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The Paxman interviews: Kennedy
On Monday 18 April, Jeremy Paxman interviewed leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy. Below is a transcript of the programme.


Charles Kennedy

This transcript was supplied by an external organisation. The BBC is not responsible for its content

JEREMY PAXMAN: Hello, this week I'm going to be interviewing the leaders of the three biggest political parties in Britain. It will Tony Blair on Wednesday, Michael Howard on Friday, but tonight, here in the Albert Dock in Liverpool, Charles Kennedy, Leader of the Liberal Democrats. He's the only one of the three campaigning with a promise of new taxes, higher income tax for higher earners, and a local income tax for everyone. He talks of being the "real opposition", and claims this election could be a break-through. He's just taken delivery of his first child, last week, the exhaustion of which he blames for a less than perfect grasp of detail, at the launch of his manifesto.

Charles Kennedy, are you fit to be Prime Minister?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, I think so. I think that fitness and politics isn't just about personal well being, but I think it's fitness in terms of a direct approach with people, established over many years, and I hope people feel I have that.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But wasn't the most worrying thing for you over last week's huge embarrassment, when you didn't have control of the details of a key part of your manifesto, that so few people were surprised?

CHARLES KENNEDY: I don't know about that. The reaction quite frankly, out and about in the country, subsequently, amongst many many people, including people that you just happen to come across in the street is, "how are you getting on Charles, have you managed to catch up your sleep? Don't worry, the first eighteen years are the worst." All these kinds of comments. I think every person who's become a first time father has probably found they've had to go out and do something work-wise and not been as on top of it as they would have wished.

JEREMY PAXMAN: All right, well let's go through some of the details of your proposed local income tax. Are you being entirely frank with people, in suggesting that the only people who are going to be at a disadvantage, should it come in, are the rich?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, we're saying 25% of people, and this is the Institute of Fiscal Studies that's looked at this. 25% of people are going to contribute more than they do under the Council Tax. 50% of households, will be better off, 25% will be unaffected. Now that's being very direct because the power to tax, and the power to make everybody better off, is not a power known to politicians in all of history, and we're not trying to hoodwink people on that.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you know what the average earnings of a fireman are?

CHARLES KENNEDY: The average earnings of a fireman, I - not off the top of my head. I can tell you the average earnings of a typical individual in this country, which is in the region of 23, 24 thousand pounds.

JEREMY PAXMAN: The average earnings of a fireman are about 24 thousand pounds. Do you know the average earnings of a nurse?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Average earnings of a nurse, I would say, in about the same region.

JEREMY PAXMAN: They're about 20 thousand pounds.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yeah.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Now a couple, a fireman and a nurse, key workers...

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yeah.

JEREMY PAXMAN: ...in our society.

CHARLES KENNEDY: This is 20% of households you're talking about by the way, not the other 80%, but important.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Key workers.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, absolutely essential workers.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Net income, the two of them, therefore average 44 thousand.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yeah.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Living in a Band D house, how much worse or better off would they be?

CHARLES KENNEDY: You will find that the majority of people under our proposals, individuals, will not be paying much more in the main than 10 pounds extra. But, what you've got to do, and this is where we're also being straight about people, is to say, what else apart from the local income tax proposals do you get with the Liberal Democrat package. And I hope we can get on to that as well.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Those are, of course, other points. But specifically on the funding of local government, according to calculations done for us by the Institute for Fiscal studies, they'd be about a hundred and three pounds worse off and of course people will be significantly worse off wouldn't they, in many of your target seats?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, what we're doing here is we're putting forward a proposition of fairness, in terms of what you contribute locally. At the moment, everybody knows it is not fair because it's not related to your ability to pay. Now that's an argument of the principle we've got to win in the course of this election.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Absolutely, but you have to be frank with people, don't you?

CHARLES KENNEDY: And we are.

JEREMY PAXMAN: I mean, let's take one of your top target seats, Cardiff Central.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Right.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Would the nurse and the fireman living there, be worse off or better off?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, as you say, and as we say ourselves on our own figures, they will pay a net increase in their contributions.

JEREMY PAXMAN: So they will be worse off.

