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, Sunday 06 June, 2004, Jeremy Vine interviewed:
- John Prescott, MP, Deputy leader of the Labour Party
- Michael Howard, MP, Leader of the Conservative Party
Interview with: John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister
John Prescott - rallying the troops?
Jeremy Vine: Max Cotton reporting and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister joins me now. Good afternoon to you.
John Prescott: Good afternoon.
Jeremy Vine: Let's go back to Connie, in Max's film. Eighty three years old, Labour through and through, and she says she can't support you because of Iraq.
John Prescott: Well that's a very serious point and Iraq is a cloud over these elections, as indeed our Prime Minister has said. But you know I visited Hastings only a few months ago so I'm very familiar with the case here.
First of all, the membership is rising not falling. I've taken account of what Connie says, she's always had very strong views on that, and a Labour Party member since 1945; we know it's a great concern, and we have to keep dealing with the problems for the UN etc.
Trevor, I think, has a background of being a pretty active militant about this and supports Galloway; so he's never been really what you might call the 100% Labour. He's always had that view ...
Jeremy Vine: .. (both together) ... your supporters.
John Prescott: Well, yes, but I mean to be fair, you were presenting that as if somehow it's declining in Hastings; it's robust. The amount of members is now rising. We've spent fifty million pounds on those sorts of facilities that Debbie was saying we haven't completed. Unemployment's half the level as it was.
And indeed along - the youth unemployment has gone down 80%. Now I always used to bring out my pledge card, and I have to say to them all, look, we promised this and we've delivered on that. I understand your concerns about Iraq, but we are finding that the people are joining.
I wrote to all the people who'd left the Labour Party a few months ago, and in the first week we got a thousand more members actually re-joined. Sometimes we don't go and ask but there is a genuine concern, and I did a breakfast meeting in Hastings, very fully attended and very enthusiastic; so it's not quite the imagine you presented there Jeremy.
Jeremy Vine: All right. Well hang on a second, you're talking about new members coming in.
John Prescott: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeremy Vine: But we're talking here about Connie who presumably you would like to stay.
John Prescott: Absolutely.
Jeremy Vine: She's your type of Labour Party member isn't she.
John Prescott: Oh, she's the salt of the Labour Party and she's rightly concerned about what's been happening in Iraq. All of us are.
Jeremy Vine: Rightly concerned.
John Prescott: Well, she's concerned very much so about the difficulty of a war but let's face it, there has been a dictator that has been removed. How will we feel about that.
That is controversial. We were involved in other areas, Kosovo for example, where we took an action, Afghanistan where both those countries we have benefited from by that intervention, led very much by Tony Blair; so we have to balance this out with the Party.
John Prescott: ... just don't forget, you just reported there, the United Nations is dealing with this matter at the moment. Connie, I'm sure will be grateful that we are very actively involved in getting the United Nations, there's a new Prime Minister been appointed, there will be eventual elections, and I'm sure Connie, who says she feels very reluctant at this moment, she might protest with the Liberals, who've made the local election issue Iraq; so it is a concern in these elections.
Jeremy Vine: But you'd accept that somebody who feels as passionately as she does that the war was wrong, should not vote Labour in these elections.
John Prescott: No, I want her to vote Labour. I want to understand what we promised to the electorate we've actually delivered. You know when you're in government seven years, you're entitled to come along and say, this is what we promised, here's my pledge cards that the party fought the election. We completed them not in ten years, but in six, in seven years.
Jeremy Vine: But the war's got bigger hasn't it, that's the trouble, the war is bigger than your pledge card.
John Prescott: Well no no no. It certainly, it is, the war is a major issue, there's no doubt about it, but at the end of the day, they've got to ask themselves, if you vote for the Liberals, what difference is that going to make to the war. Liberal, more Liberal councils aren't going to just - make any effort or change in the United Nations or on this policy.
And I don't want to knock what Connie is saying, she's been there since 1945, she's entitled to have the gripe, and it is an important area of concern in this election. But I hope she'll think it over. You could see she was agonizing over the vote at that time. She is a Labour Party person. Our job is to continue to press home that the Iraq business has to be settled by the UN.
