Robin Cook, MP
Interview with Robin Cook
Jeremy Vine: Do you agree, Robin Cook, with Ian Davidson's words there that Tony Blair was a lame duck from day one?
Robin Cook: No I don't. I don't think any Prime Minister is a lame duck, and Tony Blair has been elected with the kind of majority which we've been very glad to have had in the 1970s.
But I welcome the fact that Tony has said that he is listening, he's learnt. I think what we now need to hear is what has changed as a result of the listening and the learning process.
We are in a very different situation and I think it's very important that we recognise we've got change, there are different new political challenges that we face. I was slightly alarmed with what Pat McFadden said there. He said that we have to grasp that we've lost seats to the Tories.
I think that's true, but the reason we lost seats to the Tories is that we lost votes to the Liberal Democrats and now the dangerous position we're in is that the progressive vote in Britain has been split between Labour and Liberal Democrats. Some people, I think wrongly, but some people perceive the Liberal Democrats as to the Left of the Labour Party.
I think what Tony Blair has now got to show is whether he is the man who can actually re-brand the Labour Party as the radical alternative, the authentic voice of progressive Britain and win back those votes we lost to Liberal Democrats.
Jeremy Vine: But tacking left, if that's what you're suggesting, would be effectively the end of New Labour, wouldn't it?
Robin Cook: Well I myself am not one of the designers of New Labour. I think you would ask them what they would define as the end of New Labour. I am concerned about the Labour Party. I regard myself not as any rebel, I regard myself very much as a loyalist to the ... tradition, and the future of the Labour Party. I noticed David Blunkett in the news saying that we should take a look back, well, I'm awfully sorry David but that's not the way forward for any political party.
We've got to look to the future, and the future challenge for us is not how do we win over more territory from the Conservatives who are really on their knees and got a percentage share of the vote actually even worse than Labour did in 1983.
And the future for us, the future challenge to us is from the Liberal Democrats and we've got to make sure we win back those people who felt this time Labour was not the authentic voice of progressive Britain and couldn't support it.
Jeremy Vine: But what Mr Blunkett was saying is part of a piece with a number of other comments this morning, Peter Hain again saying the same kind of thing, people rallying around Tony Blair making the point this is a third election victory for him, it gives the Labour an historic third term, Mr Blair was at the helm. He's done pretty well, hasn't he?
Robin Cook: Well anybody who's been out on the streets and has been knocking the doors knows that it was the Labour Government that won this election, and what Labour has done over the past 8 years has been very populist. The reason why, actually, we got back in again.
Well we've living jobs, investing in the Health Service, helping households from pensioners to young families, but the people who benefited from Labour Government policies were the ones who put us back in again and I'm glad of that. But anybody on the streets knows that we were not elected because Tony Blair was popular this time round.
Now it's perfectly fair for David and others to say that Tony did win two remarkable landslides in 1997 and 2001 and I've always recognised that myself, and I do think Tony Blair is entitled to respect for the way in which he has made the Labour Party the natural party of government, the way in which actually he has made us focus on efficient delivery of service, not just on good intentions.
But I think now, I think the question Tony should be reflecting on this weekend is having achieved that, having secured his place in the history of the Labour Party and the history of Britain, whether now might not be a better time to let a new leader in who could then achieve the unity we need if we're going to go forward.
Jeremy Vine: And now means now does it, this weekend?
Robin Cook: No, not this weekend. I think he needs to turn over in his mind what he intends to do for the future and at what point that transition takes place, but no, not this weekend.
Jeremy Vine: Well give us an idea of timescale because I read, you were writing in the Guardian on Saturday and you said it might be sensible to stand down before the next public test of his popularity. That would be the council elections in a year's time.
Robin Cook: Well, what I said in that article is that one of the questions that Tony needs to turn over in his own mind is if he wants to be remembered for his electoral success, then is it sensible to put himself through another test of that electoral success next time we have to face the electorate.
Now there are two things coming up next spring; one is local government elections, as you rightly say, across most of England. Very important for the service to the local people in those areas.