CHARLES KENNEDY: But...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you know by how much?

CHARLES KENNEDY: But, but do remember please, and you take Cardiff Central as an example of this. An awful lot of students there, an awful lot of students are going to benefit by our proposals for scrapping top up fees and tuition fees.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Yes, but the, this couple, a nurse and a fireman, average earnings, Band D house.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you know by how much they will be worse off?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, by definition, a local income tax is precisely that. We've given...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you know by how much they'll be worse off?

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...the thing, it will depend on the local circumstances.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, actually, yes they do depend precisely upon local circumstances.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

JEREMY PAXMAN: And indeed there's a very helpful calculator on your website which enables you to work out whether you'd be better or worse off. And they would in fact, be 429 pounds worse off. That's enough to take a holiday.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, I think again, you've got to pitch this in the overall totality of what you're trying to achieve with the local income tax. If you take pensioners, for example. Now we know many of those are being hit the hardest by council tax increases. Six million pensioners are going to be taken out of local taxation altogether. Now, you can say to me "here's one set of financial losers", and you're correct. I can say, there's one set of financial gainers and that is...

JEREMY PAXMAN: The point is...

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...correct too.

JEREMY PAXMAN: ...that these are not rich people who are going to be worse off.

CHARLES KENNEDY: People have got. No but, no but again we'll come back, I hope, to other policies in a moment. The fact of the matter is, however, that if you're setting an up-front agenda with people, you've got to be honest and say, yes, some people gain, some people lose, but is the generality of the policy better than what we've got at the moment, and we believe it is.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But people don't live in generalities. People live in particular times and particular places.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Absolutely.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Take that constituency of Cardiff Central. Would more people be better off or more people worse off?

CHARLES KENNEDY: You would have to break down the number of households...

JEREMY PAXMAN: You don't know, do you?

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, not off the top of my head. You'd have to break off the, break down the number of households you're talking about. But the kind of couple that you're giving me, represent 20% of households, and I wouldn't imagine in Cardiff Central, it is that...

JEREMY PAXMAN: But they are hardly wealthy people.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, you made this point, and I'm not saying that they are, which is why we want to help that couple in other ways. If they are having a first child for example, the woman involved for that first child will receive a much higher level of maternity support, a hundred and seventy pounds under our proposals, than they do at the moment. If they have elderly parents that they're caring for there will be a much better - generous package of measures. And, if they've got children, whom they want to go to university in Cardiff or elsewhere, they will of course not be facing top fees and tuition fees. Now there's the package, and that's what we invite people to consider.

JEREMY PAXMAN: We've looked at your top seven target seats and in every one of them people will be worse off if they were living in a Band D house, that couple, a nurse and a fireman.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Inevitably, we're not pretending this, we're saying a quarter of all council tax payers will find themselves paying more. We're not hiding behind that.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Yes, but that's a generality spread across the country.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, and that means it's spread across every constituency in the country too, whether they're top...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Equally...

CHARLES KENNEDY: Er, not equal.

JEREMY PAXMAN: No.

CHARLES KENNEDY: But of course not, but whether they're top target seats for the...

JEREMY PAXMAN: That is the whole point isn't it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...Liberal Democrats or other less top target seats for the Liberal Democrats, we're not framing our policy just on that. Because that shouldn't be the way political parties go about the national interest.

JEREMY PAXMAN: This matters because you would like us to think that you could form a government, and it matters whether you're frank with us...

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

JEREMY PAXMAN: ...when you're seeking our vote to form a government. The only example we've got to go upon is where you have been in government in Scotland. And if we look at something like your attitude, for example, to GM foods there.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Where you promised consultation before any more crops were planted, and then when you got into government, that didn't happen.

CHARLES KENNEDY: I don't subscribe to that view.

JEREMY PAXMAN: A process, it's a process which you described yourself.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes.

JEREMY PAXMAN: There is a difference between what you can say in opposition, and then when the facts are presented to you, you've got to decide administratively, when you're holding ministerial office.

