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Politics Show Sunday, 2 March, 2003, 16:47 GMT
Charles Kennedy interview
Charles Kennedy MP
Mr Kennedy says war with Iraq must be a "last resort"

Jeremy Vine was joined by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy to discuss the crisis in Iraq.

The crowds, and the polls suggest Mr Kennedy's party is firmly in line with the public opinion on the war.

But the charge of bandwagon-jumping, which bedevilled the Tories under Mr Hague, is now being aimed at Charles Kennedy. Is he leading opinion or just looking for votes?

Jeremy Vine spoke to Charles Kennedy on the Politics Show on 2 March.

Jeremy Vine:
Let's speak to Mr Kennedy now. They were good people, Mr Blair said, but they made the wrong decision. Is that you?

Charles Kennedy:
No I don't think so because, first of all, I don't think that using words like "appeasement", in this context, are appropriate. They just inflame the situation unnecessarily. If you take the use of the word "appeasement" in the context of the late '30s, Hitler was steadily invading other countries and the appeasers were not willing to challenge him. The last time that Saddam Hussein invaded a sovereign state, Kuwait, we as a party, and the country as a whole, supported the international action that was taken.

Jeremy Vine:
But not now?

Charles Kennedy:
He is not in a position at this stage, with all the diplomatic, military, weapons inspectorate pressure upon him to be having excursions, to try and invade other countries. So the comparison doesn't stack up.

Jeremy Vine:
Help us with your position on this second resolution because it has changed. At first you said it was optional, then you said it was vital. Now you seem to say that even if there is one, you might not agree with war?

Charles Kennedy:
Well, let me just clarify this completely. I was asked the position about the interpretation of the existing resolution. And there is, as we know, different legal, international views on this. Does it in itself, as the government argues, allow for military conflict to take place or do you need to go back for a second resolution? Now the international lawyers will argue about this for the rest of history so there's no point me getting into that. What I then said is that as this has progressed, clearly, you do need a second resolution. What the government seem to be doing, however, is being precipitate while the weapons inspectors have yet to complete their task by initiating a second resolution particularly when you see all the strains at Security Council level.

Jeremy Vine:
So if the second resolution that we have now seen put on the table, by the British and Americans, were to be passed, you would still not necessarily say that war should go ahead?

Charles Kennedy:
Well, I don't think it will be passed in its present form, that's the point. Because at the moment we've only seen the French foreign minister again, today, saying that they will not support a second resolution. So we don't know what the wording would be, eventually, we don't know what the context will be.

Jeremy Vine:
We are unable to now to put you in a position so we could work out what you would do if the second resolution were passed?

Charles Kennedy:
If Dr Blix in due course comes back and says that the weapons inspectorate have now exhausted their cause and there are material breaches and there's substantial evidence of non-cooperation and they can't make further progress, the UN would then have to take a considered and a serious view which would lead to a second resolution. In that context I think it would be very hard indeed for a pro-UN party like the Lib Dems not to back it.

Jeremy Vine:
If that happened you would then be in favour of war?

Charles Kennedy:
Nobody is in favour of war in that sense, but if the United Nations on that scenario which is the one that they have sketched-out on the terms of the first resolution reached that inevitable conclusion then with a very heavy heart you would have no option.

Jeremy Vine:
Your words at the Scottish conference seemed to suggest that you could have A second resolution passed and, whatever it says, then say it's still not good enough for us?

Charles Kennedy:
No. What is confusing the situation is there's too much second-guessing of the UN process taking place: principally by the United States but also as a result of British Governmental action in the past few days by our country as well. It seems to me inconsistent for countries unanimously to sign-up to a clear timetable and a clear process involving the weapons inspectorate then to pre-empt or prejudge the outcome of that process. Now, I don't want to do that by pre-empting or pre-judging the outcome either. I can't be at one and the same time critical of our Government and then fall into that trap myself.

Jeremy Vine:
Let's go back to the resolution we have on the table. The US-British resolution, if that's passed that's good enough for you?

Charles Kennedy:
If that were to command the sort of support without vetoes and so on that other countries are talking about, if there were vetoes it would not be passed that would be the end of the process. We will simply have to await what the weapons inspectors say and base our judgments on the agreed guidelines that were set down before the end of last year.

Jeremy Vine:
You can see why your opponents accuse you of opportunism and cynicism when your position seems to have slalomed all over the place?

