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Breakfast with Frost
Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy MP
Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy MP
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: CHARLES KENNEDY, MP LIBERAL DEMOCRATS LEADER FEBRUARY 9th, 2003

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

DAVID FROST: The United States has made it clear that Saddam is facing his last chance to disarm, or to face an attack. The momentum for war seems to be building. There's American and British forces already massing in the Gulf; a few days ago the Defence Secretary announced a big deployment of the RAF and opinion polls suggest the majority of people here believe troops shouldn't be sent into action without the specific authorisation of the United Nations in a second resolution. Now one of the leading advocates of that view in parliament is the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, who when he was here a couple of weeks ago was expressing considerable doubts about the way things are being run, and if one reads the things that you've been saying since, it looks as though you're disquiet has grown rather than the reverse.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Mm.

DAVID FROST: And if I may quote to you, Charles, "Kennedy's moment. But where is the Lib-Dem leader? This ought to be a Charles Kennedy moment, he leads a party which officially supports next week's protest. He's spoken out in parliament and interviews for a different approach on Iraq. By any normal standards of political engagement, Mr Kennedy ought therefore to be on the platform at Hyde Park next Saturday. This is a terrible mistake, an extraordinary mistake, for him not to be there. And it's a chance to matter in the scheme of things. A chance to make a difference, a chance to speak for a nation that is interested in him going to make a sacrifice." Where is Charles Kennedy? The answer is he's here.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

DAVID FROST: What do you think about that call to arms from your trade paper, the Guardian.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well I'm not sure that the Guardian would be happy with the description of being the Liberal Democrat trade paper -

DAVID FROST: No.

CHARLES KENNEDY: - although we have a degree of commonality on things over the course of the years. But, no, as concerns the peace march itself, personally speaking I'd be very happy to participate in that. As a matter of fact I've not been formally invited, and I would want to make the Liberal Democrat case, which is the pro-United Nations case. It is not anti-war, come what may, because as a last resort, if Kofi Annan, if Dr Blix, come back in the course of the next week or two weeks and say well there is clearly material breaches, there is clearly an unwillingness to cooperate on the part of Saddam Hussein, military recourse is the only resort left to us, then I think that we will have to heed that call. But we are not there yet so - I will happily be on that march and make our case.

DAVID FROST: You'll happily be on that march. CHARLES KENNEDY: ...

DAVID FROST: And make your case. And be on that march.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes. But we will not, like other major demonstrations of this type, I mean you think of the Countryside Alliance for example, I was quite happy to participate in that, despite being somebody who has, in parliamentary terms over the years, voted to ban fox hunting, but there were plenty of other points that needed to be made. Well I think that this is the same expression of disquiet on behalf of the nation as a whole, which is quite legitimate to support.

DAVID FROST: So that in fact that is the key to the march. It is to make tangible disquiet.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes. And I think what it is to pose the questions, which we have, as a party and which I personally have been trying to do in parliament, pose the question that people are asking. They are asking what is the veracity, what is the tangible nature of the evidence that is being presented here. What are the alternative options that could be pursued? If we fight this war - and I think that your colleagues that you were just talking with are absolutely correct, we would undoubtedly win it given the condition within Iraq and so on and so forth - once we prosecute such a war, what are we going to do about the peace? Who are we going to put in power? Who is going to police it? What is going to be the role of the British forces involved? Now we have not had adequate or sufficient answers to those questions.

DAVID FROST: The answers to those questions about what's going to happen afterwards, and that vital point, Colin Powell is the one who says the most important thing is to know how to end a war, the answers have been in fact very vague. We're still talking about that, we're still discussing that, and so on - which one would have thought was one of the first subjects to be discussed ... our campaign objectives are - but that is something that troubles you.

CHARLES KENNEDY: And a lot of military commanders share that sense of trouble, because they want clear instructions, and I don't think that the British House of Commons, or the British government, is fulfilling its purpose properly unless it issues clear guidelines with objectives, I don't think that's fair on the military personnel who are, as we speak, being deployed and will be risking their lives.

DAVID FROST: And at the same time also, the questions that we've been putting here and you've been putting in the House of Commons, the area, the other area in terms of this, is what exactly is the command structure and will in fact British troops be taking their orders from American generals. I mean I think the answer to that is, probably, yes. But again -

CHARLES KENNEDY: I think the answer to that is probably yes too. But the answer to that has not been forthcoming and I've posed it on more than one occasion to Tony Blair directly on the floor of the House of Commons.

DAVID FROST: So what is going wrong at the moment then? Do you think that some of these documents we had, that the farce this week of the document that came, a 12 year old document and so on, what, what's gone wrong so far?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well I think that the essential problem in all of this is a clear sense of what the political will is. The Prime Minister appears to be - and he's been going to some considerable efforts in parliament and on the media in the course of this week - to state his case - now I don't doubt his sincerity for one moment but he seems to be saying that we can, as a country, at one and the same time, pursue the United Nations line, which has been our argument as a party all along, but at the same time you have President Bush saying the game is essentially up, time has gone, we've made the call, and that Britain will, regardless, go along with the American administration. Now those are not consistent arguments. They are inconsistent with each other and I think that we need more clarity from the Prime Minister. I think that's what the country wants.

DAVID FROST: Well we'd had - I mean he has made himself available in Q&A sessions, and again on Thursday and so on, he has made himself remarkably available really, but he still hasn't said what you want to hear - is that the point?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well he's put forward a sincere case. I don't doubt Tony Blair's personal sincerity or conviction in all of this, but I don't think that he's put forward, as yet, a persuasive case. And that is what people in this country are looking for. They're looking for hard facts, good evidence, concrete persuasiveness as to how we are going to go about this as a country - and we're not there yet.

DAVID FROST: And coming back to the Guardian, "Mr Kennedy will wait a lifetime for an opportunity like this. If he fails to rise to his moment, then Mr Kennedy can hardly complain if those who might be tempted to support the Liberal Democrats fail to do so when he wants them." A lifetime for an opportunity like this?

CHARLES KENNEDY: What I've been saying, and what we are saying as a political party, is what we believe. We're doing it because we think it's the correct case to put forward in front of British public opinion. What we're not going to do is to do things just for the sake of opinion polls or the vagaries of public opinions. If you stand by what you believe, you put forward your case rationally and persuasively, I think you win respect. That's what we've been doing, that's what we're going to ...

CHARLES KENNEDY: And we hope it won't rain for you on the day of the march. Charles Kennedy, who is going to the march - thank you very much indeed Charles.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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