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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 October 2005, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Jon Sopel interview

Politics Show, Sunday 23 October 2005

Jon will be doing an exclusive joint interview with the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw, during Foreign Secretary Straw's visit to the US.

We also film them as they visit Condoleezza Rice's home state of Alabama.

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 16 October 2005, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • Kenneth Clarke MP, Conservative Leadership candidate
  • David Miliband MP, Minister of Communities and Local Government

Kenneth Clarke
Kenneth Clarke MP

Interview with Kenneth Clarke

Kenneth Clarke: I have a soft spot for this guy, Harcourt.

He was a leading figure in his day, he held many great offices, he was home secretary for a long time, he was Chancellor the Exchequer for a time and he made repeated attempts to become leader of his party, he never quite got there.

He was a distinguished man but I've got to do one better than him. He liked cigars as well, which gives me a fellow feeling.

Jon Sopel: It's true isn't it that very few of the intake of 2001, 2005 are backing you.

Kenneth Clarke: Some of them are not coming out and yes, it's probably the case that I'm weakest there than I am with the others.

The ones that have come in are, tend to be more responsive to the newspapers, tend to be more responsive to the pressures of the moment, but I have got some in both those in-takes, and I think I've got enough to come first or second on Thursday.

Jon Sopel: Do regret spending too much time in the boardroom of BAT and not enough time in the tea room of the House of Commons?

Kenneth Clarke: No.

Jon Sopel: But don't you think you would get to know these people better?

Kenneth Clarke: No, that's, that's not the reason why I don't know them. I do spend a very great deal of time in the House of Commons, ... not always in the tea room, I spend quite a lot of time in the Chamber.

I haven't had the time to get to know the new ones but I actually think I'm one of the more active members of the House of Commons and I think the idea that I've got things outside which stops me from getting to know them, is with great respect, nonsense.

Jon Sopel: The argument is that you haven't been around the Commons much. I mean you know, look at the voting record where you come six hundred and seventeenth out of six hundred and forty five MPs ...

Kenneth Clarke: (overlaps) That is since the General Election. Between the General Election and the summer, it is true, I've fitted a lot of things in that I otherwise had not been able to fit in before the Election.

I didn't think anything very much politically would happen between the General Election and the summer, for that reason did not, and there wasn't a great deal politically that happened, as it happened but I was not around perhaps so much before the Election, as I had been after the Election and ... the summer, than I had been normally, but I'm there now and I really do not think that you know that is the key element in next week's election.

Jon Sopel: Do you think though that - part of your problem is that you've been semi retired from front line politics since you stopped being Chancellor.

Kenneth Clarke: (overlaps) I've never heard such nonsense in all my life.

Jon Sopel: Well you made your first (interjection) ... You made your first speech at party conference for nine years.

Kenneth Clarke: Well that's because, that's because nobody asked at the party conference, in the House of Commons I think I've made over a hundred speeches since I was Chancellor and I've been nominated for Parliamentary Debater of the Year and beaten by a peer, because more peers voted.

I actually am one of the nosiest opponents of Gordon Brown, every time he has a budget. I was one of the strongest opponents of the Iraq war. I took a large part of the debates on the anti terrorism legislation, and I'm keen advocate of House of Lords reform. If you're trying to imply that I have been a non-active member of the House of Commons, that's complete and utter nonsense.

Jon Sopel: One of the features of this campaign has been the whole debate over drugs.

Kenneth Clarke: Well that's one of the dafter things as well isn't it really. I think really is quite absurd that any of the candidates are asked to start describing their private lives in former times.

The moment they answer questions in anything, they immediately get asked about other things, or have you done x, have you done y and all the rest of it. And I strongly advise David to carry on batting the questions away, and I actually don't think it's doing David Cameron any harm, because I think most members of the public thinks it's a rather silly media witch hunt.

