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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
JOHN MAJOR OCTOBER 8TH, 2000

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

DAVID FROST

John Major's best-selling hardback memoir is now out in paperback, including a new final chapter. Congratulations on the success of the book John.

JOHN MAJOR

Thank you very much.

DAVID FROST

And we were talking a lot there earlier on about Serbia, and by inference Kosovo and all of that, what do you think now with the benefit of hindsight - do you think the policy that's been pursued since you left office in that part of the world is the right one?

JOHN MAJOR

I'm not an undiluted admirer of the policy that's been followed, no. British troops were put in action and so I supported that, of course, but I wasn't sure it was the right way to proceed. I wasn't sure it was the way to generate the maximum amount of support. The bombing policy was given at the time a great hype, many people supported it, they thought it was the right thing to do because of the atrocities they heard about in Serbia - and they were appalling. What we've discovered, subsequently of course, is what should have been known before, the bombing was actually relatively unsuccessful, only a small proportion of the bombs actually hit the targets. And I'm not myself convinced, and wasn't at the time, that it was the right way to proceed. I think it set up a very strongly anti-Western, anti-Nato feeling; it's arguable whether it diminished ethnic cleansing or accelerated it; at the end of the day it was a democratic movement that actually got rid of Milosevic and his thugs; so I'm, I think it's very questionable, it's ancient history now, it's happened, but I think it's questionable whether it was the right way to proceed.

DAVID FROST

And the bombing itself was unsuccessful, as you were saying -

JOHN MAJOR

Well the, the -

DAVID FROST

- there were casualties as well as a lack of targets hit, wasn't there?

JOHN MAJOR

Well, if you remember the earlier dispute over Bosnia, there was great pressure on, on, on the government some years earlier to bomb, and we resisted it. And we resisted it because the military advice we gave was that it was very difficult to bomb in that terrain and it would have a very low success rate. Well precisely the same point applied to Kosovo, but the bombing did go ahead. Now no one will ever know what the outcome would have been if the bombing hadn't gone ahead, so one can never be certain about that, but I wasn't persuaded of the policy then and I'm not persuaded of the policy now.

DAVID FROST

And so truth was one of the casualties in fact, in terms of the figures that were announced.

JOHN MAJOR

Well, in retrospect, self-evidently so. We were given to believe there was a much higher success rate of the bombing at the time. We were certainly led to believe the atrocities were much worse than they turned out to be. Now I'm not excusing the atrocities, let's not get into that - they were appalling - but the quantity of them seems to be a good deal less than was said at the time, it doesn't excuse them, it's extremely good news that Milosevic is gone, I hope very much we're now into a new era but I think we must wait and see. I think there were lessons to be learned from that policy and I hope they are learned.

DAVID FROST

And this week you said that you would vote no in the next parliament to a referendum on going into the single currency.

JOHN MAJOR

Well I've said that before.

DAVID FROST

JOHN MAJOR

And that I think it's, it's premature.

DAVID FROST

Definitely for the whole of the next parliament

JOHN MAJOR

I don't have any reservations in saying until the end of the next parliament.

DAVID FROST

So ironically on that you're now slightly closer to William Hague than you are to Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke.

JOHN MAJOR

Well it's William, it's William Hague's policy to say no for the next parliament. I think the argument for saying no in the next parliament is quite compelling. When the euro was born, it was born in the wrong economic circumstances. Years ago the European countries agreed a certain set of economic circumstances that were necessary for the birth of the euro. Well when the euro was launched, those economic circumstances weren't there and I think you've seen the effect of that. You've had an extremely weak euro on the foreign exchange markets, you've had a very dubious policy being followed. Now this has very dramatic effects - economic effects certainly, but it has great political ramifications as well and I think if we're going to make a valued, a measured judgement, then I don't think it's time to do so. I called, years ago, for us to wait and see how the policy actually worked out to see whether it was in Britain's interest to join. Now that was much derided at the time but the present government having been waiting to see, and of course the Conservative policy is to wait and see as well, only a little longer. No one has ruled it out for ever and that is wise, but I am perfectly content with saying we should go in in the next parliament. I don't think we would go in, I don't that, that a referendum would be won in the next parliament, and I personally would not vote to enter during the course of the next parliament.

DAVID FROST

What do you feel about the progress of one of your other creations - well the European Union wasn't your creation entirely, but the -

JOHN MAJOR

It certainly wasn't.

