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Page last updated at 13:44 GMT, Sunday, 5 February 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 05 February 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • Sir Menzies Campbell MP
  • Alistair Darling MP

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies Campbell MP

Interview with Sir Menzies Campbell

JON SOPEL: Gillian Hargreaves reporting. And Sir Menzies Campbell joins us now from his home in Edinburgh and welcome to you, Ming Campbell.

How can I put this delicately, you havent exactly won rave reviews for your campaign so far, variously described as looking uncomfortable, unhappy, a rabbit caught in the headlights. Fair or not.

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I dont know where, if I may say so, I dont where any of that came from. I must say that if Id been responsible for the film weve just seen, Id have taken a rather more objective view perhaps than the person who made it.

Look, this is a contest; there are three candidates of different experience, of different background, of different personality and if I didnt think I had the energy, the values and the judgement to lead the Party, I would not be putting myself forward.

JON SOPEL: Lets just talk about the origins of the campaign because theres been a lot of talk of skulduggery going on in Liberal Democrat circles. Chris Huhne, another of the leadership candidates is quoted as saying ... What I did however if formally offer my support for Ming before Christmas ... and he then says, you released him from the obligation. Is that correct?

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL: What I have taken a view about is that confidential discussions between myself and Chris Huhne, should remain confidential. I do not propose to discuss the nature of any discussion which I had with him or any other colleague in the parliamentary party.

JON SOPEL: Dont go in to the details. Is the time scale correct on what he says?

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL: Im not going to discuss anything that was a confidential discussion between myself and any other colleagues. That was the basis upon which I conducted myself and its the basis upon which I conduct myself as the acting leader, and most certainly if I were elected, I would conduct myself on a similar basis ... confidentiality matters in these, in these issues.

JON SOPEL: Okay. Its just that theres one important point here in what that quote from Chris Huhne says, He says, he offered his support to you before Christmas. Now that suggests that people were carving up the Liberal Democrat Leadership, when you were supposedly the loyal number two to Charles Kennedy.

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I repeat what Ive said to you already. Im not going to discuss confidential discussions with any colleague.

JON SOPEL: So its possible that you were discussing the leadership before Christmas, youre not denying that.

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL: Theres no question that the leadership has been a matter of discussion for some time in the Liberal Democrats, of that there is no doubt whatsoever. Indeed there were a number of events prior to Christmas, which promoted that discussion.

But no matter how many times you ask me, Im not going to divulge confidential discussions with any candidate (fluffs), with any colleague; confidentiality matters in these issues.

JON SOPEL: Okay. All right. Lets move on, and this is something else you might think was unfair in the film, about this whole idea that you are too close to Gordon Brown.

I mean there was something you wrote in 1999 which was ... Where a proposal consistent with our principles achieves one of our policy objectives, and its in the interests of the people of the country, what possible objection can there be to co-operating with Labour to achieve it ... Dont you understand that that causes some unhappiness in Liberal Democrat circles, where people think youre too close to Labour.


JON SOPEL: Okay, Im afraid weve lost the sound there.


JON SOPEL: Lets try and go back to Menzies Campbell in Edinburgh where we lost the sound and Im very sorry about that Ming Campbell. A moment ago I was asking you whether some ...

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL: (interjects) You were asking about Gordon Brown.

JON SOPEL: And whether you're too close to him yeah.

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well Gordon Brown is a friend of mine, in the same way that John Smith was and in the same way that Malcolm Rifkind is and thats because Scotland is a political village.

We all know each other, some of us went to school with each other, some of us went to university with each other, but the fact that someone in another political party is a friend of yours doesnt mean to say that you share his political views. Im a Liberal Democrat, I joined the Liberal Party. I could have joined Labour and I could have joined Conservative. I rejected both.

JON SOPEL: Let me use a word that may be out of fashion now, but are you equidistant from both Labour and the Conservatives.

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL: No, Im a Liberal Democrat. I subscribe to the values and the principles set out in the Constitution of the Liberal Democrats. I began my political life by being heavily influenced by Joe Grimond, whose sense of understanding of what was necessary for Britain, whose charisma, whose openness of mind seemed to me to be thoroughly attractive.

