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Sunday, 12 November, 2000, 14:52 GMT
Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo

DAVID FROST: And now some people call it a mini budget to start the next election campaign but let's find out what Michael Portillo, the Shadow Chancellor thought. Good morning Michael.

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: Can I just start with this story in PA that you asked on Friday night¿whether you still had the ambition to be in charge, ie Prime Minister, and you replied "I didn't know I had, no I don't think so, I'm very happy with what I have got", what exactly is your¿

MICHAEL PORTILLO: I'm very happy with what I've got, that's exactly right.

DAVID FROST: Is it really, you'd like to be Chancellor rather than Shadow Chancellor?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Oh yes, you bet, yes. I'd much rather be in office than in opposition that's absolutely true, and we're going to work very hard for that and we shall.

DAVID FROST: And if, if we were getting on to William Hill tomorrow you, you would suggest not backing that Michael Portillo will one day be Prime Minister?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Yeah, I would, I would recommend not backing that.

DAVID FROST: Now what did you make, I mean in one sense people said they shot your fox in a way, with a very skilled budget and so on, a mini pre budget, do you see that it that way?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: No I think I drew the opposite conclusion, you know we've been saying for a very long time that taxes were too high and we've been saying that he's been piling the duty onto petrol and diesel quite unnecessarily and remorselessly year after year, we've been listening to the British people, I think the Chancellor had become very badly out of touch with real life and he compounded that when he gave only 75p to pensioners really showing that he had no understanding of what it was like struggling to get by on a pension. And so when we have the Chancellor coming to the House of Commons and saying in terms, you know I've done on the petrol on the diesel, more than the Conservatives were promising to do, not only in a way that attribute to us but also I think it showed again that he had the tone all wrong because instead of coming along and saying 'look I've made a terrible mistake, I shouldn't have been piling these taxes onto people who can't afford it', he came to the House of Commons as it were as though he were competing politically, still being too clever by half, it was as though he was saying look what a, look what a good boy am I and I thought that was completely the wrong tone, it was really a day when he should have should, there are two errors I've had to clear up, the pensions mess and the petrol mess, these were both Gordon Brown's making, they were both of the Chancellor's making and Gordon Brown should have said these are my mistakes, I've had to put them right and I'm sorry I made a mess of them in the first place.

DAVID FROST: And we, we talked about this before, but the, in terms, everyone's still asking how you're going to manage to keep social services going as well as they are now or as not well, whatever one thinks but at the same level of that activity with £8 billion or £16 billion less, what is the explanation of that point, everyone's perturbed by it?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Well the explanation is that the economy is now worth about a thousand billion pounds and each year it grows about two and a half per cent, so that means each year the nation has about £25 billion extra of money that it can spend and the question is should all that money be spent by the government or should some of it be spent by the people who earned it, that is to say the families and the pensioners and the businesses of Britain. Now Gordon Brown's proposal is that each year as our economy grows the government's share of what we make as a nation should grow faster than the economy as a whole and the only way he can achieve that is by increasing taxes year after year and indeed by stopping what the private sector, he's got to actually suppress the private sector because his bit of the economy, the bit that's controlled by the government is growing faster than the economy as a whole.

DAVID FROST: But how do, he's saved up some money, you say increasing taxes, he would say from prudence and so on and so forth, but he's saved up money to cover the next three years, it can't go on forever obviously, you're saying, but what, how would you, if you came in, take less money and produce magically the same social services, it's not possible, is it?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Well because, I mean you say Social Services, Social Services are of course only a part, an important part but only a part of our total public spending and most people I think when they look at what the government spends, whatever it may be on, when the public look at it they think this money is not as well spent as it should be, there are all sorts of things that people know about when money is wasted and we are going to reveal over the next few months ways in which we would spend money differently and better not just, but less on certain things, yes.

DAVID FROST: Which things?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Well we're going to tell you in the next few months, I mean we've already put forward some proposals, the changes on social security, for example, we do want to reform social security, do have some proposals for doing things differently we've explained how we would do industrial injuries and insurance differently. We've explained that we would have different rules about income support for parents who had older children, we'd require them to be registered work so that we've already made some proposals, we're going to make some more proposals. But you know when you're dealing with these vast¿

DAVID FROST: But one, so one of the places you're going to save money is on social, social security?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Absolutely and that's all been announced there's no mystery about it, our proposals are out there for people to debate but let me just continue to make that point, the economy grows at £25 billion a year, now the Chancellor doesn't have to take all that money, in fact he shouldn't take all that money because if you're going to leave any incentive for people to do better, to have better businesses, to work harder, you've got to let them keep some of the money that they've been earning. And one of the reasons I think we've had these protests, these tax protests is because people have actually noticed something which economists have only just cottoned on to which is that taxes have now gone up so much that people's real disposable money, the money they've actually got themselves to spend on goods and services, hasn't been growing during the course of this year, hasn't been growing at all and people see the prosperity of the nation around them getting greater and they realise that they themselves haven't got any more money to spend and the reason for that is that Gordon Brown has been taxing them so very hard and we think by all means use a lot of this £25 billion extra that we have a year as an economy, use a lot of that to spend on public services, but leave some of it, leave some of it with the people who earned it because otherwise they don't have any incentive. One of the things that worries me is that we, we tend to be rather complacent about the British economy doing fairly well, you know it's been growing since 1992, in the last three years it's been growing at half the rate of the American economy. Now you just imagine how much more they can have in terms of public service, how much more they can spend on education and so on¿with an economy that's growing twice as fast as ours.

DAVID FROST: It is just if you compare it with the 18, on one occasion you shrewdly compared it with the last 15 years of the Tories to move out¿bad first three years, but if you compare it it is, rising it may only be half the American but it is rising at a slightly faster pace than it was under the Tories?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: Well it's only slightly comparing the whole 18 years in which we had two world recessions, but I think people would have been rather struck that but if you take the 15 years, and I think they are 15 years from '82 to '97 that our economy was growing in those 15 years on average faster than it's been growing in the last three years, now that's not the story that Gordon Brown tries to tell you, is it¿

DAVID FROST: No but taking out the three bad years is a political game, isn't it?

MICHAEL PORTILLO: But even so it was over two per cent, in other words we've not seen something phenomenally different in the last three years but unfortunately what we have seen now is that our economy is growing half as fast as America and not as fast as the economies of Euro-land and that really isn't good enough. We've got to, we've got to think not only, you know, are we growing, yes we are growing. We've got to think are we growing fast enough by comparison with others and unfortunately the Chancellor weighing us down with taxes and regulations makes it much more difficult for us.

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