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INTERVIEW WITH DR JOHN REID, MP LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
APRIL 27, 2003
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: All politics is local, as the American politician, the legendary Tip O'Neill once said, and despite claims that Baghdad bounce for Labour standing in the polls, that's especially true this week with local council elections across England and Scotland. It's a key test for all the parties halfway through Labour's second term. Last week we spoke to the Liberal Democrats, you remember, Simon Hughes was here, and in a moment or two we'll be talking to the Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, but right now I'm joined by the Leader of the House, Labour's John Reid. Always good to have you with us John.
JOHN REID: Thank you very much.
DAVID FROST: Let's quickly start with a review of the papers today - a second review, we did one earlier - but this story has built from yesterday's Guardian about the Cabinet, various members of the Cabinet saying "we'd have quit for you too, Tony" that when Tony revealed, Tony Blair revealed in his Sun interview that he'd made preparations if he lost the debate over the war that he would step down and so on, had you made that pledge the same way as Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon and David Blunkett? Had you planned to step down if he stepped down?
JOHN REID: Well I think that anything I said to the prime minister, which he knows, is, is private. There's a general -
DAVID FROST: You don't have to tell me what you said.
JOHN REID: All right - as a general statement there are times in life when you have to do the right thing, even if that is the potential loss of your own career, or temporary loss of political support, and I worked on the basis on all these issues that when you do that you know the consequences. And I think that the one who showed the real courage for this was the prime minister - was Tony Blair - because he absolutely stuck by what his principles were and as far as I, and I hope others but certainly as far as I was concerned, I gave him the support I did from day one, not just because I'm loyal - I think you should be loyal to the leader - but because I believed it was the right thing to do. And I think singling out people -
DAVID FROST: So you would - regardless of what you said to Tony Blair, which I - you would have followed him if he had resigned?
JOHN REID: I'd have - I believe - look - we're not going to play this game, you know, I was more loyal than somebody else or whatever. If the prime minister takes a position, and you take a position along with him on a matter of life and death, war and peace, then no one does that without thinking through the consequences if the people of this country had decided, ultimately, we don't support you. The interesting thing now is despite all the difficulties, that there is now increasing support and recognition. Even among those who didn't agree with us, that, that probably we did the right thing, they say - 70 per cent, 75 per cent - and it's worth doing the right thing in politics.
DAVID FROST: If I could translate your answer in another way, one could translate your answer as yes.
JOHN REID: Well you can translate any private conservation I had publicly as you wanted.
DAVID FROST: Now tell me, talking of that, there was that time with John Biffen when he was described by Bernard Ingham as a semi-detached member of the government.
JOHN REID: Yeah.
DAVID FROST: Is Clare Short a semi-detached member of the government now?
JOHN REID: Well first of all, I think it was Ian Gilmour who was described as semi-detached but you may be right -
DAVID FROST: I bet you it was John Biffen.
JOHN REID: Well it may well have been John Biffen but we have members of the government, unlike the Conservatives, we don't have semi-detached members, and I don't like commenting on any individual member. But you have raised one member - just let's remember that Clare Short has made, in my view, a marvellous success of the portfolio that she had. She played a very important role in a number of key occasions - for instance in Kosovo - and she has been very active in bringing in humanitarian aid to the poor people of Iraq itself.
DAVID FROST: So you'd expect her to be in that job in a year's time?
JOHN REID: I never comment on reshuffles because I don't know where I'm going to be in a year's time.
DAVID FROST: Nobody thought you would be chairman of the party.
JOHN REID: As you well know, I don't know where I'm going to be in a week's time. I've now had six positions and I'm privileged and honoured to have played a role in the Labour government, so I'm better just to regard myself rather than to comment on any of my colleagues, but I think that all of my colleagues are doing an excellent job.
Not because I would be expected to say that but I believe that if you look at the opinion polls, over the past six years, and you look at the way people's lives have changed in terms of local services, in terms of standards of living, that we have made a real contribution. We've still got a lot to do but
DAVID FROST: And council taxes have gone up 12.9 per cent in the last year.
JOHN REID: The interesting thing is they've gone up 60 per cent more in Conservative authorities - and we've got to ask why - than they have in Labour authorities. And what people, your viewers will want to know is what did the government give local authorities, and the truth is that in this settlement, for the first time ever in the history of this country, every single local authority - every single one - got an above inflation increase.
Indeed in the past four years, the past six years since we've come into power, there has been a 25 per cent increase in real terms from central government to local authorities. Contrast that with the Conservatives, their last four years there was a seven per cent cut. So central government has certainly been playing its role and if you look at local authorities, the average household council tax under Labour is eight hundred, under the Liberals is nine hundred and under the Conservatives is well over a thousand pounds.
DAVID FROST: And at the same time, let's come on to George Galloway. George Galloway, if as you were pounding the pavements this week, George Galloway had called up and said he'd like to join you and help the cause, what would you have said?
JOHN REID: Well we've made our view plain on the politics that George Galloway has espoused over Iraq and international affairs. There is no need to do this privately, publicly, from the prime minister down, we disassociated ourselves from his political position. Indeed, some of the things he said resulted in so many complaints that I said a few weeks ago, when I was still party chairman, that these would have to be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.
Now that's quite separate from the last batch of allegations. I don't know the truth of them and I work on the basis, as all reasonable people do, that someone is innocent until proven guilty. It looks as though there may well be enquiries through court proceedings or the appropriate authorities inside the Labour Party, so I certainly don't intend to make any comment on that at all, David. I don't think you would expect me to. But they are serious allegations and I have no doubt that there will be serious investigations.
DAVID FROST: So, but you wouldn't want to be seen on a platform with him?
JOHN REID: Well it - I have no problem in being seen with a member of the Labour Party on issues where I agree with them. But, I mean it will not come as a surprise to you to know that on the international affairs, on the comments that he's made, not only do I disagree with him, I think some of his comments were disgraceful.
DAVID FROST: And what about -
JOHN REID: And I say that as someone who has worked with George for, you know, 20, 20, perhaps 25 years.
DAVID FROST: And what about this coming election? Everyone agrees that you're going to - indeed, I think Ian McCartney virtually admitted it this week too, that you're going to lose seats in this election, the question is how many I guess.
JOHN REID: Well there's no doubt it's a very hard challenge for us, not least, not just because we're a government in mid term but more importantly because we start from such a high base.
There are 10,000 seats throughout the country, in England at least, up for challenge, the Conservatives start from a very low base, I mean whatever figures they put out, Iain Duncan Smith and the Conservatives know that just to stand still they have to get between 500 and a 1000 seats. Indeed, to do as well as William Hague did, and he was not regarded as extremely successful, Iain Duncan Smith would have to win a thousand seats from us.
And if he doesn't, I've no doubt that will be talks of regime change in other arenas other than the international arena. In Scotland, there's a different issue there and the interesting thing about your programme, it was worth coming on today just to hear John Swinney - I don't think I've ever heard a nationalist try so hard to hide his nationalism.
His little feet were carrying him away from it. And that's because he knows that people in Scotland recognise how deeply unpopular separation and divorce is, and the cost of it terms of instability to the Scottish economy. So we will have challenging elections but we're concentrating on the important fundamental issues, more teachers, more doctors, more nurses and coming down hard on antisocial behaviour, and we'll continue to do that.
DAVID FROST: John thank you very much indeed for being with us, it's always a pleasure.
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