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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 October, 2004, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Conservative concern?
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.


On Politics Show, on Sunday, 3, October 2004, Jon Sopel interviewed Liam Fox, MP, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Liam Fox, MP
Liam Fox, MP, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party

JOHN SOPEL: And I'm joined now, from his party's conference, in Bournemouth, by the Conservative Co-Chairman, Dr Liam Fox. Doctor Fox, welcome to you.

LIAM FOX: Thank you.

JOHN SOPEL: Steven Hammond there, your candidate in Wimbledon, wanted some one-liners for the doorstep, have you got some?

LIAM FOX: Yes, and I think that it's very important for him and for other candidates to point out that there's a very clear difference between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party; the Labour Party believe in high taxes, we believe in low taxes.

They're soft on crime, we were tough on crime. They've lost control of asylum and immigration, we're going to set a ceiling on the number of people coming in to the country. They think the government best decides what you should get in health and education, we think patients and parents should make that decision. They're high on waste, we want to cut out fat government. There's a very stark difference between the two parties.

JOHN SOPEL: So you're going to cut taxes then?

LIAM FOX: Well it's been made ... we've made it very clear and we will make clear this week that we intend to cut taxes. We don't know exactly how much room we'll have and when we'll be able to do it, but we are traditionally a low tax party. And, and we're a low tax party for two reasons; one is, we believe that high taxes are bad for the economy.

Low taxes are good for the economy. They get higher economic growth and more prosperity in the long term. But equally, we think there's a moral case for low taxation, because lower taxes allow people to make more decisions about their own lives, rather than the Government making them for them.

JOHN SOPEL: Oliver Letwin, your Shadow Chancellor said, ... I hope to be able to cut taxes, even in the early years, but I cannot be certain ... It doesn't sound very definite that you're going to have a tax cutting policy.

LIAM FOX: Well we'll set out exactly what we're going to do in terms of taxation at the general election, once we've had the next budget, and we know what the state of the economy is, and just how much Gordon Brown has mortgaged our future. It doesn't make any sense to give a number now, but it's quite right for us to say that we intend to cut taxes whenever we can, and to set out the sort of areas that we're interested in looking at.

JOHN SOPEL: But do you accept that compared to the 1980s when you could go around on the streets and say, we'll sell your council house, we'll give you shares, we'll cut taxes, we're against the unions, you had a much clearer message then, and it's much more difficult now.

LIAM FOX: I don't think it is. I think it's quite important however, to recognise where we are politically, and we're in a situation where the public expected Tony Blair to deliver, they thought he was more honest, and now they feel very disillusioned and it's very difficult against that background to get voters to trust a party again; so what we're going to do is a number of things.

First of all, we're actually going to set out the things we think need to be done, for example on immigration, setting a ceiling on the number of people who can come in to Britain. Having a points system, so that those who come are being judged on the talents that they have, and the things they can offer to Britain. We want to take a tough line on Europe.

We will promise that we will have a referendum by this time next year, if we come to office in a general election in May. We want to make sure the powers are coming back from Europe, towards the United Kingdom. We want to give patients the right to choose in health care, parents the right to choose in education. All these are very distinct positions.

JOHN SOPEL: And all of these were road-tested in Hartlepool, with the result that you came fourth, behind the UK Independence Party.

LIAM FOX: Well you could say that we tested them in June, when we won the local government elections by a clear margin, pushing Labour in to third place. We won the London Assembly elections, and we won the European elections too. This is a year when we come to our conference, with a stronger base in local government than we've had since we won the 1992 General Election.

JOHN SOPEL: So you're happy with Hartlepool?

LIAM FOX: (overlaps) ... it's a party position much stronger than it's been recently. No, Hartlepool was a disappointment but your introduction to this programme, which if I may say, was not untypical, to say that there was a shadow over our party conference, is nothing of the sort.

We're coming here, in to this conference, with more councillors than we've had in over a decade, with more women in local government than any other party, and with a party membership bigger than the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats combined. Our membership is growing, while their numbers are falling. It's not at all a picture of despair and pessimism, as you like to paint it. In fact quite the opposite.

JOHN SOPEL: But hang on, a by election in Hartlepool, where you are pushed from second place to fourth place, can be considered as nothing other than a disaster. If, if in the run-up to the '97 election, the same thing was happening to Labour, well, they would have ... everyone would have leapt on that and said you're in no state to win the next election.

LIAM FOX: In which case, they'd be wrong, as you're wrong in making that assessment because in fact Labour at both the Christchurch by election and Newbury, got less than 3% of the vote, yet went on to win a huge majority in the 1997 election. I think we mustn't read too much in to by-elections. It was disappointing yes, but disaster, forget it.

JOHN SOPEL: Hang on. I don't want to become a by election anorak, but the Christchurch and Newbury elections, were held in '93, four years before the general election, before Tony Blair had even become elected as Labour leader.

LIAM FOX: And they were at a time, when if you remember, following the Black Wednesday, Labour were just as far ahead in the polls, as they were in the run up to '97, in fact their opinion poll lead didn't actually change when Tony Blair became leader; so to make the assessment and read across, I don't think is correct.

