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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY ANNE MACKENZIE INTERVIEW
MICHAEL ANCRAM, MP AUGUST 13th, 2000

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

ANNE MACKENZIE
The Conservative Party received some bad news from the opinion pollsters a few days ago, the latest Gallup poll gives the Labour Party a 15 point lead. Of course the Tories did well in the local and European elections, but will they ever be able to reverse that lead and can they come up with the right policies to capture the public imagination? I'm joined by the chairman of the Conservative Party, Michael Ancram, good morning to you.

MICHAEL ANCRAM

Good morning.

ANNE MACKENZIE
If we could start off, first of all, just on the topic of the day, in The Sunday Times their lead is that William Hague in an article inside is saying make paedophiles serve life. What exactly does that mean? Is he talking about life meaning life because -and is he talking about life sentences for a particular kind of paedophile?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well we're talking about serious sexual offences against children, and the reason for looking for life sentences is that life sentences, as we know in cases of murder, don't necessarily mean that you serve the whole of your life in prison but it does mean that if you are released you're released on licence, you can be recalled if you actually re-offend and a judgement can be made before you are released as to whether it is safe to release you and if it isn't safe to release you then you are kept in prison. So it does give a far greater degree of force to the authorities to make sure that children are protected from people who might re-offend. And the whole of the proposals that William Hague has made is getting away from the, the rather emotional, and understandably emotional reaction, that there was to the terrible, tragic death of Sarah Payne, and to say that if we're going to protect children we must do it through the forces of law and order by strengthening the law and the provision of the law and not by resorting to what we've sadly over these last few weeks which has been effectively the rule of the mob.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But when he says life sentence, he doesn't mean necessarily life meaning life, physically being in prison for the rest of your life?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
It means being able to exercise that if that is required, and that is the difference. Again, the other things he proposes, and he proposes that the court should be able to set limits on the contact that can be made by an offender afterwards, or where they live, and they can take into account the views of the victim in doing that. He's also proposing that supervision should be extended - at the moment it's only for ten years, but what we're saying is that it should go on for longer.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But it -

MICHAEL ANCRAM
This is about -

ANNE MACKENZIE
It's not - it's not Sarah's law, as it were, where the News of the World wants a public register and life meaning life, it's just moving towards it.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
It could well mean life meaning life, in the circumstances where that is absolutely warranted what is important to understand is that we are saying here, this is a, the protection of children is one of the greatest responsibilities of government, but in doing that we must make sure that that is provided for by the law and not the, the pressures of mob rule, as we've seen signs of over these last few weeks, sadly. But at the same time, and it is also responding to the very real anger that we all feel at the, the terrible death of Sarah Payne. I mean I think that these type of offences are the vilest offences - and I say that as someone who was a criminal lawyer - the vilest offences that we, we are dealing with in this country, we have to deal with it firmly through the law and what William Hague has proposed this morning is a measured response, which I think achieves that.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Right, okay, I think that's clear enough. But if we just move on to the issue that I was just talking about, the latest opinion poll puts you basically right back where you started. Labour are now 15 points ahead. How do you possibly overturn that lead, because it seems that any progress you make you end up right back again where you began?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well first of all opinion polls are opinion polls, they're snap shots. I mean politicians all look at them but you have to realise that they are, they're asking for an opinion on a particular day. And

ANNE MACKENZIE
Yes but when you've narrowed the lead to six points, you weren't so dismissive -

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Yes but -

ANNE MACKENZIE
- perhaps putting it quite like that. It shows a trend doesn't it.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
I always, I always said there was a trend there, but I mean I'm also at the moment looking at local government by-elections, week after week after week, where we are gaining both from Liberals - Liberal Democrats - and Labour, in terms of actual polls on the ground. Now I expected, after this enormous announcement of vast sums of money which are going to be spent some time in the future, that there would be a reaction in the polls, that was natural. But you see what I'm looking at now is what people are going to say over the months ahead when they suddenly find that the promises which have been made are simply not being delivered on the ground. This was why we were catching up before, people were suddenly saying we'd heard all the Labour government's promises but they weren't real. When you actually looked at the health service it wasn't getting better, it was getting worse. When you actually looked at class sizes they weren't coming down, they were going up.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But the government have made clear, haven't they, that this money is going to take time to work and people seem to be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well I, I wonder whether people have actually understood that, for instance John Prescott talks about a ten year plan - even the Soviet Union only used to deal in five year plans - a ten year plan is not before the next election, it's not even before the election after the next one. We're talking about way into the future. People actually have had enough of the words, they don't believe the words any more, they want to actually see delivery on the ground.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But if that's the case why are you at 32 per cent, or something, in the polls, which is only slightly better than you had in 1997? I know you dismiss the polls but it does give an impression of where you stand in the country, we're talking about an election next spring - you clearly aren't going to make up that ground are you?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Yes but, I don't dismiss the polls, what I'm saying is that we expected, once you see this enormous announcements made a tremendous fanfare over a two week period in July, it would have been very surprising if there hadn't been a positive reaction but that was a reaction to a set of words. What we are going to look for, over the months ahead before the election, is a reaction to the reality on the ground. And you know, I see, and I go round the country and I campaign in a lot of these by-elections, I mean one of the reasons we're doing so well is because there are an awful lot of people who are saying they're not going to vote for Labour any more because they have not delivered. And that is the key, and we will go on pointing out that for all the brave words, there is no delivery, that all the things they've said - law and order, tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime - we've actually seen crime going up and the numbers of police coming down.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But hasn't this given them, in a way, a second chance? I mean it's a very lonely position to be in, to be opposing this spending review, because it seems most people are in favour of it. Eighty-seven per cent approve, and 79 per cent of Tory voters approve - apparently. Isn't it going to be political suicide to be saying that you wouldn't spend it, and at the same time not specify where you wouldn't spend it?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well first of all, we also had an opinion poll which appeared just after this spending review, where we asked people whether they - this was an official opinion poll - whether they actually believed that the government was going to deliver, and the vast proportion of them said no they didn't.