We're doing everything we can to do that, and then take in to account that we were a government that has brought in full employment, brought in economic stability, has reduced the er, improvement on housing; whole areas of social justice that we've achieved and no other government has achieved in decades.
Jeremy Vine: All right, but Connie said, It's something that Tony Blair has brought us to this, and it's significant isn't it that she names the Leader as the problem, and not the party.
John Prescott: Well I think it's inevitable leaders will always be identified with parties.
Jeremy Vine: She's not blaming your party is she, she's not blaming Old Labour.
John Prescott: Well, I mean you know, it is a judgement that went through to parliament, had discussions, had the votes ... gone to conferences, been discussed in the party - right. But you know, obviously erm, erm, she feels very much that this is her issue, a breaking issue for her, and perhaps - and has torn up her Labour Party card as I see, and she's considering she might vote Liberal.
But at the end of the day, there's an awful lot of people who've been uneasy about it, recognise at the end of the day that the Labour Government is the government, is one worth working for, working and voting for, and that's what they're asking for in this election.
Jeremy Vine: Well let's talk about Trevor, our former Labour Councillor in Hastings and you've now called him a militant cos he's left the party.
John Prescott: He used to call me a militant by the way - but it was a militant trade unionist; so I wasn't the militant politically. He was a supporter of George I'm told. Fine, that does indicate a particular point of view.
Jeremy Vine: He's talking about demotivated party workers. They're not interested in campaigning for the party.
John Prescott: (overlaps) Yeah, but I didn't, I know, I know, but I went down there. He might be demotivated, fine, that's his view, not the people and the party workers I met a few months ago; very enthusiastic, proud of what the government's done in Hastings.
You know it was down at something like twenty eighth worst, poorest town in Britain. It's now improved on that situation in the last few years. These are things that the party workers told me in Hastings, very enthusiastically, that they were proud of it. Well okay, Trevor might have done his bit, but don't tell me that's the party in Hastings.
Jeremy Vine: Well I wonder if it's the party nationally. Nationally, your membership figures are slumping aren't they. They've gone from four hundred and five thousand in 1997 when you were elected to, two years ago, two hundred and forty eight thousand. That is a problem isn't it.
John Prescott: Oh, our membership has gone down from that time and it was inevitable when we came.
Jeremy Vine: Not just gone down
John Prescott: Well, a detestation of the Tories at the time quite frankly, we had a massive increase in membership. I was responsible for driving an awful lot of that. I've since written to them, now only in the last few months, and said look, I asked you to join the Labour Party, I see you've not renewed your membership. And sometimes it's because you don't ask, and I enclosed the pledge card, and say look, We've delivered all this. I know there are matters of other concern but we've delivered on what we promised when I asked you to join the Labour Party.
Within a week a thousand members had re-joined the Labour Party. Cheques came in but I have to say quite a lot of them wrote to me and said, John, on Iraq, I don't think I can support; so we know that Iraq is a problem and we have to deal with it, but don't - and what we are fearful of sometimes is not going and asking our people, why don't you come back to the Labour Party, we don't knock on the door and ask. But as soon as we start doing that, and as soon as we write - not everybody comes back, but many more do.
Jeremy Vine: You gave a speech at the Spring Conference where you talked about all the door knocking you want people to do and you said, The coming elections ...
Jeremy Vine: ... that's right with your hand and all that. You said, the coming elections can be a stairway to success or a cycle of decline. Now what did you mean by that.
John Prescott: What I mean by that is that every government has a dip in its popularity - usually it's half way through a government. We've been in two terms of government now and it appears ours might come now. I don't know for sure, we'll have to wait and see what happens in this vote on June 10th.
Jeremy Vine: So it's not here yet. You think it might be coming.
John Prescott: Pardon.
Jeremy Vine: It's not here yet you think. The decline you're talking about.
John Prescott: No, it may well be all the polls tell us ... We might get less. We're already agreeing that Iraq is making some of our good supporters think, well, I don't know whether I can this time. I hope they'll re-think it. But let's assume the normal process comes that we get a reduction in our vote from the 40 odd per cent.