CHARLES KENNEDY: And you've got legal constraints upon you as a Minister...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Absolutely.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...as well.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Wouldn't it be simpler just to say, we'll say anything to get elected, and do something different afterwards.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, I think that's a great mistake and I don't want ever to see us going down that route.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Okay.

CHARLES KENNEDY: If you look at the position which you sight the example you sight of GM crops in Scotland, there is not going to commercial explotation, and that I think is correct. But there was a legal advice given to the ministers, the Liberal Democrat ministers in the Scottish Executive, as to what the constitutional and legal requirements were upon them, and they adhered to that.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Okay. Let's look at something like congestion charging. I think, according to your manifesto, you are in favour of congestion charging.

CHARLES KENNEDY: We certainly are.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Why are you against it then in Edinburgh and in Bristol?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Because in both cases, different sets of circumstances, but in both cases the scheme, the timing, and what was in place we did not view as a party, were the correct schemes to put in place.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But your manifesto says you want it extended to cities which have a problem of congestion.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, we certainly do.

JEREMY PAXMAN: And they don't?

CHARLES KENNEDY: And we have, not they do have problems, but what they don't have are the alternative systems for people to make use of. All the indications show that the public will use public transport, if it's reliable, if it's affordable, and if it's safe. There wasn't adequate alternative methods of transportation in both those cities at the time. The ground work could not be done. Contrast and compare.

JEREMY PAXMAN: So...

CHARLES KENNEDY: Just let me finish the example if I may. Contrast and compare with London where we supported the principle of congestion charging.

JEREMY PAXMAN: And now you oppose its extension.

CHARLES KENNEDY: And we're not happy with this extension as is currently being proposed.

JEREMY PAXMAN: So that's another example of where you say one thing...

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, it's not. Let me finish.

JEREMY PAXMAN: ...and do another.

CHARLES KENNEDY: The reason that we supported the principle in London and we argued it, and supported Ken Livingstone in this, at a time when Tony Blai was not, remember, was because, as he recognised, and I think he was quite brave about doing it, providing you put in the additional resource for public transport, which he did in terms of buses, people will make more use of that alternative. Now, that's the right way to go about things.

JEREMY PAXMAN: So in summary, you support congestion charge except in those places where there's any danger of it either being extended or indeed introduced in the first place.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, except in those places where the homework has not been done, and the ground work has not been put in.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Could you tell us a city where you do support it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: I think it's up to cities, and city representatives to...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you have any cities in mind?

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...decide. I, that is a matter for local Liberal Democrats to decide. And it's not a matter for me...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Okay.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...to dictate from the centre.

JEREMY PAXMAN: All right let's look...

CHARLES KENNEDY: That's what a devolved party is about.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Let's look at something else then. You want 20% of electricity in this country to come from renewable sources, and 50% by the year 2050.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Urm.

JEREMY PAXMAN: How many wind farms do you want to build?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, again, we see potential for wind farms. We actually see greater London term potential, actually, for off-shore harnessing of energy. And we look as any ...party, any set of representatives should where wind farm proposals are concerned, on the merits of each case. But I think we should...

JEREMY PAXMAN: You want 20% from renewables by 2010. How many wind farms?

CHARLES KENNEDY: You can't be prescriptive about how many wind farms, because this will have to be...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well you're prescriptive about being, wanting 20% and then 50% by 2050.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, and we've got to get there as a society, if we're serious about the...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, how many wind farms is that?

CHARLES KENNEDY: You can't sit here and predict what will be the number of individual wind farm developments.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well you know how much electricity you want to generate.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, we do. And indeed...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, how many wind farms do you require to do it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, in fact, if you look at wind farm technology, as a means of electricity generation, you would have to cover a very large tract...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Yes.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...of mainland Britain to achieve that...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Precisely.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...for wind farms alone.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Precisely and indeed...

CHARLES KENNEDY: That's why you've got look at other things...

BOTH TOGETHER

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...no, you've got to look...

JEREMY PAXMAN: This is another example where, for example, when they're proposed in Devon, the Liberal Democrats opposed them. They were proposed in Durham, the Liberal Democrats opposed them. I mean it's another case of you saying one thing, and then doing another.