Jon Sopel: The polls always show that people hate artifice, they hate charlatans to use a word that David Davis deployed last week, yet here you are, earthy man of the people, and yet it looks like, according to the polls and you're going to tell me that we can't believe anything, that you're going to be the one who's going to get wiped on Thursday.

Kenneth Clarke: Well there aren't any polls on that - all you've got is speculation. If you look at the polls you find that it - when it started I was four times more popular than the person who was then second, who I think was David Davis, I think David Cameron has now ... so I'm about two and half to three times more popular than he is. The polls that count, which are the polls amongst the people who have a vote in the next election, show that I'm far better placed than anybody else.

Indeed, for that reason I tend to (interjection) ... find that the members of the public think that it's rather extraordinary that a democratic party is going through this process because I am the obvious person to select, if you wish to increase the Conservative party's appeal, to the floating voter.

Jon Sopel: So just in terms of the MPs, you do acknowledge that you're well short at the moment.

Kenneth Clarke: No. I, I actually think I've got to aim to get in to the last two, I don't think anybody knows, it's quite an interesting battle. It's been interesting all the way through. But I do not agree here that I am well short at the moment. I think there's an excellent chance to my getting to the last two; I actually expect to do so.

Jon Sopel: If you didn't, would be prepared to serve in, I don't know, if Cameron became leader.

Kenneth Clarke: Well again, let us see whether that happens. I personally expect to be the leader. If there is another leader, I wait to see whether he invites me to serve, which the previous ones have not done. William made the ritual invitation to be Deputy Leader but he didn't repeat it, because I actually turned him down.

I will do what I did before which is actually serve the Conservative Party by being I think a strong advocate of our cause in the House of Commons and opposing the Labour party. If I was offered a very senior role, I might consider it.

Jon Sopel: You gave a speech at the Party Conference which said, exact - all those things; that you were the one to take on Gordon Brown and that he's making a mess of the economy, and very soon the British people are going to realise that. It didn't seem to acknowledge that there was anything much fundamentally wrong with the Conservative party that it needed to reform, that it needed to change the way it was.

Kenneth Clarke: I think the party does need to change. I think the faults not just you know, the fault is not with the electorate, the fault is in the party, that it's not made more progress against the government.

Jon Sopel: What about Cameron's campaign?

Kenneth Clarke: Yeah, I think Cameron's fought a reasonable campaign I'm not ... anybody else's campaign. I just think ...

Jon Sopel: (overlaps) Glossy and very Blarite.

Kenneth Clarke: (laughs) Well that's ... maybe, I'm not sure, but I wouldn't use either of those adjectives. It's a very professional campaign. He's a very good guy. He's ... because he's newsworthy, he's had a tremendous amount of media attention, cos he's the new guy on the block and we're a very interesting contrast.

Jon Sopel: Too young.

Kenneth Clarke: Well he's probably too young and I'm probably too old. He's got no experience at all, and I've got - I'm loaded with experience. The ideal candidate maybe, is someone between the two of us, half the age with half the experience but he ain't there. And I hope the MPs are going to put the two of us forward. I think that's the best choice out of the four actually.

And then the, the party - the voluntary membership as a whole can decide, do we want to be led at the moment by the guy who's obviously Prime Minister candidate now, will that give us more time - or people - some (fluffs), to see someone in action who's probably going to be a Prime Minister candidate in the future.

Jon Sopel: Are you surprised at how well Cameron has done and how much attention he's got.

Kenneth Clarke: I always thought a very intelligent guy. I always thought that he was one of the future stars, along with others of his generation actually. And I'm used to this kind of thing, he had one good speech a fortnight's fantastic publicity. And timing is all in politics, but I think I'm going to thwart him.

It's taken me several years to get my reputation and if I can get through next week, which I think I will, then we'll see what the members of the party want by way of experience or youth when they finally decide.

End of interview

Interview with David Miliband

David Miliband MP
David Miliband MP

Jon Sopel: And I'm joined now by David Miliband, the Cabinet Minister responsible for policy in this area. Thanks very much for being on the Politics Shows.