Then we have to say, Hey, hang on. We've got another set of elections coming in the North, for the Northern Regional referendums which come in the Autumn, which will again will be an all postal ballot referendum, and then there will be local elections, and whenever the general election comes.
And we'll have to take in to account those concerns. Iraq, we're already dealing with as you know, and that is through the UN which every party member would hope that it would happen that way.
Jeremy Vine: What about Debbie, our third voter there in Hastings.
John Prescott: Yeah.
Jeremy Vine: Labour through and through. Again, twenty years voting for Labour, says you don't look after working people.
John Prescott: Well I would assume that working people are ones that are mainly unemployed now you know, there's two million got back to work.
Jeremy Vine: No, her husband is a plasterer.
John Prescott: Well I comment on plasterer and painter you - can you get one now. Can you get a plumber. Can you get a plasterer. Can you get a joiner. If you try and get any of these people, they're in desperate short supply.
Why - because we're putting billions in to the construction through housing improvement, restructuring going on in all our cities. I think in Hastings, there's quite a lot of activity going on there.
John Prescott: I think what Debbie was saying, she didn't say he was unemployed, she was saying it's not helping enough for working people.
Minimum wages lifted their income up, we've actually reduced the levels of poverty, we've got more people back in work, and the public services are now increasing at a scale that we've not seen before; so I have to say to Debbie, I don't know what your experience is Debbie, and I do hope you'll think - you're voting for us again, and I'm glad you voted for us for twenty years.
But what we promised in that election in 1997, we've delivered in a fashion with economic stability that nobody has. What - if she's got a house, what is the percentage what is the percentage interest she's paying on her mortgage. Just compare these things.
Jeremy Vine: If it's all going so brilliantly why are we seeing reports now that you're planning yet another relaunch after these Local and Euro elections.
John Prescott: I don't know.
Jeremy Vine: True or not.
John Prescott: It's press yatter isn't it. I don't know. You're just asking me. Half the time I read in the press all sorts of things, half the time they're wrong. Sometimes there might be something in the story.
But look, if we didn't do well in those elections, I'm sure we'd want to look at the reasons, we always do, and address ourself to them. The only one that's been identified here is not the economy. I could have sat here ten years ago and you'd have been asking what's happening about the unemployment, what about the economy.
Well we have done something that's not done before; economic stability and social justice progress put together. No other government, this side of the war has been able to achieve that; so you're not asking me those questions, you're asking me, are we going to review what we do. We always review what we do. We're all accountable to the ....
Jeremy Vine: Relaunch I was asking.
John Prescott: Well, I don't know if it's going to be a relaunch, but you have to keep the trust of the people. And if you don't keep the trust of the people you won't get re-elected.
Jeremy Vine: We were watching earlier the pictures from Normandy and I know that D Day has some personal memories for you.
John Prescott: Yes in fact you're - casting back my own mind at five or six years I was in school, I used to remember the war for ringing the bell, going in to the bomb shelter and then coming out afterwards and picking up the bits of shrapnel and silver paper that used to be associated with those raids and smile.
And it was brought home to me when my father came back from Dunkirk with only one leg. There were people who paid a heck of a price and indeed some the ultimate price.
And today we're remembering that. I remember my father, I remember all of them who suffered and gave us peace for sixty years and gave us a way of settling disputes by the ballot box for twenty five nations in Europe this Thursday, rather than the gun. And we should thank them for that and we should remember what we have a responsibility to do. Keep that stability. Keep that peace and thank for, be thankful for what they did for us.
Interview with: Rt Hon Michael Howard, MP
Howard has insisted his party offers a middle course on Europe
Jeremy Vine: Earlier, I asked the Conservative Leader, Michael Howard, what he made of Norman Tebbit's comments that people aren't willing to fight under a beige banner.
