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Page last updated at 13:20 GMT, Sunday, 22 January 2006

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 22 January 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • David Miliband MP
  • Theresa Villiers MP

David Miliband MP
David Miliband MP

Discussion with David Miliband

JON SOPEL: David Miliband, what does 'Empowerment of Citizens' actually mean.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well it means more control over the services that people receive as individuals; whether that be social services, would be the most obvious example, and more control for neighbourhoods over things like, rubbish collection, more of a say in the way in which their neighbourhood is taken forward on issues like anti social behaviour, or even the regeneration of some of our toughest estates.

JON SOPEL: How does pushing power away from the professionals and the experts towards the punters square with all these years of government targets and setting what should be done for local communities.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well I think it's right to have high expectations for the equality of services but all of my experience, not just as a Minister, but as a constituency MP, is that the real experts are those who are receiving the services and it's a matter of getting a new sort of partnership between those people who are providing those services and those who are receiving them.

Talk to any police officer, and they'll say they need the support of the community. Talk to any teacher and she'll, she or he will say, we need the parents and the pupils engaged as well; so I think this is about professionals and residents, citizens, playing a full part in the delivery and the shaping of public services.

JON SOPEL: But whenever you get somebody - a group body like your Audit Commission, looking at say, best and worse practices, they find there's a massive gap between the good and bad. Isn't the way that you iron out those differences between best and worse practices, is by Central Government, taking control and saying, this is what we should do.

DAVID MILIBAND: We I'm touched by your faith in the brilliance of central government, which ... I share in every respect. But I don't think you can run everything from the centre, and I, when I think about some of the more complex issues that we're trying to tackle, whether it be anti-social behaviour, whether it be economic regeneration, whether it be some of the difficult health issues - all of our experience, is that when you engage citizens in the delivery of those services, you make a difference.

And I think the other point to say this is happening, there are citizens who will be watching this programme, receiving budgets for some of the services that they receive and helping to choose them. There will be citizens who are engaged with their local police, in helping to set local policing priorities, so this isn't something that's been dreamt up, this isn't something that's been ...

JON SOPEL: Do you sense there's a clamour for local people to have more control of these things. I mean don't they just kind of go to the polls once a year and think, okay, let them, let those people get on with it.

DAVID MILIBAND: Let me give you the most striking statistic because obviously, I think it's only the Labour party that makes people attend draughty church hall meetings once a month to put them through servitude, but in real life, the Metropolitan Police, let me take that as an example, across London now, neighbour policing teams being set up, 75,000 Londoners have participated in meetings with their local police teams, over the last six months, trying to say, these are the issues in our neighbourhoods, this is what you should be focusing on, these are the problem areas; so I think that if you give people real influence, and if you make it easy for them to participate, I think they will.

JON SOPEL: Would you at least acknowledge that this does mark a step-change in government thinking, where in the past the Treasury or government departments wanted to be all controlling. Are you really sincere in now saying, actually, we want to loosen that, we've set too many targets, it's time that local people got on with it.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well I think what you've seen is a real build-up of the capacity of our public services, but now we've got to make sure, not just that we have more public services, but that they are genuinely tuned to citizens needs and I think this is a very very significant point in British politics.

We are a more educated country so people want more say. There's an argument between left and right about whether that means less government, which is the Conservative argument, or a different sort of government, which is the New Labour case.

And so what I've been setting out and what my colleagues in Health and Education and also in the - the Home Secretary in the respect of police; we're talking about devolution, not just to the Town Hall, that's important, more flexibility at local government level, but also devolution from the Town Hall or the County Hall, down to streets and neighbourhoods.

I think it's a very significant step forward, and I think it will be a big driver for social justice, which is of course at the heart of what the government is seeking.

JON SOPEL: Well let me look at another area of devolution, and that is in Education, where you want to push power away from the centre, more towards the coal face if you like. Not going terribly well convincing Labour MPs that this is the right policy.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well we're obviously in that grey area between the publication of a White Paper and the publication of a Bill and a lot of the argument at the moment is anticipating what might be in the Bill.

