JOHN PRESCOTT MP
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
JUNE 18TH, 2000
Please note 'BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this
transcript is used
Well it's hot in Britain this weekend but it's been even hotter for John Prescott this
week, he's just back from West Africa visiting Nigeria and Sierra Leone and
welcome home John.
Yes thank you.
Now you've bee welcomed back with lots of stories in the papers here, here's one
that we showed earlier on, Prescott attacks Labour spin machine and the fact that
we've got to have fewer sound bites and get back the traditional heartland and you
say here that you're busting a gut to go around the country and start selling the
Yeah sounds good.
Yeah, all true?
It's true in the sense that I want to get out our message, you know I heard some
criticism about spin-doctoring if you like over the last few years and that was
because I felt you had to put out a positive message but you had to put it at the same
time with substance. Now we're three years into a Labour government and as you
know you wouldn't come out with my old little leaflet here, you know my card, and
at the end of the day that's what we promised to do¿reducing class sizes, we're
two-thirds into that, a million more people back into work, the National Health
waiting list reduced by 100,000. First hospital opened by Tony Blair of a 37 new
hospital programme. Now these are the things that we actually said that we'd
promised to do and indeed tough rules for government spending and borrowing.
Gordon Brown's policies have given us in the first two years that stability to
produce that so I'm looking forward to going around spinning if you like, to make
the point that we've done, more people in work, more people are treated in
hospitals, we're getting better standards for our education, more people out of
poverty, but that's a good Labour message.
It is a good Labour message but obviously there's tremendous feeling that, of non-
delivery on the National Health Service, however unfair and so on, and you've got
to get to the point when it comes to the next election, what is your role?
I don't know about non-delivery, I mean the record's quite clear on that, waiting
list, hospitals etc, but we've got to convince people of that.
The wait between the consultants and the action but the, but the point is¿
Well I think part of the problem is, part of the problem is that the spinning is as
much done by the press, they're more interested in bad news rather than good news,
I know all governments tend to say that but our job is actually to get that case across
to people. And you know when I see stories about the highest level of employment
in this country right that's ever been achieved and I came back as you say from
Nigeria and Sierra Leone and I looked at it, there wasn't one word in any of the
press but plenty about spin-doctoring. Now that, the fact that we've got a million
people back to work, almost a million, you know when I've seen on your
programme suggesting that we could get a million jobs in two or three years, this
government has done it, is there one word in the press? Not one word. They spin
their stories which is about disagreement and personalities and personal stories
nothing about substance of government.
As far, quite apart from the Labour government, do you, do you find the press and
the media, do you think they're fair to you?
Well I don't think that's important, I mean they carry a lot of personal stories, I
think you and I had a discussion on the train one day when I was involved in one a
couple of years ago, found out to be totally untrue, independent inquiry clears me,
still carry on with it, no apology, the latest one which I've been involved in, totally
cleared, still no apology. But I have to accept that's the price in British politics that
they will pursue these personal matters and to that extent I have to just go on, get on
with delivering a job and I say to myself, a million more back at work, more people
treated in the hospitals, our kids getting better education, that to me is what really
matters in politics, substance and getting that case across. But the challenge is to get
people's perceptions changed as so many¿
Well how, how are you going to do that for the next election, what's going to be
your role in the next election John?
Well I'll certainly be going around making that campaigning speech, whether it's on
the bus or where ever it might be, but I certainly want to see us delivering and we
have to do that and my job will begin to shape up, as I did in opposition, to make
sure that we have a good delivery campaigning team that will get our message
across because clearly we ain't going to be able to depend on the press are we?
No, but, but you, you're going to have to do some spinning of your own aren't you?
Well spinning, it's interesting point this, about spinning, and I was made this much
points about anyone but for example we have a, a statement at the moment, said a
lot done, a lot more to do, and a lot to lose if this outfit gets in. Now what we need
to do is to recognise that Harold MacMillan had a very powerful saying, he said¿
We've never had it so good¿.
We've never had it so good, right, he said that, we had one that says about let's go
with Labour, I remember in that one because I had it on my scooter and it kept
breaking down, it was always really embarrassing pushing the broken-down scooter
with let's go with Labour. These slogans can be very important but they must have
substance. If you say you're going to get people back to work, if we say we'll
improve our education you must do it and we have done it.
And you've, you've used the many not the few too often?