CHARLES KENNEDY: I don't think you will find on any of the kinds of issues that you're perfectly reasonably raising, that this political party does any more than any elected political party does, which it has it's national policies it aspires to, and then it judges the merits, as indeed planning applications have got to do, which are independent of central government, remember.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you want a lot of wind farms?

CHARLES KENNEDY: It decides... I think inevitably you will see more wind farms across the country. But I think also...

JEREMY PAXMAN: My question was whether you wanted to see a lot of wind farms.

CHARLES KENNEDY: I think that it's a desirable form of energy myself, providing, er...

JEREMY PAXMAN: But you can't tell us how many.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...it is relevant to the - I can't tell you how many because I don't even know how many potential applicants would be in the pipeline in another five years...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Can we move on to another of your contradictions then? Your manifesto for business promises, quote, "to let the sun set on regulation".

CHARLES KENNEDY: Ur huh.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You also propose an equality act, an environment responsibility act, a carbon tax, an animal welfare act, an act to ensure manufacturers dispose of difficult to recycle products, mandatory standards and labels for buildings, machinery, vehicles and appliances to cut energy use. Rigorous schemes of labelling and traceability for GM foods, and the implementation of the EU directive on corporate environmental liability. That is letting the sun set on regulation, is it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, I think what you've got to do, and each of that check list you go through, I think any reasonable person, including any reasonable business person, would acknowledge that those are good practices which good business should be aspiring to.

JEREMY PAXMAN: They may well be but it's not letting the sun set on regulation is it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: It, it's not already indeed in many cases, implementing. I don't think you'll find the CBI would disagree with that sentiment that I've just expressed. When we talk about letting the sun set come down, on so much of the red tape and the bureaucracy that's on business, you will find the number of senior business personnel in this country, where Europe gets blamed, actually turns round and says it's the so called gold plating that goes on at a Whitehall level, where they add to European directives, ideas and schemes, that governments have come forward with and civil servants have promoted over the years. That's where we've got to take a much more hawkish line.

JEREMY PAXMAN: So to be clear about this, that list that I just recited to you, that very long list of regulations, that is apparently consonant with the sun setting on regulation.

CHARLES KENNEDY: That will have to be implemented in dialogue and in a working relationship with business.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You would consider that the sun setting on regulation, that list.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, I would consider other things in terms of red tape and bureaucracy that are stifling so much of business at the moment to be worthy of the term, sun setting on business. Now that's going to be our approach. Look, we're sitting in a city here in Liverpool, great city, run by Liberal Democrats, and one of the things you hear every visit I make to this city, you hear business, who for years operated under municipal leadership for Labour, saying thank goodness we've got the Liberal Democrats on the city, it's prospering, you just need to look at the construction going on. That's because where Liberal Democrats have power, we work sensibly with the business community.

JEREMY PAXMAN: That is being frank with the electorate, is it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Ask the electorate here.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Okay.

CHARLES KENNEDY: They will tell you that this has been...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Let's look at some of the other policies that you don't draw a great deal of attention to. You're proposing apparently that 16 year olds be able to visit sex shops. Is that a serious policy?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, 16 year olds at the moment, er, are able to get married, so we do have a rather inconsistent approach to the age of maturity.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Right.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...in this country. We're not recommending it as a course of action for 16 year olds, but what we're saying is that at the moment this country, in terms of the way the laws have evolved over many years, does have a rather inconsistent approach to what age you are allowed to be considered an adult, and what age you're not.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Go to pubs at 16.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No. We're not proposing that you should be able to purchase alcohol at the age of sixteen, no we're not. We would however like to see, for example, another area, we'd like to see a lowering of the voting age. I think that people are now mature enough at an earlier age to be able to vote at an earlier age also.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well talking about voting, you also want prisoners to be able to vote.

CHARLES KENNEDY: That's not something that's in our manifesto.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Doesn't matter whether it's in your manifesto. It's your policy.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, it's, it's a Liberal Democrat policy...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Thank you.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...that was passed at, er, an earlier conference in the course of this parliament. But as you know...

