn that its crunch time for the party and dares to ask whether Iain Duncan Smith is the man who could rescue them. Kenneth Clarke, the man who challenged IDS for the leadership, says it's time for the party to get its act together. And even former foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkin, has joined in by urging the party to subject Tony Blair's policy on Iraq to more rigorous scrutiny. And he's here now, Iain Duncan Smith. Good morning Iain.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: Every columnist, every newspaper, and you could be forgiven for having given up newspapers this week, they've all said this is make or break week for you and here we are at the start of make or break week. How are you going to turn it around - one thing it would seem is that you have some clear proposals, like for instance your one about schools.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Indeed.

DAVID FROST: Now that's going much further than vouchers isn't it?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well first of all, I mean on the general, you've been around enough in these games to know that even under Thatcher, whatever, there's always a make or break every conference, it appears, one way or the other. I mean I put all that on one side because the truth is what I think the British people need to understand, and I accept that, they need to understand where we stand in terms of what the alternative would be to what I believe to be a progressively more failing government. And proposals this week, we've been asked by a number of colleagues, let's have some proposals, let's have some policies. Well this week is the week where we move to phase two or our proposed programme, which is to push out those policy initiatives, in education, in health, in law and order, in drugs, right the way through.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of education, you're going to give parents the right to set up their own schools or move their sons and daughters from failing schools to independent schools with a grant of 5000 a year.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Yes, I mean what we've done this year, the first year, this year of my leadership was about settling the party and focusing in on what the problem really was, why Labour were failing in education, in health and in law and order, and then putting together the policy prescriptions that we're now about to unload. And part of that process was I sent my shadow cabinet to various countries to look at their prospects, look at what they were doing in Scandinavia, in Holland, in France, in Germany, Australia, even the United States. And what they've come back with, in this particular it's Damian Green, having looked at Holland and other countries, he said, you know, they have a fantastic system where if parents are in a school that's failing, it's not succeeding and they would rather have a better school, they have the statutory right to set up an alternative school and receive state funding as they would as if it was the school they'd come from. And so what we're going to do this week is say, because the disaster for people in the inner cities now is horrendous - there were 30,000 in the last year of all those children who left school without a single qualification, the gap between the outer boroughs and the inner cities has got worse in the last five years and the government seems to be in a mess, you heard today, about should it be comprehensive, should it be not. So what we've said is parents, we must give them the power, they will have the right, if this is the case, if they are failing schools in the inner cities, they have the right to work with a voluntary or a private company to set up a school to meet the needs of their children, rather than leave them in a failing school, and to take those children, with the money, to that school. That's the key thing and it is an individual parent to do the same to a place somewhere else.

DAVID FROST: And it's a principle then that you might carry over into health where patients could have the same sort of choices.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well we want, and you'll find I'm not going to give you the exact policies now because those will be coming out in the next 24 hours when Liam Fox speaks but the principle that will run through everything we do this week - and this is the critical point - is that we think the government has taken more and more power away from schools, away from parents, from doctors, nurses and from patients, and we're going to reverse that process. A classic example is when it comes to schooling, headmasters no longer have the right to expel pupils - that's been taken away from them. Teachers complain, consistently, that they can't discipline their children. Doctors and nurses say they're second-guessed by the government with their targets, so what we're saying is we're going to reverse that, we will give patients the right to be able to improve their health and those, one thing we did find is that a lot of patients at the moment, mostly pensioners, who can't get treatment, they're having to go outside the system. So we'll be looking at that, how do we help them as well.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of Archie Norman saying "We've got to establish once and for all whether we believe that investment in public services, properly delivered through a reformed public service, which might mean increasing taxation, is something we're prepared to contemplate."

