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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 October 2005, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
Jon Sopel interview

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 02 October 2005, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • Derek Simpson, Leader of Amicus
  • John Hutton, MP
  • Lord Ashcroft, Tory party donor

Derek Simpson
Derek Simpson, Leader of Amicus

Interview with Derek Simpson

JON SOPEL: And I'm joined now by Derek Simpson of Amicus. Thanks very much for being here. Did you snitch on the deal.

DEREK SIMPSON: Not as far as I'm concerned. The, the Warwick Agreement which dealt, deals with a number of points, as far as I'm concerned is to be honoured in full. I'm not entirely certain what is meant.

JON SOPEL: Well the manifesto said, We'd be driving innovation through diversity of provision, and placing power in the hands of the patient, the parent and the citizen. Expansion in NHS capacity would come from the independent and voluntary sectors. Pretty clear isn't it.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well it's, that's clear that's the government's manifesto, but that wasn't part of the Warwick Agreement, that's the Manifesto.

We only agreed the Warwick Agreement and that was based on what our members told us, in the many meetings that we had, so thousands of our members, our policy conferences, arrive at decisions. And those were the things that were in the Warwick, the things that you just read were not part of Warwick.

JON SOPEL: Well they were in the manifesto as a result of what the government said had been agreed at Warwick.

Now what do you say to Tony Blair's argument that people have choice at the moment, if you're rich. If you're lower down the food chain and money chain, then you don't have that choice and what he's trying to do is to extend it to everybody.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well that is what he says but of course you've got to understand that that's at the expense of the NHS.

I mean the people who work in the private sector, invariably have been trained with public money in the health service and drift across, and of course it's not just about services, it's also about the back up services, (interjection) which given competition will put those at risk.

JON SOPEL: Does it matter who provides your operation, as long as you get your operation.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well it's a fair question if it was as simple as that but our view is it's not as simple as that and I don't think that the government's view of it is very popular, not according to the many thousands of people we speak to.

JON SOPEL: Well we did a survey for this programme last week. 80% of people said they were in favour of more choice for public services.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well of course people will say they're choice. I don't know what the question was but I know what the question is when we meet our members. As I say, in the thousands, not just the opinion of myself and one or two so-called, burly trade union leaders. Far from it.

JON SOPEL: Well what do you say to Tony Blair when he says, The trade union movement has got to modernise, it's got to understand that the world out there has changed and then he says, come on guys, get in to the modern world, get real.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well if we get a level playing field for employment rights, if we got protected jobs and we got pension schemes that weren't at risk, modernisation would be an interesting exercise.

But since we don't have that luxury, we don't have a level playing field, jobs are at risk, pensions are at risk, and millions of people know it, and are not satisfied by the temporary, part time and agency jobs that are created in place of well-paid and secure jobs (interjection) which is why we get a different message from the one that the government (interjection) is portraying.

JON SOPEL: You defeated the leadership four times. Do the unions have too much power, particularly when there's all this talk of a merger and the emergence of a super-union.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well, we do have a lot of members and it's only proportional but I understand, as I see it, that the votes that they complain about went through anything between 70 and 80% in favour. They tried to make a great fuss about the constituency votes, but 40% of the constituencies voted with the unions.

JON SOPEL: But in the future, if there's a merged super union, you could have one guy standing up essentially dictating the policy of the policy forum, of the party conference, and of the electoral col ..(overlaps)

DEREK SIMPSON: Oh, I see. I understand the point that you're making. When I, I've completely misunderstood this, because ... one guy deciding the policy, I thought you were talking about the prime minister. However, trade unions don't work that way.

Trade unions do listen to the policy conference, perhaps unlike maybe the leader, the Labour leadership. We listen to policy conferences. Our policies aren't individuals, it will never be one man's policy.

JON SOPEL: So the Labour leadership is not listening to you.

DEREK SIMPSON: Well, I thought that's what you said. You said that the Labour leadership is (interjection)

JON SOPEL: I said they were out-voted.

