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Breakfast with Frost
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy
"If you're not in there with the building bricks, no wonder the ground rules don't suit us"
Interview with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, on Sunday 08 June 2003.

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

DAVID FROST: Well 20 years ago tomorrow three young men strode with their heads held high, who will all have remarkable impact on British politics. They entered the House of Commons for the first time. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, two inseparable new backbenchers were elected to Westminster as part of the 1983 intake. Initially junior members of the party led by Neil Kinnock, both were to have a meteoric rise. But the baby of them all, in '83, was young Charles Kennedy, aged just 23 he was Britain's youngest MP.

[CLIP] DAVID FROST: Well there it is, that was 20 years ago Charles. What did you think of that shot there?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Appalling. Absolutely appalling. Can we now have an edition of That Was The Week That Was, please? What do you think? I mean, you know, as a sage judge you're in the know, the Rod Stewart song, you know, did I wear it well, do you think in the intervening period?

DAVID FROST: Yes. I think, I think you've done very well. I think today you only look a mere ten or 11 years older than you did there - not 20.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Not 20. You flatter. You flatter.

DAVID FROST: And so you're on the road now -

CHARLES KENNEDY: I'll get you to vote Liberal Democrat yet, you know.

DAVID FROST: Eventually. Eventually. But two-fifths of the way, two-fifths of the way, only 30 years to go to break Ted Heath's record -

CHARLES KENNEDY: Become a Father of the House.

DAVID FROST: Father of the House. Fifty years in the House of Commons, another 30 years in the House of Commons - that's pretty exciting isn't it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Uh, yes I think it is. I mean it's, it's - I've had a week of nostalgia, as you would imagine, with this 20th anniversary coming up.

DAVID FROST: But nostalgia isn't what it used to be, as they always say. Have you had a good week?

CHARLES KENNEDY: I've had a very good week and we're just coming up to our first wedding anniversary as well, so the, you know, the whole set up is extremely happy but - I don't know. You know, I was thinking about this interview, you know, because I've been asked a lot of questions in the last week about what's it like? You know, 20 years, you were 23, now you're 43, etcetera, etcetera, party leader, all that sort of stuff.

I think like yourself, actually, and I'm not trying to put you on the spot here, but if you do think of That Was The Week That Was and the whole Sixties burst of change that took place in society and then I think well 20 years after that I got into the Commons, 83, and 20 years after that here I am the two of us are talking this morning, um, society has changed immensely. I mean you had a fundamental influence on the whole society change that took place in that era.

DAVID FROST: But the society change, it has been phenomenal too, in life styles and -

CHARLES KENNEDY: Totally.

DAVID FROST: When I was growing up, I was not aware, for instance, of a divorced person, much less an illegitimate child. I mean they were unheard of in the small towns of England.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Indeed. And, you know, the way in which society is changing, in some ways for the better, some ways I suppose for the worse, I don't know, but the, it seems to me that when I first came into the House of Commons 20 years ago, the very thing that held us back, as a political force, the SDP, the Liberals, then the Alliance, now today the Liberal Democrats, that the fluidity of society is such that, you know, somebody will now vote for me, for the local MP, will vote for the Scottish National Party for the Scottish parliament, they will vote for Ken Livingstone for the mayor of London, they might be quite happy to see Tony Blair get his second term as prime minister a couple of years ago, and they won't see any contradiction in that at all.

The days when everybody said well we all live in the same council estate, we all work at the same factory, we all vote Labour, or we all live in the stockbroker belt and we're true blue and we all vote Conservative - those days are gone and I think politics and society is much more exciting.

DAVID FROST: Were you aware, did you spot, did you all spot each other's potential in 83? Did you see those two young men, Brown and Blair, and think they're headed for the top? Or did you think one of them was more likely to be prime minister than the other?

CHARLES KENNEDY: I certainly thought - we're friends and I certainly thought that both were, without any shadow of a doubt, headed for the top. That was clear.

The funny thing was, the strange thing was, that you always thought - well I certainly always thought - it must be difficult being Tony Blair, because he's always going to be the number two to Gordon Brown. And it changed, just like that, when John Smith suddenly, tragically died.

DAVID FROST: Absolutely. Almost overnight, didn't it? Almost.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

DAVID FROST: Well talking of Gordon Brown, what are you expecting to hear from him tomorrow? But what would you like to hear from him? Start with what you would like and then go on to what you're expecting.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well what I would like is pretty straightforward. I mean I would like a referendum on British entry into a single European currency and be done with it. And I think you can win the argument, because the argument, it seems to me, is clear cut. But what I think we'll hear is that no, not yet, and that we're leaving open the option for a referendum, possibly in the course of this parliament.

Therefore what I'd like to see the Chancellor do is to emphasise, and Gordon is somebody who likes to be in control of things - and that's a very good facet of his character in politics - I would like to see him assert control of the issue. And that means that let's have a paving bill for a possible referendum, even in principle, with the House of Commons deciding at a later stage what should happen. Let's invite the consumer interests, the business interests, to decide whether or not they want to go into dual pricing in the shops.

Now I don't want to put unnecessary implications on small businesses that have to dual price everything, particularly when the pound is floating up and down and that would cause difficulties obviously - practical difficulties - but I would like to see people in our country getting used to the idea that they can compare prices, have a standardisation with the euro in terms of the pound.

So all these things could be done. I hope that we'll get some positive messages because what business and commerce and the industrial sector is saying is look, whether we're for or against this in principle, what we need to know is what's going to happen.

And that is what has got to be cleared up tomorrow and I hope very much that Gordon in his statement in the House of Commons tomorrow will be able to do that.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the future? I mean do you think, do you think we will be in the euro by, by the time of your 40th anniversary?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well I hope so. I hope so. I mean the history of Britain in regards of the European Union, the European Community, the Common Market, you know, go back through all its various facades over the years, is simply this: that we've tended to say as a country, well that won't work, that won't happen, it's nothing to do with us and then eventually we have to sign up, then we spend the next the 25 years complaining about the fact that the ground rules don't suit us.

Well, if you're not in there with the building bricks, no wonder the ground rules don't suit us. And I just hope that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are not about to commit that cardinal error, yet again, where the single currency is concerned.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Charles. Thank you for being with us this morning and congratulations again and we'll see you on your 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries.

CHARLES KENNEDY: I look forward to seeing you in all those too.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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