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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY ANNE MACKENZIE INTERVIEW
JOHN PRESCOTT, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AUGUST 13th, 2000

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

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well the Labour Party's summer campaign is also underway and is being led by the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, can he persuade the electorate that the government will deliver its policies. Our political correspondent Nicholas Jones reports on the task ahead.

[FILM CLIP]

ANNE MACKENZIE
We're now joined by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, good morning to you.

JOHN PRESCOTT
Good morning.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Is your summer offensive aimed essentially -

JOHN PRESCOTT
I'd like to say this is just water, not beer or rum and coke.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well there's some orange juice there if you prefer - no vodka. Is your summer offensive aimed essentially at trying to re-enthuse your core supporters, is that where you're aiming?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well we've always had summer campaigns, in opposition and indeed in government - it's a regular feature of the Labour Party. But this third year, third year in government, it's about delivery, it's about telling our own people exactly what we've done and not, and they're not too well aware of that, and indeed to get over to the electorate that we have done well, we've done as we promised and we believe this campaigning is about convincing our own people of getting out on the doorstep, knocking on the door and getting Labour's case across.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Why do you think you're in the position of having to convince your own people? I mean why do you think there's so much cynicism about the government - even amongst your own core support?

JOHN PRESCOTT
No I think the cynicism's more in the press quite frankly, and it emphasises the point that we have to make sure that our own people -

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well if that were the case you wouldn't need to be conducting a campaign to re-enthuse your core support.

JOHN PRESCOTT
Yes they read the press and we've got to make sure that this is what we've done, not what actually they print in papers, and often the papers are more concerned with printing a negative story rather than a good one. It's up to us, government, who spent three years really concentrating on delivering what we promised and make sure now that we go out and tell the country at large, as well as our own people, this is what we've done. And I think what we've achieved is economic prosperity along with social justice. And the polls, and indeed our own people, clearly show this is the message they want to hear about - money into education, money into health and money, of a scale, into transport - we haven't seen before, and I think that's a very good message.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Well the polls were showing something different, until the comprehensive spending review. Now it appears that Labour have recovered their large lead. But as Michael Ancram was pointing out there, is it going to be enough to restore faith if immediate results aren't seen?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well there are results. They're already coming in - of course, the concessionary which you ref, referred to in the opening shots, is about telling pensioners ¿you're entitled to half fare and you won't have to be charged for a card to be able to ensure that -

ANNE MACKENZIE
You're going to need more than that, aren't you, I mean, for example, the health service.

JOHN PRESCOTT
No, no, but I was saying - on the health service, if you look at that, let's say - don't forget it was our old card that we promised - and this is the one I'm going to be taking round the country - reduce waiting lists by a hundred thousand - we've done that. To getting class sizes reduced, 300,000 kiddies now are not in class sizes over 30.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But you -

JOHN PRESCOTT
And in all these areas - where - these are delivery, these are benefits. A hospital programme of the biggest scale we've seen - already being built now! Now we've got to get over to people this is happening in your constituency. And what's important about our campaign is to concentrate on the constituency. We have said "this is what you've got, this is what you're going to get from our announcement now on these programmes, and what we're saying about the Tories - as you were asking Michael Ancram about - if you cut back on 16 billion on our programmes, which we're committed to, we're going to ask every Tory member the 24 million question - how many police less? How many schools less? How many hospitals less? All these are proper questions for us to ask of the electorate?

ANNE MACKENZIE
Do you - you know that the electorate have very little patience left now with the level of public services, I mean you talk about the pledge card but the waiting list pledge was met with a great struggle and there have been consequences - for example some doctors say that important operations have been put back just to try and meet that pledge. Class sizes, you have met it, but other class sizes are up as a result.

JOHN PRESCOTT
Yes but I mean, you're, you're saying to me is that not everything has been done. We've done a lot, got a lot to do, and a lot to lose if the other outfit get in. I mean we will be making that absolutely clear. But please, if you promise in a manifesto and if you promise in a card this is what you're going to do, it's right for us to come along in three years and say "delivery". We have delivered and we look to the electorate and we need their trust to make sure we can get a second turn in office.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But have you delivered enough? You may have delivered your ¿ pledges or whatever

JOHN PRESCOTT
What we promised - if you've delivered what you promised, that's quite good isn't it for a political party?

