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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 interviewed Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, MP.
Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, MP
Jeremy Vine: I'm joined now from Fort William, by Charles Kennedy, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats. Thank you very much to you for joining us.
Charles Kennedy: Nice to join you.
Jeremy Vine: Let me if I can ask you about a subject unconnected with those elections we mentioned, which are the latest allegations of abuse now against the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, photos of Iraqis being abused. What should the government do about this Mr Kennedy?
Charles Kennedy: The most important thing here, right now, is that the government should publish whatever evidence it may have been given by the Red Cross. I think people have got a right to know. I think we have to get to the bottom of this. It's very, very serious indeed.
Jeremy Vine: And you're very concerned about what it's doing to our forces' reputation in Iraq?
Charles Kennedy: Very much so, and the, whatever view one took about the war, and obviously myself and the Liberal Democrats were very much against going into this war on the basis that we did, the British armed services have carried out a magnificent job in very, very difficult and dangerous circumstances, and it's extremely worrying that their position is further undermined as a result of all these allegations that have been so retailed nationally and internationally over the past few days.
Jeremy Vine: Let me stay on the war, in terms of the elections, if I can. There's a quote from your local government, Ed Davey, your local government spokesman, who says: "War is not an issue for local elections. Our advice to candidates has been not to campaign on the war, because it's not appropriate. With our citizens fighting it's in poor taste." You agree with that?
Charles Kennedy: Yes I do agree with that, and my strong impression, as I go around the country, as I have been for weeks now on the local election campaign, is that people are concerned about what's happening in their community, and what difference the Liberal Democrats can make. I think for the European elections, it is a different calculation.
I think a lot of people want to send a signal to Tony Blair, very directly, that they are extremely concerned about the state of affairs in Iraq, about our country's position in terms of international standing, and that is a very appropriate forum in which to do it. I think for the local elections, yes, I agree with Ed. I think he's right.
Jeremy Vine: Why are Lib Dems in Sellyoak campaigning in the local elections on the slogan, "No to the Iraq War"?
Charles Kennedy: Well people have got a multitude of votes on June 10, and they will respond accordingly, and I think it's entirely appropriate for Local Liberal Democrats to campaign on what they think is the most appropriate issue. But I do feel, myself, that on local elections, that will be driven more by local circumstances. But on the European elections, I think Iraq will loom very large indeed.
Jeremy Vine: But you see I'm trying to work out how it is your local government spokesman, Ed Davey, says that it's in poor taste to campaign on the war in local elections, and Sellyoak Lib Dems, or for that matter, Leicester South Lib Dems' campaign, Iraq war, thousands pledge support for us?
Charles Kennedy: Well Ed Davey or myself, or anybody else at a national level, cannot direct the traffic in a democratic party, and it's up to Local Liberal Democrats to put forward their case, as convincingly as they can, as persuasively as they can, on the issues of the day. If that's what they're doing, good luck to them.
Jeremy Vine: But this is where we get to the heart of your party's problem, is it not? Because you have this reputation for putting out a different message at local and national levels, and I wondered if you could help us understand why you do this?
Charles Kennedy: Well first of all, we don't do that, and when I listened to Mr Kellner saying that there was a degree of ambiguity about the Liberal Democrats, well I don't know where he's finding this ambiguous characteristic.
The only party that opposed the war in Iraq, the only party that is arguing against the Council Tax, and saying we should scrap it and replace it with a fairer system of local taxation, based on people's ability to pay.
The only party that is saying that the top income earners, the 1% of people who are fortunate enough in our country to be earning above £100,00 a year, should pay that degree more, but you put that investment, that level of financial take, into education, into helping the students, into the need to help older people. Now that to me is not ambiguous, that's pretty straight forward stuff.
Jeremy Vine: Well can I give you an example then? We're told you're putting the environment centre stage of your European campaign, and you're calling for more renewable energy sources such as wind power. You like wind power, but when the government tries to build wind farms, again and again, it's Local Lib Dems who oppose them being built?
Charles Kennedy: Well again, this is a decision, a calculation at local level. That is our ideal ...
Jeremy Vine: But it's not your policy?
