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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 June, 2004, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Interview with John Prescott, MP
On Sunday, 13 June 2004, Sir David Frost interviewed John Prescott, MP, Deputy Prime Minister

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

John Prescott, MP
John Prescott, MP, Deputy Prime Minister

DAVID FROST: By 11 o'clock tonight we'll have a fuller picture of the outcome of Thursday's vote as the Euro votes are counted tonight and everyone's predicting startling gains for UKIP - gains that will probably embarrass all the main parties.

But let's turn right now to the deputy prime minister John Prescott. Top of the morning.

You used a clever word when saying that you got a kicking, because on the one hand it was sort of admitting it had been a blow but kicking leads to bruises, bruises are temporary.

How long do you think the effects of this kicking will be felt?

JOHN PRESCOTT: The kicking was done in an interview where the journalist before me, Peter Kilmer, said we'd had a kicking and I said well I agree with an awful lot what Peter said, so it became my word - kicking. But look, let's, let's face, this isn't a meltdown.

First of all let's be clear, this is the best turnout in an election we've had for about 12 years, and that was because we had postal ballots. All -

DAVID FROST: All right, we'll come back to them in a minute.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes but we've done that. Secondly, it's not a meltdown. I mean when you consider the Tories lost 2000 seats just before we won that election in 1997, they've been recovering some of them, we lost 800 last year, four hundred and I think 60 this year, they're taking some of those seats back but not Tories, in the main they're Liberals. So this isn't a meltdown situation, this is a situation whereas we had before Howard has got 38 per cent, they've had good results before this, they've seen it, and then gone on to lose the election.

And our job is to keep our nerve, as Tony says, to get our case across, because the exit polls show us that health and education and the jobs and the economy are still the issues that people are concerned with, and when we get to the general election they will dominate. So I believe we'll go on, fight that election and do very well, in my view with it, but you've got to keep the trust of the people.

DAVID FROST: But at the same time we do have a situation, you broke the records for a governing party coming in third and all that. How much of the blame for that do you put on Iraq? The effects of Iraq at this time.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think - there's no doubt those of us have been in campaigning and the Prime Minister's said, said it was a shadow over this election. I've no doubt that Iraq did have that part.

There's been a lot of protest go on and I think a lot of it has been associated with it. Look at all the fuss that was made about the fuel prices going to go up in this election, and then they fell down quite sharply, and in those circumstances a lot of fuss was made about it. I'm sure people connected that to Iraq.

And if there was any party in fact who was going to be taking any blame for that, it was indeed the Labour Party and the Labour government. And if you look at the Liberals fought an election, vote for the Liberal candidate or Bush and Blair - they fought it on that. Now I don't know what all these Liberal councils are going to do now - are they going to get together and renegotiate some kind of an agreement?

Blimey they couldn't run the councils in Sheffield, in Hull, and were kicked out after two years. Look, in reality there were a lot of protest. Iraq was one part in it, but one part in it, and we have to take that into account, look at the result and then assess what we have to do.

But at the end of the day I was very encouraged by the BBC exit poll that said to all those people, some of whom who voted against us, they were satisfied with the government's policy on health, on education, on crime and the economy - and after all, you remember years ago in the economy, they used to say the Japanese were better than us, the Americans were better than us, the Germans and the French - absolutely the opposite now because we got a fundamental change in the economy from which we got the money, not paying people to be unemployed but put them into public services. That's the message that we've got to get across.

DAVID FROST: What about the message that Robin Cook divined in all this, that we should never get ourselves involved in a war against the backing of the United Nations and in order to support an American president who is deeply unpopular in Britain. "Tony Blair needs to convey that he understands all that and that he won't do it again." I mean is he about to say that he won't do it again? Do you think you should say you won't do it again?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well Robin was foreign secretary when we were involved in the bombing case of Iraq where there wasn't any United Nations support for it. We've been into Sierra Leone which we saved an awful lot of people from being killed, murdered and maimed in that situation. We also were based in Bosnia and we've just learnt that thousands that would have died in ethnic cleansing.

Now Tony Blair led most of that campaign, often without the UN backing in it, but we certainly, that didn't bring any criticism for us. It was right to do it, we couldn't sit there like in Rwanda and watch these millions of people getting killed in the situation and do nothing.

So this has to be balanced against this, and no doubt the Iraq situation has created difficulty for us, the Prime Minister has made clear it's his judgement, indeed the judgement of the whole Cabinet, that to go on and do what we did in Iraq was the right policy and in the long term will be seen to be so.

DAVID FROST: Yes, but -

JOHN PRESCOTT: After all, the people in Iraq are not asking for Saddam to come back, are they?