Michael Howard: It's a very curious phrase, I don't know quite what he means. I can assure you that (interjects) Well, we will not be fighting under a beige banner and there will be nothing bland about our policies. But let me make it clear, our policies are designed to meet the needs of the British people. We don't sit down and pick our policies in order to create any particular coloured banner. This is a serious business; we think that the present government is, is letting the people of our country down.
We think there are really important changes to be made in the way in which we deliver health care and education, giving people more choice and more control, indeed giving everyone the kind of choice that to-day, only people with money can buy. And when we produce our proposals in detail, which we're planning to do, after these elections next week, then I think you'll see that they are serious proposals, designed to really drive up standards which is what the country needs.
Jeremy Vine: Well, we are having an election this coming week, as you point out, Local and Euro elections, it would have been nice to have policies before it wouldn't it.
Michael Howard: No, because these elections are for the European Parliament and for Local Authorities and the policies that we will be producing, will be policies that will be highly relevant at the general election.
They will be things that parliament can decide. These elections are very important in themselves, but they're not obviously elections for parliament.
Jeremy Vine: Sure, but you concede there the Norman Tebbit point don't you, because the beige banner reference, is a reference to a lack of definition which comes from the fact that, as you're saying to us, you haven't got your policies on the table yet.
Michael Howard: That's perfectly true. But I think you'll find, I mean we are what, a year away from when most people expect the general election to be. You will find in the next few months that we will produce probably a more detailed policy agenda than any recent opposition has at this stage in the parliament.
But we are working things through, these are very important issues obviously. We've got to get the details right, we're working on them, working hard at them and we will be producing them and explaining them and persuading people that this is the right way forward for Britain over the next couple of months.
Jeremy Vine: And until then, to use Norman Tebbit's phrase, you're fighting beige aren't you.
Michael Howard: No. No. No.
Jeremy Vine: If we're to look at what we see from Michael Howard on the TV, on the radio at the moment, it's negative isn't it. It's - UKIP are rubbish, Labour are rubbish and go and demonstrate against fuel prices.
Michael Howard: On the contrary. Let's deal with these elections that are taking place in a few days time. On the local elections, we have a very positive agenda. We say Conservative councils give you better services for a lower council tax, and that's borne out by the facts; average band D council tax in a conservative council is more than fifty pounds a year lower than a Labour and Lib Democrat council.
And the Audit Commission says that a greater proportion of Conservative councils deliver excellent services; so better services for less cost, that's a very positive local government message. On Europe, we say that you, you needn't either give up on Europe, which is one extreme of the argument, or just continue with this process of handing over more and more power to Brussels.
We say, you can engage in Europe, you can remain as a positive and influential member of the European Union, but you don't have to accept everything that comes out of Europe, and indeed, we think there are things done in Brussels now, which would be much better done in Britain.
Jeremy Vine: But you see that description that you've given us and you won't like this at all, but that's the beige description isn't it. It's the third way.
Michael Howard: No, not at all.
Jeremy Vine: Isn't it Mr Howard.
Michael Howard: It has nothing beige about it.
Jeremy Vine: But that's ... (both together) ... how you've let UKIP in isn't it.
Michael Howard: On the one hand, you say it's beige. The criticism that I most frequently get is that it's not deliverable. Now those two criticisms are completely inconsistent with each other and I know that we can deliver. You see, we can say to our partners, if you want to integrate more closely, that's fine, you can do that.
We don't want to do that, let's have a policy of live and let live. Let's all be within the European Union, we don't want to stop you doing what you want to do, as long as you don't make us do what we don't want to do.
Jeremy Vine: But you compare that message which you've taken trouble to explain there, with UKIPs very simple, Let's Get Out Now.
Michael Howard: No. No.
Jeremy Vine: And you see the problem, you see the Norman, the point about Norman Tebbit. That yours is complicated, and it sounds a bit like the muddle in the middle.
Michael Howard: No, not at all. I mean you, you can give up on Europe altogether, that's one extreme of the argument.
Jeremy Vine: Well that's attractive to UKIP's voters and some of your voters isn't it.
Michael Howard: You can carry on giving more and more power to Brussels, that's the other extreme of the argument. Our approach is a sensible approach, it's a tough approach, it's going to need really hard negotiation, but I'm confident that we can deliver on it.