Charles Kennedy:
No. It's been absolutely dead centre down the line throughout. It's in accord with what most people feel. They want the weapons inspectorate to complete their task, they want Dr Blix to advise the Security Council, or to provide the evidence for the Security Council to reach its legal and political decision. And if that decision is that war is now inevitable because all other means have been exhausted so be it. But we are not there yet. I don't think it does anything other than undermine the authority and integrity of the UN to be giving the impression that we are going to dismiss or pre-empt whatever conclusion it might reach.

Jeremy Vine:
Are the Conservatives shouting out Charlie Chamberlain in the House of Commons, what does that do to you?

Charles Kennedy:
It emboldens me actually, it helps unite our party, which is why we have the only united parliamentary party in the house, they have been calling me little Lord Halifax. No doubt by next week it will be Lord Haw Haw. I think that you demean the quality of your argument by resorting to personal insult. I think it shows that the Conservatives are badly rattled and of course themselves badly-split. There's nothing I have said in the course of this conversation that for example a Kenneth Clarke or Geoffrey Howe would digress with.

Jeremy Vine:
It is clear from what you say that you may be in a position where for whatever reason Britain goes to war and you are still not in favour. Can you countenance the situation where you as the leader of a big political party are standing up and saying we are against this war when British troops are possibly even being killed?

Charles Kennedy:
I think you have to draw a distinction between when the House of Commons makes a decision if we reach that stage. Let us suppose for whatever the reasons we were to vote against British troops being put into battle, once the first shot is fired, it is incumbent on all the public in this country and all the parliamentarians, whatever view they might take about it, to back those British troops, that's the patriotic thing to do that. You can do that whilst quite honourably not having felt that they should have been put in that position in the first place.

Jeremy Vine:
You spoke recently about the liberal/illiberal divide in politics but lots of Liberals want to see Saddam Hussein toppled?

Charles Kennedy:
Yes I'm one of them.

Jeremy Vine:
We heard this week from Ann Clwyd, "Who is to help the victims of Saddam Hussein's regime unless we do? I believe in regime change. I say that without hesitation, and I will support the Government - they are doing a brave thing." [Ann Clwyd MP, 26 February 2003] Why don't you go in the same direction?

Charles Kennedy:
Well I don't go in the same direction because it seems to me that at the moment Saddam Hussein is being more effectively contained by the present process. It was only a very few years ago that Tony Blair was saying that we have had ten years of successful activity by the weapons inspectorate so that he has not invaded he has not used weapons of mass destruction and so on.

Jeremy Vine:
It doesn't help his own people. That's the Clwyd point isn't it?

Charles Kennedy:
Indeed. There are terrible things happening in Iraq, terrible. I don't disagree, for one moment, with the sincerity of the force of what Anne Clwyd is saying in terms of the human rights awfulness of that country. But you have got to ask yourself, are we really arguing at this stage before the UN process is complete, that the best thing to do is start slaughtering people in their thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, as well as losing British and American and Australian lives in the process, I don't think so.

Jeremy Vine:
On another subject entirely, while war has been distracting attention you have sneaked out your shadow budget?

Charles Kennedy:
We didn't sneak it out, we don't choose the timetable for the international agenda, we would have put it out at that point anyway. We don't choose the timetable for this

Jeremy Vine:
Well, it includes a big tax rise for people who earn over 100,000 a year, they will pay 50% on incomes over 100,000. You said in 2002 .

Charles Kennedy:
For every pound above a 100,000 yes.

Jeremy Vine:
Sure. You said in 2002 "We might well go into the next general election saying that we favour lower taxes" [Charles Kennedy MP , The Guardian, 21 January 2002]. So why did that go out of the window?

Charles Kennedy:
Well, it hasn't gone out of the window. What we are saying about this particular proposal which raises about, on present income levels about 4.5 billion. And remember it would only affect 1% of the working population who are paying tax, what you could do with that is give 100 cut in the council tax across the board and with big rises there I think that would be very popular and of course, you can stop the Government's policy of introducing top-up fees and the existing tuition fees.

Jeremy Vine:
But, anti-war, in favour of higher taxes, are you happy with the facts Mr Kennedy that by the next election you will be the most left-wing party on show?

Charles Kennedy:
No. I wouldn't characterise it like that and I would say it's not a case of higher taxes, it's fairer more transparent taxes. And again, every indication of public opinion says that people will buy into that if they know what's going on with the correct policies like free long-term care for the elderly or giving students a much fairer deal. We won't be the most left-wing party but we will be, I think, the most principled and distinctive party. Which is why at the last election when much the same criticism was put to me on the same night we were able to win Conservative-held Guildford and Labour-held Chesterfield, that's a real message that's resonating out there.

THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT; BECAUSE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF MIS-HEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY, IN SOME CASES, OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS ACCURACY.

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