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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Oliver Letwin
Iain Duncan Smith and Oliver Letwin at a police station visit
The Tories engineered their conference in such a way as to spend just three afternoons discussing policy on the conference floor, and each day there was one star turn. Tuesday it was Oliver Letwin, Shadow Home Secretary, intelligent, urbane, affable - and at his core, a Thatcherite.

Oliver Letwin's appeal for an end to stifling bureaucracy, his attack on asylum and immigration policy and a quick hit on Europe is the kind of mix he hopes will woo back lost Tory voters and restore the party from what the former vice chairman Archie Norman called it's "pretty parlous state".

Kirsty Wark spoke to Oliver Letwin.

KIRSTY WARK:
I'm joined now by the Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin. Before we come to talking about your plans for the police, a simple question, talking about the Shadow Cabinet and as it were, the Tory ministers, faceless, no identity, nowhere to be seen. One report said more people think that Ann Widdecombe is in the Shadow Cabinet than think you're in the Shadow Cabinet. Why are you failing to make such an impact?

OLIVER LETWIN:
I think it's difficult to do. I wish I knew the answer to your question. I wish I was the most famous person in Britain. It's very difficult to be so. I wish all the other members of the Shadow Cabinet were equal. I wish we all had the talent that Ann had in opposition for cutting through.

KIRSTY WARK:
Do you think there's not a Shadow Cabinet involved with talent, that you don't have enough people that are star performers, that are charismatic, that can make an impact?

OLIVER LETWIN:
I think there's no doubt that some members of the Shadow Cabinet, like Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith are well-known and have cut through. Most of us haven't got the track record that someone like Michael has got or Anne has got. We have to struggle. We have to gradually try to make people realise what it is we stand for, what it is we're saying. That's why I've done 35 interviews today on various media. I suppose it will take several more years for people to get the idea of who we are and what we stand for and we have to work away at it.

KIRSTY WARK:
You don't have that time. You have a general election coming up.

OLIVER LETWIN:
Let's see how long it takes. A general election is about a couple years away. It may even be three years away. We will work away at it. I don't think there's a magic to it. I don't really believe that what we ought to spend most of our time doing is to try to work out how to spin brilliantly the way the Government does and present ourselves brilliantly the way the Government does. In the end, that is corrosive British politics. We need to set out a clear agenda, as we have been doing this week in Blackpool, make it clear where we're trying to take the country, which is take bureaucracy off the public services and run those services properly by facing them back towards the customer. That gives us the option of making them work better for the money the taxpayer puts in, and so reduce taxes. That's a coherent programme for government and we have to get that across.

KIRSTY WARK:
Let's talk about that. You promise 40,000 more police officers over an eight-year period from this January. But at the same time, you say the local policing will be devolved. There will be a block grant and no interference from the Home Secretary.

OLIVER LETWIN:
Yes.

KIRSTY WARK:
And there will be no targets set.

OLIVER LETWIN:
Yes.

KIRSTY WARK:
So if local police authorities decide what we don't need are more bobbies on the beat, then you're not going to be in a position to enforce your 40,000. So in a sense that's nonsense then.

OLIVER LETWIN:
That will be entirely up to them.

KIRSTY WARK:
Exactly.

OLIVER LETWIN:
But if you are under the illusion that when people have the vote, they will not vote for police authorities that bring bobbies back onto their streets, then I fear you don't understand the mood of the British public.

KIRSTY WARK:
But you're second-guessing what local democracy will bring.

OLIVER LETWIN:
There's no doubt what people want. In poll after poll and anecdote after anecdote, as I go round the country, I'm perfectly clear about what people want.

KIRSTY WARK:
But by setting this target, by setting an actual figure, it's a hostage of fortune because you are promising something you're not allowing yourself to deliver anyway.

OLIVER LETWIN:
Not in the least. We will provide central government funds for 40,000 extra coppers and we will give people the power to recruit those and we will give them the power to bring them onto the streets. It's because we trust people. If people decide to be policed in a certain way and they do well and other people watch them doing well, they will follow suit.

KIRSTY WARK:
How are you going to pay for it? You're saying you'll pay for it in part by scrapping the asylum and immigration policy.

OLIVER LETWIN:
Yes.

KIRSTY WARK:
Yet you are going to create this great off-shore venue which you'll have to lease if it's not on British territory, that you'll have to produce a five-star hotel for all the lawyers and civil servants, you'll have to have access to travel, that you'll have to house how many asylum seekers? Up to 20,000?

OLIVER LETWIN:
Probably actually very few.

KIRSTY WARK:
The point is that will cost a fortune.

OLIVER LETWIN:
The Australian figures show we'll save about 1,000 million compared with the present costs. We've gone to the trouble to find out how these things are done in Australia. We've costed it on that basis.

KIRSTY WARK:
But you're promising to process them in six weeks. That doesn't leave much time for an appeal.

OLIVER LETWIN:
The system I'm talking about is a one-stop shop. There will be judges and appeals right there on the very site, so that we can do these thing quickly. If you are putting to me the proposition that Britain cannot find a way of getting back to where we were in 1997 when we spent 400 million on the asylum system instead of 1,800 million pounds, then I have to say it's a very implausible position.

KIRSTY WARK:
You have got to get your heartland Tory voters back and you heard that focus group who were all saying practically to a man and woman, there's poor leadership from Iain Duncan Smith, no leadership qualities. These are Conservatives, these are natural Conservatives, what they're saying is, with this kind of leadership, you'll not get them back.

OLIVER LETWIN:
What I think will happen, if we can do what I was describing, and over the next 18 months or 24 months or three years, however long it is to the next election, if we can get across to them that there's actually a decent, honest, trustworthy alternative to a Labour command state that is taxing and failing to deliver and spinning and being untrustworthy, then they will get over all of those feelings. That's a big task ahead. We're determined to do it. We've begun it here in Blackpool. We have the policies in place and now we have to get them across to the British public.

KIRSTY WARK:
Oliver Letwin, thank you very much indeed.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.



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