DAVID FROST

- but what do you feel about the developments that have hit the Lottery?

JOHN MAJOR

I think we need to remember what the Lottery was for. If you look at things that really affect people's lives - sport, the arts, charities - they were always at the back of the queue for government money - health, social security, defence, pensions were all way ahead. And each of those areas - sports, the arts, the lottery - got relatively petty cash from the government. And yet they affect everyone's life. You've just been talking to David Davies - football - this country is mad about football, mad about cricket, mad about athletics and rugby. And so I devised the Lottery to provide a large sum of money for those sports, and for the arts which are an immeasurable bonus to British life, we have the best arts, I think perhaps anywhere in the world - wonderful theatre and stage. And it was to give them the resources so they could continue to improve. Now what I regret very much is firstly that it's become such a political football over who should run it in future and secondly, and perhaps even more compellingly, the fact that the government have raided the Lottery and taken a substantial sum of money away from the Lottery for other causes. Now their other causes may be good - that is not the point at issue - but they're causes that should have been paid for by the taxpayer and not by the Lottery. And by doing that they have taken money away from sport, away from the arts and away from charities. And I find that extraordinary that they've done that, because when we were passing the legislation it was the Labour opposition that kept demanding that the government didn't take the money and that the distribution of it was independent.

DAVID FROST

And in terms of the Tory party this week, John, is there two strains to - I suppose there's the softer, gentler side portrayed by the new and changed Michael Portillo, and then there's the hard line Ann Widdicombe. First of all, since you were in Cabinet with him, do you think Michael Portillo has changed, has mellowed?

JOHN MAJOR

Well I didn't know Michael all that well then and I don't know Michael all that well now - I know him quite well but I mean he's never been very close so I'm not the best person to make a judgement. But I think politically he's grown up, I think he has a much broader view of what government is about and how it affects people and I think that's thoroughly welcome that he's had these experiences and I think it has, it has improved his understanding.

DAVID FROST

And Ann Widdicombe, what did you think of the drugs idea -

JOHN MAJOR

Well I must point out -

DAVID FROST

- I mean it's one of those ideas that had a very short life.

JOHN MAJOR

Well I must tell you something about Ann Widdicombe, Ann Widdecombe is a very unusual politician in many ways. In my experience - and I do know her quite well - she is always utterly true to herself, she is incapable of not being true to herself, and in the worst of the difficulties that we faced some years ago, whenever Ann Widdicombe may have disagreed with something that I had said or planned to do, Ann Widdicombe would come and tell me it privately - I never heard of it from behind the hand briefing, I never heard of it in a public comment made elsewhere. So she's an utterly straight and honest politician and she says precisely what she thinks - what she says is what she believes. Now I think that's admirable, I think it's a great plus for politics.

DAVID FROST

And so what went wrong with this idea? I mean just suddenly the audience realised, I suppose, that half of their children would be covered by this hundred quid criminalisation.

JOHN MAJOR

Well I can't tell you what went wrong, I mean clearly we'll have to look at it, I think clearly the Shadow Cabinet will have to look at it and the subsequent events post the statement. But if you consider these sort of things happen occasionally, it wasn't all that long ago that the prime minister was all for marching people to a cashpoint.

DAVID FROST

a few weeks.

JOHN MAJOR

So I think you have to realise these things suddenly occur, that doesn't diminish the attractiveness of Ann Widdicombe as a thoroughly straight-forward, decent, honest politician.

DAVID FROST

And I think, and I think we can presumably assume that Ann Widdicombe was not one of the seven - don't you think? We took drugs

JOHN MAJOR

I, I would say that's a pretty safe assumption.

DAVID FROST

You would. But is it embarrassing for the ones who have, or have we passed that stage now? JOHN MAJOR

Well I think quite frankly, I think it's going to be of more interest to the metropolitan media than to the public at large. I mean you touched upon that point in something you said just a moment or so ago and I thoroughly agree with it, so I think this is a squall, I think it will pass - and it doesn't diminish from the significant change of tone and the great range of policies that were actually announced at conference last week, and I strongly approve of those, I think the policies for the inner cities, the new policies for health, the new policies for education, they are a really broad base upon which a credible government can act, and they're a really broad base for a general election campaign. So I think despite this short term squall, I think the party conference was an undiluted plus and will have helped the Conservative cause over the next few months.