ANNE MACKENZIE
But until this, the spending review, it seemed it wasn't good enough, because there was a lot of disillusionment with the health service and with the schools and ¿

JOHN PRESCOTT
¿ fair point.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Now if we're talking about a spring election, for example -

JOHN PRESCOTT
Can I just answer that one Anne, it's a ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
- are you going to make enough change to make people accept that you are doing what you said?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Yes, I think that's a very ¿ fair point you make Anne, about how people felt a little disillusioned it wasn't delivered. We did decide, for those first two years, to accept the Tory expenditure programme. That meant we weren't able to do things that we wanted to do but what we did achieve is economic stability. We now have the lowest inflation rate, we have far lower interest rates, we now have less payments in national debt, and we transferred billions of pounds, instead of paying those interest pay, payments to bankers, we now actually give that into hospitals and schools. So yes people have said "we thought it would come in the first two years." No, we took a difficult decision but now we've got economic prosperity, a million more people back at work - that's quite remarkable - along with minimum wage and the other advantages, along with a public expenditure increase of a size which will be one of the major issues in this election.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But when will people actually see real differences in say the hospitals? I mean you've played, in a way, the big pre-election card, which is this large spending increase -

JOHN PRESCOTT
¿ I've told you that we've reduced the waiting list - right? And you go on then to say there's still a problem.

ANNE MACKENZIE
No I - but are you saying - there are other problems -

JOHN PRESCOTT
Yes there are, I don't doubt that.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But how do you change that - I mean another winter health crisis, for example. That could be enough to dissipate all the good will that you built up.

JOHN PRESCOTT
Yes.

ANNE MACKENZIE
I mean you can't guarantee -

JOHN PRESCOTT
That could be so, but then don't forget we've actually put more resources out, more planning into it to look at this problem - it's very much dependent on the effect on flu and the effect on older people - but we are planning to deal with that and to learn from the mistakes in the past - that is happening now. We are providing the resources and the equipment to be dealing with those problems.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Can you see that there will be another winter health crisis, because of the money you've put in, that you can cope with it if something similar happens to last year?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well if it's exactly as it happened last year we would have put the extra resources, provided the extra beds, got more nurses and doctors to deal with this kind of problem, so we have directed extra resources to deal with the problem. I can never be absolutely sure, and you'd be quoting this statement from me if it didn't turn out to be so, but we have put more resources, more beds, more availability, more changes to deal with this particular problem.

ANNE MACKENZIE
How much damage do you think has been done to your party's image by the events of the early summer - the leaked memos and so on?

JOHN PRESCOTT
I think that's the kind of froth in politics, quite frankly, that excites the papers but I don't think has a great effect on our people - they read it, they get a little concerned because they see how much attention is given to it by the press, and they see the sources, the where it is coming from and they do worry a bit about that, but when they see what we've produced and delivered - whether it's in levels of employment, higher than ever before, stability in the economy, minimum wage, social justice, hospitals, education - all these improving, they say that's Labour government working.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But don't they also have to worry about what is actually in the memos - because you say it was froth but we have Philip Gould saying that a combination of spin, lack of conviction and lack of integrity marks out New Labour. Now isn't that part of the reason perhaps for the disillusionment -

JOHN PRESCOTT
¿ Philip Gould, I mean -

ANNE MACKENZIE
- if there is any in the core support?

JOHN PRESCOTT
- that doesn't make it actually accepted right throughout the party, ¿ still -

ANNE MACKENZIE
But isn't he meant to be your polling guru -

JOHN PRESCOTT
He's not my polling guru, no. He's ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
- and a chief advisor to the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister rates him?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well I'm - I think the Prime Minister reads all sorts of information from all kinds of areas and that's his opinion. I happen to disagree with him - now you won't be surprised about that. I'm more concerned about delivery, delivery, delivery. That's what we're doing, that's what the public will judge us on this coming election, and all the other thing is froth - that's why I've had this special little thing done - Tory froth. So when you go into a pub and anybody tells you on 14 pints or what is it? Thirty-two rum and cokes - now that's froth. That's reality and delivery.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But Tony Blair himself said that the government was perceived as being out of touch with the gut instincts of the public - do you agree with that?

JOHN PRESCOTT
I think he was referring to one or two particular aspects of it but I don't think you're out of contact with the instincts of the British people when you're improving education, health and indeed getting more people back to work, delivering on our promises. That's the instincts of people, but we must tell them, we must convince them, don't take the public for granted. And this campaign is about convincing them that we delivered as promised.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Just before, just before we move on, are you worried about the damage done to Tony Blair's own image by that memo?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Now having Tony Blair seen as a very capable polit, politician -

ANNE MACKENZIE
Eye-catching initiatives?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well he wants to always to be sure that he promised the electorate - let's be clear about this - Tony Blair probably more than any one person contributed to that majority of 170 ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
¿ his popularity's down considerably.