And my interests in liberalism was underlined if you like by reading the essay of John Stuart Mill; so I am if you like, a gut liberal and nothing will change that.

JON SOPEL: Right, Ive seen you ... on a policy matter, Ive seen you say that you believe there should be consideration given to whether Scottish and Welsh MPs, should be able to vote on matters that only affect the English. Whats your thinking?


JON SOPEL: We are clearly jinxed with this interview with Ming Campbell.

End of interview

Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling MP

Interview with Alistair Darling

JON SOPEL: Well I'm joined by the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling. Alistair Darling, I don't want to talk about the by-election directly, but rumour has it that those twenty Labour MPs there campaigning, cost the government defeat.

Is a by-election worth losing government legislation for?

ALISTAIR DARLING Well, actually, I think there were eight or nine in Dumfermline that evening. Look, we shouldn't have lost that vote. It was a mix-up, lessons will no doubt have been learned, and you know, we need to do better next time.

By-elections, yes, they are important, every single by-election is important. And that's why we have people working in Dumfermline but I think so far as legislation is concerned, the legislation we're putting through to stop incitement against hatred, that is not as tough as we wanted it to have been, because the Tories, the Liberals, took a different view to us but you know, we'll get our legislation through.

JON SOPEL: The other theory about why there were so many Labour backbenchers up in Dumfermline was because, this is Gordon Brown's back yard and they want to ingratiate themselves with Gordon Brown, in advance of him becoming the leader. Is that the shifting sort of political reality in the Labour Party?

ALISTAIR DARLING: No look, every by-election, no matter where it is, we do our absolute best to try and hold the seat, or win it, as the case may be. This by-election is important because we want to make sure that for the good of Dumferline and West Fife, it has a Labour MP after this Thursday.

But we always put a lot of effort in to it and it's not surprising that MPs from Scotland, from other parts of the country come and work - they did so at the Livingstone by- election, which we won last September, remember that that was a seat that Robin Cook held, and will do - should do so in every by-election that comes up. I think sometimes you can get a little carried away and read too much in to the fact that it's hardly a big surprise that Labour MPs quite like us winning by-elections.

JON SOPEL: No just to carry favour with Gordon Brown then?

ALISTAIR DARLING: I don't think that's, anyone is thinking about that at all. The seat coincidentally happens to be in Fife where Gordon has his seat, but it doesn't matter where this by-election would have been, we would fight it with the same, the same enthusiasm; it's important to us, especially, you know here we are, nearly nine years in to government, when there's so much more to do, whether it's in this particular constituency or elsewhere, that we do our absolute best to win the seat.

JON SOPEL: And there are reports that there is a new working relationship assisting all of that, between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, would you like to enlighten us on that.

ALISTAIR DARLING: Well the two of them have always worked closely together. Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown where the architects of New Labour, twelve or fifteen years ago. They've worked together consistently, not just to improve public services, but to make the reforms that we think are necessary and there's an awful lot more to do.

I know, you know for a fact, they continue to work closely together. There's an awful lot we need to do, whether it's in education, whether it's in security - of course the economy - all these things er we have made a number of improvements over the last few years, but we've still got an awful lot more to do.

JON SOPEL: Of course, but what is different is that it has been very well documented that there have been times when the relationship has been rather strained and it's been very well documented, and all sorts of people have spoken about that. But it was very interesting what David Blunkett said last week, that there was a new accommodation between the two. Would you acknowledge that?

ALISTAIR DARLING: What he actually was that he had a sense of a, an agreement, he didn't say there was anything more than that.

JON SOPEL: Well give us the answer to whether there's, has there been an agreement then between them. I'm happy to accept the question on your terms.

ALISTAIR DARLING: Look - there's no deal, no special agreement. Tony Blair has made it quite clear that he intends to go during this parliament. In the meantime, the two of them are working closely together and just last week, Gordon Brown made absolutely clear how important it is that for example, we get our education reforms through because you know, we shouldn't be in the business of trying to defend the status quo.

