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Breakfast with Frost
Michael Portillo MP, Conservative Party
Michael Portillo MP, Conservative Party
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: MICHAEL PORTILLO MP OCTOBER 13TH, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: Well he was the darling of the Conservative Party of course, for many the man who was destined to lead them back into government after years in the wilderness, he left the battle to lead the party but now from the back benches his views on the party are still highly influential, as the row at the party conference this week between those who want to modernise the party and those who think they should be loyal to their traditional roots showed.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST: Well Michael's here right now, Michael Portillo, good morning Michael.

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: There we saw the two attitudes at the conference and so on, it must have been rather odd as you watched it or read about it because in a way Iain Duncan Smith seemed to be bringing in the sort of reforming language, reforming moves, it sounded a bit like what you were advocating and he wasn't advocating at the time of the leadership (elections). Did you feel very at home about what was going on or not?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Yes I did I felt very encouraged and the Conservatives have produced a policy document which was the background to Iain Duncan Smith's speech which I think is very, very good and I think entirely absolves him of any charge that nothing has happened in the last year. There clearly has been very good policy work. What I think is important now is that the direction of the party be established and the Shadow Cabinet be absolutely clear about it and they'd be united and that they move forward, it's what in Labour parlance would be called having a project. The Shadow Cabinet has to show that it knows exactly what it's doing and where it's going and stick to it and everybody do the same thing and if that happens, if they're clear enough about their sense of direction then the voices on the side, whether it's, whether it's Norman Tebbit, whether it's Kenneth Clarke, whether it's Ann Widdecombe, whoever it may be, will in due course become irrelevant to what the Shadow Cabinet, to what the new Conservative Party has become.

DAVID FROST: Because it depends, as you say, on the following through from this...

MICHAEL PORTILLO: It does and entirely on that.

DAVID FROST: And it also depends on the fact that IDS is really convinced that he's changed his colours for good and all, that's important to know?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Yes and I would say that leading up to the conference there were somewhat contradictory signals. The first phase of Iain Duncan Smith was surprising, surprisingly towards the sort of things that I've been saying and then I thought there was a little bit of a movement back. Quite honestly since I didn't win the leadership election and he did the important thing to me is not so much whether he takes on the things I was talking about or whether he doesn't, but that he should be his own man because particularly now that he's going to present himself as the quiet man of determination, obviously that only works if he's doing the things with which he feels entirely comfortable. So I hope that this conference means that he's reflected upon things, he's chosen his course of action, he's going to get the Shadow Cabinet in line and that is the direction in which he's going to go because I think the consistency of the message from one day to the next and the consistency of the purpose from one Shadow Cabinet member to the next is the most important thing of all. People should not doubt what the Conservative Party is about, they should not doubt what it wants to do, that must become a certainty and then the criticisms of the critics quite honestly will simply bounce off.

DAVID FROST: What about the, the Norman Tebbit question, the proposal from some people, shadowy figures allegedly that he ought to lose the party whip or whatever?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Completely mad, completely mad suggestions. I mean Norman Tebbit is a major figure in the Conservative Party's history, a man who nearly died for the Conservative Party and the idea that this man should be thrown out because he doesn't agree with what the Conservative Party has become is absurd. However the Conservative Party I think is becoming something different from what it was in Norman Tebbit's day just as the Labour Party became something different from what it had been in Tony Benn's day. Tony Benn never left the Labour Party, no one threw Tony Benn out but after a period of time esteemed figure though he is, esteemed figure though Norman Tebbit is, are over a period time, they become irrelevant to what their parties have evolved into being, into being something new. And as long as it's clear enough what the Conservative Party is it can withstand any amount of criticism from, from people who held high office before.

DAVID FROST: A lot of people who've said that Edwina Currie for what she's just done should lose her membership of the party in Surrey, do you think that's right?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: No, I mean I don't believe either in making martyrs or in earning, or in adding to Edwina Currie's earning power. I mean forget Edwina Currie, forget all that lot, I mean forget me for that matter, just let the party move on. We have a new Shadow Cabinet, what we want to know is what they believe in, at this conference we were told very clearly in the policy document, in Theresa May's speech, in Oliver Letwin's speech, in Iain Duncan Smith's speech, that it is about renewal, it is about new policies. By the way many of these new policies are very recognisable in terms of Conservatives and Thatcherism for that matter. They are free market, they are liberal, but also and this perhaps is the fundamental point, I've always believed that the Conservative Party should be a liberal sort of party, I would say it should be liberal in economics, it shouldn't, it shouldn't take too much money from people, it should let people organise their own financial affairs, it should be liberal on social affairs, it shouldn't interfere in people's daily lives. I think those two are wholly consistent and that's why I don't think that a Conservative Party that's liberal in economics and liberal in social matters, I don't think that that is either inconsistent between the two halves of the policy, nor is it inconsistent with our tradition.

DAVID FROST: You spent five years working hard in the Major government from 92 to 97, it seems rather, rather strong to suggest as Iain Duncan Smith has that those were wasted years, that we should be ashamed of what we did during them, are you ashamed of what you did in the Major government?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Actually I'm rather proud of having been a member of both the Thatcher governments and the Major government. But you mustn't exaggerate what Iain Duncan Smith said, I mean I think he paid tribute to the achievements of those governments but he said that at the end of it the perception of us was a very bad one and obviously quite a number of things went wrong and there's no point hiding that. I made a speech in the party conference in 1997 immediately after our defeat in which I used language I think rather like Iain Duncan Smith's, rather like Theresa May's, in saying that of course one had to recognise the way that people perceived us and the need for change and the only thing that I find frustrating about our present situation is that we're still having the same conversation, we're making the same speeches five years later.

