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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 June, 2004, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Election analysis
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 13 June, 2004, Jeremy Vine interviewed:

  • Alistair Darling, MP, Secretary of State for Transport

  • David Willetts, MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary

Interview with: Alistair Darling, MP

Alistair Darling, MP
Alistair Darling, MP, Secretary of State for Transport

Jeremy Vine: Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, is in our Edinburgh Studio and welcome to you this afternoon.

Alistair Darling: Hello.

Jeremy Vine: We'll leave the European Election a moment if we can. Of course the results on that coming in tonight. But as far as what you are going on from the councils, how do you as a government respond?

Alistair Darling: I think what's pretty clear is that on Thursday, the voters exercised a judgement on us as a government and let's face it, it was a bad result for us.

However, I don't think that there's much evidence that the voters exercised a choice as between a Labour government, and a Tory government; and despite what your film clip has just been showing there, the Tories told us at the start they were going to win control of Birmingham, indeed they needed to win control and make a handsome victory there.

And that just hasn't happened. And in other Midlands cities, like Wolverhampton for example, we've held on; the Tories still don't have councillors in Newcastle and other northern cities for example. So what I draw from it is this, the voters have been very clear, they've exercised a judgement on us, they've found us wanting in a number of respects.

Of course there's a whole lot of issues, local and national, but I am confident that we will win the next general election and that we will win it well, provided we can get across the message on the economy, the fact that we've got people, more people in work, the fact we're improving health and education.

Those are the issues that actually matter to people and I think when it comes to the General Election, when people are actually exercising a choice between a labour government and a Tory government, all the evidence is that yes, they want us to do a lot better and yes, they're sending us a rude reminder, but they do not want the Tories back.

Jeremy Vine: When you say, they found us wanting in a number of respects. Which respects?

Alistair Darling: Well, I think everybody is frustrated at the fact that in some cases the reforms we are making to health and education, transport is a case in point, are taking far longer than many people would want.

But I think they will acknowledge that process has been made. Up and down the country of course there are local factors.

You know some councils are good some are frankly not so good. There were issues like Iraq, which of course you know, all commentators as we have always acknowledged, was going to have an effect on people's general view of the government. What we've got to do is to reflect and learn on what we were told by the voters on Thursday.

We've got to better in a number of respects, in getting across what we're trying to do. We've also got to make sure that we step up the changes. This isn't the time for changing direction; this is a time for re-doubling our efforts. We have a clear vision of what we want in this country.

We are in a world that is changing very rapidly. We've got to make sure that we have a strong economy, that we've got good public services, and above all, we can enable individuals in this country to get on, to do the best they can for themselves and their families. Now I'm confident that we can do that.

Jeremy Vine: Let me just ask you, if I can Mr Darling, on Iraq specifically, which you mentioned there. Could you not try to draw a line under Iraq in some way, by offering some kind of qualified apology for the things that you got wrong.

Alistair Darling: Look, division, opinion in this country on Iraq is very sharply divided. There are many, many people who think we were wrong to do what we did. Who are deeply concerned about what's been happening there over the last year. And these are deeply held views.

Jeremy Vine: But that's quite what I'm asking. (interjects) Can I just ask the question a bit differently ... it's not about the whole policy, I appreciate you're never going to apologise for the fact that British troops are there. But why don't you, for example say, we got it wrong on weapons of mass destruction, they're not there, that was not the reason we should have given for it.

Alistair Darling: Well the, the reason that the conflict started, that we went to war in Iraq was because of the weapons of mass destruction.

You know that is a matter of fact, it wasn't just us, it was the whole of the United Nations believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and indeed the Survey Report Groups at the moment, point to the fact that that's what Saddam Hussein was working towards.

But surely, the important thing in relation to Iraq is no matter what people's feelings are about what happened there, is that we've got to move on now.

We've got to make sure that the new administration takes on power at the end of this month and that we do everything we possibly can to help Iraq move from brutal dictatorship in to a modern democracy with a thriving economy so that Iraqis themselves can get on and prosper.

Jeremy Vine: Okay.

Alistair Darling: That's what we ought to be doing. Now, let's not get away from it. Of course Iraq has had an effect on these elections, but you know, I think most people, where ever they start from, will accept the thing to do now is to do everything we possibly can to make sure we make progress in Iraq.

Jeremy Vine: All right.

Alistair Darling: As I say, these elections weren't just about that. They were about a whole lot of other things. You know amongst other things, you know, the mid-term for this government was long delayed ...


Jeremy Vine: Well exactly ...

Alistair Darling: ... but it certainly arrived last Thursday.

Jeremy Vine: Well of course. And on domestic policy as well. Now you've had seven years, we were told 1999 is the year of delivery some time ago, five years ago. How are you going to speed up delivery so that results are there by the time the General Election comes?

Alistair Darling: Well I think, you know, a lot of progress has been made. For example, all of us who've got children can see the difference in the schools in terms of increased numbers of teachers, better computer equipment and so on.

In the health service, happily, most of us don't have to go and see our doctor or go in to hospital. But if you actually see some of the changes that are being made then people who actually go to see their doctor, or go in to a hospital, can say yes, changes are happening. What is equally true, of course, is we've got a lot more to do.

School standards have improved but of course they've got to improve further, and in relation to the health service, it was always going to take time to turn around the NHS in order to provide the choices, in order to provide the facilities that people want.