DEREK SIMPSON: (laughs) Well, I think the also message is, out voted and it doesn't matter, we won't take any notice anyway. Isn't that the message.

JON SOPEL: Okay. Mr Simpson, than you very much indeed.

End of interview

Interview with John Hutton

John Hutton, MP
John Hutton, MP

JON SOPEL: Well listening to that is the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for public service reform, John Hutton. He joins us now. Mr Hutton, you've just heard that. What have you got to say. I mean you haven't been listening, you've been the ones who've been high-handed and it's not what people want, choice.

JOHN HUTTON: Well the manifesto that we fought the last election on, only four months ago, was agreed with the trade unions and the national executive committee. The policies that we stood on, had been worked up in all of the national policy forums, all of the consultative arrangements that we put in place in the Labour party and we won the election (interjection) on those manifestos.

And I think the most important thing John now actually, having won an election on a very clear set of explicit policies, that cover public service reform, and a whole range of other things, including the points that Derek was talking about, about strengthening the rights of workers in the work place, which we've agreed with the unions.

We now implement that manifesto. I think it's the worst kind of resolution politics, having won an election on a very clear set of promises with the country, now then to cobble together some alternative policies, four months later. That is not the way that this government is going to conduct itself, or the way that it wants to govern the country.

JON SOPEL: Forgive me for sounding confused but I just interviewed and heard, and listened very carefully to what Mr Simpson said and I've just listened very carefully to what you've said, and I can't reconcile the two things at all. It sounds like you agreed two completely different things.

JOHN HUTTON: Well our policies were agreed in the national executive committee for the manifesto, at which the unions are represented.

Our policies are formed throughout the course of the year, in debates with our party members, including the trade unions, and you very rightly and fairly quoted to Derek, a very important section of our manifesto, where we did make it absolutely clear what we would do in government and we have got a mandate from the country to do that, and we intend to honour the promises that we made to the country.

JON SOPEL: Let me just be clear about this. Are you saying the unions signed up to what they voted against this week.

JOHN HUTTON: Yes, they did.

DEREK SIMPSON: Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

JOHN HUTTON: That was agreed in the national executive committee with the unions sitting there, round the table, with their representatives for the party leadership, the parliamentary labour party, and agreed the manifesto ...

DEREK SIMPSON: (overlaps) Not true Jon.

JON SOPEL: Well you can hear shouts of 'not true', coming from behind me.

JON SOPEL: But what is the basis of a relationship then. I mean, how would you characterise the relationship between now, the unions and the party leadership.

JOHN HUTTON: Well I think what we can't do is agree a set of policies in May and then try and re-negotiate them in September. I don't think that is a terribly sensible way to conduct our politics. And the relationship between the party and the unions is a very important one; it connects us with working people, that is a very important part of our tradition and we should stick to that.

But I think what isn't sensible is to, as I said, agree a set of policies in the Spring, and then seek to change them. And in relation to the Warwick Agreement, which you were talking to Derek about, it's very clear in the Warwick Agreement that we weren't going to return to secondary picketing, that is absolutely clear in the Warwick Agreement, that was not part of the deal.

So, when the Unions now come to party conference and say actually, we, we'd like to have secondary picketing again, both as the Chancellor made clear, and as the Prime Minister made clear, that is not possible, and in relation to the party conference, it is very significant - I mean Derek brushed it aside as being 40% of the constituency parties voted with the unions.

The overwhelming majority of the constituency delegates, who represent Labour party members, at the party conference, agree with the party leadership and want us to implement Labour's election manifesto, and that is entirely the right thing to do and that's what we're going to do.

JON SOPEL: So you're going to change the rules of the party conference then. So recalibrate the voting system.

JOHN HUTTON: No, I don't think there's any need to do that.

JON SOPEL: Do you think there's a need to look at that.