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well yes but still when you compare after three years in government, compare it to any other prime minister, it's still a very high popularity. He is an honest man, a decent man and he's going to be leading that campaign and I'm sure people are going to be convinced that certainly it's the best alternative to Mr Hague.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Have we seen - have we seen the ¿

JOHN PRESCOTT
And I don't think he drinks 14 pints of beer or 32 rum and cokes.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Have we seen the last of the memos?

JOHN PRESCOTT
I'd hope so.

ANNE MACKENZIE
No comment of course. We could move on to transport. Now you've managed to grab 180 billion for your ten year master plan. Do you feel kind of vindicated now after all the criticism there was of the first three years of your tenure in transport?

JOHN PRESCOTT
I think in government you have to take a long term view, whether it's transport or anything else, and I knew that I needed new change of direction, I needed a white paper, I produced that in the first year. I needed legislation, I now have that, but I needed the resources to back it and I knew it was a three year programme, I talked this over with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, I've now delivered in all those areas and I'm glad to see that everyone from roads to rail, cyclists, all see this as an important and major step in transport, so I'm delighted, as a person who comes from the transport industry, to now be getting more favourable comments from people, but I knew that's what I'd get but I'd have to go through a very difficult stage to begin with. Remember every transport minister's gone through difficulties - Marples must go, I can remember written all over the motorways - but as long as you've got a long term vis, vision, a commitment, and see the importance of transport, as I do, connected to the environmental issues, I'm pleased now I get more, have more favourable reviews than I perhaps did before.

ANNE MACKENZIE
It is a long term plan, though by definition that's the kind of issue transport is.

JOHN PRESCOTT
Yeah.

ANNE MACKENZIE
What difference are voters actually going to see for the next election?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well I only announced this week, didn't I, 600 million pounds going into the, both the Midland line and also into Chiltern. There's 25 franchises, I've ordered a renegotiation of all of them, they're now going to see coming on stream thousands of these new vehicles, that's the first sign they'll see there. The improvements on the congestion on our motorways, the roads are, the money for the roads are available there, the concessionary fares for the pensioners, the massive investment going into the bus industry, all these are a public and private partnership in investment over a long period of time and most of the important of all, tied into a private contract. You don't have to go back to different treasuries to find out whether they still support the programme.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Are they going to be enough though to create the kind of public transport network - by the next election - that's going to make up to motorists for what they feel they are going through on, for example, petrol prices?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well of course on petrol prices it was the Conservative government that brought in the -

ANNE MACKENZIE
Yeah but you - come on - you continued it. You've been in for three years.

JOHN PRESCOTT
¿ but please let me answer it - no, no - please - I was just going to answer that Anne, I am aware that that's what happened, I was the minister, one of the ministers involved. But they brought in that, I just hear them now trying to back off from that kind of policy, they brought in the escalator, we have taken it off. There is less on tax on fuel duty now than there was when we came in. But we did use the extra money from those resources on petrol to get the stability in the economy by putting money into education and health - we think that was right, the Prime Minister's made that case, and I believe he was right.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But a couple of years ago, you denied point blank that the fuel escalator was anything other than a green tax. You said it was to try and improve the environment, and in fact I remember asking you whether it was just a nice little earner for the Treasury and you said no it wasn't. And now we're being told that motorists are being used to -

JOHN PRESCOTT
No, no -

ANNE MACKENZIE
- prop up hospitals and schools.

JOHN PRESCOTT
No, no - on the environmental point, we've had some successes about it, what has happened in the last two years and since we had that discussion, I've negotiate - well Europe has negotiated with the car manufacturers - efficiencies in motor cars to come in which will give us a great deal of the changes in the C02 ¿ taxes

ANNE MACKENZIE
Indeed - but the point I'm trying to make -

JOHN PRESCOTT
- which is what the purpose of the tax was -

ANNE MACKENZIE
But the point I'm trying to make is that you're saying that's the purpose of the tax but at the same time the Prime Minister is saying that the reason that we have to pay high petrol prices is for schools and hospitals. Now the Tories have said that all along, it's a stealth tax, it was wasn't it - and is?