DAVID FROST: No, absolutely not. But in the terms of this point though that Robin makes, do you think that the public wants to know they won't get a government that might again back the US rather than the UN?

Now, I mean would we ever again go into action where we were not backed by the UN or do we have to have UN backing now?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think every -

DAVID FROST: Is that - is that one of the lessons?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Every sit - every - every situation has to be judged here so I think we're all delighted that the UN is actively involved, there's now a prime minister in Iraq, there's a council being formed, there's elections in January and the UN are actively involved. Everybody wanted that, though I haven't heard them praise that since we got that policy achieved at the UN.

But the American role and the role that we have with America is going to be still always a very important part of it and we can't get away from that and I think Robin was never off the phone with Madeleine Albright at the time, so he's an active, active advocate of the reality that America is one of the players in the world scene and Britain has become an effective player on the world scene through Tony Blair as our prime minister and America is an important part of that.

DAVID FROST: What about the editorial, John today, in -

JOHN PRESCOTT: What paper's that?

DAVID FROST: This is The Sunday Times. It says Labour ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: I don't normally read it but go on.

DAVID FROST: No. "Labour also deserved a kicking for the postal voting fiasco. The decision to hold an all postal ballot in four large regions was masterminded by Mr Prescott."

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well -

DAVID FROST: "The decision at least in part driven by the feeling that higher turnout would benefit, boost Labour support. The government would claim that the marginally higher turnout justified the experiment but amid allegations of widespread fraud and incompetence and with the Electoral Commission due to start examining the damage this week, that was a large price to pay for undermining the integrity of the electoral process," over to you.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well the allegations, the allegations were often made by The Times and The Sunday Times - let's wait and see what happens. There are some police investigations going on - and by the way they were, many of these allegations were in areas that weren't all postal balloting.

Let us see from the investigation that goes on. I think even The Times is under investigation for actually producing the big results in its paper, I think they're now having to discuss with the Prosecution Office. But look, at the end of the day, we will have an investigation. People made some of these charges in, in 2003 when we had something like 22 per cent of the electorate involved.

The four regions, the reason why we have the four regions, the regional, the Commissioner said three at the end of the day, we added a fourth, which was the North-West, because there is going to be another all postal ballot in the election, which parliament has already agreed to take place in the autumn, for regional government, regional assembly. Now in those circumstances, we didn't want two of the regions out of the three to have a different balloting system, and the North West, for example, have one different election for May and a different process of election in the autumn. It made sense to put them together.

That's what we did and, frankly, over a million odd people more have voted in this election when we get the Euro results it might even be more than that. Surely any good democrat must welcome the fact that a million plus people voted in our elections - the highest turnout for a decade. After all, it's The Times and the papers who have been telling us for years, low turnout means people are disinterested in politics. Well quite frankly, that hasn't been the case this time, has it?

So we've more people interested, more actively involved and as democrat we should welcome that. Allegations about fraud we must condemn without unreservations, we must condemn it. But let the inquiries take place. I've learnt enough from The Sunday Times and the press to know that their first allegations and charges, if not proven, the apologies don't appear, but let's wait and see.

DAVID FROST: Tell me, in London, Ken Livingstone got 30, your old mate Ken Livingstone got 36 per cent, and the Labour candidates averaged 25 per cent. Why do you think Ken Livingstone is so much more popular than the Labour Party in London?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think the, the fact that we brought in a Mayor of London, it was our legislation, in fact I brought it in, has identified one person in a very strong way and I think if you look at the election, it was really in London about whether it was Norris or whether it was going to be Ken Livingstone, and the attention became on that.

And after all, it's the Mayor who's got most of the power in the area rather than the assembly, so that maybe reflected. But at the end of the day, he's done well, he's got elected, he's the Mayor now for the next four years and carrying out a lot of the policies that I originally brought in, like congestion tax, money for the buses, the transport system, so I think get on with it. That's what Tony said, he's carrying out our policies so we can support him.

DAVID FROST: So next election you'll be up there on the hustings with Ken alongside helping you out.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I'll be up there with my pledge card just pointing out how we've delivered and I'm sure now we're going to get into that election, we're going to win that election but we've got to be not be complacent, not take the people for granted, and I'll be up there campaigning for Labour.

DAVID FROST: And what about the old tectonic plates then, are they still moving at the moment?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well that was something that was taken very much out of context, what I was said at that time -

DAVID FROST: I couldn't understand that interview because it looked as though you were urging him to go.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well all these papers were advocating somebody's going to go, somebody was making a statement here, somebody there, and when asked about it I said well you know these people obviously think the plates are moving, I just said plates right, the plates are moving and they want to make statements. And that was then translated by the press into far more than I'd ever intended by it. But that's the press we live with.

DAVID FROST: You think Tony's going to run for the next election.