JOHN HUTTON: No, I don't think so. We've got a settlement at the moment and I think we should stick to it. But I think, as the Prime Minister and others have made absolutely clear, what we're not going to do is to renegotiate now parts of the election manifesto, which we won the election on and we have a deal with the country. You know this is what this is about.

We were explicit in what we were going to do and we should now go ahead and implement the policies that only four months ago we said to the country that we were determined to implement because it will improve public services, not undermine them. And the idea that the expansion in health care somehow is being done at the expense of the NHS is complete tosh.

There are a quarter of a million more people working in the NHS today, than was the case in 1997. The expansion that's taking place, it's a necessary expansion so we can deal with waiting times (interjection) And the long queues that people ...


JON SOPEL: It might be in your interest to characterise this as union dinosaurs, whatever phrase you want to use. Tony Blair saying, come on guys get real. It's also the Royal College of Surgeons worried about the extent to which the private sector is coming in .

JOHN HUTTON: Well of course we should have all these conversations look, what is absolutely clear, we made progress in reducing waiting times when we started to expand capacity, when we started to use spare capacity in the independent sector. That is what has helped us to get down waiting times, and we are not going to put dogma or ideology above the needs of patients.

If a patient is waiting for treatment Jon, we are not going to say to them, sorry, can you wait a few more months until the NHS can (interjection) get round to treating you in an NHS hospital, if we know that there is capacity in the independent sector available to take that person out of pain and misery and suffering, and that is absolutely the right thing to do.

JON SOPEL: Wouldn't Mr Simpson and his members be reassured if you were to set out the limits of what you think is the extent of private sector involvement.. (overlaps)

JOHN HUTTON: We've done that.

JON SOPEL: Okay, what is the ...

JOHN HUTTON: We've done that. We're talking about 10, 10 to 15%. We've made that absolutely ...


JON SOPEL: Patricia Hewitt wouldn't put a ceiling. She said, it's not about talking about ceilings. What wouldn't you put a ...

JOHN HUTTON: Well. We have said, we think that is what the likely sort of combination between independent sector and NHS capacity is likely to be for the foreseeable future. But look, at the end of the day, the important thing here in all of this is one of principle. We've elected, we've been elected on a clear manifesto John, and we are not now going to dump parts of it.

We have a contract with the people, we've got a clear set of manifesto commitments agreed in the normal consultative arrangements within the Labour party; we're going to stick to that and implement it because they will improve our public services, and that's got to be the top priority, not sectional interest but national interest.

JON SOPEL: Were you surprised by the way the unions conducted themselves in the past week.

JOHN HUTTON: Well we've, we've had a few conferences now where we've had these sorts of situations, where you know, some unions, and it is some by the way, it's not all of the unions, some unions come up with a usual set of demands and they get met by the usual set of responses.

JON SOPEL: Then why have the link between the Labour party ...

JOHN HUTTON: Well no, look, the link is important between the party and the trade union movement. It's not just historical but ...

JON SOPEL: It sounds like you want to be free from it.

JOHN HUTTON: No, I'm not saying that at all. I think quite the opposite. I think the relationship between the Labour party and the unions is a very important part of who we are as a political force. And at times when, you know things haven't been good for us, it has been the common sense of the trade unions, that has helped Labour stabilise, keep on the centre ground and (interjection) then going on to win elections.

JON SOPEL: But you're saying not any more, you're saying not any more. That's what Tony Blair said. He said it used to be the constituencies who were the loonies, essentially - I paraphrase. And it's now the unions.

JOHN HUTTON: Well, I don't think he said they were loonies, but I think the position is different now. It is the constituency party delegates who are in the mainstream, who want us to get on now and modernise our public services, because the world has changed and we've got to reflect that, we've got to be a modern party of the centre, progressive centre; aware of what's happening in the world around us, using new tools to fashion new solutions.

And it is now the union who are saying to us no, we'd like to go back to a different set of solutions, the '70s or the '60s. We're definitely not going to do that - the Prime Minister has made that clear, the Chancellor has made that clear, and I'm trying to make that clear today as well.