David Miliband: Good afternoon Jon.

Jon Sopel: Afternoon. Are elected regional assemblies dead now, can we say that?

David Miliband: Well I think they've certainly been kicked in to the long grass by the voters of the North East last November and from my visits around the country, to a series of city summits, I think that there are two issues really; one is that local people want local issues, dealt with locally, so if it's a matter of your primary care trust, running the health service, or how the streets are cleaned, that's not a matter for a regional body.

But there are some big issues like transport, that do cross local authority boundaries, and the people in your film there represent ten or eleven local authorities in the Greater Manchester area and that obviously poses some quite big questions of co-ordination.

Jon Sopel: But there are regional authorities that are just un-elected. Do you accept that there is a democratic deficit then, that people don't have enough say over some of these things?

David Miliband: Well there are regional assemblies which are made up mainly of local councillors, so they are representative of their communities, and they play a particular role on housing and planning issues, and that's why there was a reference in your film to the whole of the North West.

I think what we're looking at the moment is how are great cities can continue to transform themselves. I mean I think it is amazing that if we'd been having this conversation fifteen years ago, and we were talking about cities, we'd have been talking about decline, de-population, industries going out, law and order out of control.

What's happening now in our great cities is actually the population is returning. Each and every one of them, whether it be Birmingham, with its retail centre. Whether it be Leeds and financial services, whether it be Manchester, after the Commonwealth Games and now the universities coming together - our great cities, really are powering forward economically and socially.

And the question for them, is how do they go further and what's interesting is that they say, we can't only do it within their own boundaries, we've got to look at the authorities around us.

Jon Sopel: And you seem to like what's happening in France. You say if thirty six thousand French communities, 90% of them with fewer than two thousand residents can all have a mayor, eleven doesn't seem an excessive number for England.

David Miliband: Well, exactly. I think the thirty six thousand communes, as they're called in France, and maybe it has a slightly different connotation in this country, but those are very very local bodies.

But I think we should open our eyes to the fact that the mayors around the country have made a difference. I mean you only have to look at the way in which London responded after the 7th July bombings.

There was Ken Livingstone, he was representing the whole city, all the services were brought together, and I think that has made an impact. Now ... (interjection) ...

Jon Sopel: (overlaps) ... the people of Hartlepool who elect when a mayor when they've got the choice, elect a monkey.

David Miliband: Well they didn't exactly elect a monkey ...

Jon Sopel: They elected a candidate standing as a monkey.

David Miliband: No, they elected a candidate whose previous job was dressing up as a monkey at the Hartlepool football matches ...

Jon Sopel: (interjects and overlaps) ... but, okay.

David Miliband: (overlaps) And he's been, and fair do's, he's been re-elected. And I think there is a democratic deficit in this country and it is about how we get power not just from Whitehall to the County Hall or the Town Hall, it's also how do we involve local people at street and neighbourhood level. So it's not just a matter of a new centralisation of power in the Town Hall or the County Hall, it's also about involving people on local issues.

Jon Sopel: But then why when there have been. Since 1997, there have been thirty one referendums on the idea of setting up mayors. Out of the thirty one, nineteen boroughs have voted no.

David Miliband: Well that's totally within their rights. I can't impose mayors on people, and if people don't want them, then they're quite - legitimately will say they don't want them. But eleven have, and they've made a difference.

Jon Sopel: That's a key point. Have you got a blue-print for the country?

David Miliband: No, I haven't got a single blue-print for the country. I think it would be unwise if you look at a situation in Manchester, as I say, where there are eleven (interjection) ...

Jon Sopel: (overlaps) You've had, you've had eight and a half years to think about this.

David Miliband: No hang on, let me finish. There are eleven local authorities in Manchester covering two and a half million people. In Birmingham, it's a different situation, in Newcastle it's a different situation. So there isn't a single transferable solution that you can impose from one part of the country to the other.

