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Breakfast with Frost
Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith MP, Conservative party leader
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: IAIN DUNCAN SMITH MP LEADER OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY NOVEMBER 10TH, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: Well we said there, it's been a turbulent week which is probably putting it mildly for Iain Duncan Smith who's here with us today. Tell us Iain if you had this past week over again would you have done anything differently in terms of the vote in the House of Commons etc?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Morning David.

DAVID FROST: Good morning, good morning.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: No I'm not a great believer in getting back over things and saying if only, or if, or buts because I don't think we actually get anywhere on that. But what I did this week was not only about the vote on Monday, my warning to the party which I believe, by the way, has worked and the party has come back together, both the MPs and also many, many Association Chairmen have shown the party wants the party to unite and focus on Labour and not on inner workings of itself. And so this was about what's been going on for some week, you know the drip drip drip, the rows with each other, rows about the leadership whatever, you know it happened to four years of William's leadership and it's happened before and we've just got to stop it and decide once and for all whether we really want to get back into government and if we do it's got to be a focus on Labour and bring the policies that we had at the conference to the fore.

DAVID FROST: But I mean Ken Clarke for instance said it would be much easier to unite as a party, as he, you know, as a party if Iain Duncan Smith would refrain from imposing three line whips on subjects which have always been left to the judgement of individual MPs?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well this was a specific issue and it was a whip quite deliberately, after consultation with colleagues and with the Shadow Cabinet, which allowed colleagues who were uneasy about the particular issue to be slipped and that was the whole point, it was, the purpose of the whip was about the issue, whether or not we felt the government was wrong to allow this to happen, ie to say that there should be gay or heterosexual unmarried couple adoption without having changed the law about those unmarried relationships. Because the key problem was always what happens if they break up, who takes responsibility for the child and the children go straight back into care, that was always the single biggest problem. So, but it wasn't actually about Monday, the whole point was, this was about a whole process and simply saying look we have an opportunity, a chance, government is failing, you know in health care, in education and, and also in law and order, they're showing their failure but we need to get onto a front foot on them.

DAVID FROST: But you attempted I gather, you were thinking of taking away the whip from the eight people who voted against?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: No, no. There's been no, there's been no temptation at all in that respect.

DAVID FROST: Would you take away the whip in the future of people who vote against you?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Oh I'm not going to talk David, honestly about the tactics and inner workings of the party. I mean that's, no prime minister in the past, no leader has ever done. My point has been very simply this and this is why I did it. On Friday a week ago I was up in Glasgow and I met there families of people who had lost their sons through drug abuse. I was the first Conservative to actually go into Gallowgate a really tough area and their response to our policy which was to give rehabilitation to drug addicts and also to say to them if you don't take that you'll go inside. They said that's exactly what they want and we were the first politicians ever to come up with something which could have saved their sons and help rebuild their communities. And I thought that is what we need to be talking about and every time we get on to those sort of subjects we end up with noises off from Westminster and we want to...

DAVID FROST: So that, so that you have said and you say this absolutely clearly, under no circumstances could you be persuaded to resign before the next election?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I was elected by an overwhelming majority of the party to lead the party through to the next election and get us into government and I genuinely feel we have a fantastic opportunity. Let me give you an example, just before the Edwina Currie revelations were broke, as you recall, we were actually at our best poll rating that we had been for probably about seven years, we were five points behind Labour with a very good chance of going into the conference where we had, as you saw, a great conference, best probably for ten or 15 years, instead of which we had a reminder of all the problems there had been in the past and we found our poll, rating fall.

DAVID FROST: And you're down to 28 this morning apparently?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: The margin is much not different than we where we were up to the conference.

DAVID FROST: So you're saying that if the 25 Conservative Party MPs voted for, petitioned for a vote of confidence you wouldn't step aside, you would fight that vote of confidence and hope to win it?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: David it's not...

DAVID FROST: Is that right?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: It's just not going to happen...

DAVID FROST: It might?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: No it's not going to happen, it's not going to happen because my colleagues in long discussions and all through last week and the last couple of weeks actually accept the fact that what we've got to do is get on to win the next election and no individual that is kicking around in the House of Commons or anywhere else is going to change or vary that as an individual. The key thing that the public wants, they want to know the Conservative Party has an alternative to a failing government and at the conference we launched the most radical and the most advanced programme of change for health service, education and for law and order...I really want to sell that.

DAVID FROST: But the reason you said unite or die and so on, presumably was the thing you said yesterday, quoted yesterday in the Telegraph where you said that the Conservative Party at this moment is in the biggest hole since the party was formed, certainly in modern times, that's the scale of your problem, yes?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well I think the scale of the problem is already obvious to everybody, the question is why and how do we get out of it and the why is that the party itself allows the media to focus in on the party the whole time. For us the objective must be the focus on Labour, let's look at last week for example. Labour, 18 people on Monday rebelled against their own party, in the Lords they lost the asylum bill and had to give in to us because vast numbers of Labour peers voted against them. In the House they were voting against them. My point is for the media and Westminster they don't report that, that's major, that's government bills being lost and legislation falling but they focus in on the Conservatives and we have to accept the fact that if we can show a united front they won't be able to report that story and they have to report the Labour story and now we see the government in disarray. That's got to be our purpose, our purpose as a party is to focus on the Labour Party and to show there is a real alternative and I do believe this government is failing in a dramatic way.

