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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 June 2006, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Jon Sopel interview
Interviews on Sunday 11 June 2006

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

On the Politics Show, Sunday 11 June 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • Hazel Blears MP, Labour Party Chair
  • James Arbuthnot MP, Chair of the Defence Committee

James Arbuthnot
James Arbuthnot MP, Chair of the Defence Committee

Comments from James Arbuthnot on Iraq

JON SOPEL: I was just wondering what is your expectation - six months, this time next year - about what our troop levels will be?

JAMES ARBUTHNOT: My guess is they will be significantly lower, partly because the Iraqis themselves do want to regain sovereignty over their own country and so their wish to be see fewer multinational forces in their country will coincide with our wish not to be there.

JON SOPEL: So significantly lower in the next six months?

JAMES ARBUTHNOT:I would have thought significantly lower in the next nine months.

JON SOPEL: When you say significantly lower, what do you mean?

JAMES ARBUTHNOT: By several thousand would be my guess - it will have to depend on the conditions on the ground and whether the Iraqi forces are ready and properly equipped.

Hazel Blears
Hazel Blears MP, Labour Party Chair

Jon Sopel interviewed Hazel Blears

JON SOPEL: And I'm joined now from Manchester by the Chair of the Labour Party, Hazel Blears, and Hazel Blears welcome to the Politics Show.

Do you accept that there is a whiff of decay that afflicted the Major government at the end.

HAZEL BLEARS: No, I think we are significantly different from where John Major was and I think his government really did run out of steam as well as all the sleaze they had, I think there was kind of institutional inertia in that government. They were like rabbits in the headlights and we're very different from that.

If you think that the election was just a year ago, we've got, a huge manifesto. I mean just a couple of weeks ago, we took, I thought an incredible decision to reinstate the link between earnings and pensions, something that Thatcher took away twenty odd years ago and the Labour government has now had the bravery and courage to reinstate. There's a huge range of issues for us to address whether it's hospitals and the NHS, schools, education, welfare reform; so I don't think we're like the Major government at all.

We're actually, some people would say that you know, we've got too much to do, but there's a real policy programme there and I think the voters, they get very impatient with us, when we talk to ourselves about our interest in particular jobs, they've given us a job to get on with and it's part of my job to make sure that everybody in our government, focuses on doing just that.

JON SOPEL: But look at those poll findings, there in the film, the direction of travel for Labour at the moment is uncannily like what was happening to the Major government in the downward slide.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well the polls recently haven't been particularly good for us, but polls do vary and if you think about in the past, you know, oppositions were twenty, twenty five, thirty points ahead of governments at this stage and we're not in that territory at all. I think you know, what we've got here is a resurgent Tory party, David Cameron appears to have bewitched parts of the media.

I think in some ways you know, he is attractive but what we haven't got is a Tory Party that's been through the same rigorous, deep structural analysis of their policies and he's actually really fundamentally changing, as the Labour Party did from 1994. We went through eleven years of major analysis and change because we knew the only way to ask the public to vote for Labour, was to show that we had the courage to change ourselves and I genuinely don't believe the Tories have done that.

JON SOPEL: You talk about how, Conservatives, you know people thought they were arrogant, decadent and elitist, that's in a newspaper article that you've published, that's come out this week. I mean isn't that pots and kettles after what we've seen in the past couple of months from Labour.

HAZEL BLEARS: No, I don't believe that we're arrogant and decadent. I do think the ...

JON SOPEL: Really.

HAZEL BLEARS: ... no, no I genuinely don't. I think that our government is full of good decent people, particularly back bench MPs like Kevin Barron there, Graham Stringer, out there working in their communities. And if you look around yourself as I do in Salford where I am now, I can see the new schools, the Health Centres, the hospitals, but I think people are angry, they're a bit annoyed with us that we appear to be taking our eye off the ball.

They want us - to get on with the job, they elected us just a year ago to carry on doing all the things we've been doing for the last eight or nine years and that really is quite a strong message to us, you know we have to focus relentlessly on that, roll our sleeves up, get stuck in to the job and carry on improving our communities.

JON SOPEL: So what's your advice to your cabinet colleagues then, shut up over the Deputy Leadership and the jobs they'd like.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well I, I think it would be really helpful if everybody simply got on with the jobs that we've got to do, whether it's welfare reform, the pension stuff, the fact that in a few years time, you know, 70 to 80% of women pensioners will have the rights to pensions that they never had before - that our schools are improving, and again in our health service, you know my local hospital is so much better than it used to be. And I think really my advice, not just to the cabinet, but to everyone in our government, MPs, Councillors at Local Government level who are really important as well and who have been very disciplined in the past, let's focus on what really, really matters.

We're actually now back to politics as usual I suppose, you know the Tories are coming back. I think that concentrates Labour minds magnificently, I don't believe that Cameron is really fundamentally a new kind of Tory. I think they are going through a re-branding and PR exercise, but the way that we will counter this and really tackle it is show on the ground, real changes that are in the interests of working people, I still the think the people want us to succeed and we've got fulfil that trust.

JON SOPEL: Hazel Blears, I've let you speak at length about the things that you think are important for the Labour government still to achieve and I think you've made all the points about the Health Service and Education and all the rest of it.

