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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 March 2006, 08:55 GMT
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 12 March 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • Ruth Kelly MP, Education Secretary
  • Alastair Campbell

Ruth Kelly
Ruth Kelly MP, Education Secretary

Interview with Ruth Kelly

JON SOPEL: Secretary of State, is the rebellion nearly over.

RUTH KELLY: Well I think there's movement in the government's direction, because the more that people look at the Bill, they realize that this is a Bill that Labour MPs should be supporting, because it's about raising opportunities, raising standards, giving every child the chance of decent education.

JON SOPEL: We've had the statement this week from Martin Salter, from Angela Eagle, from your predecessor, Lady Morris, they're now backing a second reading. They say they haven't moved, it must mean that you have.

RUTH KELLY: Well, I think quite rightly, at the beginning of this debate, my colleagues, when discussing this Bill with me, wanted to see a robust framework of admission, so that they could be clear that it was parents choosing schools, not schools choosing parents, and they also wanted clarification about the role of local authorities and community schools in the future. Now, we've moved. We have a system in which, after the Bill, there will be less selection than before the Bill, and think that was precisely the right thing to do because I want a system ...

JON SOPEL: You've moved. They think you're going to move again.

RUTH KELLY: Well, now on this issue of admissions, we've tackled it and we've addressed the concerns that, that people have had. And I think that was absolutely the right thing to do and I've always been clear, that I didn't want to see a system in which there was academic selection.

So first of all, we've going to put on the face of the Bill, that there will be no new selection by academic ability. Secondly, I've made it clear that there will be no interviews in the future, and thirdly, we've made the status of the code of practice and admissions more robust.

JON SOPEL: Martin Salter, speaking on BBC News 24 this week said the government has also indicated that during the committee stage of the Bill, ie when you get down to the real nitty-gritty of the stuff, that they're prepared to look at three other areas: around admissions, around the use of the Secretary of State's veto, and around having some kind of guidance, so that some of the external partners, some of these private companies, will at least have to pass muster, is that correct.

RUTH KELLY: Well, those are the things that they're concerned about and obviously the movement that we've made to date is part of the ordinary passage of a Bill between White Paper stage and Bill stage, and it will be the Committee stage, in which we continue that dialogue with colleagues. But I have made it clear.

JON SOPEL: Continue that dialogue. Just explain that ...

RUTH KELLY: (overlaps) Well of course we do, during the passage of a Bill there's a Committee stage, there are always draft regulations to be put down and there's always a debate to be had.

But I've been talking to colleagues over the past few months, in great depth and detail about the measures in these Bill - er, in this Bill, and I have responded in full, to the concerns that they've had, partly on admissions, and partly on the role of community schools in the future.

JON SOPEL: Okay, let's talk about your use of the veto, where local educational authorities may be prevented from building a community school in their area. Where might you use that.

RUTH KELLY: Well look, colleagues argued, I think, absolutely rightly, that where the local authority comes along with a good proposal, which parents support, that they should be able to put that in to a competition for a new school to be judged independently against other propositions, for that area.

Now I think that's a very compelling argument, and have accepted it. In the future there will be a route through which good local authorities can put forward proposals that could be accepted.

JON SOPEL: But where, so, so where there's a local education authority, which hasn't been that good, you might use your veto and stop them trying to build a school.

RUTH KELLY: Well that's absolutely the clear implication of this. I mean if a ...


JON SOPEL: (overlaps) Well why don't you say so explicitly.

RUTH KELLY: Well I have, absolutely. If a local authority comes along with a good proposal, has a good track record, I can see no case for intervening whatsoever. They should be able to put that forward and have that judged independently against other propositions.

But where a local authority has had particularly bad track in delivering standards of education for children, then of course it's right that other bidders should have a chance to put forward and propose schools.

JON SOPEL: And what about the whole idea of suitable partners for example, another key area. I mean we've spoken to Councillor Lucy Anderson, who's in charge of education in Camden in North London. She was saying, we don't want sponsors for ours schools, we want to represent the community.

RUTH KELLY: Well of course they do and of course they want schools routed in the community and Trust schools will be routed in the community, delivering for all pupils, but also for the local community.

Working with external partners, but also working with other schools. But of course within a system in which there are safeguards against inappropriate trusts, and I've made it clear for example, that I could remove, as the Secretary of State, a trustee, or indeed all trustees from a particular trust if there were problems. Or, that the local authority could refer a proposal for a particular trust to the adjudicator if it had concerns.