Well I think there's a great danger in politics in that if you do use some of these
phrases like boom and bust or indeed the many not the few, the substance, the point
is right but it must be backed up with substance. Boom and bust, we now have a
stronger economy than we had before, Gordon Brown now as he's pointed out in
his Mansion speech, we have a more stable economy to produce the kind of goods
that we want at the moment. So it must have the substance and all we've done in
our policies have benefited the many not the few so there is substance is there but
we have to show it and prove it to the electorate.
And what about this story today, John Prescott last night stepped into the Cabinet
feud over the Euro by urging Tony Blair to stand up to the Chancellor and allow the
row out into the open, the Deputy Prime Minister was said by friends to have told
Tony Blair that stifling the Euro debate in the Cabinet was making the row worse.
You can't clamp down the debate and do you think¿?
Well that's another good example of press spinning isn't it, it's always friends of
John Prescott, whoever it is¿
Friends of the couple¿
A senior source said, or people, important positions in government, that allows the
reporter then to write all sorts of things and we know the coded language often,
some of it is often made up by the press and hidden behind that particular statement.
But all I've said in there and it's a good example, is that what Gordon Brown spelt
out in his Mansion speech while I was away but I've read it, a very powerful
statement, something that every one in the Cabinet agrees with, there's no
difference about it, the debate has already been underway, but do remember this
what he said and this is the importance of it, I'm not entering into a row, I am in
fact fully behind, as everybody is, Stephen, Robin, Gordon, behind this statement of
the five conditions that we've laid down. But there will be a debate about some of
these conditions as they change up to the period.
Well there should be a debate?
Well nobody's saying there isn't, I get the impression from the press there is,
there's quite a lot of debate going on and it will continue. But you've got to
remember this, what does Labour do, I hear, is it Paul Sykes, saying you know, why
don't people have the say, who is the one, whose government gave the people the
say of entry into the Common Market, the Tories took us in, no vote or referendum,
we gave them a referendum, they said they wanted to stay in. On this occasion, this
has been spelt out by the Cabinet, first of all if we do agree to go in and in principle
we say that could be good for Britain's interest, that's how we measure it, but there
will be a decision by the Cabinet, there will be a decision by Parliament and then
we give the decision to the people. Now contrast that with the Tories who're clearly
saying, we'll not do anything for the first ten years, Paul Sykes goes around trying
to buy them on his manifesto as I've just heard him do at the moment, it shows the
bitter division between Heseltine and Clarke, between Hague, who's trying to hold
it together and it ends up in that black Wednesday costing us billions in which the
British interest was sorely damaged.
Yes but the thing is John that obviously there are within the Cabinet, there ought to
be this debate because you've got, you're like the country, you've got Euro-
But you have to debate and discussions in the Cabinet¿
You've got Euro-sceptics, you've got Euro-cautious, you're supposed to be and
Euro-enthusiasts, you've got all of these and as the Sunday Times said today, it's a
And he should, Tony Blair should tell us the truth about this intentions, on Friday
Mr Cook scoffed at Mr Brown's trying to shut the debate down¿Number 10¿
Well that's a load of rubbish, Tony Blair¿
But they do say¿
Tony Blair has made it absolutely clear he believes that it is in the British interests
and it's the view of this government if these conditions can be satisfied, that's
fundamentally different from the existing Tory position. But we'll not do it unless
British interests are satisfied, we lay out the five conditions about the jobs etc,
flexibility, all spelt out by government as fully the Cabinet policy and so it couldn't
be clearer than that. The only argument appears to be can we have the debate? Well
if you read Gordon Brown's speech in the Mansion, Mansion House it's all there,
all encompassed, showing how we're totally behind one policy and we will conduct
the debate as it continues.
Yes but I mean when Robin Cook leaves bits of his speech out, he's told to leave
bits of his speech out, it just underlines there are disagreements in the Cabinet and
it's daft for people to say that there are no disagreements in the Cabinet because that
will lack credibility¿
¿you've mentioned to me about being cautious, I'm sure it was like the entry into
the Common Market, we laid down the conditions and I think it was George Brown
was sent round to negotiate these conditions and there were different emphasises
then, when they came back it was decision time and no doubt there may be a bit of
an argument when it comes to decision time but if we're satisfied it's in the British
interests we will make the recommendation to Parliament and indeed to the people.