Yes, we've made improvements in education, but if we're going to keep up with the rest of the world we need to make sure that far more children get the qualifications, the skills that they need. Now Gordon and Tony work closely together, there's a - you know, hardly a day goes by when they're not working up our next, you know, what we need to do next to make sure that we make the reforms that are absolutely necessary, and that will continue.

JON SOPEL: And on the Education Bill, which you're talking about, it does seem like there's been compromise given, ground given to the rebels. Do you like the way that it seems to be moving or were you happy with the original proposals?

ALISTAIR DARLING: Well, you'll see the Bill when it is published and of course what we've been discussing over the last few months has been the White Paper, you'll see the Bill. I think most people recognize that whilst yes, we have driven up standards in schools, there are more children with better opportunities they had in the past; we've still got an awful lot more to do.

There are still too many schools that are failing and if there are new ways of improving those standards, whilst at the same time making sure that we don't go back to the old days, where people were, you know had to go through selection at the age of eleven and some people who could actually have done very well, were simply written off, we don't want to go back to that. There's a difference there between us and I think the Tory approach.

We want to make sure that we get the best possible deal for all our children. Now, of course colleagues will want to be assured that we don't have a situation where we can have a, that we'd have children written off, as I said - but I think that when people actually see the Bill, when they see what the government is proposing, they will see that overall, what we're doing is improving standards, giving children a far better opportunity than they ever had in the past, and that is absolutely essential, if we're going to compete with a world that is changing so rapidly.

JON SOPEL: I just want to ask you quite specifically. Did you have the same reservations about the White Paper that John Prescott had, and voiced?

ALISTAIR DARLING: John Prescott had specific reservations but he said on Friday lunchtime, when he gave a speech in Hull, that he was satisfied that the concerns he had, which were primarily that we had to ensure that all children benefited from these changes, and that we did not go to the old days of selection, under the Conservatives, where children could be written off at any early stage without any justification. What we want to make sure is that you know, just as we as parents want to make sure that all of our, that our children have the best chance they possibly can - it's up to us to make sure that the government makes that possible for all families and not just some families and that's a big difference. JON SOPEL: Let's move on. The divisions within Labour has been manna from heaven for David Cameron hasn't it. Are you finding difficult to know where to attack him? ALISTAIR DARLING: No, you know, if you look, even in the last few weeks, you know, David Cameron I think told the Daily Telegraph that he was Conservative to the core.

A few weeks later he said he was a natural heir to New Labour and actually in Dumferline, he's going around saying he's a Liberal Conservative. I think what you're seeing in his rush to try and become attractive, which I suppose for a Conservative leader, is something of a novelty, he's exposed all sorts of inconsistencies, and uncertainties, and that in itself is a weakness.

Take the economy for example. You know, he's saying that yes, he accepts that good public services are necessary, at the same time, he then goes on to set out what you might regard is his third fiscal rule if you like, and that is that we're going share in the proceeds of growth, which means less money being spent on the public services. The Shadow Chancellor is very keen on a flat tax, you know something that is really unheard of in developed economies.

So what he's trying to do is give a nod to one side, a wink to the other, those uncertainties, will be the undoing of him. So you know, yes, of course he is going to enjoy you know, a honeymoon period after his leadership but the difficulty, as he will find is, when he actually spells out what it is that he stands for, if indeed he ever gets to that stage, then that is the stage when ...

JON SOPEL: A quick final question.

ALISTAIR DARLING ... he's asked to answer some hard questions.

JON SOPEL: A quick final question. We saw these demonstrations in London on Friday about the cartoons that appeared in some European newspapers, holding up banners saying "massacre those who insult Islam", "Europe, your 9/11 will come" and call for beheadings and things like that. What was your reaction to that demonstration and isn't that incitement to murder.

ALISTAIR DARLING: Look respect for each others views and respect of each others cultures is a hallmark of British democracy.

But there is absolutely no place whatsoever for incitement to hatred, incitement to violence, whether it's against individuals, or against a country. Now there are laws to prevent, it's up to the police and the prosecutors to enforce them, but be in no doubt that there is absolutely no place for those views in a tolerant society.

JON SOPEL: Alistair Darling, thank you very much indeed.


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 12 February 2006 at Noon on BBC One.
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