JON SOPEL: And you've acknowledged that there is this concern over the clarification on admissions, the veto, suitable partners that Martin Salter and others have raised, and you've said that of course there's going to be a discussion when we get to the committee stage of the Bill. They think that means there's going to be further concessions. What can you say on that. Do you think there will be.

RUTH KELLY: Well of course I'll be pressed on how the veto will operate and I've made it absolutely clear that I'm going to try and pin that down as firmly as possible. I'm sure I'll be asked about it in the second reading of the debate on Wednesday, it's the natural course of event, during the committee stage of a Bill.

JON SOPEL: Of course, it's just the, it was said, and Tony Blair said, there would be no more concessions. You seem to be laying the ground - well, we can talk about this ...

RUTH KELLY: You're putting words in to my mouth. We're going to preserve the essence of the White Paper which will ensure all the freedoms and flexibilities for Trust schools in the future, will be there. Trust schools will be able to forge these links with external partners, and with other schools. Head teachers, will be able to raise standards in the way that they think is appropriate for their pupils.

JON SOPEL: Would you go along with what - Estelle Morris' analysis of this is, who used to sit in this office. The direction of travel has been halted in terms of the original debate, we have won.

RUTH KELLY: Well, I don't know what she means by the direction of travel. I mean, if she's ...

JON SOPEL: Well the direction in which you were taking this legislation has been halted in its tracks.

RUTH KELLY: Well it depends what you consider ..

JON SOPEL: The radicalism has gone I suspect is what she means.

RUTH KELLY: It depends, it depends what you mean. What the essence of the White Paper was all about - the essence of the White Paper was giving head teachers and teachers as professionals, the freedom and flexibility that they need, to raise standards for the pupils.

And they are going to be able to do that. They are going to be able to forge those links with external partners and with other schools, in order to raise standards.

JON SOPEL: I suspect what she means is their rebellion has won and that you've had to give an awful lot of ground.

RUTH KELLY: (overlaps) Look, I've been very clear about this. There were two specific areas which people had concerns about and they wanted greater safeguards, they didn't want to alter the fundamental building blocks of the White Paper.

They wanted to put in place, a framework which was robust enough to ensure that there was fairness and clearly fairness, as well as the commitment to excellence. Look at the Education Select Committee Report, which looked at the White Paper measures in detail. It backed every single building block of the White Paper.

JON SOPEL: Right, so, would the Bill have been better if you'd have made no changes to it. No. So ...


JON SOPEL: ... why did you come up with a White Paper then that raised so many hackles, caused so much opposition and has caused you so many political problems.

RUTH KELLY: Well I've got my own thesis on this actually, which is that at the time that the White Paper was published, the Tories, under the new leadership of David Cameron, tried to characterise these proposals as a return to Grant Maintained schools - schools which opted out of the local authority system. Schools which defined ...


JON SOPEL: ... too stupid to understand ...

RUTH KELLY: Just a minute, schools which defined themselves against other schools. Schools which were able to select pupils by academic ability and schools which were funded on a different basis to other schools. Now, it's taken a while I admit, I put my hands up to this, for us to go through the substance of the Bill, and persuade people that these (fluffs), that the proposals in the Bill, are not about a return to grant maintained schools, but are about new flexibility within the local authority regime, where in fact local authorities have stronger strategic roll than they ... (overlaps) ... at the moment.

JON SOPEL: So, so, so Labour MPs have now had months to absorb the changes and you've had the time to explain and you've had lots and lots of meetings with labour backbenchers. Where are we on the arithmetic now. On the number of rebels.

RUTH KELLY: Well there's only vote that will count, and that's the one on Wednesday and I'm not going to get ...


RUTH KELLY: ... I'm not going to get in to the numbers game. But what I can say to you is that we have a set of proposals which I think, every Labour MP should be supporting because it's a set of proposals that has the potential to raise standards for all schools, but particularly for schools that operate in disadvantaged areas, with a high proportion of children on free school meals, and that's where we really need to make the difference.

JON SOPEL: Of course, but as things stand, you've had two high profile rebels come back on board this week. But that still could mean a rebellion of forty or fifty and you dependent on Tory votes.