DAVID FROST: In terms of the plea for loyalty, for unity and so on, people point out that it's a bit difficult for you to say that because of the number of times, was it 40 or more, you voted against your own Conservative government under John Major?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I don't, I'm the last person to say to anybody and I don't, I don't, and I never will that if you have a principle matter that I do not respect that. I absolutely respect that and people's right to do that providing obviously it's carried out with decency and we don't attack the individuals in the party or the party itself. Every party will always have those problems, we are not absolutely and utterly unified in every single dot or comma but what there must be at the end of the day is a real sense that we contain that within the party and try and focus on Labour. We have such a good story to tell at the moment David, we've had the best set of policies that I've seen for a long time uniting all sides of the party on health, on education and on law and order.

DAVID FROST: But when you, on the other hand Iain, when you see Michael Portillo says we should aspire to governing Britain as she is not Britain as she was, and then Norman Tebbit here, formerly of Chingford, of course last Sunday was saying Iain has got to be careful not to become detached from the people who made him leader and so on. It does look, when you look at an issue like adoption this week, as though that gap has widened between the traditionalists and the modernisers and that you're going to have to opt for one or the other and the gap may be unbridgeable?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I don't see it like that, I think...

DAVID FROST: I thought you mightn't...

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: David I don't see it like that for one major reason, I think the Conservative Party has always faced these sort of difficulties and what the Conservative Party does is arrives at the sort of conclusion that most of the public would, which is that they don't actually make huge and major issues out of these things, what they do is find a compromise, a solution through it, that's what we're doing. One of the issues that we'll cover will be the issue of Section 28, we accept that, we understand the government want to play games with that, my answer to my party is let's look at the principle of it, let's see if it's possible to apply that, maybe a different way of applying it or even leaving it the same. We'll discuss that and we'll take it forward.

DAVID FROST: Could you, could you possibly leave that to a free vote?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I'm not going to give you indications right now of what we're going to be doing but I will say this to you that that is an issue which I'm looking at, I'm looking with my colleagues, David Davies and co, but this week I didn't not think at that time there was anything other than a real point about children in care, how do you support and protect them and the vast majority of the party agreed. But it wasn't about that, the is now the party must focus on Labour and we must show that we have a real alternative. You know when I was in Glasgow and I was really, really moved to find parents who actually for the first time ever said we've never seen a Conservative politician in this area but if you follow those sort of policies we would even seriously think about voting for you - because they feel the government has failed them and the more we talk about the Conservative Party the more switched off they are. No one out there is interested in who did what to whom in Westminster politics.

DAVID FROST: And in, in the point of having to rise to your latest challenge, they all said how important your speech would be at the party conference, but now everyone says the Queen's speech speech after that is absolutely crucial, does that, do your relish that or do you feel under pressure or do you feel hounded by all of these media stories?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I think almost every political leader is always told that the next speech they make is the most crucial one...

DAVID FROST: Of their career?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Of their career and you've interviewed enough leaders of various parties David to know that. No I relish it, I came into politics to, to be able to make a Conservative process work in government, to improve the quality of people's lives and I intend to do that and at the Queen's speech you will see our criticism of why the government is failing, why they will not succeed and why there really, really now is an alternative and over the next three years we want to present that alternative as a cohesive and united party.

DAVID FROST: Because if there was an election tomorrow the result would probably be on the basis of those polls there, just as bad as last time or worse?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well we are a year and a half away from the last election and anybody that thinks waving a magic wand over a party that's been in decline for the last ten or more years I think is living in the wrong world. What I have to do and what we've been doing over the last eight months is steadily rebuilding the policy making process, rebuilding the structure of the party. At the conference you saw a platform of policy which most people thought we could not have arrived at this early. The public doesn't know about those policies yet, I mean they weren't sitting watching avidly on their screens for conference. Now they need to know and we need to get out and sell that and show there's an alternative. That's the way to reduce the poll gap and to eventually overtake Labour.

DAVID FROST: One way of reducing the poll gap though, in the paper today, was that Ken Clarke as leader, allegedly, would take the Conservative vote from 29 to 35?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well I just saw a Ugov poll which said Ken Clarke had about a point difference on it. So we can play games with, with polls David, as you know and I know, it's a complete and total waste of time to do that, the reality is the public essentially is saying you would not be any better no matter who was leader unless we understand why you should be in power. As I said before the conference we had a poll gap of five points and we were at 35 so the idea that suddenly it's going to change, it will not, it will only change if British people look at us and say there's a party that believes in itself, that has a clear sense of an alternative, that alternative will improve the quality of my life, I will get better health treatment, my children get better education, law and order will be sorted out on the streets and their taxes will not be so high. These are the sort of things that we have to present and a believe in our nation and we can do it if we stay united and focus on Labour, not on ourselves.

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

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Thank you.

DAVID FROST: We appreciate it. And we know you've got to go off now to the Service at 11 and thank you for being with us this morning.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: A pleasure.

DAVID FROST: Iain Duncan Smith.

END

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