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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
MO MOWLAM MP JULY 16TH, 2000

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

DAVID FROST
Ten days ago the PM was said to be trounced in his weekly spat with the leader of the opposition, the attack by Ken Follett was certainly damaging and the latest Galup poll shows a distinct slide in support for the government over the past few weeks. And a further reduction in those who consider the government honest and trustworthy. But the fight-back is on and I'll be talking to Mo Mowlam in just a moment but first this from our political correspondent, Caroline Quinn.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST
Thank you very much indeed Caroline and Mo Mowlam is indeed here. Good morning Mo.

MO MOWLAM
Morning.

DAVID FROST
Uh unsustainable.

MO MOWLAM
I'd welcome Spitting Images back too.

DAVID FROST
You would.

MO MOWLAM
Oh it's great.

DAVID FROST
Yeah. And it would be good for the government according to John Lloyd.

MO MOWLAM
It would be good for everybody.

DAVID FROST
Yeah. Good for everybody. Oh well there's a, there's a movement here, growing, growing in strength all the time. What about what Michael Portillo was saying about the, this increase of, in spending of 43 billion, 41 billion, 46 billion - whatever the figure is that Gordon Brown comes up with this week - is unsustainable, is unguaranteeable.

MO MOWLAM
Well I just find it such a incredibly false argument that he was putting. Let me just explain very clearly what we're doing. Firstly we have saved money because when we came to government they had doubled the size of the national debt. We've cut that down now from 48 billion to six billion and we've, we, as a result are paying much less interest and have a lot of money coming in - billions - from that. Equally, the changes we've made in welfare reform have meant less people are receiving dole payments and more money is going as tax from their work. So we have money, that due to economic prudence, we have got to spend. Now we said we would stick within the government, the previous government spending reviews when we came into government and we did. Now we have money not that we're going to splurge, as Michael Portillo kept saying, we are very clear on the strategies that we want to follow, we want to follow, we want to put more into health, some into education, some into crime and that will all be announced this week and that is sustainable because we focused on getting the economy into shape, it is stable, it is sustainable, low inflation, low interest. Now we did that to enable us to then begin to spend the money we saved. There's no splurge and then he goes on, are they going to do this for ever and ever, well we've made what we've got and we're going to spend it. Well of course we're going to look at the situation, we're not naively saying this is going to carry on ad infinitum, I've never heard such guff.

DAVID FROST
And in fact in terms of the, the money this week, does this money the Sun, the 40, £40-odd billion does that include the £3, £6 and £9 billion that Gordon Brown gave in the budget to the health service for those three years, is that, is that £18 million, billion part of it or not?

MO MOWLAM
I don't know that yet but we'll be able to on Tuesday or Wednesday when the figures are out, be able to answer that for ourselves and we will put the figures out as we have done before. So let me say Michael four times in your interview refused to answer the question in terms of, if they say what they say they're going to do, which is spend less on public expendit¿public spending than they get in terms of economic growth, it'll be lower than the economic growth, that's about £16 billion whether you believe our figures, £12 billion if you believe independent sources, what are they going to cut? We've written to every member of the, of our opposite numbers in Cabinet this week to say to them what are you going to cut? Now he didn't answer that, they can't have it both ways, they can't say they're going to spend less and then not say what they're going to cut.

DAVID FROST
What about the, the opinion polls and all the things that have come along recently and the drop in confidence and honesty and all those, all those credibility things that have come along, the big change and just the drop, halving the lead as this week and all of that, what, what has gone wrong whether temporarily or permanently or whatever, what's gone wrong, why has there been this sea-change in the attitudes of the government from the, I mean the honeymoon lasted a long while but it's, it's certainly over at the moment isn't it?

MO MOWLAM
Well I think it's a combination of factors, I think there is always mid-term difficulties, all governments suffer from that, I think there was high expectation among the public and we were hopeful and I think that has meant that because we weren't going to spend what we didn't have and we've now spent two years getting that money in from turning the government's debt round which was double what has, doubled under the Tories, that we turned that round, we changed the welfare system not by throwing money at it but by actually dealing with changes in work practices, more women in the workforce, changed the procedures in terms of benefits, family structure isn't what it was, we've responded to real problems, real changes and are now getting the benefits from that. That¿

DAVID FROST
You think that, you think that it's taken a long while, longer than it should have done probably for that, that to happen and you¿

MO MOWLAM
It's not longer than it should have done, it just takes time to be able in a system of government that we have to change the benefit system. If you do it too quickly you'll mess it up. We did pilots, we've done it now and the results are coming through and the result we'll spend, not in a splurge mentality but in a rational sustainable way.

DAVID FROST
Ken Follett do you think he was right to come out when he did about hostile briefings and backstabbing and all of that, was, although the language was over the top did he perform a valuable service?

MO MOWLAM
Well I did, I think on balance no because it's a difficult time, no one denies we haven't had the easiest of years, of course we haven't but I think when that happens what you need to do is continue with what you're doing, be confident and get the delivery up which is what we're focusing on doing. Ken Follett is entitled to say exactly what he wants, it's the kind of society that we live in but I think, you know, he went on about how he was doing it because I've been so badly treated, because I'm popular I think I've just become a beacon for people's dissatisfaction. Now Ken was clearly dissatisfied, all I would say is hold your horses, wait and see what happens in the next year, you don't change radically as we're trying to do overnight.

DAVID FROST
No and you said after, after Ken Follett, you said I don't think it's Tony Blair but someone wants to do me down, that's what you said to Saga magazine, although after the Ken thing you said I believe there's no one briefing against me. Which, which is true, do you think someone's out to get you down?

MO MOWLAM
I think there is somebody out to begin with, no doubt about that, I don't think they were in Cabinet, I think they were close to and are now no longer there.

