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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
ANN WIDDECOMBE MP SHADOW HOME SECRETARY SEPTEMBER 3RD, 2000

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

DAVID FROST
In a moment I'll be speaking to the Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe but first of all details of a new documentary about the former US President Richard Nixon.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST
Richard Nixon, revelations, that new film, a new insight into the life of Richard Nixon from the new Anthony Summers book is being shown on BBC2 tomorrow night. Now the Conservatives have been deeply criticised for a poor performance over the summer, their poll rating had made a bit of an improvement but now it's dropped back to below 30 per cent. The polls aren't the only worry, the worry of some senior Tory figures is that the party leadership hasn't been attacking the government enough, or selling his own policies hard enough but could this be about to change. This week the party will launch, as we heard earlier on, a new draft manifesto, a pre manifesto, a mini manifesto called Believing in Britain, will that turn things round or perhaps there's now a scrabble perhaps to salvage that position, a scrabble that could have been avoided if Ann Widdecombe had been left in charge over the summer, she did great last summer but she wasn't there this summer you see. Ann Widdecombe is here now, Ann good morning.

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Good morning to you.

DAVID FROST
You were missed this summer clearly, after last summer, with the events of the past┐

ANN WIDDECOMBE
I don't think one can say that at all. When I came back and looked at what had actually been going on we had made announcements on sex offenders, we've made announcements on travellers, we had made announcements on children in care, we've made announcements on a whole range of things so I don't think it's true that we weren't doing things summer but what I do think is this, that we had a big success with the commonsense revolution, we're now wanting to build on that by taking our policies to the next stage which of course will be in this pre manifesto.

DAVID FROST
Right well I want to ask you about that, the, but, the problem though is that this is seen by everybody looking at history, looking at the history books that an unbridgeable gap in the sense 20, 22 points with maybe less than a year to a general election, no one has ever, no opposition ever turned that round, if you were able to turn that round it would be Guinness Book of Records times ten?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well of course just before the summer when that gap in the opinion polls was beginning to close, suddenly your profession was saying ah things don't look so safe for Blair after all, maybe he won't dare to go next May, maybe he'll delay 'til October, then of course as soon as the polls change again you say oh there you are the fact is that we are keeping our nerve, we are not going to be knocked off course by every change in the opinion polls or disproportionately encouraged by every change in the opinion polls, we have a steady nerve and above all we have the right policies.

DAVID FROST
Well we'll come on to the policies, but you would be happier though, whatever you say about polls now, you'd be happier wouldn't you if it was Tories 51, Labour 29?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well of course I'd be delighted if it were Tories 51, Labour 29, that wouldn't cause me in any way to relax my guard because what is actually going to make the real difference at the election are the policies of the party and if the policies that we have are right and I believe that we're getting them right, that is what the election's going to concentrate on, that's what Britain will decide on.

DAVID FROST
Well Europe is the thing that's, one of the things that's featured here, Hague vows to wrest key powers from Europe, say the papers today, in fact two papers have the same exact headline, two different papers, vows to wrest key powers from Europe and this as it stands is a, is a, is saying this far and no further in a number of areas, is that right?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Yes I mean I think that what most people are worried about at the moment is the way that Europe appears to be determining things which people in this country believe it is our right to determine, that we should decide how we do things. Now when we look at other countries like France and Germany they've already built those sorts of protections into their system and I think it is now time and William thinks it's now time that we had similar protection in our law to enable us to be autonomous in those important areas.

DAVID FROST
And in terms of this though, while you're saying this far and no further we won't cede these additional powers you are now pledging to take back powers that Brussels already have are you?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
I think we do need to have a good look at the whole process of decision making, I think that we do need to have a good look at that, but what we are concerned about at the moment is to say that we just, at least, have got to halt the trend, we have got to at least to make sure that we retain power over those things that we have power over now and I think it is right that we should make that an important first step.

DAVID FROST
What else is going to be important, what are you going to do on law and order in this?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well law and order is going to be crucially important because this was the government that came in saying it's tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, since then we've had a record fall in police numbers, we've had rises in crime after four years of falling crime under us. We've got 20,000 plus┐

DAVID FROST
And falling initially under Labour too?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well of course they inherited it didn't they? And what have they done with it, reversed it and crime is now rising again.

DAVID FROST
But you talk about police, I mean how would you do any better than Labour on police, I mean what's your big idea to attract people who seem not to want to be attracted to joining the police force?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well there are two points there, first of all we were doing better than Labour, I mean we were both affording and maintaining a police force of nearly 3,000 more than Labour are now presiding over, we had that all under Labour. But you say what is our big idea, there is one thing which I think is crucial, I think that policemen go into the service in order to fight crime, that is their motivation, they don't go in in order to spend all their time either on inessential tasks or on loads and loads of paperwork and so what I promised at last year's party conference and what remains a problem is that the first thing I will do with the police is to have a complete review of those functions with a very specific aim of taking away from the police things that they need not be doing, putting those tasks elsewhere and getting the police visible on frontline policing, that's what they joined up to do. They didn't join up to spend, for example, as one policeman recently told me, four hours processing a single prisoner through custody.