JEREMY PAXMAN: So Ian Huntley, Rose West, all those people should have a right to take part in our election.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, well one of the things that if you're serious about penal policy in this country, you've got to be serious about punishment for people who've offended. But you've also got to try...

JEREMY PAXMAN: So that's a yes is it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...for when, it is a yes. You've got to try that when people are incarcerated quite rightly, when they come out, they don't become part of the dismal reoffending rates, and that means trying to make them more responsible members of society, and if giving them a sense of participation in the political process helps that, I'm not against it. But I do say when I make the decisions along with colleagues about what we put in our manifesto for the next parliament, of course I don't include each and every item for the last four years that's been passed by the Liberal Democrats or we'd publish war and peace. So I take the things that really matter and that's...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Yes, but they're still party...

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...not one of them.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Yeah, but it's still party policy.

CHARLES KENNEDY: It's party policy, but it's not something we're putting forward in our manifesto to promote in government in the next parliament.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, what you choose to tell the public is another matter isn't it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, it's not. Every party does this Jeremy, for heavens sake. Every party has reams of policy, reams of reactions to the issue of the day, over the course of four years. You can't possibly if you're sensible, consolidate that. And then you quite rightly ask me, well given this plethora of...

JEREMY PAXMAN: You would do it though, wouldn't you?

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...no we wouldn't, we're saying specifically we're not...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Oh, you wouldn't do it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...including it, in this manifesto. If we were in government.

JEREMY PAXMAN: A liberal government would not give prisoners the right to vote.

CHARLES KENNEDY: That is not something that...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Despite the fact it's party policy.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, we can't do everything that's...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Isn't that precisely what we were talking about earlier?

CHARLES KENNEDY: No. We've got to make priorities of what we have from the, the wealth of accumulated decisions of the party, then put those priorities to the public.

JEREMY PAXMAN: To the public.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes. So that they know if they get us in government, what it is they get, and they can refer to our manifesto which tells them.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You'd like to do it, but you might not have time to get around to it.

CHARLES KENNEDY: On top of everything else that's already in the manifesto, that's one of the reasons it's not in the manifesto.

JEREMY PAXMAN: That presumably is also true of your policy to ban all animals except horses and dogs from circuses.

CHARLES KENNEDY: This would be correct.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you ever think you're slightly out of kilter with public opinion?

CHARLES KENNEDY: No I don't. I think one of the stories if you like, of this parliament, that has just come to an end, and this election campaign now underway, is the extent to which people have seen and are seeing the Liberal Democrats as actually being most in tune with public priorities, and those public priorities have ranged in the international level and the opposition in the war to Iraq, to the domestic level, the priories that we're putting in front of people.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Identity cards.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, look at Australia. In Australia when it was first...

JEREMY PAXMAN: No, let's not look at Australia, here - all the evidence is, no all the evidence is, I'm talking about public opinion here.

CHARLES KENNEDY: All right.

JEREMY PAXMAN: All the evidence here is that most people think it's either an acceptable idea, or a good idea, or a very good idea.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yeap. And in Australia...

JEREMY PAXMAN: And you don't.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...when it was muted in principle...

JEREMY PAXMAN: You don't.

CHARLES KENNEDY: We don't in principle and in practice.

JEREMY PAXMAN: No exactly.

CHARLES KENNEDY: 80% of people in Australia at the beginning of this debate, thought yes and 20% were against. By the end of it, those positions had reversed. Why? People looked at the practicalities of identity cards. The costs to the individual involved. The curtailment of liberties and the sheer personal hassle involved in operating a scheme of identity cards. That's why.

JEREMY PAXMAN: When the most senior policeman in Britain, Sir Ian Blair, says he favours identity cards, he's wrong. You somehow know better, do you?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well we are not persuaded now. Sir Ian has become persuaded. I think he also said in the course of that weekend...

JEREMY PAXMAN: He's the senior policeman in Britain.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...that he wasn't originally in favour, er, he's developed his view and that's something that we have to take account of but we...

JEREMY PAXMAN: So you can develop your view to come round to it, presumably.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...well, no, no we're not proposing to do that at all. We have said that we're against identity cards.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You're not capable of evolution on this matter.