But in the meantime there will be the debate, no sometimes when you say Robin
said this or Stephen said that, that's what the press are obsessed about but what was
left out wasn't contradictory to what we're doing in, in the, in the debate, I mean
where was the problems, not a fundamental disagreement. What we have to make
sure and this is one of the problems with our press, is that we do at least get
consistent lines so they pore over these individual words and then say ah here's the
difference between two Cabinet members. The press are obsessed with differences,
we know what damage can be done to a party if it gets splits and differences, we
have a consistent position, it's one that is delivering for us and it will eventually
give the people in this country the decision. Now Mr Sykes was telling you before
that's what he wants, well where was he then when the Tories took us into Europe,
where was he when the Maastricht was up there. The Tories have always taken us in
without consulting people, we're the only one that ever consult the people.
Well I know that obviously everybody in the Cabinet agreed about the five points
but there are these other different shades of opinion which, which you've, you've
reflected and that do actually exist, but there's one other thing that puzzles me, is
that Gordon's quoted as saying, Gordon Brown's quoted as saying that I will decide
if the five points are met, now surely in fact he may advise, but it's Tony Blair
who's going to decide?
Yes I think that's another interpretation of, of Gordon's speech, he is responsible
for the Treasury, he's doing a damn good job I'm bound to say looking at what has
happened to our economy. But leaving that aside at the moment what he's actually
saying is I will make a recommendation to the Cabinet as we see it from a Treasury
point of view, that doesn't mean the Cabinet doesn't have to endorse, the Cabinet
will make its own decision, it's called the Cabinet government right, then we make
a recommendation to Parliament, Parliament will then make a decision and then at
the end of the day the people of Britain will decide what is in the best of British
interest. Now that's Gordon carrying out his job as the Chancellor, he advises on
the budget, he advises us on our economic matters and that is quite right.
And what about this story on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph John,
pensioner's cheated by Brown's inflation ploy. Gordon Brown used two different
inflation figures in this year's budget allowing him to limit pensioners to a 75p a
week rise while hitting motorists with a heavy, with a heavy petrol tax for the
Sunday Telegraph can reveal. In his March statement the Chancellor announced that
he was raising petrol tax and pensions 'in line with inflation" but failed to explain
that he was using 3.3 per cent for petrol and just 1.1 per cent for pensions¿that's a
bit naughty isn't it?
Well it's a criteria that's been used commonly in assessing what the rate of inflation
etc, they are weighted in different packages and different ways when you come to
doing the total inflation approach and what the effect is and that's we have to do
with pensioners and that rate¿well the amount of 75p was clearly in line with the
inflation that is being used by government in this but that wasn't all we were
But then people turn to the petrol tax, in order to¿done us on the petrol tax he then
took an entirely different measure¿
I see the point that the Telegraph's making, contrasting the two, but the issue is
whether we're doing any better for the pensioners than the previous administration
and when you look at the amounts of resources by the end of this Parliament six and
a half billion pounds will have been given to the pensioners, it's some done but not
enough. We will have to do more, we have to look at how we preserve the argument
and I think I've been on this programme talking about it before, sometimes like the
75p that we gave on the pensions, that wasn't all that was given but when you're
getting in the pension book every week a lot of pensioners say that's all I've got but
it's not true if you look at the fuel payments, if you look at all sorts of things, people
are far better off the minimum income guarantee. But we're not satisfied with that,
we have inherited a mess on the pension sides, they were the ones that broke the
earnings related to the pensions and we've got to move at as fast a pace we can but
we need a strong economy, that's what we're delivering on, it's the
billions¿improving their life and health services¿
They were called early promises but they're taking the whole Parliament?
They weren't called¿promises ¿Parliament and government, somebody¿
Early pledges, anyway¿
They weren't early pledges, they're pledges of a Parliament.
Yes well, the time we thought it was early, they were going to be fulfilled early.
No we were going to make a statement to the Parliament,¿12 months¿
Anyway¿I know you couldn't do it in 12 months. The trouble with housing,
you've got a really tough one there, you've said that you think 43,000 a year is
alright in the South East, the figure for overall homes needed by 2016 has come
down from 4.4 million to 3.8 hasn't it, but are you sure that we, we can live, our
countryside can live, with 43,000 a year in the South East?