ANNE MACKENZIE
They're still going to vote for them though.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well, as, on a snapshot yes, but when it actually comes to polls on the ground, and we saw this in the European elections last year where the polls showed them miles ahead and we saw them in the local government elections this year where the polls showed them miles ahead, they're showing them ahead at the moment and yet we're winning local by-election after local by-election. The reality on the ground - and I went to Ayr - you know, you and I both have Scottish interests - I went to Ayr and what happened in Ayr, where the Conservatives won, where every door I went to people said we're not going to vote Labour again because they promised us and they haven't delivered.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But now that Labour can say there are going to be 16 billion pounds of Tory cuts, and that has a ring to it, whereas long as you don't say exactly where you would not spend then you are open to that kind of attack.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
But what they are saying, if you will - I mean it is their saying we are promising we're going to do this and because the Conservatives are not promising they will do the same thing therefore this is a cut. What I'm saying is you can't even talk in those terms until you actually start seeing the delivery.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But you - as a politician you

MICHAEL ANCRAM

ANNE MACKENZIE
I mean that's the perception, that you're going to cut public spending.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well joint, well we've got, we've got to answer that by showing that what they have promised is not being delivered. I'm seeing at the moment situations where although police, they say they're going to police, increase police recruitment numbers, there are more police leaving the force because they're fed up of the way that this government's treating them. In the health service they're talking about recruiting more nurses, there are many more nurses leaving the health service - and we saw in the papers today that one of the highest areas of expenditure, increase of this government, has been in advertising - 130 million pounds last year in advertising, which could have actually provided seven and a half thousand nurses or five thousand teachers or three and a half thousand policemen - that's what people care about, they don't care about the presentation and the hype and all the, the glitz of this government, what they actually want to see is things happening on the ground and they're not happening.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well one issue that does pretty well for you in the country is the euro but this week we've seen Toyota demanding its suppliers accept payment in euros. Isn't that quite a blow to the save the pound campaign, because it does seem to suggest that inward investors do not want the uncertainty of exchange rate fluctuations?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
No we saw, we saw the week before GEC, also with Japanese interests, saying that they, they were quite happy with the current situation and they were not going to join this argument that the euro had to be inevitable.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But there have - there have been a number of high profile inward investors, though, who've said Britain has to make its mind up, it has to join the euro because the strong pound is damaging their profits.

MICHAEL ANCRAM

ANNE MACKENZIE
Now it is undeniable that that is the case.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Yes, but you, you've used the word the strong pound, I remember -

ANNE MACKENZIE
Or the weak euro, whatever, you want to use.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Alright. Look I remember when the euro was introduced we were told that the reason we should be in it, by the government, was that the euro was going to be the strong currency and the pound was going to be the weak one. Now that the opposite has turned out to be the case they're trying to, to turn that argument on its head as well. The important point about the euro is not just economic, there are going to be very important economic arguments to be made and we believe that they justify our stance on saying we will keep the pound in the next parliament. But when you actually look at the politics of the euro, then there's an even bigger argument to make because that goes to the whole question of our ability to, to self-determine what we want to do as a country.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Yes, but