It's disappointing in a by-election, but we know people vote tactically in by-elections. In general elections, they actually have to choose a government, and if you look back to the 10th June, you can see that people voted differentially in the different elections when they thought it didn't matter so much. In the European elections, they tended to vote in one direction, although we still won that election. But when it was a matter of how much it would hit their pocket, in the local government elections, we won by a very clear margin indeed.

JOHN SOPEL: Dr Fox, who would you say your biggest enemies are? Is it the UK Independence Party or the Liberal Democrats?

LIAM FOX: The biggest enemy in this election is cynicism and that means that voters may not turn out to vote. And I think people need to recognise that there are only two possible outcomes to this election.

We're either going to have a Labour government, led by Tony Blair, which believes in greater European integration, which has lost control of asylum, which will lead to third term Labour tax rises. Or, you're going to have a Conservative government, under Michael Howard, that's a low tax party, that believes in being tough on crime and tough on immigration, and making sure that people have choice in health and education.

I think that the most difficult thing to get across now is a message that you can make a difference. I think there's a deep cynicism amongst a lot of voters that now says, why vote, it might not make a difference, you're all really the same, and our task this week is to show that we're not the same, that we have a very different programme, that we have a time table to implement that programme, and we have a different philosophical approach, which is about greater freedom and greater security.

JOHN SOPEL: How big a threat, I come back to the question, do the UK Independence Party pose to you? They're gaining votes, they beat you in Hartlepool.

LIAM FOX: Well if you look at the read-across, from the two sets of elections ... from the local government elections and the European elections, there would have been some reduction in our parliamentary seats as a result of the UKIP vote. And they will have to ask themselves whether that makes it more or less likely, that Tony Blair would be re-elected.

A Blair government, re-elected, would have greater integration into Europe, would move us closer to a single European state, that is the opposite of what the Conservative Party wants, and when we get to the next election, people will have to choose which future they want for Britain.

The only party that can implement a policy on Europe, that will bring powers back to the United Kingdom, and will stop the inexorable drift towards a single European state, is the Conservative Party; no one else is going to be able to do that.

JOHN SOPEL: So, when Robert Kilroy-Silk says you're a dying party which needs to be killed off, what do you say to him?

LIAM FOX: Robert Kilroy Silk is an ex-Labour MP, who's always made it his life's work to try to destroy the Conservative Party. He's found a new vehicle; I don't imagine he'll be any more successful though than he was before.

JOHN SOPEL: I think, during the European elections, you were behind the strategy to label UKIP as extremist. We now have John Redwood sort of smothering them with love. Going out and saying, what intelligent people they are, what good patriots they are and all the rest of it. What are they?

LIAM FOX: I understand why people would have voted on a single European issue in the way that they did. But our policy on Europe has to be very clear. We have to set out our policy, dependent on Britain's national interests. Our national interests are to work with our European partners, where it's in our interest to do so, but to keep separate the levers that allow Britain to act independently in our own national interests.

That means that we don't join the single currency, it means that we don't accept a common foreign policy, that we don't accept a common security policy in Europe, and that Britain is able to act independently. We can only do that however, if we have a government elected in Westminster, willing to stand up for those things, and that means not signing up to the European Constitution.

If a Labour government is returned, we will get those things, people will have a very stark choice at the next election. They either want to move closer to a single European state under Labour, or they want powers coming back to the United Kingdom, under the Conservatives. A vote for anybody else will make sure that Labour are likely to be the victors.

JOHN SOPEL: But then you saw in our film there we had Nick Gibb saying, don't cut taxes. We had Eric Forth saying, cut taxes. We've had John Redwood, sort of calling, we've got to go out and woo UKIP voters, no to the Euro, no to the Euro Constitution, reduce powers for Brussels, and we have Tim Yeo saying, the party needs to concentrate on core values of health, education and crime, and things like that.

LIAM FOX: But we will set out all of these things at this conference. We'll be talking about freedom from fear, not just the fear of crime. Not just the fear of terrorism, but the fear of what will happen with our pension.

The fear of what will happen in long-term care. We will deal with all those domestic issues and we will deal with other issues too. And with the issues of ... the security of our borders with immigration and asylum, and we will say that we think in terms of crime, the rise in violent crime in our society, is utterly unacceptable.

We've seen a massive increase in violent crime. People living in fear, in their own country, which is just not acceptable. And if that means getting very tough on these issues, then we will. Tony Blair said, he'd get tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime ... pity he forgot to get tough on the criminal.

JOHN SOPEL: Dr Fox, this time last year, I think you were preparing to knife Iain Duncan Smith, not you personally, but your party generally. Ever since then, the Party has remained unchanged in the opinion polls, becalmed. Is it time to bring him back?

LIAM FOX: Well it's not true for a start, so let's get our facts right. We were at 40% in the polls earlier on in the year. In the European, the local government elections, in the elections for the London Assembly, we did much better, we got 38% in the national poll on June 10th, when millions of voters went to the polls; so I think that that we take any one opinion poll with a pinch of salt. Yes, we'd like to be higher up than we are at the present time, but what it shows is the public have fallen out of love with Tony Blair.

They may not yet have fallen in love with the Conservative Party, but our task this week, is to give them the reasons to do so.


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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