CHARLES KENNEDY: We are, no, we have said that we are against in principle...

JEREMY PAXMAN: And yet he is a practising policeman.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...for civil libertarian grounds, identity cards, compulsory national identity cards, but also and I've been asking the Prime Minister about this, on many occasions over the course of the last six months or so, when you get in to the detail of what it means for you, and for me. Having to go to a test centre, having to pay out a significant amount of money. Problems for old people, the government not even being able to tell us, despite the fact they introduced to this extent, how the system will work and exactly how much it will cost. I think it's a responsible opposition party that at that point says, hold on a minute, this is not a route we should be going down. We'd be far better putting more police on the streets.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Have you asked Sir Ian Blair why he's in favour of it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: I have actually, er, on a social occasion, had exchanges with Sir Ian Blair about this, and also my colleague Mark Oaten, who speaks on Home Affairs with us, and he knows well where we're coming from. At the end of the day, the policeman...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Have you asked him why he's in favour of...

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, I haven't asked him that direct question, cos I haven't seen him since his weekend interview. Well, we're in the middle of an election campaign at the moment, and what I don't want to do is draw senior police figures any more in to the politics of the election, than some who've... criticising them for being already, although ...we haven't been among them.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Let's look at another area. You're against detention without trial. You are, for the sake of argument in Downing Street, and the security services come to you and say, we believe a terrorist attack in this country is imminent. We do not have the evidence to charge or secure a conviction. What would you do?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, we've been through the argument towards the end of this parliament and the government were putting up precisely arguments like that to favour things like the detention without trial, and as you well know, the House of Lords and a substantial view in the House of Commons, wasn't going to have it.

JEREMY PAXMAN: What would you do?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Because it was overturning an awful lot our traditional liberties and ways of going about things. What they've now got at their disposal and it's going to be reviewed.

JEREMY PAXMAN: No, what would you do in Downing Street?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, what I would do quite obviously, is look at the existing powers that are there and say, can such individuals, being such a major cause for concern, can they be brought in and questioned and can we go through it. What you can't do as a politician...

JEREMY PAXMAN: So you would say, you can detain them without trial.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, I'm not saying detain them without trial, certainly not. But what I'm saying is, we've got to establish whether the evidence is there, and you can only do that properly if these people are apprehended under the existing provisions open to the police and the security services, and that's what should take place. But what I won't do...

JEREMY PAXMAN: But then they'd be let free.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...what, no that must be the decision for the judge, sitting properly in a court to make that decision. Not the decision for me as the politician. That's a very slippery slope to go down.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You're absolutely confident that you could keep this country safe operating a policy like that?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, because I believe that we've been able to keep this country safe operating that approach as a policy for a very long time, and I believe that providing we maintain our institutions and our vigilance, and provide the public keep the sense of proportion that they have, through generations upon generations, we can continue in that fashion.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You mentioned the Iraq war earlier, massive demonstrations in this country, the biggest ones in the history of this country.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Sure.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Huge opposition to it, and you were the only big party that really took a stand against the war. People should be flocking to you in droves and they're not, are they?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, we didn't just do it for those reasons, that's the first thing.

JEREMY PAXMAN: I didn't suggest...

CHARLES KENNEDY: You know, we did it on ground of principle. And secondly, people don't just make judgements in this or any other general election on one single issue, however big an issue it may be. There will be a whole variety. But what you've seen I think, over the last couple of years, largely as a result of our stance in Iraq, by no means exclusively, is a lot of people having a higher regard for the Liberal Democrats than perhaps they did before, and finding us attractive in many other ways. Now, we've got two and a half weeks of this campaign to go, we are at our highest ever standing that we've ever been as a party, in a General Election, and I think that the credibility of our stance in Iraq has been a big contributory factor to that. And an awful lot of people, as you know, have been filling the newspaper columns in recent weeks saying, for the first time ever, I'm going to vote Liberal Democrat and one of the key reasons has been their stance, and their continuing approach over Iraq.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But isn't the difficulty that people don't see you as having the killer instinct?

CHARLES KENNEDY: You mean me as a person or...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Yes, you personally.

