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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 April, 2004, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
EU referendum
Jeremy Vine interviewed European Commission Vice-President, Neil Kinnock

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a 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.

Jeremy Vine: We're joined by the former Labour Leader, Neil Kinnock. How much damage do you think has been done by the decision to decide to hold a referendum.

Neil Kinnock: Well it hasn't been helpful, but the injustice of politics is obviously that those who are most vociferous and demanding that the government had a referendum on this issue, are those who in the last six days, have been most vicious in their condemnation and I think what we're beginning to see is the real target.

The real target is Blair. The newspapers for instance want to make their further subscription to the development of political history by being assassins, and they've decided this is a good way to try and do it.

Er, the problem is for them of course that er, there is now a serious issue to be debated, in a different way in the United Kingdom. Er, I for one er, am reasonably optimistic that given the facts, the British people will vote yes.

Jeremy Vine: It's not just the papers though is it. We've heard George Mudie, former deputy chief whip say it would be appropriate if, if Mr Blair felt the referendum was the time to go.

Neil Kinnock: Well I don't think that George, who's a very good man, and I've worked with, and I respect, would consider himself to be the oracle or the soul or chief political analyst on these things.

Tony Blair will make up his own mind about when he wants to go. I think his ambition certainly, is to win a third term, and in those circumstances of course he's got to look at the er, political geography as it were, and make his decisions accordingly.

He's a young man, er, he will have been through an immensely trying period. It would be human and understandable if in those circumstances he said, I'll hang up my boots now, er, but there's no certainty because of a deep sense of duty, I'm not exaggerating at all.

He really does regard himself to be a servant of the people, like I hope all committed ministers do, and consequently, he will be there for as long as he believes that he is directly of service.

Jeremy Vine: But you think he has to stay for this referendum.

Neil Kinnock: I think that's the probable way in which things will develop, but in politics it's wise not to always depend on probabilities; make your guesses, make your speculation, try to pass them off as insights if you can, and be very wise about it, but don't depend on it. For instance, I think only fools bet on politics, although many make forecasts.

Jeremy Vine: Because there was that phrase that Norman Lamont used wasn't there of John Major, saying, In office but not in power. Do you worry that if he stays too long, people start to say that he - when he pulls the levers, they don't work any more.

Neil Kinnock: Well, I've seen the Daily Mail, the Sunday Mail editorial this morning, and you wouldn't expect them to do or say anything that was favourable to Tony Blair, that's the idea that they've put forward. I think it is a misreading of the man who is very definitely the leader of the government.

Jeremy Vine: Do you think that when he made the decision on the referendum though, he maybe thought that it was going to be a lot simpler than it's turned out to be. It seems to have opened a whole Pandora's box of new questions.

Neil Kinnock: I think Blair's too clever at politics to have believed at any time it was going to be simple. And I think that's true, even more widely. The fact of the matter is of course that his calculation, I'm certain, I haven't spoken to him since last Sunday, or indeed for a week before that.

But his calculation, would have been that the real threat came from the probability of the House of Lords installing a referendum clause, in the ratification bill that's got to go through both houses of parliament. In those circumstances, the government really would be on the defensive, and disadvantaged; so he did what in rugby we call getting your retaliation in first.

He made the pre-emptive strike, he took the decision, we will have a referendum, and that should set aside that as an issue which diverts and distorts all the other critically important arguments, about the constitutional treaty. Constitutional treaty I say by the way, not constitution, cos it's a treaty, not a constitution.

Jeremy Vine: But you're going to have to spend now some of your retirement campaigning for a yes vote. Do you feel let down.

Neil Kinnock: No, I don't feel let down. My view about referenda is pretty well known. I believe that it's justifiable and necessary to have referenda in the United Kingdom - our parliamentary democracy, if a change in the system of government is being proposed. There is no change in the system of government in the UK or any other country, coming out of the constitutional treaty.

But, the decision having been made, to have a referendum, I should naturally be campaigning very full heartedly for a yes vote, and for one basic reason: commitment in and commitment around the European Union, full heartedly, with maximum influence, is in the very best interest of the United Kingdom and the British people.

Jeremy Vine: What are we to make of the contribution there from Derek Scott who was advising Tony Blair on economics until very recently. And he said he's now going to vote no in any referendum, because the constitution just doesn't fit.

Neil Kinnock: Well I heard what, I heard that Scott was going to be a no voter; I thought that very strange, as an ex member of the social democratic party, who left the Labour Party.

But then I heard his reasoning, and his reasoning is that this constitutional treaty doesn't go far enough in what could broadly be described as a federal direction, to permit the operation of a Union of 25; that is wrong, but it's interesting of course if somebody who is even more eager about an evolution of Europe in a direction that the Prime Minister certainly doesn't want, is going to vote no, perversely, because he doesn't get everything that he would desire; so there might be a mixed bag in the no voters, but I think it's the yes voters who would be the majority.

Jeremy Vine: Neil Kinnock, thank you very much for joining us.


NB: this transcript was typed from a 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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