RUTH KELLY: No, the Tories can do what they want to. I mean I'm not clear whether they're really committed to this reform or whether they're just playing politics with them. Whether they'll ... in a few months time, go back to backing selection as they have in the past.

JON SOPEL: But you seem to - sorry, a couple of weeks ago you seemed to make it almost a matter of confidence in your position, as Secretary of State for Education, that you got this Bill through without Tory votes. Asked by Andrew Marr, you know, whether that would be a failure - it is clearly my task to ensure we do win without Tory votes, is what you said.

RUTH KELLY: Well, I'm confident that this is a Bill we should be able to unite around. And yes, it's my job to go and talk to people, to take them through the provisions in the Bill, to show how it will raise standards for all, but particularly the disadvantaged pupils.

To show how looked-after children will get priority in the admission system in the future.

JON SOPEL: Very interesting words you chose. I'm confident this is a Bill we should be able to unite around. Are you confident that you will be able to get this through without Tory votes.

RUTH KELLY: Well look, I'm not in the numbers game. But we have a Bill which is a Labour bill, which will deliver not just for all children but particularly the disadvantaged, which puts looked-after children first.

Where there's less selection after the Bill than before, than before the Bill. Which gives Head Teachers the power to discipline, first proposed in 1988 and rejected by the Tories.

Which introduces an entitlement for vocational education, for the first time in this country' history. Which introduces new standards for school meals and puts you know, healthy food on every child's plate. An incredibly strong set of proposals which every Labour MP should support.

JON SOPEL: And you'll still be standing on Thursday after the vote.

RUTH KELLY: Well, I very much hope that this is something that every single Labour MP will support.

JON SOPEL: Ruth Kelly, thank you very much.

RUTH KELLY: Thank you.

End of interview

Interview with Alastair Campbell

JON SOPEL: Now, another Sunday morning, another set of uncomfortable headlines for Tessa Jowell.

Today it's emerged that Ms Jowell doesn't take part in cabinet discussions on Iran, because of the business dealings of her husband, David Mills.

Elsewhere, the Observer has news that Ms Jowell signed two further mortgages on her home in March 2002.

Is this the sort of scrutiny that ensures that British politics remains so clean. Or is it trial by ordeal, deterring decent people from ever wanting to enter public life.

Well, Alastair Campbell is the former director of communications and strategy at 10 Downing Street, and in his time has been called a number of other things besides. And he joins me now.

Is there anything wrong with this kind of scrutiny?

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well it depends what you mean by 'this kind of scrutiny'. Is there something wrong with the media, vigorously and robustly scrutinizing the actions of people in public life, course there's not. That's exactly what the media should be there for, amongst other things. Is there something wrong with the way that our media does it, yes.

Because I think what happens with our media is that stories come along and then they operate frankly, just by, from one frenzy to the next and eventually in these things, the facts simply get lost. Interesting in your, in your introduction there, it has now emerged that Ms Jowell doesn't attend cabinet meetings - I've read that before, I don't think that's new. But you know, let's make it look new because it sort of fits the current prism. Now I think actually, that the - if you look at the papers today, the Tessa Jowell story is sort of fading away, the frenzy is subsiding, but there will be another one along in a minute

JON SOPEL: I mean your role in this whole thing was called in to question, where apparently you were advising her to leave her husband, to save her career.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well apparently, and it wasn't ...

JON SOPEL: Is it true.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: No, it's not true and - but that's what happens. It emerged, to use your intro phrase, that Tessa and her husband had been to see myself and Fiona because we are very, very good friends of them - friends of theirs and it then gets written, without any substantiation what ever, that I have asked them to separate. Now why would I do that and what's the substantiation? That was the interesting thing in the Sunday papers last week, it was anonymous, for which I read, 'totally invented' Labour MP.

JON SOPEL: Irrespective of whether she's broken any rules or not, don't you think when there is this sort of, I don't know, disenchantment between the public and politicians, that if you have a cabinet minister who re-mortgages a house for three hundred and fifty thousand pounds, but doesn't ask any questions about it, just highlights the gap between ordinary people ...

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Well it might, it might (overlaps)

JON SOPEL: ... and what they think that the cabinet politicians do.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Yeah, it might, were those the facts. The facts actually on that were spelt out in the statement that David Mills put out, when he announced that he and Tessa were separating; so I can see where that's been lost and you see what happens in these situations ...