DAVID FROST
Obviously not Tony Blair?

MO MOWLAM
No I've never thought it was Tony or Alastair.

DAVID FROST
Or Peter Mandelson?

MO MOWLAM
I don't think it's anybody in government but I think there are people outside close to others who would like to see me less popular and I think there is a kind of vicious circle in the press, I mean, what was the last one? Oh when I acknowledged I smoked dope, I did, but I made it absolutely clear it was over 30 years ago and it was not part of my life, it was a one off, two off maybe, it was, I was not part of the drugs culture, I used to row, I used to do a whole lot of other things. Now I was asked that question a week ago and it's twisted in the papers today to say she admitted she enjoyed it, now that is just stupidity and all these issues which aren't the ones that matter to people, about health and education and crime do, there's a spin going on which is kind of self fulfilling in the press, I think, they spin and then they spin off that. It's almost self fulfilling and I think the press are indulging in that a lot but I can assure you that we're trying to focus on the big issues, getting those up is very difficult sometimes.

DAVID FROST
And in terms of Labour, I mean you've been a friend of Ken Livingstone's for a long term, would you like to see him back in the Labour Party in less than five years?

MO MOWLAM
Yes. I don't know about the timescale but I think he, I'd like to see him back in the party, I think it was very unfortunate he left, I didn't support that at all and I think Frank Dobson fought a good battle for us but I'm a believer in inclusivity, people ought to be in rather than out.

DAVID FROST
And what about in terms of your career so far, what's the thing you're proudest of so far?

MO MOWLAM
Work I did in Northern Ireland. But I'm beginning, it takes a long time as you know to disengage from Northern Ireland but I'm now becoming more and more engaged on the work on drugs and poverty and depravation, big issues and I hope we can make some more changes there than we have already.

DAVID FROST
So if there was a reshuffle would you prefer to stay where you are or move somewhere else?

MO MOWLAM
David you know better than that, that's the decision of the Prime Minister.

DAVID FROST
Oh yes, yes, absolutely, written on the, written on the back of the hand.

MO MOWLAM
No but it's true, he decides, so all this reshuffle carry on in the papers is just waffle and answering questions like that is impossible. He will decide. Every Prime Minister has.

DAVID FROST
What about the annual report, a lot of people have said, do you think it was a mistake in the sense that it looks self-serving, Charles Kennedy said the thing about if we were writing our own school reports we'd all give ourselves high marks, or people say if it's an annual report it ought to have independent auditors rather than civil servants and so on and maybe it's a bit ¿

MO MOWLAM
Are you saying the civil servants aren't independent David?

DAVID FROST
Well I think they're slightly influenced by their bosses?

MO MOWLAM
No I think, I mean it's one of the shocks that I've had in government, civil service, I believe, are truly independent which is why we have the special advisors that we do to put the politics in. I won't argue with you on that for the moment, let me answer in relation to the annual report because I'm a firm believer in having an annual report. Now the civil service did draw it up, we didn't, and the Cabinet Secretary checked it to make sure it was factually correct. Now I think it's important to do because people have a right to know what we're trying to achieve, what we've achieved, what we're still working and what's left and it wasn't a kind of eulogy as Charles Kennedy in the House suggested, it had the successes but it also had the things that we haven't succeeded on¿we acknowledged the difficulties with crime figures, it acknowledged the difficulty with asylum seekers¿

DAVID FROST
But it¿but things like less police officers on the beat or the number of families living in poverty having gone up or the class sizes for secondary schools having gone up. I mean understandably if you were producing it why dwell on those things but if it's an independent report, it's not an independent report.

MO MOWLAM
We could put all the difficult problems that exist, what we did was answer in relation to our manifesto commitments, we didn't commit on class sizes for secondary, we're beginning to move onto that now, what we did commit to was class sizes for primary, they are under half of them are now under 30 which is achieving our goal and by the end of our time we will have achieved that pledge. Similarly in terms of poverty and youth unemployment we promised 216,000 would be out of unemployment, we've reached 210,000, we're very close to meeting that, I could go through all five and with all of them we're making progress. He can't have us up in an annual report for not answering on what we never committed to do in the first place.

DAVID FROST
I see. But in fact you did commit to progress on police and things like that. But I mean all I'm meaning is that wouldn't they have more stature, why not have Goldman and Sachs do it or Price Waterhouse?

MO MOWLAM
Well okay, I mean if that helps, fine but we did it for £140,000 which I don't think is a bad price and going to them would cost more. I just hope we can find a way to get the facts out which is the problem we have at the moment, we can't get what, the press aren't interested in publishing good news stories, I mean I was amazed when I published the annual report and I went to launch it and everybody who interviewed me had made up their mind before I even managed to get my mouth open. Now that is spin before we actually say what's happening.

DAVID FROST
We've just got to go to the news for a minute.

MO MOWLAM
Okay.

DAVID FROST
And then we'll come rushing back. An update on the news headlines from yes, you've guessed it, Moira Stewart.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST
Well we're at the end of our time, tell Mo, do you think your words on Buckingham Palace and so on improved the popularity of the party or lessened it?

MO MOWLAM
It'll probably be about 50-50 in my view from my letters, 50 people sent in letters supporting me, 50 didn't, so it's probably neutral.

DAVID FROST
Thank you very much indeed Mo, great to have you with us as ever. Well the next news on BBC1 is at 12 noon but there's news on the hour every hour on the BBC's digital channel, BBC News 24. So thanks now to all of our guests for this week and my thanks to Peter Sissons who'll be sitting in this chair next Sunday. I'm off for a short summer break but Peter and his newsroom colleagues will ensure that Breakfast with Frost continues to hit the airwaves each Sunday at 9 am. But for this morning, top of the morning, good morning.

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