I think that the most important thing in education is first to recognise that around the country, our schools are in a dramatically different position than they were eight or ten years ago. Remember when Labour came to office in '97, we were ranked 42nd in the World Education League. Secondly, I think (interjects) ...

JON SOPEL: Well then your, a lot of your backbenchers say, if there has been such a dramatic improvement, why do you need to do this major change.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well I think that you always want to make things better. Just because things are much better than they were, doesn't mean that we can be satisfied that still, four out of ten sixteen year olds, don't get those five good GCSEs, that you or I, and many viewers would consider to be a basic passport in to adult life.

So I think it's right to push on but I'd also say it's right for people to wait until the Bill is published because I think they'll see that the Government's commitments for example, to ensure there's no extension of selection at eleven, the age of eleven, well that was legislated by Estelle Morris and David Blunkett in 1998, so there's no going back on that.

JON SOPEL: So these hundred back-benchers or so, Neil Kinnock, who has not said a critical word for years, Estelle Morris, former Education Secretary, has kept quiet and now, on the war path. Is it that they have misunderstood what you have proposed, or they simply don't like what you've proposed.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well I think that the significant elements of what we propose have got to be turned in to legislation, and the legislation hasn't been published yet.

Education, rightly, rouses huge passions in the Labour Party; it's at the heart of our conception of the 'Good Society', and it's right that people have their own views. I think that what you'll see is that there are actually huge areas of unity. No one wants to go back to selection ... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: Do you accept that you have a problem at the moment.

DAVID MILIBAND: I think that anyone would, who denies that there is a, what you might call a vigorous debate going on, a free and frank exchange of views, obviously wouldn't carry credibility.

But I think there's a real chance for the government to say, number one, it's not just that we don't want to go back to selection, although we absolutely do not. Secondly, we've got a clear vision to how the secondary school system can develop to deliver a much more tailored education to those young people.

JON SOPEL: One of the arguments that's been put forward is that Tony Blair doesn't carry the authority because everyone knows he's going to stop being leader soon. I see in one of the Sunday magazines, that it's talking about 'Boy Wonder' - maybe skipping a generation so that David Miliband becomes the next leader of the Labour Party.

DAVID MILIBAND: No I think, I think you can all sleep safe in your beds that that is certainly not going to happen. We've got a very good Prime Minister and we've got a very good Prime Minister in waiting in the Chancellor, and I think that that's going to take the Labour Party and the country forward in a very very important way.

JON SOPEL: Okay David Miliband, thank you very much.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thanks very much.

End of interview

Interview with Theresa Villiers

JON SOPEL: And I'm joined now by the Shadow Chief Secretary, Theresa Villiers. Theresa Villiers, welcome to the Politics Show.

When you look back at that film and you see interest rates of 15%, Black Wednesday, it's going to be pretty hard to take back that mantle of economic competence from Gordon Brown isn't it.

THERESA VILLIERS: It's not going to be easy and I'll be honest about that. Those events that you've just shown have cast a very long shadow over the Conservative Party and I think they've played a bit part in the fact, the reason why we've lost the election since.

But I think now we really can move on and what we have to do is re-build confidence with the British people and we're going to put stability at the heart of that, so that we're absolutely you know, clear that we won't take risks with people's mortgages, we won't take risks with issues like interest rates. We want to embed and entrench stability in to the way a Conservative government will make decisions on the economy.

JON SOPEL: So stability, not tax cuts. Is that what we're going to see that will be different from previous elections.

THERESA VILLIERS: We won't take risks with, with the economy so, you know we recognise the importance of lower taxes for competitiveness but we'll always have stability as well as part of the programme that we're going to be offering to the electorate; both will be very important.

JON SOPEL: You're talking about competitiveness, I think John Redwood is going to head that up. He says that what you need is a top rate tax that should be 30%, capital gains tax abolished and is opposed to punitive measures on big business. I mean that's hardly been the mantra of George Osborne and David Cameron these past few weeks.