Very important also for the future of the Labour Government because the Labour Party's bedrock support comes from its strength in local government, and it would be more difficult to sustain a Labour Government next time round if that bedrock support is eroded. But there is also first another test coming up some time next spring, next summer, and that will be the referendum on the European Constitution.
Now I think a question Tony Blair has to ask himself is can he, by next year, win back those people who deserted us this time? If they left while he was leader this time, is it credible he can bring them back by next time?
Jeremy Vine: Well we asked this question a weekend before the election in polling. Is it likely that there will be ... sorry, it is likely there'll be a referendum next year on whether to accept a new European constitution, would you vote yes or no, and I can tell you that the noes were 54%, a clear majority. Now do you really want ...
Robin Cook: (overlapping) Yes, but we weren't having the referendum last weekend though, with the greatest of respect, it's next year.
Jeremy Vine: Well that's true, but do you really want Gordon Brown to be in charge of the losing campaign?
Robin Cook: I'm not accepting that it's going to be a loss in that referendum. I myself strongly believe that Britain's future is in Europe and that we need to find a basis on which we can establish both Britain as a leading player in Europe and also make people in Britain themselves comfortable with the fact that their future is in Europe. I believe we can win that referendum.
Jeremy Vine: You don't believe Mr Blair should stay on till that and then at least if he loses that, it's not done Gordon Brown any damage.
Robin Cook: I'm sorry Jeremy, as a committed European I'm not going to get into any conversation that starts an assumption we will lose that referendum. I do want to maximise our chances of winning that referendum, and do remember that if we were to lose, the consequences would not just be for Britain's place in Europe, there would be immense consequences for the authority of the Labour Government that recommended 'Yes' vote.
Jeremy Vine: If Mr Blair wants to leave a legacy, he needs to bring some things through the House of Commons pretty quickly that look unremittingly New Labour, doesn't he, to use the phrase. Is he able to do that now?
Robin Cook: Well I do have problems with those who are saying that we now have to have an unremittingly new Labour agenda, in other words ones that are closely identified with what we've been doing in the past as a distinctive Blairite perspective if you like. After all, we are being told that they have listened and they've learnt.
I think it's very hard to say they've listened and they've learnt but nothing is going to change, we're going to carry on exactly as we were going to do beforehand, and I think it's not unreasonable to say that given the election and experience, given the qualified support that we were given and given all the things that were said to us on the doorstep, some things have to change, and to be honest, I would be more impressed at the moment if the leadership and if Downing Street and if people like Pat McFadden who were working the studios were to tell us not - nothing has changed, we're going to do it, this is what we're going to do anyway - but what we've learnt and what we've changed.
Jeremy Vine: Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.
End of interview
Interview with Lord Parkinson
Jeremy Vine: I'm joined now by Lord Parkinson. Good afternoon to you.
Lord Parkinson: Good afternoon.
Jeremy Vine: So you were responsible for this system under which the party members have the say.
Lord Parkinson: Well I was responsible as chairman for ... for William Hague of trying to bring more democracy into the party. William was very keen about it and, by the way, had every reason to be.
When he came to power he inherited a party that had just blown 28 millions on the most useless, unsuccessful campaign we'd ever held and the party was torn apart.
The parliamentary party wasn't speaking to the constituencies; the constituencies thought the parliamentary party was rubbish; Central Office was blamed by everybody and William set out to try to bring the party together again to make people feel that they weren't just lobby fodder, that it was their party and they had a right to have a say in it, and it was an absolutely vital part of the process of bringing the party back. Don't forget, we only had 160 Members of Parliament. Over 500 constituencies had no say of any kind
Jeremy Vine: (overlap) But what about now ... what about now because William Hague in the News of the World today is saying he doesn't think it was such a good idea.
Lord Parkinson: No, what William ... what William is saying today is that rules may need to be changed. But one of the things that people don't seem to understand is that we now have a Constitution and the process of electing a leader is part of that Constitution, and that constitution can only be changed with the approval of the members.