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...the Liberal Democrats as a party. No, I don't think that's the case. I think that if you look at the achievements of the party over the last five years, it's not just down to me but the leader must have something to do with it. It has been a story of steadily growing influence, importance, stature and credibility. And I think this campaign is a big big opportunity to make significant strides further forward... How far I do not know.

JEREMY PAXMAN: In that case, why didn't you capitalise more on the opposition to the war?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, I think that we conducted ourselves constructively, and in the way in which I like to conduct my politics. Not just by name calling, by making the rational case for opposition, and as we now are in this election, maintaining it by being the only one of the three parties saying, with the United Nation's mandate expiring at the end of this calendar year, we should now be working and planning towards the phase withdrawal of the British troops, as part of that occupying force, and bringing our forces home.

JEREMY PAXMAN: By when would you have them home?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well we should be working to the UN expiry of the mandate, which is the end of this calendar year, obviously.

JEREMY PAXMAN: By the end of 2005 you would have withdrawn all British troops?

CHARLES KENNEDY: I very much hope so, yes.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But you can't be certain, of course.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well you can't obviously be certain about the development of the security situation in Iraq, but you can be certain that there's a UN mandate that runs out and...

JEREMY PAXMAN: And you would withdraw them even if you were advised not to withdraw them, would you?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, advised by whom? I think that...

JEREMY PAXMAN: If the Iraqi government said "we need you here".

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, we are not bound by what the Iraqi government does, it would be ridiculous for us to say that we want an Iraqi government taking more of its own responsibility for its country, having...

JEREMY PAXMAN: That's a yes, Mr Kennedy, isn't it?

CHARLES KENNEDY: ...and then, and then saying, that we're going to simply accede to anything they do, when we ourselves are a sovereign country, that can't be right. I would like to see those troops home in line with the expiry of the UN mandate and that's what we're arguing strongly as a party. So, incidentally, are people like Robin Cook and Douglas Hurd from other parties.

JEREMY PAXMAN: On this question of your personal failure to capitalise on this widespread opposition to the war do you think it is to some degree because people look at you and they see an affable man, but they see a man who failed to turn up to the budget debate last year, who spoke openly about the need to change his lifestyle and they don't feel entirely confident.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, I don't think so. I think that if you look at the the measures of public opinion, about myself, about the party as a whole, they are positive. I think the biggest single question that I've always faced, that the party has always faced, is "can these people win, and then if they win, can they deliver?" Now, step by step, city by city, constituency by constituency, region by region, we're demonstrating that we can win, we're showing what Liberal Democrats are like when given authority, and people are approving of that. This election, this whole campaign, is about moving that on to a much higher level, and I think the conditions are there, and I think the party and myself are in good shape for that challenge.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Have you changed your lifestyle, I mean is your doctor happy about how much you smoke and drink?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, my doctor is actually rather approving. He would like to see me not smoke at all, but it has drastically come down since the turn of the year, and I'm determined that it's going to be phased out altogether, particularly with the arrival of the new one.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You talk about the arrival of the new one, of course it changes everybody's life.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Sure.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You must look at your life and you think you've been, what, 20 years at this game, you've never really done anything else. Tony Blair has decided he's not going to go on and on and on. Are you?

CHARLES KENNEDY: I hope so, that's my intention. I want to be in the next parliament, leading our much much bigger parliamentary party for the Liberal Democrats. I don't know how far our ambitions can go because we've got a very perverse voting system when it's three party politics as it is in this election. But I think it can be substantially bigger, the opportunity in the next parliament is substantially greater and when you've devoted your working life towards that objective, heavens above, you don't want to shirk off that opportunity. I'll be in there with enthusiasm, particularly as I do really genuinely feel, probably like every parent in history that ...that all the things I've argued for, I've now got this additional stake in the future, that I didn't have until a week ago.

JEREMY PAXMAN: So you expect to fight the next election too.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Oh, I very much hope so yes, that's my intention.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Charles Kennedy, thank you.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Jeremy, thank you.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, that's it from Liverpool. On Wednesday I'll be talking to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. But until then. Good evening.

END




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