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well what I've said all along this year is that the government set itself the target of producing public services that matched people's needs and what we've seen is it's failed. Whether it's Rose Addis who is literally smeared by the government because she complained about her health treatment, or any other patient, we find that both in the health service and education, pupils and patients are the last people, it appears, that matters. So, our priority is to put pupils and patients first, not, as the government says, spending on building, it's about what's good for those people who need the service, not for those people who run it, like the government.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of, you were saying, talking about the Major years and so on, I'm going through the list of things that were wrong in the Major years and so on, really what, he broke pledges, and arrogant and lecturing people and those things, would you say, in fact, that therefore you deserved to lose the election in 1997?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: No, I just think all we have to recall, and this is the only important thing for us as a party, is that the public spoke in 1997 and said "you don't deserve to be in power any more" and -

DAVID FROST: And did you agree with that?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Whether we did or not, we accept it. I fully accept it. The judgement of the public was that they saw that we had not lived up to their expectations and therefore we have to accept that and this week we'll be showing that we have accepted that and that what we now want to do is to show that the public, people's real problems on health, education, law and order, greater violence in the streets, more street robberies, all of those, the failings of the government are the critical area for us on policy. It will be public services first and we're going to show how we will change and improve the quality of people's lives.

DAVID FROST: Rachel Sylvester was saying that you just can't get rid of the old figures and so on and you've had a tremendous amount of that this week - Jeffrey Archer reminding people of the perjury thing, obviously Edwina Currie, who you're probably not sorry is not attending the conference, and Alan Clark, with all of these things, it does seem as though you have a lot of baggage there that is very difficult to get rid of.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I'm going to be showing this week that we have, in a sense, now broken free of the public's perception of us in 1997 - that's the critical point. As I said earlier on to you, people out there felt hurt. It doesn't matter whether, you know, we remember the great things we did, the fact is, too many people remember that things had gone wrong and we must break free of that. And what we're doing this week, and this is the critical point, we are actually bringing forward serious policy provisions and all I hope and believe is that if the broadcast media and the media generally will focus on what we are saying about the policies we are bringing forward, then we'll give the public an opportunity to judge us on what we're saying rather than the personalities and the mess that's going on.

DAVID FROST: But thus far the message hasn't got through at all, has it? I mean it's down to 28 per cent for the Tories and it's various polls showing that Charles Kennedy is the favoured choice over you as the alternative prime minister and so on. None of it's been getting through yet and that's what's caused the despair and Heseltine saying that it's time for you to go and all of that.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well, look, you remember life under the last time we were in opposition with Mrs Thatcher. You remember how these stories rebounded constantly, it was time for her to go in '75, in '76. I'm not worried about that. I know I have a one single duty and a task, which is to get my party to the point that the public believe once again that it's fit for government. And to do that, I need to do what we're going this week, which is to bring those policy positions forward. I'm not interested in personalities. I accept the verdict of people in 1997 and now what we have to do is take the party forward. Yes it has to change, but change to be a party that the public really wants.

DAVID FROST: What about Section 28, there's talk of a compromise resolution but if that falls, as it's likely to do, and you have to choose between ditching it or keeping it, what will you do?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well I'm not going to give you the position we're going to take as and when if the government brings anything forward. I do know this, and I've said all along, that Section 28 is at principle, at heart, about protecting children against those who might be placed in authority over them. Every parent who has a child wants to see their children protected. The question for us is simply how best to do that and we will be bringing forward proposals on that as well as part of the overall policy process.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the story in lots of papers, Tory storm over women only lists, "We don't want white males," a leaked memo reveals a plot to fill the Tory benches with dozens of female, black and openly gay. The Mail on Sunday has seen other documents which confirm the Conservative leader has read the report and endorsed the recommendations. Is this true?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well I hope you notice, in the report, it doesn't actually quote me anywhere as saying anything at all. What it says is that is has seen documents that apparently I'm supposed to have seen. Look, I get a lot of documents on policy come through across my desk and I read all the policy documents. This was another proposal, it was months ago that it came across and I have to tell you now, we've been selecting candidates for months and we have clearly not implemented what was in that particular report so I stand on our record ...