So I think there's no need for confrontation but a lot of serious discussions got to go on to find a way of.. a way through this so that the Members of Parliament are satisfied with their leader and the members of the party feel they've had a say ...
Jeremy Vine: (overlap) But the thrust of ...
Lord Parkinson: ... I think those two things are absolutely immovable┐
Jeremy Vine: Sure.
Lord Parkinson: .. and they need reform.
Jeremy Vine: But the thrust of it, surely, is that your members' average age is 68, we saw a fellow in the film with a handlebar moustache there. They're not necessarily in touch with the rest of Britain and therefore why not use the MPs to choose the leader because they are.
Lord Parkinson: Well you say they are, but as I say, there are now just under 200 of them. So there are 450 constituencies who have had no say of any kind about the sort of person who led them.
And what William was trying to find was a way of bringing the party together so that you didn't get what you had this morning, classic I thought, the parliamentary party criticising the voluntary party. The voluntary party criticising the parliamentary party and both of them criticising Central Office.
Jeremy Vine: So what's the solution?
Lord Parkinson: We've got to bring the party together.
Jeremy Vine: What's the solution?
Lord Parkinson: Well the solution is to have a rational discussion about how we can give the members their say and how the parliamentary party, with its greater knowledge of the candidates as people, how it can perhaps have the last say. But you cannot exclude, and you mustn't exclude the party membership from the process.
Jeremy Vine: Right, so you're saying get to a situation where they have a say but the MPs have the final say. Well in that case why allow them to ... the party members to have a say at all, because as long as they can choose the person, they can foist on the MPs at Westminster someone those MPs don't like.
Lord Parkinson: Well the method. I mean this is all built on the premise that the Members of Parliament and the party in the country will always disagree. What we did was to create a governing body which included Central Office, the parliamentary party and the voluntary party and they have worked very, very well together.
Now nobody has pretended that those rules were absolutely unchangeable. In fact we built into the Constitution a provision to review things after a period.
But the truth of the matter is, they did succeed in uniting the party. The party that I went to, the party in Central Office on Thursday night was a totally different one from the earlier ones. The party is more together, and what we mustn't allow this process of reviewing the rules to do is to split the party once again into three warring factions.
Jeremy Vine: Okay. Tell us, Lord Parkinson, what kind of party you think the Conservatives need to become in the next Parliament. Does it need to go back to its roots and become an uncompromisingly Thatcherite party or more of a centre ground party, leaving the public sector as big as it is now?
Lord Parkinson: I think myself that there's been a lot of talk. I read a number of interesting articles today about freedom, giving people more freedom, allowing them to keep more of what they earn, giving them more say about various aspects of their lives.
That's, in my view, the way we have to go. It's not Thatcherite, Mrs Thatcher didn't invent Thatcherism. What Mrs Thatcher did was restate the same policies that Edward Heath and other people had thought of. The difference was she implemented them.
And I just feel at the heart of our problems that we have to solve is this reputation to reacquire our reputation for economic competence.
Jeremy Vine: You can't do that in opposition, can you?
Lord Parkinson: Ah ... well I.. first of all Gordon Brown did. Gordon .. the Labour Party was always regarded as hopeless before he went to the Treasury he had established the fact you could have a Labour Chancellor who wasn't incompetent.
In fact, I think, Gordon Brown is going to have a very torrid Parliament because he has reverted over the last 3 years to being the big spending, high taxing, typical Labour Chancellor, and his chickens are going to come home to roost. So there will be a huge opportunity for the party to restate its economic competence, re-establish itself ...
Jeremy Vine: Just one more...
Lord Parkinson: ... and it will be aided by being able to point to Gordon Brown's, in my view, failure.
Jeremy Vine: We've only got a moment now. Tell us who your choice is as leader, the front runner David Davis or someone else?
Lord Parkinson: Well, I'm biased, as you know. I was persuaded to back by William to help him with the reforms.
I think William Hague is outstanding and I lost track of the number of times in this election that people were saying: "If only we had William, if only William was there."
I think William, by the way, would appeal to the parliamentary party and the party in the country
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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