DAVID FROST: Well you mean that that, nothing really got done in those five years, they were wasted years?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: I think in, particularly in the four years between 97 and 2001, by the way and during that period I was in the Shadow Cabinet for a part of that period so I'm not saying this is somebody else's fault, I'm sharing responsibility. What did not happen was a clarity about what the direction of the Conservative Party was because on the one hand we talked about being socially liberal but then we had these forays on asylum seekers and other rather sort of old-fashioned right-wing issues, if I can put it like that. Now it really doesn't work in terms of public presentation to send a lot of confusing messages from Iain Duncan Smith, from Theresa May, from Oliver Letwin and from the policy document this week there was no confusion in the message because the message was very clear and some jolly good new policies which I hope will get a lot of attention, a lot of publicity. So provided that's followed through this represents a very important first step and I would say only first step towards Conservative recovery.

DAVID FROST: And what about as we look at the situation today, I mean you, you and I talked often, you, you're going to stand for your seat again at the next election and Chelsea and Westminster are you?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: You're my constituent and you ought to know it's called Kensington and Chelsea.

DAVID FROST: I know, as I was saying that, I thought I'm giving it in alphabetical order...

MICHAEL PORTILLO: I want to continue there.

DAVID FROST: And what about, after the next election I suppose all bets are off, you haven't decided, might you run for leader again?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: No.

DAVID FROST: Never?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: No.

DAVID FROST: Absolutely never?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: No.

DAVID FROST: Why not?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Well it's a decision I've reached, I mean I've weighed the evidence as to whether, whether it's a task I want to take on and I've weighed the evidence as to whether I think the Conservative Party would want to accept me and I've weighed the evidence as to whether that's the sort of life that I want to take on. You have to remember I, I've been in Parliament 15 years on and off, I was in the Cabinet five years, you know I think I've really had enough of all that.

DAVID FROST: So that's that. But you, you might serve in government or something again I suppose?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Well that's, that's a possibility, yes.

DAVID FROST: That remains, that...

MICHAEL PORTILLO: That remains a possibility.

DAVID FROST: That remains a possibility. And do you think that in fact Iain Duncan Smith is going to have to bring in structures to achieve some of the things like you said last time you were here, that the Clause 4 of the Conservative Party could well be women in shortlists and opening up the candidates lists and so on, and the latest statistics are depressing on that. Is it possible to do that by entreaty or will, maybe will there need to be a structure put in place?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Well first I repeat my main point which is that Iain Duncan Smith must be his own man and must pursue his own policies but if he has decided that he wants to change the representation of the Conservative Party in Parliament, this isn't just by the way about gays and ethnic minorities, it's about having some teachers and some nurses, and more doctors - because we only have one doctor - more doctors in our representation. If he wants to achieve that then I guess that entreaty will not be enough.

DAVID FROST: Will not be enough... have to go...

MICHAEL PORTILLO: At the very least it would have to be entreaty backed by threat.

DAVID FROST: And should they...backed by threat. And what should they do about Section 28 it comes rumbling up again, it's going to come rumbling up in the end, a lot of people say drop it, let it go, in the words of That Was The Week That Was, it's over let it go, what do you think?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Well I tell you what I'm going to do, I'm going to vote against the retention of Section 28, I've no doubt about that at all. I'm slightly puzzled that it's considered to be a party political matter, I mean it's the sort of thing which I think comes very close to being a matter of conscience or a matter of free vote. But whatever, whatever the party may do I can tell you that I would vote against the retention of Section 28.

DAVID FROST: Now we mentioned you weren't at the conference but I'm fascinated by where you were, the International Commission on Missing People?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Yes Missing Persons in former Yugoslavia. We, I'm part of a commission which was set up by President Clinton and later chaired by Bob Dole which is exhuming bodies from the massacres in the former Yugoslavia in order to identify them in order that their families may know where and how they died, in order their families may have a body so that they can have a funeral. We've got a DNA programme matching the DNA of families against the DNA of the bodies which is producing fantastic results and I think the really big implication of all this is no matter what the perpetrators of mass murder due to the bodies, whether they try to mutilate them or move them or whatever, we will always discover from the DNA who those people were. We will give the identity back to the murdered victim and if we know the identity of the victim that points to the identity of the perpetrator. And so perpetrators of the future must know that we will discover their crimes.

DAVID FROST: And that, that's a powerful, powerful new development and this is one of the first times it's ever been taken this far isn't it?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: It's never been done on anything like this scale, we may have 40,000 missing people in the former Yugoslavia and we'll have to take blood samples from 100,000 relatives to match them up. So it's a huge programme of matching, we match them through a computer but at the moment we're producing tens and I think soon even hundreds of identifications per week which is a fantastic rate of progress.

DAVID FROST: That's great news yes, hang on for a moment we'll just go to the news headlines.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST: And many, many thanks to you, thank you very much for being with us, we always enjoy the pleasure. Thank you very much indeed. Next week we'll be back of course when we hope to be talking to the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, not because of what's just happened, we've arranged it in advance, but until Alex Ferguson top of the morning, good morning.

END

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