MICHAEL ANCRAM
And I was horrified, in the memo, the leaked memo, from Tony, from Tony Blair, one of the things he said was that politics are settled - they're not settled, we haven't even begun that argument, and that is one of the most important arguments of all.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But when and if it comes to a referendum, the economic arguments or the kind of pressure that we're getting from companies like Nissan and Masashita and so on, and we're talking a lot of jobs here, are going to influence the way people think and if these big investors are saying that the currency fluctuations and the fact the pound is so strong are actually influencing whether or not they're going to work in Britain, then that seriously undermines your argument.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
No, they're not saying that the currency fluctuate, fluctuations, they're talking about the exchange rate at the moment.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Indeed, they're saying it's the strong pound, what would you do about the strong pound?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well let's, let's say hypothetically that they were right and we join the euro tomorrow, I mean we'd, we'd actually crystallise that difference. I mean what we're talking about is a situation in terms of exchange rates which can change, but the arguments about the euro are much deeper than that, they are economic, but they're also political as well, and we want to see a general public debate on this, and it's a debate that the government is running away from because the government knows it's a debate it can't win.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Just a point, this supposedly leaked memo about your attitude to the family - does it reflect the possibility that your great attachment to the marriage is old fashioned, maybe even that your own membership think that, for example, co-habitation should be viewed as importantly as marriage?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well firstly it wasn't a leaked memo, it was the report on a survey which we do within the constituencies -

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well whatever. Fair enough, you say

MICHAEL ANCRAM
it had been sent out to 658 constituencies, which is hardly what you might call a secure or confidential document.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Okay. Wasn't it, wasn't it embarrassing?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
No it wasn't because it showed, actually, the vast majority of the people who'd been questioned in that particular exercise actually agreed with what we were saying - there were one or two, as you'd expect in any broad based party, who were taking a different view. As you again would expect, the press picked on those bits which were, which appear to be in disagreement with party policy rather than the vast majority agreed. We are the party of the family and I think, you know, as I know, if you go round and talk to Conservatives all round the country, that is something which they're comfortable with - indeed they want to see us strengthen our, our support that we can give to the family in the future. We've said we will give, we will restore support through benefits and taxation, but they want to see us going further.

ANNE MACKENZIE
One populist policy, or popular policy, would be to cut petrol tax. Now you've said you'd freeze it, as I understand it - would you cut it?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
We think it's too high and we have also said that, you know, we are looking for areas that we can make savings in order to provide tax cuts in the future but it would be very dangerous for any opposition to go around, a la carte, saying we're going to cut this tax and that tax. We have to actually look at the overall balance.

ANNE MACKENZIE
It would be a vote winner for a start, wouldn't it.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well yes but

ANNE MACKENZIE
I mean if you're criticising it as too high, wouldn't it be logical to say you're going to cut it?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well, well it is, it is too high but we, I mean at this stage, I mean anybody who, who set out to second, if you like, to give the budget of the first Conservative government this far out from an election, would actually be being very unwise. But we've said it's too high -

ANNE MACKENZIE
And you've said you can cut income tax in the past -

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well

ANNE MACKENZIE
- you can do the same, you can cut petrol tax.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
- we've - we've said we will be looking to cut taxes but those taxes which we will cut we will have to decide nearer the time. But you see, let me just give you an example of why this is an important issue. I was in my constituency yesterday, talking to a pensioner in the street, who came up to me and said she and her husband, on the basic rate of pension, in a rural area, John Prescott had announced a bus pass discount for them this week - there aren't any buses in that area. They say -

ANNE MACKENZIE
But - but -

MICHAEL ANCRAM
They have to go by car, they can't avoid the higher tax that is paid on petrol, that's why this is such an important issue and that's why we'll continue to pursue it.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Right, okay, just before we go - in the Mail on Sunday, William Hague drank 32 rum and cokes, isn't it unfortunate to have your leader in a position where that is the subject of discussion, how much alcohol he can hold, I mean wasn't that a ridiculous position to put himself in?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
Well it's, it's very much an August story. But I mean actual, what, this arose out of him being asked, you know, how, how he had conducted his, his life when he was a young man and a student and people said, you know, was he always with his head in political books and Hansard and he was saying no, he had a broader, wider life than that. And today's story appears again to be talking about a time when he was a student. I think

ANNE MACKENZIE
It's quite an elephant trap to fall into, as the leader of a party.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
I think most of us would probably look back at our times as students and say, you know, that was then and we don't necessarily do that now.

ANNE MACKENZIE
And do you have evidence of 32 rum and cokes a day and 14 pints?

MICHAEL ANCRAM
In my case -

ANNE MACKENZIE
Oh no, no, William Hague's case I think.

MICHAEL ANCRAM
- I'm afraid I, I was far, far too long ago for me since my student days to remember details of what I did then.

ANNE MACKENZIE
No -

MICHAEL ANCRAM
But I, I read the story and I read the interview, it was a very open, frank interview in which he answered questions which were asked and I've got no reason to doubt what he said.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Michael Ancram, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

INTERVIEW ENDS

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