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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 May, 2005, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
Tory leadership
On Sunday 22 May 2005, Sir David Frost interviewed David Davis MP, Shadow Home Secretary

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

David Davis MP
David Davis MP, Shadow Home Secretary

DAVID FROST: When Michael Howard finally bows out as the Conservative Party leader, probably late this year, one man who is regularly tipped to take over that position is the Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis.

Although the official leadership campaign has not started there is much speculation as to who will succeed but it looks like David can be confident of widespread support.

And he's been busy this week pointing out the flaws in the first Queen's Speech of Tony Blair's third term and we welcome him now to the yellow sofa. Good morning David.

DAVID DAVIS: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: Already a number of people have been talking about the leadership and so on but taking one step back, do you support Michael Howard's plans to reorganise the rules, reorganise the rules in the sense of giving a stronger voice to MPs and a lesser voice to the people in the country?

DAVID DAVIS: I don't have a problem with that. I mean I actually think it's not appropriate really for me to comment on that. It's a much bigger package than just the leadership, it's all about the relationship with the constituencies too and there's just one test, if you like, from my point of view, that is that the MPs themselves should maintain their independence.

Back in 1938, a long time ago, had the Tory Party had central control of its MPs it would have fired the three next prime ministers - Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan. We want to maintain the independence of our Members of Parliament - that's the single most important issue in all this for me.

DAVID FROST: People say that you're very strong in the country - stronger in the country than you are in the House of Commons, so actually this reform, you're being very generous about it because it might not be great for you.

DAVID DAVIS: Well, we're talking about something which is six, seven months away at the earliest. My concern at the moment is actually that we learn the lessons from the last election and we make sure that we are the next government, whoever is our leader.

DAVID FROST: But I mean where some people have, for instance taken their name out of the bidding, as it were, like George Osborne or William Hague, you have not taken your name out of the bidding.

DAVID DAVIS: Well I always make my decision on these things at the last possible minute. I made my decision not to run last time a few days before it happened and I'll make my decision very clear when the day comes.

DAVID FROST: And what about the lessons you can learn, as you mentioned there, from the defeat? What are the lessons you can learn? What must the party learn?

DAVID DAVIS: The first thing, the most shocking statistic for me is that a quarter of women under 55 voted Conservative - less than a quarter voted Conservative. In other words the vast majority of women didn't vote Conservative last time; that we've still got ten per cent of the electorate to win over if we're going to make a government. So we've got to come into the next election with a very much, a very clear image of what we stand for and I think we've got to be more idealistic about our approach to politics.

I mean you're going to have Gordon Brown on later, socialism is our opponent but actually cynicism is our enemy in politics. There's too much cynicism about politics now and we've got to start talking about what we're trying to achieve rather than the mechanics of the internal market or this and that. I mean I'm a low tax Tory.

I want to see decentralised government and I want to see power given out to the people but what I really want to see is that people understand what we stand for is in their interest, whether they're less well off, whether they're weak, whether they're vulnerable, whatever.

DAVID FROST: So is tax-cutting a major part of your plan for the party?

DAVID FROST: Well I'm a low tax Tory, I always have been. I take the view - and it will be interesting if you ask Gordon what he says to this - that high taxes make everything go, make everybody poorer. They slow down invention, they slow down innovation, they cut incentives, they slow down the growth rate and the country then doesn't grow as fast. And we're going to see some of that in this parliament coming up.

DAVID FROST: And everybody says we've got to broaden our appeal, and Francis Maude says it, everyone says broaden our appeal, but how exactly can you broaden the appeal without losing the faithful?

DAVID DAVIS: Well look, you've got to stick with the fundamental, the timeless principle, the timeless Conservative principles of freedom and the importance of the nation state and the rule of law, but actually the most successful single policy that I expect we've had in half a century demonstrates it really quite well, this is rather topical today, and that was when we introduced the right to buy, for council tenants. Now that meant, the acid test of a Tory policy, my favourite phrase in all of politics was Winston Churchill's "We want a society in which there is a limit beneath which no man may fall but no limit to which any man might rise."