THERESA VILLIERS: Well John Redwood is going to be thinking innovative things about the direction that we could take but in terms of what the Party says about tax cuts, we simply can't say now what the country will be able to afford in four years time, when we're at a General Election, so we don't know at this stage, what we will be able to do in relation to reductions in taxes, or in relation to spending. We can't make commitments at this stage. But what we will do is ensure that ... (interjects)

JON SOPEL: Well John Redwood seems to think he knows what needs doing.

THERESA VILLIERS: John Redwood is very outspoken. We appointed controversial and outspoken people to head these Policy Groups, to think imaginatively. You know, they're not going to be, you know, they're not a, a blank cheque, we won't take on board anything they recommend (interjects). We may adopt, they're going to come up with lots of interesting ideas, many of which we may use in the future, and many of which we may not. You know.

JON SOPEL: So you would accept that John Redwood is not on the same page as these issues, as the current leadership.

THERESA VILLIERS: I think John Redwood would probably ... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: That's a simple question.

THERESA VILLIERS: He probably thinks more radically about tax matters than George Osborne and David Cameron, but he's there in order to think radically and think differently. You know, we may take up all the ideas that the policy group produces, we may only take up a few of them when we eventually decide what we'll offer to the electorate at the General Election.

JON SOPEL: Isn't the problem though that it's not just John Redwood who doesn't think like George Osborne and David Cameron, there are vast swathes of Conservative public opinion who don't think like that. They want to see tax cuts as being absolutely central to the Tory message.

THERESA VILLIERS: David Cameron was elected with a very strong mandate and he said very strongly throughout the leadership election, that we have to share the proceeds of growth. We have to balance the needs for generous public funding of our public services and infrastructure, as against the need to reduce taxes, to ensure that we're competitive in an increasingly globalised economy.

JON SOPEL: How competitive are we.

THERESA VILLIERS: Well we've slipped dramatically in the world competitiveness league over the last few years. I've very ...

JON SOPEL: So we're behind the Nordic countries now for example.

THERESA VILLIERS: We are, we are. And the problem under Labour has been the significant increase in regulation, a very complex tax system, increase in business taxes and a very significant increase in borrowing, and spending a lot of public services without reforming them; so the productivity growth in public services has been very small. We're spending a lot of money on public services without getting the improvements we need to see.

JON SOPEL: Okay, this is very interesting cos I don't think I can remember a Tory spokesman coming on to talk about how we need to follow the example of the Nordic countries, where they tax much more highly and spend much more highly.

THERESA VILLIERS: Well, we can learn lessons from the Nordic countries, just as we can learn lessons from many other countries. Again, it's simply a question of sharing the proceeds, getting the balance right. To be competitive we need low taxation, but we also need to ensure that we've got high quality infrastructure and public services.

JON SOPEL: But the Nordic countries ... (overlaps)

THERESA VILLIERS: Therefore we need to balance ... (overlaps)

JON SOPEL: ... spend more and tax more.

THERESA VILLIERS: I'm not saying that we're going to adopt the, all the tax and spend policies of the Nordic countries. I'm just going to say we're quite happy to learn lessons from them. For example in the way they run their public services. In Sweden they've done dramatic things in terms of reforming public services, and very interesting lessons to be learnt.

JON SOPEL: Do you think you will go in to the next election saying, we will accept Labour's spending plans for the first two years, as a Tory administration, just as Labour did in '97 to great effect.

THERESA VILLIERS: Again, we simply can't say because 'a' we don't know what those spending plans are going to be and 'b', we don't know what the state of the economy will be. So we will keep our options open on that. It would be foolish, four years out of a General Election, to make commitments on exactly what we'll do in terms of our tax and spending plans, when we simply don't know what the country will be able to afford. And that will be at the heart of what we do. We will look at what the country can afford, and act responsibly with stability in mind.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Theresa Villers, thank you very much.


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 22 January 2006 at Noon on BBC One.
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