What I do say is that we need a new relationship between central government and local government. And secondly, a different sort of relationship between local government and local people because the Town Hall can seem remote, just as Whitehall seems remote.

Jon Sopel: So if you've got these smaller communities taking decisions, where do they get their powers from? Are they taking their powers from the local council, are they taking powers up from government or where.

David Miliband: Well you've got a local ward councillor for every ward in the country, representing local people. And in some areas you've got three local councils for every ward. And when I was in Birmingham, I heard about how the police service was using that structure, and a system of street champions for every street in every ward, to help make sure there was local intelligence and local views being fed in to setting local police priorities.

People (interjection) .. I think the big issue for the country is as follows; in 1997, people elected the government because they wanted us to fix the economy and Gordon Brown I think, according to any independent indicator has done that. If you look in 2001, we said in our manifesto that we wanted big investment in hospitals and police. In 2005, I think we've got to build on that and there's a different issue at hand, and that is, where does power lie?

And can we shift the balance of power, so that people don't feel that their community is out of control, that they have no sense of power over the things that matter to them, and I think that's what the government is determined to address, but not by imposing a solution, but by trying to make something, develop something that actually works locally.

Jon Sopel: Well how far are we away from this because there are all sorts of offers being put forward and they seem to get rejected, and it seems that there is no consistency around the country, with what you're trying to do.

David Miliband: Well I don't agree with that. I don't know what offers you're talking about but I think that what we have seen is first of all our city centres are booming, there's been a transformation in the way in which the economies of our cities are working, so that's going right. Secondly ...

Jon Sopel: Well maybe they're doing well with - with (interjection) ... less government.

David Miliband: Secondly, if you look at the performance of local government, the independent assessments that are carried out by the Audit Commission, suggest that two thirds of councils are now delivering a good or excellent service, that's good. Now some people can say, well let's just stick with what we've got and we don't want to make change.

But I think that in the modern world, you've got to look not - if you want to go for - if you want to - if you simply stand still, you're going to end up going backwards because that's the way the world is. And I think that people are looking for the sort of strong leadership at a city level that Ken Livingstone has provided in London. Now there are different models of providing that. And in Manchester, as it happens, the eleven authorities have come together in an association to try and provide that.

Jon Sopel: And what about this powering down argument. The idea that almost local streets or the neighbourhood around a park get together. I mean is that a realistic, a viable alternative.

David Miliband: Well, the good thing is that we don't have to just think about this in theory in my head or yours, we can look in practice on the ground.

In another part of the BBC today, they're going to be featuring Benwell, the area of the Benwell Estate in Newcastle, a neighbourhood manager there, an area of about eighteen hundred houses, three and a half thousand people, just a bit smaller than a conventional ward, there all services are being brought together at local level, to deliver an extremely deprived community and I think that's a good thing, that's the innovation in public services.

Not just giving more control to individuals or to neighbourhoods, but also bringing public services together so the housing, the health, the education are working together rather than separately.

Jon Sopel: But doesn't that lead to massive duplication. If you're kind of organising your own cleaning contract for a group of streets, someone else is doing it - isn't that better done by the local council.

David Miliband: No, we're not talking about having the Chief Executive of every ward in the country, paid a significant salary, that's not what we're talking about.

But we are talking about devolving the management function, so that rather than people sitting in the Town Hall or the County Hall, you actually do devolve down to neighbourhood or parish level, and I think that's a positive thing.

Jon Sopel: Final thought. Is the problem that it's hard to get people interested in this? People motivated in this - as they don't vote in high numbers for local council elections, and that therefore you know, why should they be bothered.

David Miliband: Well I think people are bothered when it affects their daily lives and what's interesting is if you look at the ballots for example on the future of local housing estates, you get 60 or 70% turnouts.

So if the issues are stark enough and they are relevant enough to people, then they will vote. And I think that's the challenge for all of us.

Jon Sopel: Mr Miliband. Thanks very much indeed.

David Miliband: Thank you.

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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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday 23 October at Noon on BBC One.

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