Now obviously we've got to make sure that we increase our efforts there. Transport's the case in point. Where yes, we've made progress but we have a long way to go.

Interview with: David Willetts, MP

David Willetts, MP
David Willetts, MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary

Jeremy Vine: And David Willetts, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, joins me in the studio now. Good afternoon to you.

David Willetts: Good afternoon Jeremy.

Jeremy Vine: Let me just pick you up on specifics from the council elections if I can. We mentioned Birmingham there, where you were checked and stopped from taking over; Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, no Tory councillors.

David Willetts: Well you can pick and choose from councils. Remember in Birmingham, we are now the largest single party. Within the Midlands, we have now gained several areas.

We've gained Swindon, we've gained Trafford, we've gained Thurrock; there have been very significant gains and what is very important about the pattern, is these are gains in urban areas.

And one of the things I have been worried about is that the party had been driven back to a predominantly rural party.

What we've seen this weekend is the Conservative Party, once more gaining seats in urban Britain, and that's very important for us.

Jeremy Vine: They're urban areas, but they're not the big cities I mentioned, these great British cities, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, why aren't you there at all?

David Willetts: Well I think that if you look across urban Britain as a whole, you can see we are, even in the Midlands which you refer to, I mean we've gained in Dudley.

Jeremy Vine: No, I'm asking you about those three cities. What's going on?

David Willetts: Well I think that we can see there's a complicated three party politics going on.

One of the things that's happening is clearly that the Liberal Democrats are being defeated by us in some of the seats that they have held, but the Liberal Democrats are in turn taking seats from Labour, in some of those big cities.

But I think that we are making significant progress in getting across this message that we have policies that will help people living in main urban areas, and I think that's very important.

And of course there's more to do. None of us are going to sit now and say, well it's great, the next election is in the bag, far from it.

Jeremy Vine: It's not in the bag at all for you is it.

David Willetts: No, absolutely not. We fully recognise that. There's still a lot more work to be done, but we have made very significant progress and we've made significant progress in areas where often we've not held seats for many years.

Jeremy Vine: But it is said by all the experts that you need to be above 40% in the local elections, before the general, to have a chance of winning the General Election. You're not there, is there a problem?

David Willetts: Well, we have to do more, I fully recognise that. But in terms of, is there a problem? All I can say is that I've been a member of parliament since 1992.

I don't know how many interviews I've done on election results of various sorts since 1992, these are just about the best election results I can remember for my party, since the General Election of 1992.

So, after years when the critics said that we were flat lining, we're clearly moving forward. Of course there's more to do, but we're moving forward, and we're moving forward in areas of Britain that people said we were never going to get back in to. We are getting back in to urban Britain and that's very important for us.

Jeremy Vine: Let's talk about the results that are coming tonight which we don't know about yet, from the European elections. And a worry for you there of, of your votes being taken by the UK Independence Party. How bad do you think that could be?

David Willetts: Well we're going to know in a few hours and er, so it's no point speculating when there's two very important results out tonight Jeremy, one for the football and one for the European Elections. (interjection) ... And we mustn't forget either of them.

But I think we recognise that UKIP have put in a strong showing and so we are, you know, girding ourselves to the possibility that having done so well in the locals, we may well see a strong UKIP performance tonight. I don't want to put figures on it, we're going to have the real figures very soon.

But yeah, we, I was struck down in my own constituency, where we did very well in the local elections, taking two seats from Liberal Democrats, two seats from Labour, that there was clearly, on the doorstep, some people who were going to vote Conservative in the locals and other parties even in the locals, and vote UKIP in the Euro; so we'll have to look out for that.

Jeremy Vine: Say that happens, and so you take a knock, and people say well, my goodness, you're losing support to UKIP. Do you then open the bonnet and have a look at European policy with a view to hardening it up?

David Willetts: No, I think Michael Howard has set out exactly the right approach. I mean this, this approach of live and let live is a very important step forward for us.

What we're saying is if there are individual nation states within Europe, that want to come more closely together, they even want to create some sort of federal structure if they wish, fine for them, but we don't want to be part of it. That is our European strategy and will stick by that.

Jeremy Vine: Even if it's not worked tonight.

David Willetts: Well, I think that when it comes to, whatever happens tonight ... the Conservative Party believes that it's in Britain's interest to be members of the European Union.

That is the Conservative Party position. What we want to do is not be defeatist and say, you know, there's nothing to be done; all you've got to do is leave. What we want to see is certain areas where decision taking has gone to Brussels, coming back to individual nation states. That is a real challenge. I think we can make great progress on that.

We've had in the last few days even the Dutch prime minister saying that now there are too many important decisions taken by Brussels; he's calling for decision taking to go back to national governments, that's what we want to see and I hope that after to-day, Tony Blair takes that message when he goes in to the European Summit next week.

Jeremy Vine: To the extent where, very briefly, you might opt out of the fisheries policy, we gather, if you don't like the way the rules are laid down by Brussels, yes.

David Willetts: Well there's a whole area, several areas ...

Jeremy Vine: Just pull out ...

David Willetts: Well there's a whole set of areas where Europe has taken over control and has made a mess of it.

Fisheries is one, overseas aid is another, these are exactly the sort of areas where we say bring the power back to national governments.

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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