Jeremy Vine: Andrew Cooper said something very interesting. He was one of William Hague's advisors and he said that the Conservatives need a clause four moment, in other words, a watershed policy moment, on tax. You need that moment of definition.
Michael Howard: He's entitled to his opinion isn't he.
Jeremy Vine: Is he right.
Michael Howard: No, I don't think he is. Again, we are producing the policies that are relevant to the needs of the people of our country.
Jeremy Vine: We're not here yet.
Michael Howard: We've made it clear - yeah, we are, they are, we've made it absolutely clear that because of what Oliver Letwin has spelled out about our spending plans, we will be able to avoid Labour's third term tax rises, that's clear.
They would be very damaging, Labour would need them, we would not need them. Now, we are also looking at waste, trying to identify how much of the taxpayers money is being wasted, and when we've completed that exercise, I hope we'll be able to say yes, we can deliver tax cuts as well. But I'm not going to be irresponsible about it. I'm not going to make a promise about that until I'm sure I can deliver on it.
Jeremy Vine: But all we get in a way of something that fulfils the Andrew Cooper request for definition, for something big, are these off the record briefings from Oliver Letwin, where he says, oh I'd like slash everything. And then they get denied.
Michael Howard: No, he didn't say that. It wasn't an off the record briefing, it was a speech made in the company of many journalists and he didn't say it. You know, he didn't say it.
Jeremy Vine: Come out and say we're going to cut taxes. Give us something so we know what the Conservative Party is about.
Michael Howard: We are about lower taxes. Of course I believe in a low tax economy. I know perfectly well that the low tax economies across the world do better, are more effective at creating jobs, create higher standards of living, and better public services for the people who live in them and I want to get there.
But, I'm not going to be irresponsible about the way in which we get there. I'm not going to make any promises I can't keep. We will set out our stall in full, in good time before the election.
Meantime we're working hard to see where the government is wasting money, to spell that out to people, so that everybody will be able to see exactly where we're going to find the money for the tax cuts that I hope we're going to be able to promise.
Jeremy Vine: You've attacked negative campaigning, and yet your slogan is Let Down By Labour. How on earth do you explain that.
Michael Howard: Well it's a statement of fact isn't it. And everybody is saying it.
Jeremy Vine: Negative, isn't it.
Michael Howard: Everybody is saying it and you know, I don't think I actually have attacked negative campaigning. I think we've attacked personalised campaigning, but that's a different thing.
You talk to everybody on the streets, and I've been doing a lot of talking to people on the streets, and listening to people on the streets over the last few weeks; the one thing, the one message that comes out loud and clear from them is that they feel desperately let down by Labour.
Jeremy Vine: Okay, just to clarify this. You haven't attacked negative campaigning, in brackets, because you're in favour of it or what.
Michael Howard: Again, just a statement of fact. As I say, I think we've attacked personalised campaigning, but people are entitled to draw attention to the short comings of other parties, that's part of the normal political exchange and it's, and it's reasonable.
Jeremy Vine: But if 80% of what you say is about Labour, we are going to struggle.
Michael Howard: It isn't.
Jeremy Vine: We are going to struggle with definition aren't we. Finding out who you are and what you want.
Michael Howard: You won't have any problem at all Jeremy, I promise. Most people think, I don't know when the election is going to be, but most people seem to think it's going to be in about a year's time. You will have more detailed policies, from the Conservative Party, during that period, between now and the general election, than you've had from any opposition in recent times.
And I'll tell you why we're doing that. We're doing that because I know, unfortunately, that one of the consequences of the disillusionment which people feel with the present government, is that they think all politicians are the same; they think that we wouldn't really do any better. That's one of the challenges we have to face. And that's one of the reasons why we will be producing our policies in detail.
We won't just be saying to people, trust us. We'll be saying, this is what we want to do. This is how we're going to give you better health care. This is how we're going to create circumstances in which your children will have a better education.
This in detail, is how we're going to do it. Look at our plans. If you agree with us, vote for 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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