Charles Kennedy: ... We are quite clear about this, that we want far more investment in renewable energy, in alternative sources of energy, for the long term well being of the country.
Now when it comes to an individual planning application, it strikes me, across the country and including indeed my own constituency, that the difficulty which arises is not the whys and wherefores of a particular individual strategy in that sense, it is about whether or not the local consultation has been conducted as appropriately and as fully as it should ...
Jeremy Vine: In Ceredigion, in Herefordshire
Charles Kennedy: ... and if we're campaigning on that, that is a very good thing ...
Jeremy Vine: ... but a whole list of places; Solway Firth, Langholm. You mentioned your constituency, apparently you're not happy about wind farms on the Isle of Skye, but it's your policy to build more wind farms, and so people say well, the Lib Dems are two parties. There's a local party which does what it wants, and there's a national party which has policies that local members just ignore.
Charles Kennedy: Well I, first of all, I simply do not accept the premise of that particular argument, and secondly, I would say that even if such a premise was true, it is no different with any other national political party, because inevitably, on issues whether it's wind farms or anything else, you will have people working, campaigning, seeking to persuade people locally to the cause, on the basis of what the priorities and the attitudes are on any given issue locally.
Jeremy Vine: Or persuade them against the cause, which is, let me give you another example: congestion charging. You're in favour of congestion charging. Lib Dem priorities are, I quote, "Congestion charging, an innovative system of road user pricing". Why is it that every time congestion charging seems to be touted in a local area, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, for example, Local Lib Dems campaign against it?
Charles Kennedy: Well again I don't accept, Jeremy, your premise there, I really do not. The fact of the matter is, that it goes back to what I was saying a moment ago, that on these issues, you have to work with the grain of local sentiment, and you have to persuade people. Now that is what we seek to do as a political party ...
Jeremy Vine: But persuade them in favour of it surely? Persuade them in favour of it surely, Mr Kennedy? If your party's in favour of it ...
Charles Kennedy: Yes.
Jeremy Vine: ... well then why in Edinburgh, are Local Lib Dems against congestion charging?
Charles Kennedy: Well if you want to get down to the minutiae of congestion charging proposals in Edinburgh, there is a big issue there about access to certain parts of the city centre, and all the rest of it, and we could go on about this in some detail if you wish to.
But the point of the matter is, that you need to consult properly with people, and take people with you, whether it's local businesses or whether it is taxi drivers, or whether it is householders in the vicinity, and that's what we're seeking to do.
Jeremy Vine: Alright. On the big picture, you are campaigning, we mentioned you're campaigning with reference to the war in the Euro Elections. Is that because you are seeking in some way to put up a smoke screen to hide your enthusiasm for the Euro?
Charles Kennedy: I don't think I could be accused of hiding enthusiasm for matters European, anything but, as you well know. No, we're not doing that. What we're saying, about Europe, is that we're in favour of Europe, and we're in favour of reforming Europe. But how can Britain best achieve that as a country? By doing what we should be doing, being a top table player in Europe.
We are disengaged, to a certain extent at the moment, and I think that is a mistake in the way in which the government has allowed itself to be cast in this matter, and we want to change that. And that way in which we can change that, is by being fully engaged in Europe, but arguing the case for reform for Europe. It's the same as me being an MP for the last 20 years in the House of Commons.
I don't even agree with the basis upon which the House of Commons is elected, and I would like to reform a lot of the things that the House of Commons does, but that doesn't stop me standing for election, and being a full participant in this business.
Jeremy Vine: And just to check. You are enthusiastic, are you not, about the European Constitution as well, or could you imagine yourself voting no in a referendum?
Charles Kennedy: Well obviously, we don't know the final outcome, which will not come until after the European elections, and we will see what will happen.
But as presently cast, we have said, perfectly straightforwardly as a party, that we think that a constitution for Europe is a good idea, it's a good step forward, and if nothing else, it will certainly delineate what it is that Europe should do, and what it is that Europe shouldn't do, and that I would have thought, is something that should appeal to people of my own mindset, who are instinctively pro-European.
But it should also appeal to people who are that bit more cautious, if not sceptical about Europe. They want to know what it is they're getting.
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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