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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
CHARLES KENNEDY MP LEADER LIBERAL DEMOCRATS SEPTEMBER 17TH, 2000

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

DAVID FROST
This time of year the political parties decamp to the seaside, the party kicking off the conference season is the Liberal Democrats, they meet this week down in Bournemouth. It's the second time Charles Kennedy will be speaking to his party faithful as their leader and he now joins me from his seafront hotel, is it a bracing morning with you Charles?

CHARLES KENNEDY
David it's an absolutely lovely morning, somebody was just saying on the crew here that it's like the Cannes Film Festival, I was tempted to do the interview with shades on and pretend that I'm Robert De Niro, but anyway, did you have a good summer by the way?

DAVID FROST
And we'd welcome a few topless starlets behind you, you know on the beach, that would be nice?

CHARLES KENNEDY
That might be a bridge too far, I think we'll probably pass on that one.

DAVID FROST
Right, it's a bit cold. In your great new work Charles, you say taxing fuel might seem to be an unpopular measure but you go on to say that raising taxes on all possible fuels which would include petrol of course is "vital to make it more expensive to make some headway in reducing consumption" given the events of this week would you like to rephrase that?

CHARLES KENNEDY
No I wouldn't like to rephrase it but I would do is complete the argument and the completion of the argument which is what the government fell foul of over the course of last week is that you've got to be even handed. The two things about taxation policy general, whether it's fuel or anything else, be open and transparent about where you're going to tax but be equally clear about where you're going to alleviate the effects of certain taxations and for fuel of course that means that you have to have compensatory measures in position for the rural areas, for agriculture, for those for whom the motor car is not a luxury item it's a necessity. We've always argued that.

DAVID FROST
Yeah but at the same time, I mean would you put up, there is some proposals coming up this week allegedly about an increase 5, 5p on a litre of fuel¿would you still increase¿

CHARLES KENNEDY
There's not.

DAVID FROST
Pardon?

CHARLES KENNEDY
There's not, there's not a proposal on that, that is an issue that we looked at before the summer, before all the present crisis arose in the past week, we considered it and we rejected it. We rejected it for the reasons that I just outlined.

DAVID FROST
And, and in fact you would reject increasing taxes on fuel despite the reasons for doing it environmentally?

CHARLES KENNEDY
It's very important that we maintain our environmental credentials as a party, the Green agenda is not allowed to go by default but what you have to do is to provide incentives for people to use other means of transport apart from the motor car. Now in large parts of the country that means actually providing public transport where at the moment none exists or what does exist is completely insufficient, inadequate for the purposes. It also means tackling head on, and this, this will be a controversial issue too, the matter of congestion charges and actually taxing people who have to, or choose to commute by car into the major conurbations in the country, that's where the big environmental damage gets done, that's where the tax policy of the moment is not even handed in this country and we're being quite straight about this.

DAVID FROST
And people putting estimates on your plans say that you're going to add £8 billion to the tax burden, well the Conservatives say £18 billion but £8 billion to the tax burden with your plans, is that true and if they are, if it is true will the public stand for it?

CHARLES KENNEDY
Well over a five-year period that's certainly the ball park figure, what does that mean in real terms, it means if you're earning over £100,000 a year, which is quite a lot of money, but if you are earning more than that then you will contribute more in tax. What does it mean at the other end, it means that that sum can raise for pensioners £5 more for each and every pensioner in the land above inflation week in the basic state pension, £10 more if you're over 75, £15 more if you're over 80. It also means that a million and a half people at the bottom end of the income spectrum paying tax at the moment will no longer have to pay tax. Now that's an honest choice that we're going to put to the public at the election and I think that bit of honesty in politics is perhaps no bad thing.

DAVID FROST
And if by any chance at the next election you're not elected as Prime Minister and you'd much prefer to have Tony Blair than William Hague, yeah?

CHARLES KENNEDY
Well obviously I'd much prefer to see the Liberal Democrats calling the shots but if for whatever reasons under the voting system in particular that doesn't happen, incidentally these polls by the way, they're saying in the headlines today they're neck-and-neck, they're also showing Liberal Democrats on 21 per cent, that's a significant hike for us, that's a very good basis on which to be starting the conference and hopefully if we can build on that this week going into the next election. But in terms of even-handedness amongst the other political parties, I'm quite straight about this, there's an awful lot we're disappointed with this Labour government about, so are a lot of other people, self-evidently, but quite frankly what William Hague is putting forward at the moment, if we believe what William says I believe would amount to an ungovernable programme for this country, he would distance us from Europe, he would tackle the problems of the Health Service by doing what? By doing something about the fact that he doesn't think that Asian doctors speak good enough English, he would crack down on asylum and immigration, he thinks the problems to the schools in this country are all to do with bring back school uniform. This is all good media populist stuff but it's not responsible politics.

DAVID FROST
And if, as people predict Tony Blair does not come out in favour of one of the fuller forms of PR, but offers you AV, the Alternative Vote, would you accept that?

CHARLES KENNEDY
No we'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it, the Labour Party have got their own internal debate, perfectly proper, perfectly legitimate about their attitude to voting systems. They'll decide at their conference and beyond, I have religiously, studiously refused to provide a running commentary in that debate on exactly the same principle why I don't want Labour to provide a running commentary on our internal debates, that's up to the Labour Party, our business is up to the Liberal Democrats.

DAVID FROST
But Roy Jenkins¿Roy Jenkins things the game is up as far as his proposal is concerned?

CHARLES KENNEDY
I think Roy might be being unduly pessimistic quite frankly, that's my impression, I do not get the view in my dealings with Tony Blair both publicly and privately and what I say privately is what I say publicly, that he wants to resile [sic] from a commitment to give the voter, the public, not stitched up amongst theirselves and the political parties, a straightforward choice in the referendum, do you want the status quo in terms of the voting system for the House of Commons or do you want something that's a proportionate system voting. He still wants to do that, Robin Cook who chairs the Policy Forum has said, he said to you David on your programme not that long ago, that he remains of that view, let's see what happens in the Labour Party but our position is clear, we want that choice, we want Labour to remain committed to that choice.

DAVID FROST
Charles thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.

CHARLES KENNEDY
My pleasure.

DAVID FROST
We appreciate it, thank you indeed to Charles Kennedy, have a good, have a good week there in Bournemouth. [BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST
That's about it for this week, for those of you who can't get out of the car and spending a rare day at home with the family enjoy it all, if we can all get down to Brighton next week we will be speaking live with the Prime Minister Tony Blair, that's next Sunday here. Also talking to one of our Olympic hopefuls, Steve Redgrave, more than a hopeful of course with his fantastic winning record in the past. One important note to note next week is that the Olympics are on BBC1 at this very hour and so Breakfast with Frost is paying a little trip to BBC2 at the same time 9am until 10am but on BBC2, hope you can join us then for Tony Blair and Steven Redgrave. END

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