JOHN PRESCOTT
No, in fact the Tories, in fact when Mr Clarke brought in this tax, he was the one who actually said that it was to be used basically for the environment considerations. There are two things here, it did have that effect of the level of reducing C02 gas, the Chancellor made that point - it did have that effect. But what we're beginning to see also is the technology in the motor vehicle now is rather taking over from that, we are achieving the C02 ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
But if you had said in your manifesto that you wanted to use petrol, petrol revenues to prop up schools and hospitals, then people would have had an informed choice. Now many people would say that using a tax of petrol for that's regressive because everybody has to pay for it -

JOHN PRESCOTT
¿ there has never been -

ANNE MACKENZIE
or not, income tax wouldn't

JOHN PRESCOTT
I know but, petrol tax, since ever it's been in, it's never been solely for transport investment - I'm the first one to ¿ ever got a hypothecated tax, that is in ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
So you're quite happy to see people - poor people - not able to afford a tank of petrol, rather than actually putting money on income tax to pay for schools and hospitals.

JOHN PRESCOTT
No I'm not, and indeed what I would prefer to say is that I can provide them with a better public transport alternative. If you're in the rural areas, the 170 extra million pounds I brought along produced 1,800 new services. We've now announced new money to improve those services.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Yes but -

JOHN PRESCOTT
I do want to get a better balance between the use of public transport and the private vehicle.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But, in a word - very briefly - are you going to do anything to try and get fuel price down? We've got the highest price of petrol in the Western world?

JOHN PRESCOTT
That is not my judgement, that is a judgement to be taken by the Chancellor and every politician has said that and it's absolutely right.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Okay, no comment on that. Just before we go -

JOHN PRESCOTT
I thought that was the comment ¿

ANNE MACKENZIE
What do you make of William Hague's proposals on paedophile sentencing and life sentences for the most dangerous paedophiles?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well you remember that when we came in we actually brought in the register in 1997, we thought it was absolutely important to do it.

ANNE MACKENZIE
¿ that the Tories had set it up to begin with.

JOHN PRESCOTT
Yeah they may well have done, we were the ones that brought the legislation and did it the first thing when we came in. Then we brought the Sex Offenders Act, and much of the things that Mr Hague's talking about, we very much welcome. I think if you can get the consensus between the political parties, in the review of these, this legislation at the present time, that would be very welcome and sets a kind of far different atmosphere to that we've seen basically down in Portsmouth. So yes we welcome it but he's supporting largely what we're already doing.

ANNE MACKENZIE
You were quoted as blaming the Tories for the mob violence saying they'd basically being responsible for creating the climate that led to the campaign, did you really say that?

JOHN PRESCOTT
No I didn't, no I didn't say I could blame anyone for the mob violence, as such, I think we all might deplore what has happened down there, but at the end of the day what I'm saying, there's a kind of atmosphere that leads to such insecurity and fear which I think perhaps the Tories, to my mind, have tended to influence by some of their statements or non-statements. I think what we can't deny at the moment is we very much welcome the statement by, made by William Hague in regard to the register and changes that we can make.

ANNE MACKENZIE
John Prescott, for the moment, thank you. Just an update on the news headlines from Moira.

[NEWS]

ANNE MACKENZIE
And just before we go, just a very quick last question Mr Prescott, the image of the party, we've been talking about that - have you been upset by recent criticism of the lavish refurbishment of your flat in Admiralty House, specifically the carpet?

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well I don't make those decisions and basically the refurbishment's similar cost that the Tories did in 1983, and that was the last time it was done. With regard to car, carpets, it's Tory froth - it wasn't £90 a square yard - that's a lie and they know that isn't so.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Thirty-eight pounds a square yard is still ¿

JOHN PRESCOTT
Thirty, 34, I don't make the decision - the people who make the decisions about carpets are the ones that are in the government departments who actually refurbish it.

ANNE MACKENZIE
But don't you think though that the use of taxpayers money, whether you make the decisions or not, is a bit unfortunate -

JOHN PRESCOTT
Well I -

ANNE MACKENZIE
- to be seen to spending this much?

JOHN PRESCOTT
- and they've done the roof as well, and it's a beautiful building and apparently the roof's been leaking - should the money not be used for refurbishing the roof? So I mean they're the decisions that have to be taken by a government who are responsible for beautiful buildings.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Mmm.

JOHN PRESCOTT
They give me the privilege of leave - living it - like every other Tory politician, I'm delighted to accept it.

ANNE MACKENZIE
Okay, John Prescott, thank you for joining us. And there's news on the hour, every hour on the BBC's digital channel BBC News24 but that's all from us this morning, thank you to all our guests, Huw Edwards will be in this chair next week but from me, good morning.

ENDS .

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