Well I mean clearly if you look at the Serplan, the local authorities have come
together, there was a statement by one advisory group to me that I would have to set
for one amount, that would mean a lot more, something like 44,000 or something
like that, what we've got to do now is to make sure that we don't take too much of
the land take and what we've done now is to say 60 per cent of housing should
actually be built on brown field sites, that's important. The density of housing
which is something like 23 or 24 per hectare could easily go up to something like
34 or 35, I mean there are many of these places like Islington, these Georgian
houses that are as high as 100, the Millennium village concept is 80-odd. So you
can lift up the density by better quality building and not take as much land and we
also make clear you're not going to get permission to use any of the green sites
unless you've taken a sequential test on whether all the brown field sites are being
used. So we are, I'm in the middle of a discussion with the local authorities at the
moment and I will review this, not in 20 years, every five year period we'll look as
if we're meeting those requirements and indeed my requirements are very near to
what some of the recommended at one stage and I think it won't take as much land,
it'll give us more housing but you know at the end of the day there are lots of
people want housing you know, should we take, say to the, the son and the
daughter, I'm sorry we've got room for executive houses but not ordinary houses
and you should go and live somewhere else, say in the north instead of the south.
We have to deal with people's demands for housing and we have to watch for the
countryside development in using land more effectively and our proposals will
actually achieve that.
And if, if you have a situation where every council's against your proposal you just
ride, ride over that?
Well I don't know that it's every council I suppose you're talking about Serplan I
think the vote was something like 39 to keep a lower figure against 30, it doesn't
sound to me like every council. What they want is an intelligent discussion but take
the Tories, they've gone to their Tory friends in Serplan and said vote against this
because we want to make it an election issue. Well if they want to say there should
be more executive houses at the expense of perhaps decent houses for ordinary
people, key workers like teachers and nurses who can't get houses, can't afford the
price. I'm on the side of the many not the few and it relates to the substance of the
case in housing.
What about congestion charges, if Ken Livingstone proceeds with them will you
We've made it clear that any mayor and local authority has the right to use that and
that's exactly with Ken Livingstone. He said he wants to use the congestion
charging, he has the right to come to us and show how he's going to apply it and I
have a right to say to him that it must be only used for improving public transport
and he has that authority and if he can satisfy those conditions then we will certainly
allow it, there's no argument about that, it was even stated in the manifesto, it was
the Tories who tried to whip up a hoo-ha about it. He has the authority if he satisfies
our conditions he will be able to do it and it's a radical form of new financing to
help London get on with improving the public transport from the mess we inherited
from the Tories.
And what about the Tube, will you let him do bonds?
Well on the tubes we've already said that we will complete the contracts on that and
we do say that the contracts have to pass the public comparability test that is it has
to be cheaper than what would have been using the public finance. The arguments
of bonds are just different forms of financing, that really isn't the issues. I used
bonds on rescuing the Channel Tunnel rail link but in reality there are horses for
courses here and it doesn't fit to my mind that, but¿
You're not ruling out bonds this morning?
Well it's just one form of financing, I'm saying that we will decide it and put it to
the test, to that extent when I come to compare the different ways of raising the
money as I have to do and show to Parliament, bonding, bond finance is one of the
principles there but we believe and our computers shows at the present time and all
the assessments that we make that the public private partnership that I've suggested
is the best way of doing it and that's the way I'll do it.
At that point we'll just get an update on the news from Sian.
[BREAK FOR NEWS]
Harriet Harman is quoted today as saying Labour's not doing enough for women, do
you think that's true?
I don't think she said that, she said they've done quite a lot but they could do a lot
more, that's in line with the saying, but she says it on my birthday and I say there's
a million more people back at work, 30 years in Parliament, I'm proud of that and
many of those are women and that's a good step forward.
And 30 years as an MP, what's been the greatest moment so far?
The Labour government is wedded to social justice getting change but my personal
satisfaction is safety, when I walk on the train going to Hull see that little orange
light that has stopped people falling out of doors, something like 12 a year, that's
something you look at and you say despite all the attacks there's 12 people less
dying, safety's a big part of my make up and I'm proud of that.
John Prescott thank you very much for being¿it's always a pleasure to have you
with us and that's all for this week. Thanks to all of our guests, good luck to the
England team on Tuesday night. I should just mention that followers to this
programme can now follow our fortunes or at least check the exact words spoken to
guests on the Breakfast with Frost website. It's part of the BBC News Website and
also contains a full video stream of the last programme. Those adept at surfing the
web will find it easy, find it very easily in fact, rather more easily than I would
probably in those circumstances but a little help here with this address may be
useful. Now we're back next week, same time, same place, hopefully after another
England victory during the week with the Home Secretary Jack Straw. Top of the
morning, good morning.