And we want to encourage everybody to believe that and everybody to be committed to that. So our policy is about tax reduction, giving power back to parents and to patients, giving power back to people locally - those policies actually deliver a better life for people and the whole point is that it doesn't matter whether they're well off or least well, or less well off, whether they're, you know, whatever sector of society they come from, they've got to be able to understand that what we stand for is in their interests.

DAVID FROST: And how do you, I mean a lot of these policies can be emphasised more, as you're saying, but they didn't bring home the bacon when they were stated this last time, I mean how do you somehow get from that plateau of 32 per cent? Do you need something extra rather than just expounding more vigorously the policies you had last time?


DAVID FROST: There has to be something - it can't be, as we talked to Michael Howard last week - it can't be just one more heave.

DAVID DAVIS: No it is - and it isn't one more heave - but I mean one of the things we have to start from is right now, ... actually use the entire four years. I mean John Howard once said, or said with respect to this election, you can't fatten the pig on market day. You know, we have to make the case for lower taxes from now!

You know, we have to make the case for radical decentralisation from now because it takes time to get across to people actually giving you control over schooling will actually lead to higher standards of schooling. Giving you control over where you go to hospital actually leads to high standards in hospitals. We haven't made that case clearly and it takes four years to make it.

DAVID FROST: And what about, what about in your particular bailiwick, what are you proposing should be the Tory policy on ID cards?

DAVID DAVIS: Well ID cards, I've always said that before 9/11 I wouldn't have countenanced ID cards, after 9/11 at least we've got to consider them. But they've got to work and they've got to work in a way that doesn't actually impinge on ordinary people's privacy and ordinary people's civil rights.

We've put a series of questions down to the government saying, you know, how are you going to control the costs - it could cost more than ten billion quid this; how are you going to control the impact on civil liberties and privacy; how are you going to make sure the technology works and most of all how are you going to make sure the Home Office can run it, which it hasn't been very successful at in the past.

It hasn't answered one of those questions so - and we haven't seen the bill yet and we haven't had a chance to discuss it in shadow cabinet as a result - but my instinct alone is not to support the government.


DAVID DAVIS: Not to support the government.

DAVID FROST: And Liam Fox said that Britain liked the Tory product but it doesn't buy the Tory brand - that was his way of putting it. What can you do to improve the Tory brand?

DAVID DAVIS: Well I mean again it is the question of extending ... making people understand what we stand for. I mean I come from a relatively lowly background - an awful lot has been made of that in the last week - but you know it should ...

DAVID FROST: ... sympathetic ...

DAVID DAVIS: - but it should be very clear. I want to help people on council estates, I want to help single mums, I want to help people from all parts of society to make the most of their lives. And that's a freedom agenda.

It's not a we're going to give you so much money, it's not we're going to, we're going to tip in and give you cash here, there and everywhere, it is actually allowing them to make the most of their lives. It's a deregulatory agenda, it's a low tax agenda and it's a freedom-based agenda but actually aimed at the strongest part of the British character, and that is their own initiative and their own drive.

DAVID FROST: So you are, unlike some of your critics say, you are saying this morning you are not this hard-hearted right-winger that you've been portrayed by some - look at that smile is that a hard-hearted smile we ask?

DAVID DAVIS: Well, I mean - am I right wing? I'm in favour of low taxes, so I suppose that's right wing. I'm known to be a eurosceptic, so I suppose that's right wing. But also, I mean I was, when I was chairman I said the test of a Tory policy is not just how it helps the well off it's how it helps everybody, most importantly the weakest and most ... from our society. I still stand by that. That's been the watchword of my entire career and I'll continue to stand by that.

DAVID FROST: And you really can have it all, as some would say, you think on the one hand public services, same expenditure as Labour but tax cuts as well, or do you have to choose between the two?

DAVID DAVIS: Well turn it round the other way. We're seeing today Adair Turner talking about people having to go to 70 until, until they get their pensions. One of the reasons for the pensions crisis is high taxes in the pensions industry.

Mr Brown, who you've got on later, Gordon Brown raised high taxes on the pension industry actually did huge damage - and that's the problem taxes do damage and low tax economies grow faster and can afford more. It's a very simple formula.

Interview Ends

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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