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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 May, 2005, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Election 1992
On Sunday 29 May 2005, Sir David Frost interviewed former Prime Minister Sir John Major and former Labour leader Lord Kinnock

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

Lord Kinnock
Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock

DAVID FROST: Well John Major got out the soap box, fought a tenacious campaign and to the surprise of some and the relief of others was returned to Downing Street.

But how totally different would the political landscape be today if the pollsters had been right.

It's a very good morning to John Major in Norwich who was with us on our first programme too.

Good morning John.

JOHN MAJOR: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: And it's a very warm welcome to Neil Kinnock here in the studio. Starting with you Neil, that 1992 election - people say that it was a poisoned chalice to win that election because the ERM was coming up and so on, or the end of the ERM was coming up.

Do you think... I mean obviously it wasn't a good thing at the time for you. But do you think it benefited Labour not to be in power because of the ERM and so on?

NEIL KINNOCK: No I don't think it did actually. I don't think there's any form of defeat which is good news, especially after all those years and especially when so many people in the Labour Party have put so much effort in trying to win.

So we could have and would have dealt with the situation of the ERM which was not entirely confidence making of course.

But that would have required radical action literally within days of being elected and for various ... reasons John didn't take that action. I understand why he didn't but we would have taken it ...

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the last factor, the few votes that it would have needed and so on, the votes that just evaporated as it were.

Do you think in fact that we saw a bit of the Sheffield experience there and is that, was that actually important at the time or is that just hindsight? Was the Shadow budget more important?

NEIL KINNOCK: In the order of things the Shadow budget and the way in which it was pretty wrongly misrepresented, particularly in the press, was significant.

So far as the Sheffield rally is concerned it didn't even register in any of the opinion poll returns or any other analysis, until after the election when a certain mythology developed, that attributed to the rally some kind of political significance.

But because of the time of the evening and because of the absence of coverage in the subsequent days, it made virtually no difference at all.

The only difference it makes is to scar my memory! Three seconds that I would not repeat had I had another chance.

DAVID FROST: Well let's turn to John down the line there in Norwich. John, people have said it to you I know, that it would have been better for the Conservatives to have lost that election because then you wouldn't have had the ERM and those things.

Both parties were told that this was a poisoned chalice and so on. But do you think it would have been better if the Tories hadn't won in 1992?

Sir John Major
Former Prime Minister Sir John Major

JOHN MAJOR: No, I don't. I entirely agree with Neil. Nobody wishes to lose elections. But I think some of the things that happened subsequently Neil would have had different priorities.

But I think if we hadn't been there we wouldn't have consolidated the 1980s Market Reforms. I don't think the destruction of inflation would have been quite so comprehensive, certainly not without the ERM.

We may not have had the Northern Ireland Peace process in the form we did. We probably wouldn't have had the Lottery which has revolutionised the arts and sport.

And some of the public sector reforms later adopted by the incoming Labour government have now been copied around the world.

So one can never be certain what would have happened with an alternative government, but certainly those things did happen '92 to '97, and I think there were all absolutely benevolent for the British economy.

DAVID FROST: But does the ERM still, as Neil said it wasn't exactly... the whole thing didn't go wrong because of this country - but I mean, with that ERM situation is it still haunting the reputation of the Conservatives, even to this day?

JOHN MAJOR: Well, it's still damaging because it has entered mythology. In fact a series of things came together in the ten days before we were ejected from the ERM which were probably unforeseeable and certainly impossible to change.

We had contemplated coming out but the real difficulty there was if we came out there was a real prospect that we'd have a decline in the exchange rate and an increase in interest rates as well.

So actually coming out of it was an extremely difficult technical operation, we were beginning to consider it but I'm afraid the crisis came upon us, partly as a result of the French referendum on Maastricht before we were ready to come out. So I think there was nothing much we could in reality have done about it.

DAVID FROST: What was the turning point in the last days, as I've asked Neil? Was it the soapbox?

JOHN MAJOR: I don't think so ...

DAVID FROST: The famous soapbox!

JOHN MAJOR: I don't think there was a single turning point. I know people talk of the Sheffield rally and I know they talk of the soapbox. I think both those explanations are very heavily overdone. The impression I had from the beginning of the campaign was that the opinion polls were wrong and that we always had a very good chance of winning.

Now those were in the dear old days where Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition actually met the public rather than their party audiences.

But it seemed to me right the way through the campaign that we probably had an edge. I thought we probably would win. I wasn't absolutely certain that we would win but I thought it was probable.

So I don't think that things did change in the last few days. The opinion polls seemed to, but on the basis of what I saw in the campaign I didn't feel any particular change amongst the electorate.

DAVID FROST: And, I noticed then - I sensed out of the side of my eye there - that you nodded about when John Major was talking about the polls.