JON SOPEL: But do you not worry that there is ..

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: No ... let me finish


ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: No, sorry let me finish the point John. If that was the fact then yes, I could see that. What happens in these situations is that the facts get drowned by you then dressing them all up and saying, don't you think the public might be worried, if - and then you sort of regurgitate what's in the papers.

JON SOPEL: It's vast sums of money that ordinary people find very difficult to understand and it looks like ... .

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Yes, but it depends for what purpose. If - look, David Mills is a lawyer who deals with business clients. Now, Tessa Jowell is an elected politician, and by all accounts, I think most people would recognise a very, very good one.

You create the prism around that. Let me give you a very good example about this. A newspaper, phoned up twelve charities and voluntary sector organisations in Tessa's constituency to ask her, do you think she can carry on doing her job with all this going on. They all said yes. Did that story get written? No it didn't. Why didn't it get written? Because it doesn't fit the prism which you now seem very reluctant to leave.

JON SOPEL: Well, well - I don't think I have any prism. I'm just arguing - I just want to know ...

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I think you do John.

JON SOPEL: Well, I just want to know what do you think makes the difference between whether a minister survives or whether a minister falls ...

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: The rights and wrongs

JON SOPEL: ... because the - so why did Peter Mandelson resign the second time. He did nothing wrong.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I think if you go back, it was explained at the time why he did, why he had to go.

JON SOPEL: He was cleared.


ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: ... I said at the time, and I've said subsequently, had he been anyone different from Peter Mandelson, he might have survived. But in relation to this one, to Tessa Jowell, she's done nothing wrong. Therefore, for all the frenzy and for all what Margaret Beckett called 'trial by ordeal', it is right that she stays in the job.

And I think what you do, as a culture, the media culture - which is pretty rotten in this country I think I have to say, and I think that a lot of people feel that. When you talked about disenchantment with politics John, there's an awful lot of disenchantment with political coverage and Margaret talked about 'trial by ordeal', which is basically the media thinking, if we keep this story going long enough, eventually Tony Blair is going to say, Oh my god, I can't be doing with this, let's get rid of them.

JON SOPEL: Well, well, I mean Tony Blair made this big thing about being whiter than white and being transparent and yet we hear today that there are these people who've made massive loans to the Labour Party, to avoid the sums of money having to be declared.


ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: ... have you checked the facts of that. Have you checked the facts of that. I don't know the story. I don't know the facts of it, I don't know whether the story is right or wrong.

JON SOPEL: Well, we've, we've had TRI PATEL agreeing, we've had ...

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: (overlaps) ... no but have you checked it out. That's a Sunday Times story. A Sunday Times which has an agenda in relation to these donation type stories. It produces one every week. Have you checked it out. Do you know the facts are right?

JON SOPEL: Well this is a guy who says he ..


ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: ... he wants to be in the open. Is it acceptable that people are making loans. Donations to the Labour Party are published. There is far more transparency about donations to the, in politics, than there has ever been. And what's more, again, here's another prism that the media tries to create - Labour and the same as the Tories - right, that's the prism that ..


JON SOPEL: Seventeen out of twenty three Labour donors who donated over a hundred thousand pounds to their party, have received either a knighthood or a peerage, only four out of the eighteen Tory party donors, received an honour in the same period.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Plenty of people who've been awarded honours, have made no donations whatever. And what's more, if you are - I hesitate advertising another channel, if people were to turn over to ITV, they're watching Formula One. Right.

One of the most successful British businesses that has ever been built up. I could make the case that actually, someone like Bernie Ecclestone in any other country in the world, would have been- received all sorts of honours and awards. He made a donation to the Labour Party, it became controversial and I think you can make the case, that's why he's not been given an award. So I just think you, you can put these prisms any which way you like. There's a hysterically funny column in the Sunday Times today by one Sir Simon Jenkins.

Sir Simon in this column, doesn't actually record the fact that he is Sir Simon because the whole thing is about the honours system, and he's taking - trying to put the same prism as you are on it. And he makes the point at the bottom of his column, does Sir Simon, in his usual pompous, patrician way, he says that journalists are now doing the job that politicians should be doing. Well if that's how it's going to be, why don't you all stand for parliament.

JON SOPEL: Okay. All right. I wish we had more time, for your prism. Alastair Campbell 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 19 March 2006 at 12.30pm on BBC One.

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