JON SOPEL: Okay. John Hutton, thanks very much indeed.

End of interview

Interview with Lord Ashcroft

Lord Ashcroft
Lord Ashcroft, Tory party donor

JON SOPEL: Lord Ashcroft, the author of Smell the Coffee, joins me now. How well are you doing in convincing the party it needs to change.

LORD ASHCROFT: Well what I've done in Smell the Coffee, is a whole series of research, to lay out factually what the issues are, what people think and where the problems are. And I published that book.

As far as the candidates now are concerned, it's fairly clear that they are all reading this and reflecting it in some of their pronouncements, including for example this week, David Davis, talking about 'modern' Conservatives.

David Cameron talking about change that is needed, and so I believe that this has promoted the agenda to discuss how the party moves from its rump vote.

JON SOPEL: For many it must make very uncomfortable reading.

LORD ASHCROFT: Well sometimes you have to do things for friends that are not nice to hear. It's a bit like telling someone they have bad breath, it's a very difficult thing to do but perhaps necessary.

JON SOPEL: How bad is the problem for the party at the moment?

LORD ASHCROFT: I think the party has been flat lining at around 30% of the electorate. The party has moved where it is perceived to be white, male, southern, old and not a party that is in tune with modern Britain.

JON SOPEL: You said that some of the candidates are learning the language, speaking it, but there's also that feeling of one more heave, we're nearly there, our principles are right, people don't have a problem with the brand. Your research seems to suggest that people do have a problem with the brand.

LORD ASHCROFT: Well I think you can go back to the Labour party and Neil Kinnock. There were many on the left of the party who were saying the same thing that you mustn't move from your left wing credentials, but those positions would never win power. It took a left winger, like Neil Kinnock to start to make the move to improve the brand, in order to appeal to a larger core vote, in order to seek power.

JON SOPEL: Isn't there a danger for Conservatives who want the leadership, that they look back at the template of Kinnock, of Blair, of John Smith maybe as well, as kind of Labour in '94 when Tony Blair took over, and fighting the last war, sort of generals fighting the last war.

LORD ASHCROFT: No, I don't think so. What I've tried to point out in the book is that the Conservative party today, is not associated with aspiration, opportunity, economic competence, efficient delivery of public services, or as I've said, life in modern Britain today. And therefore it is moving in to a hardcore 30% vote which will not bring the party back to power.

JON SOPEL: Might it be a good idea to change the name.

LORD ASHCROFT: Well in a way, this is the same problem that Labour had. They put the adjective 'new' in front of it, rather than change the name. I don't think the name has to change.

I don't think the - in politics you have that luxury. If there is a brand in say a consumer product, that for some reason loses its image and its sales go down, they can ditch it. In politics you can't.

You have to take your brand and then work it through and cover the areas to which you are now not associated with. It is a hard long haul. There are no easy answers but we must listen to people who talk about one more heave. They will lose it.

JON SOPEL: And of the candidates who are out there. Who do you think - has read this most closely and is embracing your message.

LORD ASHCROFT: I think of the candidates, definitively, David Davis in terms of his pamphlet that has been produced this week, actually uses the word 'modern' Conservatives. David Cameron feels quite natural and Ken Clarke certainly has read it, but I think he has the European issues, which is a broader matter to have to deal with; so ...

JON SOPEL: Who are you going to back?

LORD ASHCROFT: I will be prepared to back when it comes down to the last two that go to the membership and the person ...

JON SOPEL: You wouldn't be unhappy if it was David Cameron and David Davis, as the two that the party has to choose between by the sound of it.

LORD ASHCROFT: No, I wouldn't be unhappy if it came to that at the end. And then for me, it would be that the candidate in his pitching to the activists, that takes on board the messages of 'Smell the Coffee'.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Lord Ashcroft, many many thanks.

End of interview

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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