JOHN PRESCOTT: He's made it clear he's up for winning. He's produced a kind of policy from the Labour Party which I think is the best we've seen for decades. A strong economy, working with Gordon on this, which is very much to the credit of the two of them, and the public investment programme, Tony will be in there, we'll be backing him and with the support of the electorate we'll win obviously ...

DAVID FROST: So Tony hopes he'll win the next election, he'll run the next election, he'll stay for that parliament, but someday Gordon Brown would make a good prime minister, wouldn't he?

JOHN PRESCOTT: [LAUGHS] Now you're getting in -

DAVID FROST: Wouldn't he?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Now you're getting into all - we've got great talent in our party, all of them, many of them could make bids to want to be the prime minister but that isn't the case.

We've got one prime minister, Tony Blair, he'll be leading us into the election and with the support of the people and on our record we'd be justified in expecting to win it, but we have to convince the electorate.

DAVID FROST: But Peter Hain says you could lose.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I haven't read Peter Hain's article. I believe you can win, get on with it and we will win that election, but not to be complacent, not to take the people for granted, and we've a damned good record, full employment, investment in hospitals, health, your BBC exit poll said that's what people want, that's what we're giving them, I'll be up with me pledge cards again.

DAVID FROST: You can't beat a BBC poll, can you? Hang on for a second there for an update on the news headlines.

[NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Well we've just lost the line to Sir Trevor Brooking over there in Portugal and we hope we'll get him back. Luckily we have here somebody we can talk to for hours if we need to.

Actually we only need to talk for four minutes more, John, if the line never comes through to Sir Trevor. Congratulations Sir Trevor, if you can hear me.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yeah, good luck - get in there tonight - even as a Welshman I say that.

DAVID FROST: And we had Scotsmen earlier on saying it, this nation is coming together.

JOHN PRESCOTT: ... united.

DAVID FROST: The nation is coming together. Are we going to send 3000 more troops, as the papers say, to Iraq.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think Tony's made that clear now We will judge that from the operational reasons and we hope to keep the peace and security there, certainly during this process, a difficult time for us all, but basically it's welcome, we've got a prime minister, the council being appointed, the elections coming and, you know, there's a number of very favourable signs there and we all hope that this will lead now to a much more secure and sovereign nation in Iraq.

DAVID FROST: And what about this story, did you see this story in the Mail on Sunday

JOHN PRESCOTT: I've given up reading papers. [LAUGHS]

DAVID FROST: Yes, well you could ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: - journalists make up half the stories.

DAVID FROST: Well you've been busy this morning, and Labour's chairman McCartney faces axe after election disaster.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well that's a very good example of it.

DAVID FROST: Yes, yes. It does. You always have reshuffles in the summer.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Always. Always have reshuffles in the summer.

DAVID FROST: Is Ian McCartney's position unassailable?

JOHN PRESCOTT: What's the paper?

DAVID FROST: Mail on Sunday.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Oh do we need to say any more. I see they're apologising today, according to your programme -

DAVID FROST: Yes.

JOHN PRESCOTT: - that's a bit unusual for the Mail. But you know the thing I noticed about that, usually with a full page story like that, as they did on the Prince William, the apology is about two inches. Shouldn't they be made, actually, to give as much space to the apology as they do to the story -

DAVID FROST: Oh -

JOHN PRESCOTT: - when it turns out to be wrong.

DAVID FROST: - and not just the Mail on Sunday, all -

JOHN PRESCOTT: Not, not -

DAVID FROST: - all newspapers should do that. I think that -

JOHN PRESCOTT: I agree.

DAVID FROST: I think retractions -

JOHN PRESCOTT: Why don't they though?

DAVID FROST: I don't know, because well we, we'd better get the Press Complaints Commission to -

JOHN PRESCOTT: Oh well half of them sit up there as editors so [LAUGHING] I don't think we'll get much movement there, frankly. I've tried, I've asked them.

DAVID FROST: What, what - you said you've got to learn the lessons of this kicking and so on, what, what exactly do you need to do?

We said earlier do you need to promise not to do another Iraq. What do you actually need to do to get the message across about hospitals ... get across, I mean what, what in tangible terms can we look out for?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I can't offer you a great answer to that except to say certainly the electorate have given us a message, that's what democracy's about, and they're not happy with the way we're delivering on some things. Iraq has been a shadow, as the prime minister has said, but as I've said to you again, all the issues that we have to fight the election on, about whether full employment, about health, education, most of the exit polls, your BBC one, did show that they are still the important issues and when it comes to the next general election, in my view, that's what the issues will be.

So what are the lessons we learn from it? People aren't too happy, in some cases we've got to redouble our efforts, get our case across and show them that this is a very successful government.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


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