DAVID FROST: But then the trouble is, you've got half the people in the party who want a change would have been thrilled to read that this morning.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: But we are getting change. The point that I'm making is there are other ways in which we will be getting a fairer deal for candidates who wish to be Conservative MPs. I've said all along that we want to give women much greater access to the Conservative list, to get them into seats that they can actually fight, and we're doing that right now, there's 25 per cent of those that we've already selected are women candidates. It is a huge advance but we've got more to do. And the same goes for those from ethnic backgrounds. But what we want to do is keep the spirit of the Conservative Party alive in this, which is that our associations are part also of the Conservative Party, they guide the Conservative Party and they connect with the public. So we need to make the change, but clearly I need to take people with me on it.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of if these - all these horrendous figures and he's in the wrong job and all of that stuff you've been reading, we've all been reading, change or die, make or break and all of that - if in fact what you're doing this week, you're launching this week -

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Yes.

DAVID FROST: - if that doesn't work, and by next May, after the local elections or whatever, the situation is still 28 points to the Tories or whatever, are there any circumstances in which you would consider standing aside if you thought there was someone else who could do a better job?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: David, I was elected by the whole party, for the first time ever. And I was elected by a huge majority, and I was elected on exactly the strategy that I have been following through. Not one thing that I am doing now is different from what I set out. And I was told by the party, go and do it - and we're doing it now. Of course there are going to be difficult moments, we are at that period between setting out the principles and the policy. This week we move on to the policy, I can guarantee you that as the public begins to understand what we are saying, that we have a new way for health, a new way for education and better prospects for crime and law and order -

DAVID FROST: So there's no way -

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: - they will actually -

DAVID FROST: - there is no way you would voluntarily stand down?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I'm here to lead the party and I'm going to lead this party because this party has to follow the strategy that I have set out because there is no other way and for those who say that there may be some great easy way - there is no easy way, we need people to understand, once again, that the Conservative Party is the party that they need and will deliver the sort of policies they want. We're going to be doing that this week and I promise you this much David, I intend to deliver on it.

DAVID FROST: Looking ahead to the quandary that you could have been faced with, if you were to gather - in the future the question of where private and public happen - if you were to gather that a married member of your shadow cabinet was having an affair with a married backbencher, would you say that's nothing to do with the public, that's nothing to do with me, that's a time bomb, that's morally wrong, I will kick them out or, or I will say private life is private life, carry on. What would be your attitude, moral attitude and political attitude?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: David I'm not - look, you've been around - I'm not going to get into hypothetical questions about whether this or whether that because we don't know what circumstances may prevail at any particular time. I simply say this to you, it is intriguing that the media spends so much of its time talking about these problems in terms of the Conservative Party. I watched the Labour Party, sitting here in government, in almost exactly the same problems, with private disasters, private difficulties, with public failure such as Estelle Morris over A-levels. What I do notice from the Prime Minister is nothing ever happens. He takes no decision when they fail. Now the important thing here is I think the British people have right to ask this question: are they up to the job that we elected them to do? Are they able to deliver for us on education, on health, on crime? And in each of those areas, when something goes wrong the Prime Minister doesn't sack anybody, he simply supports them.

DAVID FROST: Right.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Estelle Morris has failed over the A-levels and thousands of children have been damaged, why hasn't she gone? She should have done, the Prime Minister is failing.

DAVID FROST: But the - fair enough the point you make but obviously the opinion polls show that the message, the critical message hasn't got through. We'll take an update on the news headlines and we'll come right back.

[NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed, we're at the end of our time Iain. The message is then, whatever the polls say in a year's time, you have a right to take this party, you have, you deserve one election at least - general election - and whatever happens you are there 'til the next election.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: David, the strategy I have set out is the strategy we will pursue. There is no magic wand, we must get the trust of British people back again and to do that we have to show there is a genuine alternative. This week we will, and I intend to take us to the general election on that basis.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed, Iain Duncan Smith.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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