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Breakfast with Frost
Lord Tebbit
Lord Tebbit, former cabinet minister and Conservative party chairman
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: LORD TEBBIT NOVEMBER 3rd, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: Now is there a plot to oust the Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith? One of his own lieutenants has admitted there is turmoil in the party. In a moment I'll be talking to Norman Tebbit, the former cabinet minister and party chairman, whose Chingford seat Mr Duncan Smith, of course, now occupies. The political pages of newspapers have been dominated by speculation over Mr Duncan Smith's future all week. Today there's more, with even the Tory-supporting Sunday Telegraph sporting a call from former editor-in-chief Max Hastings, calling on the Tory leader to go now. Mr Duncan Smith himself has dismissed stories of a possible challenge to his leadership as Westminster gossip and flim-flam. He insists he'll carry on with his strategy. But some on the right are concerned that IDS has been swayed by the modernisers within the party and they're particularly anxious about the chairman's year zero possibly of effectively disowning previous Tory policies.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST: Norman Tebbit's here now - had you heard people calling the Conservative Party the nasty party?

LORD TEBBIT: No. No. I think that's a misjudgement.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of Iain Duncan Smith, he's under fire, as we've read in all the papers this week, do you - he has your support still, but do you think mistakes have been made?

LORD TEBBIT: Yes, to both questions. One thing you have to recollect is that all opposition leaders are permanently under threat until they've won a general election - that's what they're there for. And if you look at Iain's inheritance, as opposed to Margaret Thatcher's, it's very different. Back in '74, '75 time, Margaret Thatcher had around her a shadow cabinet of really big figures, well known figures - Peter Carrington, Keith Joseph, Jim Prior - people of that quality and size. Iain's got almost nobody left who's ever been in government before - so that's a great disadvantage. And back in those late Seventies, the rules of parliamentary procedure favoured the opposition much more than they do now, and of course we had a government with a small majority, whereas Iain's facing one with a majority of 180 or something. So he's got a very, very difficult job to do.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of, like the nasty quote and so on, I mean in terms of, you regret the way in which he has moved towards the centre, in a way, and deserted some of his old positions - whether it's on Europe or social issues or so on?

LORD TEBBIT: I don't think he has deserted old positions. What he's done is to play the thing long and to say, look, people were bored with us, people are really quite well off, quite comfortable, their mortgages are low, they are in work and they're not terribly interested in politics at that stage. But the things they are interested in, of course, are the failure of the health service, which is virtually collapsed in many places, in many ways, education systems and crime - and social welfare, problems like drugs, which associate with crime. So Iain said let's see if we can get policies on those which people think are relevant and interesting. If we can they will then listen to us about the other issues. And I think that's right, but he has to be careful not to become detached from the people who made him leader.

DAVID FROST: And you said that people are not that ... are not that fascinated by more women MPs, more gay MPs -

LORD TEBBIT: No, no, they don't -

DAVID FROST: - more ethnic MPs, and ...

LORD TEBBIT: No. No. They don't give a damn. They're just not interested in that sort of thing. They are interested in their schools, their hospitals, whether they're going to be mugged and things of that kind - and there's also a passionate group of people who are interested in Europe. And I think if we've had a failure recently, it is that we haven't connected the European issue with the public services. For example, in Germany now, the German government knows that it can't spend as much as it would like because it's been hit by the growth and stability pact - a curious name for it - because they're in the euro and they're not masters of their own economy. Now I think we should be making a point that if we were in the euro we would be hit in exactly the same way.

DAVID FROST: Well the thing is that, that in fact Europe is such a strong issue, you think, for the Conservatives, that they shouldn't bury it as much as they've been doing?

LORD TEBBIT: I think we should connect it with the other issues and say to people well look, if we do get into this mess any further, we're going to find that the chancellor is being told by the boys in Brussels what he can do. Interest rates will be fixed by them, the chancellor will be told no you can't spend as much as that and therefore public services may well suffer.

DAVID FROST: And there's this story today in the Telegraph - you probably saw Norman - I refuse to quit, IDS tells shadow cabinet - and that some of the shadow cabinet are going to rebel against the three line whip and vote with Labour MPs to allow unmarried and homosexual couples to adopt children. That's including three or four cabinet ministers, allegedly. Is that sending the wrong signals?

LORD TEBBIT: I think it is, it's sending two signals which are wrong in my judgement. One is that the cabinet, the shadow cabinet, is, is not as united as it should be, and the other, that those members have got the issue wrong as far as the great mass of people out there are concerned. If you go down to the pub and you say to people, do you think that homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt children - oh boy, I can tell you the answer now. So they're out of tune with the public in that sense. The other problem which Iain has is that this peculiar group who've infiltrated the party - and some of them in quite influential positions, not just elected positions but in central office - who are what I call, if you can imagine such a thing, right wing Trotsky-ites - they behave like Trots.

DAVID FROST: Right.

LORD TEBBIT: And the Trots nearly wrecked the Labour Party, and these people are doing the same thing. That was the attack on me -

DAVID FROST: By the movement?

LORD TEBBIT: Yes, the attack on me was not because I matter - I'm a semi-retired, elderly backbench peer. The attack was to try and get Iain seen as being remote from the people that elected him and the people who support him.

DAVID FROST: Steve Norris said today that there was a real possibility, although of course he hoped it wouldn't happen, that the Lib-Dems would overcome the Tories and become the official opposition. Are there any circumstances in which that could happen?

LORD TEBBIT: Well, anything can happen anywhere in the world but I have to say it's one of Steve's more childish utterances, which I think he would have been wise not to have made.

DAVID FROST: And the Mail on Sunday claims that Michael Portillo, who forswore any ambitions to the leadership when he was here, that he would stand if a hundred MPs backed him.

LORD TEBBIT: Well, I doubt if they would, so that's an end to that one, isn't it? But the point is that there are a group of people whom I've mentioned, they are mainly what are called Portileesters in their agenda. Now neither Michael Portillo nor Ken Clarke are involved in any plotting against Iain Duncan Smith - that is absolutely clear. They would not only not do it, they would be mad to do it. But there is no doubt whatsoever that this Portileester agenda is there and also so are a lot of europhiles who would like the party to join Labour in its European policy. Now I think they would both be mistakes, and they're certainly both minority groups within the party. I think they should just get behind Iain, row in and help him to succeed.

DAVID FROST: With all this fuss going on, and there's a line from Matthew Ancona here somewhere, that in today's Conservative Party a loyalist is someone who is prepared to give the leader another six months - are you confident, absolutely confident, that Iain will lead the party into the next election?

LORD TEBBIT: Well, if you'd said to me in 1975, are you absolutely confident that Margaret Thatcher will lead the party into the next election, I would have said to you, it depends how things go. And of course Iain knows that perfectly well.

DAVID FROST: It depends how things go.

LORD TEBBIT: I believe that the party has no appetite for another bloodletting session, during which time the government - which is the worst government we've ever seen, a bunch of incompetents, liars and malcontents - gets away with murder. So I think Iain will be there.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much Norman, we've got to go to the news headlines.

INTERVIEW ENDS

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