NEIL KINNOCK: Yes. You mentioned earlier, you used the word evaporated about support for Labour. That didn't actually happen. The support was never quite there and anybody with experience, John included, who'd been on the streets fighting for most of our adult lives as it were, and both he and I and the people very close to us including I guess our wives, knew what the outcome was likely to be.

And the question then was, was the margin going to be very tight which it turned out to be, or slightly larger.

The most that we could have hoped for, I thought at all stages in the election, the most we could have hoped for was a hung Parliament with Labour as the biggest single party.

DAVID FROST: And, another point on that is that you had started the process of modernisation, laid the foundations for the new dawn - as you once put it - in that period and...

NEIL KINNOCK: I never used the term "new dawn".

DAVID FROST: New dawn.

NEIL KINNOCK: No, that's for American thrillers and the current Prime Minister.

(laughter and applause)

DAVID FROST: And, you laid the foundations for what eventually became New Labour, with the changes, the major changes that you did during that period. In fact, I mean, I suppose the defeat hastened that process and made it easier for reform to go on?

NEIL KINNOCK: It may have done. I think that the Labour Party was incessantly getting instruction from defeat which is a very expensive course of education it has to be said.

And what people reasoned in the wake of the '92 defeat is the changes made have been gigantic, organisationally and in policy terms, plainly they had to be something more than one more heave.

And the changes, the alterations, the modernisation of the Party had to become even more fundamental. I very strongly advocated that and I'm glad to see it came about.

DAVID FROST: What about today, just for one moment, let me ask you this first John. We're hearing obviously about the... can't miss it... about the French Referendum today. What would be the best outcome for Britain, do you think, yes or no?

JOHN MAJOR: Well I've never been hostile to Europe, but I think probably the best outcome for Britain at the moment would be a "no". Over the last few years the European Union has been something of a juggernaut, and I fear it's been concerned at naval gazing in so many ways that it has actually lost touch with the populations of Europe.

And I think apart from the merits of the Constitution, and that's heavily misunderstood by many people, apart from the merits and the demerits of the Constitution. I think if it were defeated that the politicians and commission across Europe would be forced to rethink their relationship with Europe, rethink where they were going and why they were doing what they were doing.

And I think that would be a thoroughly good thing. I do think Europe has lost touch with people. I wish to see the European Union succeed. At the moment I'm not sure it is, I think a "no" would probably be the best for Europe.

DAVID FROST: Do you agree with that, as a distinguished servant of Europe?

NEIL KINNOCK: I don't actually agree with it, for this simple reason and in a funny way for reasons similar to John's desire for a "no" vote in France. I want a "yes" vote in France and also in Netherlands on Wednesday. I think both are unlikely frankly, I think there's going to be a "no".

And the reason that I want it is so that we can get on with the public information campaign that really only becomes evident, however much people try, when there's some kind of specific focus on a decision.

Now I didn't particularly want the referendum in the United Kingdom because the treaty doesn't change the way in which we are governed at all. But since we were going to have one I really would like to get on with 9-12 months of real argument, but more important, proper public information so that people can make a decision on the basis of acquaintance with the facts and the real alternatives.

DAVID FROST: And one last - we've been talking about political tactics and so on. In terms of getting back to a wide ranging electorate, what would you like to see the Tory Party do John?

JOHN MAJOR: Well I think at the moment they're clearly concentrating on who should be the next leader. But I think that is only part of what needs to be done. For the first thing is self-evidently to elect the right person as leader.

The second thing is to make sure that everybody in the parliamentary party whether they were a candidate for the leadership or not, are prepared to follow and serve the new leader, and if necessary to serve him in the Shadow Cabinet.

I think all the candidates should be prepared to do that. I think the other thing, there are two other things that are essential - firstly, plainly you cannot win elections without winning the centre ground of politics.

You can be as right wing as you like or as left wing as you like. But unless you attract to the centre ground you simply are not going to win the General Election. So plainly politics has to be geared to winning back the centre ground of politics.

And I... there are a wide range of ways to do that. We have a particularly attractive intake I think in 2005, many of whom I know, many of whom I've met on many occasions. And I think it's very attractive to see them there. And we need to present a wide-ranging party and that means bringing all the talents of the Conservative Party into the Shadow Cabinet.

DAVID FROST: And do you think Ken Clarke could do it, or do you think that a younger leader in general is what what's indicated?

JOHN MAJOR: Well David, it's very tempting, but I'm not going to go into the question of personalities, and nor should you expect me to. There was a time many years ago when I probably had to answer questions like that, but they're long gone.

(laughter)

DAVID FROST: Well, thank you both very much. Our thanks to John Major in Norwich and our thanks to Neil Kinnock here in the studio.

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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