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Politics Show Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 05:59 GMT
Theresa May interview
Theresa May
We are focussing on the issues that really matter to people

Jeremy Vine was joined by Conservative Party Chairman Theresa May to discuss the changing face of the Conservative Party.

Historically, the Conservatives have been many things - the party of business, the patriotic party, the party of the aspirational - but even their best friends would not normally have characterised them as 'the party of the vulnerable'.

If you were the bleeding heart type, you probably took your vote elsewhere. But according to current rhetoric, that's all changing.

Jeremy Vine spoke to Theresa May on the Politics Show on 9 March


Jeremy Vine:
And the Conservative Party Chairman, Theresa May joins me now. Good Afternoon.

Theresa May:
Hello Jeremy

Jeremy Vine:
You've reached a junction, haven't you? Do you go back to doing what arguably what the Conservative do best, which is being tough, being right-wing, low-tax, Eurosceptic and so on or do you say 'No that's the nasty party and now we need to be nice and inclusive and modern and different?

Theresa May:
Well, I don't think there is such a junction as you talk about between actually wanting to provide policies that help vulnerable people, but also saying that what we want to ensure is when government spends taxpayers' money on public services it spends it effectively. And that in order to generate the economy that is needed to support good public services we actually believe in being a lower tax government. I don't those two are a dichotomy at all.

Jeremy Vine:
So when you ditch the nasty party label, which after all is a label you used, which policies do you lose?

Theresa May:
When I talked about the nasty party I did talk about other people's perceptions of us. But I also said that I thought that was unfair and I knew that everyone in the conference who I was addressing felt that it was unfair. And it was about a perception that we hadn't been interested perhaps in some of the communities of people who needed particular help. That has never been true of the Conservative Party, but what we have been doing in the work we have been doing in the last 18 months, not just in our policy development, in our speeches but also in the tours and the visits we're making is actually about reaching out and it is about talking to people who are suffering very much from the results of this damaging Labour Government's policies.

Jeremy Vine:
But if the move away from being the nasty party in inverted commas is just a move away from other people's perceptions of you , it is not a real change, is it? If it is an ideological change then that is different. Is it an ideological change?

Theresa May:
It's about focussing the party on the issues that really matter to people.

Jeremy Vine:
So it is a big change?

Theresa May:
It's about focussing on issues like public services. Well it's I think again in ideological terms it is about people's perceptions. Because in fact the conservative party has always been a party that has believed in ensuring that we provide public services that match people's needs. But that hasn't been where other people have focussed their attention on us. But if we look at what for example ... the examples we have at the moment of conservatives in local government, where they are running councils. They are showing that it is Conservatives in government who actually produce better public services, who do look after those people who are most vulnerable and do so, by the way, with lower taxes. So there isn't that dichotomy.

Jeremy Vine:
If we buy that then we conclude that actually not much is changing inside the Tory Party?

Theresa May:
Well, things are changing in the party. I mean it is a party that has is paying perhaps more focus and attention on public services than perhaps we have done in the past and certainly

Jeremy Vine:

Theresa May:
Well, then I think than people have seen us doing in the past. But if you look at the policy development that we have focussed on for the last eighteen months and continue to focus on, it is predominantly focussing on the development of public services that provide for people's needs. And that is the area in which people are increasingly saying 'This government is failing to deliver for them'. Tony Blair promised things could only get better. But in many areas people are seeing that their public services are getting worse: in transport, in some areas in education, in health, in people's fear of crime. These are all the problems that people are facing and these are the problems that our party is addressing.

Jeremy Vine:
But if you put up in lights: 'we are the party of the vulnerable', you surely have to, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said in the piece, put some money their way. You have to tax more?

Theresa May:
What you have to do is ensure that what you are providing in public services is actually meeting their needs. And I think that what we do need to have in this country is rather more of a debate about this issue, that has been, if you like, a sort of time warp debate here about whether you put taxes and have good public services or put down taxes and don't have public services. I think that debate has gone and I think that debate has gone because if you look

Jeremy Vine:
But you're not promising to put down taxes, are you?

Theresa May:
If you look at other areas, if you look at other countries and this what we've been doing and this is what we see. You can actually marry a strong economy, people being better off with providing the public services they need. That's where we need to have the debate.

Jeremy Vine:
Sorry to interrupt. Then we get to the point that Peter Oborne was making in the piece, don't we, which is, where he says, 'Hang on a second, we have, you have, as a Conservative Party, an ideal opportunity to oppose the government. It is putting taxes up and up and up. You want to go back to the traditionalist view and say we are the low tax party, we will put your taxes down. And what are you doing? You're having a debate about whether you are nice or nasty, and so on and so forth, and you are getting caught in that modernist agenda.

Theresa May:
No we're not getting caught in a modernist agenda, Jeremy. And these are false differences that people are setting up. What we have in this country at the moment is a situation where a Labour Government is putting up people's taxes. We will see on April the first people being hit by the triple whammy of their personal allowances being frozen, of the jobs tax with the National Insurance contributions going up and massive increases in Council Tax. Council Tax has gone up by 60% over the last 6 years under this Labour Government. People are being hit by high taxes, but on the other side they are not seeing the improvements in public services that the government claims those taxes will be buying.

Jeremy Vine:
But the low tax message is not a message that says we are helping the vulnerable is it?

Theresa May:
The issue is actually about how we ensure that we are spending government money wisely and it's about the reform of the system and reform of public services. It's about showing we need to be a low tax economy in order to encourage enterprise and ensure we can support good public services. But we need to make sure that government money is spent wisely so that government services improve.

Jeremy Vine:
Theresa May, thank you very much for joining us.


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