But just on, you know, isn't it right that cabinet ministers are going to talk about the leadership and the deputy leadership because they know that there is a contest coming. And we heard Graham Stringer in that film saying, there isn't going to be renewal, all the time that Tony Blair is still there, because we know he's going.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well I don't accept that on this, you know, I don't disagree with Graham on everything, but on this, I actually do disagree with him. But what I thought was really interesting was what Kevin Barron said and he said that if we really want to renew the Party, get our activist base bigger than it is at the moment, get people out on the streets campaigning, that has to involve the whole of the party and not a few people at the top, and that's what I'm determined to do and one of the other things I'm discussing with colleagues now is how do we make sure, not just that there is a focus on the policies of government but the politics of government as well; we've got some fantastically talented people and I really want to focus their glare on making sure that everything we do connects with the people who've elected us and who still trust us, and that's quite a challenge.

JON SOPEL: And the other job you're going to have to do is you're going to be supervising the contest for the leadership and the deputy leadership when it comes. When will be the best time to have it in terms of giving the new leader enough time to establish him or herself.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well you've, you've already had a statement from the Prime Minister that he will make sure that there is ample time for a successor to ... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: But what does that mean.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well, we haven't got a timetable and I think if we had a timetable, then certainly many of you in the media would be saying, why is it three months, why is six months, why isn't it next week and I think where we are is the right place for us to be, let's focus on our policies and when the Leadership issue arises, it will be Labour Party members who decide what happens, and I think in a democratic party, that's absolutely as it should be.

JON SOPEL: Was Jack Straw helpful when he said, everybody knows that Tony will go, go well before the next Election.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well, I, I think that was Jack you know, expressing his view. Jack's a long standing politician.

JON SOPEL: Was it helpful.

HAZEL BLEARS: He'll have views on all kinds of things will Jack, but we've got a pretty clear position now and I think you know, Party members, when ever I talk to them, are saying to me, for goodness sake, let's shut up about all of this, let's get on with the job and actually if you go out in communities, life is an awful lot better than it was nine or ten years ago, it's not perfect and I don't pretend it is. And there's still an awful lot more for, for us to do, but it's an awful lot better than it was.

JON SOPEL: But don't you accept that these questions are out there about the Leadership and the Deputy Leadership because Tony Blair put them there, saying that he wasn't going to fight the next election.

HAZEL BLEARS: Yes he did and I think that at that point he wanted to avoid the situation that we had with Margaret Thatcher, you know, are you going to go on and on and on, and he wanted to be honest and straightforward and say that he didn't intend to fight the next election. Now from there we've got this furore of people wanting to ... (overlaps) ...

JON SOPEL: So it was a mistake on his part.

HAZEL BLEARS: ... I can't say that I can make that go away but what I can do is say to all my colleagues, right across the government, look, we've got a third term Labour government, the only time in history we've ever had that chance to transform things for working people in this country, let's not waste it, let's get on with the job and let's do what they want us to do.

JON SOPEL: Just a final thought on this one. Another thing that Jack Straw said, he said that Gordon Brown deserves to succeed without a contest, do you agree with him.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well I think that's a matter for, for Labour Party members, again, people have their views. You know I've ...

JON SOPEL: What's yours.

HAZEL BLEARS: I've said that I think Gordon Brown is, is a fantastic politician and I've no doubt that he could do a brilliant job as Prime Minister, but whether or not there's a contest, we're a democratic Labour Party and that would be a matter for all our members at the appropriate time and our affiliates, you know because we're made up of the whole Labour movement, and we'll come together as we do, and we do it best when we do it together.

JON SOPEL: Okay. You said there were bits of David Cameron that were attractive. Which bits of David Cameron do you find attractive.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well, not, not personally. I'm not that enamoured by, by his shorts I don't suppose but I think - when we were New Labour, that the Tories tried to attack us and say, you know, the demon eyes and all of that. I don't think that kind of politics works.

What I do think is no matter what David Cameron is trying to do, to reposition his Party, I do think that underneath that , we've got a whole raft of pretty right wing policies that haven't changed because they have not been through the kind of policy review that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took us through during the '90s.

And that's the honesty of a political party. This is David Cameron, who a year ago proposed the patient's passport, opting out of the NHS, the most right wing campaign that we've ever seen, and I don't believe that we've seen some kind of conversion on the road to Damascus in the last six months.

JON SOPEL: You see we started this discussion with are we back in 1994 and that attack that you've just made on David Cameron, reminds me exactly of the attacks that were made on Tony Blair.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well I don't think it was because the Tories, if you remember, they came out with New Labour, New Danger - that didn't chine with the public because in fact they realized we had changed, we weren't the party of the past, we'd recognised the world was a different placeż.

JON SOPEL: (overlaps) But David Cameron is reviewing all this policies.

HAZEL BLEARS: Well, if you look at David Cameron you know, he has flip flopped on some of his policy ideas.

He proposed during the leadership campaign, that he'd take the Tories out of the European people's party now he's not quite so sure because he doesn't know who else to get in with. The stuff around the patient's passport, privatisation of the NHS, we've now got him for goodness sake saying what a fantastic job public sector workers do; that wasn't the case when he wanted to slash and burn through the public sector.

So I genuinely don't think that they've been through anything like the kind of analysis we went through, when we introduced one member one vote, when we looked at the need for a vibrant economy, when we realized that you had to have workers and private sector working together in order to do the best for the country, that was some pretty challenging stuff for the Labour party at the time, I can tell you, and that kind of thing is not going on in the Tory Party.

It is a re-branding exercise, I'm not saying it's not succeeding, you know, for some people it's very attractive to have a wind turbine on your property, but equally, if you get your official car to carry your shoes about, then that's deeply unattractive, so I don't think we've got the substance here. We've got an awful lot of top show.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Hazel Blears we must leave it there. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

End of interview

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday 18 June 2006 at 12.00pm on BBC One.

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