DAVID FROST
What about police and Notting Hill, the Notting Hill Carnival, policing at last weekend's carnival, people have suggested that the real level of crime was underplayed and that police had to turn a blind eye, were advised or told to turn a blind eye to non-violent theft and drug taking and so on, like that, in order not to be provocative and so on and that there may have been more violence than we know about and so on, and we have the Met saying today but you always said we should be more sensitive in these situations and now we're getting blasted for that, do you blast the police for what they did in Notting Hill?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
I don't blast them but let me take up one thing you've said which I think is very important, I'm becoming increasingly resistant to hearing about how non violent crime somehow isn't important, if you had your handbag stolen you may have suffered no assault at all in the course of that theft but if you have your handbag stolen at an event like that and that handbag contains just something as very simple as the bus pass to get home with that is an act of violence, it's a violence against your peace of mind. It's an act of violence against your ability just to go about your lawful occasions in an ordinary manner. So I am never prepared to accept that somehow non violent crime isn't important, what I will say for the police is that it is a very difficult balance to strike when you're policing those huge events because if you're too heavy handed you can provoke trouble as we've seen there in the past.

DAVID FROST
What would you do, if you were in power by the next one what would you do differently?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well I think there are lots of things that need at least looking at, one is is the venue still right in view of the way that it's grown. Two, should there be any limitation on numbers. Three, should there be any different style of policing, those are questions, they are not knee-jerk reactions because the one thing that I think a grown-up politician doesn't do is just come on the day after and say I've got all the answers because if so it would have been easy enough to do.

DAVID FROST
Talking of London, your candidate for London and now Tory Vice Chairman Steve Norris was saying this week very strongly that if we believe in equality and so on there is nothing against the idea of gay marriages, quote "no moral barrier to the civil registration of gay partnerships", do you agree with that, you don't, do you?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
No I don't, I think that society must have a preferred model and that no substitute has been found either through history or across the globe for the traditional family of man and woman in a long-term relationship of bringing up children, that is my view of what the state should recognise, should recognise in the fiscal system which is why for example we've homed in on the married man's tax allowance, I believe that we should promote the traditional family. I do not agree with Steve, it is a matter of conscience, he is fully entitled to say that, I don't agree with him and I'm entitled to say that.

DAVID FROST
You are indeed, in terms of the ethnic make-up and the diversity within the Tory Party, people point out that you are one of only what, 14 women MPs compared to over 100 on the Labour side and that there's no black Conservative MP at the moment and only one candidate in a winnable seat and so on and so forth, this was something that William, William Hague put great store by originally, I mean you haven't been very successful in, in diversifying the party ethnically or gender wise have you?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well first of all I have met quite a lot of candidates from the ethnic minorities and of course in the last Parliament we had a sitting MP and I would want to see that increase, I genuinely would, I'd also like to see the number of women MPs increase. But having looked at the other side and at the great new intake of women who frankly have been one of the biggest disappointments of this Parliament, the last thing I want to see is positive discrimination, I want to see us actively address the problem, I want to see us encouraging, I want to see us trying to break down barriers. What I don't want to see and I would find it very humiliating as a woman if it happened to me, is somebody just given a position which men or others have to compete for.

DAVID FROST
What about this story that we, we mentioned earlier on today, the story about 100,000 new, Labour to invite a 100,000 foreigners a year into UK, ministers announce sweeping changes in immigration law to attract workers because we're short because of a severe skills shortage among British workers, is that a good idea?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well I would say two things, first of all of course we've got a work permit scheme which allows you to import labour where you can't get local skills. But secondly I would ask this question, yes unemployment has continued to fall but at the same time we still have a pool of unemployed people in this country, not all of them can be unemployable and we must at least look at some serious reskilling in Britain, I am not against bringing in skills from outside where we really can't produce them in this country, that, that makes good economic sense, what does not make good economic sense is to use that as a first resort rather than trying to skill your own workforce first.

DAVID FROST
And what about, Bruce Anderson had a memorable quote here this week in his Spectator piece which you may have seen, a loyal Conservative supporter, may not be a party member because he's a journalist, but anyway he usually supports the Conservatives and talking about the populist initiatives of, of the summer he says this, such populist initiatives may help to firm up the tattooed forearm vote but they will do nothing for the gravel drive and Volvo vote, populism is not the key to popularity?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
Well I mean it is a truism to say populism is not the key to popularity, the key to popularity if by that you mean the key to people having confidence and wanting you to form the next government are going to be having the right policies, the right policies in terms of taxation, the right policies on law and order, the right policies in education and health. And I believe that in all those areas we are speaking much more directly to the people than Labour are and┐

DAVID FROST
Enlightening words, what would you do about education, what's the big change you'd make in education?

ANN WIDDECOMBE
The big change that we would make in education is to give schools the freedom, the freedom to, and not just to manage their budgets but the freedom much more importantly to set their own priorities, their own character, it was a rip-roaring success for those schools who actually did it under grant-maintained status but now what we need to say is every school can do this not just a few and we need to, to make sure that heads can run their own schools free of interference from local authorities because a good school is as good as its headmaster.

DAVID FROST
Thank you very much Ann.

END

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