DAVID FROST

Do you think Northern Ireland, you were with Albert Reynolds the other night, the last time I saw you, do you think Northern Ireland is in a really dangerous phase or just one of those crises that comes along from time to time?

JOHN MAJOR

Northern Ireland has always been two steps forward and one step back, and we have undoubtedly been in the one step back phase over the last few weeks. I think the recent bye-election in Northern Ireland was extremely difficult for David Trimble, he had two candidates, the candidate of his own party as well as the candidate of the DUP, both of them effectively opposed to the Good Friday Agreement to which he had put his name. So that was extraordinarily difficult, and whichever way that election result had gone would have caused difficulties for David Trimble. But I think people have to realise that if internal party politics would unsettle what has been agreed in Northern Ireland then we go back quite a long way. So I hope people will support David Trimble, one doesn't have to agree with every dot and comma of what the government has done on Northern Ireland to agree with the principals of the Good Friday Agreement and to say that the Good Friday Agreement is still the best option available for trying to bring a secure peaceful future to Northern Ireland. And I, I very much hope that's what we're going to see.

DAVID FROST

And now you've completed the book and so on, what, what are you going to do for the rest of your life John?

JOHN MAJOR

Well I think there's a lot. I've, I've spent a very long time in politics, I've enjoyed almost every moment of that time in politics but it's never been the whole of my life, there are lots of other things to do outside politics, I shall do some more writing, I'll do a certain amount of pro bona work, both for charities and, and sport, I'll certainly get more involved in business - there's a whole range of things that have had to be put, put to one side during the political years that I can now turn to.

DAVID FROST

And as a former prime minister, of course, you can still perform in parliament by going to the House of Lords.

JOHN MAJOR

Mm.

DAVID FROST

Would you accept such an invitation?

JOHN MAJOR

Well I haven't had such an invitation and I don't necessarily presume that such an invitation is likely to come at some stage in the future. I would have to pause and consider that. I have a huge admiration for the House of Lords, I have a huge admiration for the people who work in the House of Lords, they're great public servants and they do an absolutely tremendous job. But I'm not at all sure that I wouldn't want a fire break from politics - I don't think one ever says no for ever - but I think it is probably unlikely rather than likely that I would accept an offer - were it to come - to go in the House of Lords immediately upon leaving parliament. I think the answer would be no I won't.

DAVID FROST

Well that's very clear. When you leave parliament, will you, in your first election you haven't participated in for a long time, will you play a role in the next election, for William Hague, or not?

JOHN MAJOR

Yes of course I will. If I'm asked to I will, and a large number of candidates have individually written to me asking if I'll visit their constituencies or help them during the next general election campaign, and I'll certainly do that. I think this has not been a good government, I think it's a government that has diminished parliament. I think it has had a particularly easy life because of the economic inheritance that it has, when the prime minister says - whenever he's asked why he hasn't done something - well we had to get the economy right first, that's complete hogwash because the economy he inherited was the best economy an incoming government has had for a very long time indeed. The best that could be said of the Labour government is they haven't wrecked it. But when I heard him talking the other day about low taxes in the UK, lower than elsewhere - well he inherited that. All he and Gordon Brown have done is put the taxes up. So the economy was there. The truly astonishing thing about this Labour government is that with a majority of 170, with an opposition immediately after the election that was in disarray, with a golden economic scenario, he has done so little with it. If you compare what this government has done with its majority, and have a look what Mr Attlee did between 1945 and 1950, or what Margaret Thatcher did between 1983 and 1987, particularly, you see a wholly different range of achievements. They have wasted their majority.

DAVID FROST

Well we've got, we've got to leap over for the news headlines and then we'll come back here to say goodbye.

[NEWS]

DAVID FROST

A second to ask you, what do you think about Kevin Keegan?

JOHN MAJOR

Well I'm very sorry at the decision. I think he, he was a remarkable footballer and I think the pressure that is put upon football managers, whether they're England managers or club managers and cricket managers, it's, it's just extraordinary, it's out of all kilter to reality and I, I think that pressure is very damaging - so he has my total sympathy.

DAVID FROST

John, thank you very much indeed for being with us, as ever, thank you for joining us, we'll see you next week same time, same spot on the dial. Bye-bye for now.

ENDS

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