On the Politics Show, Sunday 01 October 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Oliver Letwin and John Hutton.
INTERVIEW WITH: OLIVER LETWIN, MP
JON SOPEL: And we're joined now from Bournemouth by the Chair of the Policy Commissions, Oliver Letwin, and Oliver Letwin, welcome to the Politics Show.
OLIVER LETWIN: Thank you.
JON SOPEL: These commissions are obviously very much a work in progress, but it's a febrile time in British politics. I mean if Gordon Brown took over suddenly and there were a snap election that he called, would you be ready for one.
OLIVER LETWIN: Look. People are always asking that question. I don't actually think there's any realistic prospect of that happening in the immediate future, but you know, we have a really serious task which is not to waste the years that the electorate has forced on us in opposition.
And we have to build a really solid foundation for a government, through designing policies which have really been thought about and where we've worked out how they cohere with one another so that we can deliver the social responsibility agenda that David Cameron is going to setting out at this party conference. (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: You would be negligent in your duty if you weren't preparing for a sudden election, I mean what would you do about policies if there were a sudden election.
OLIVER LETWIN: I'm not going to engage in some interesting hypothesis of that kind. I have a very clear task from David Cameron, which is to make sure that on the programme we set, these policy groups, which have three or four hundred people working in them and are really getting to getting to grips with big problems, seriously, end up by making a series of recommendations that are well thought through, and then we have to work inside the shadow cabinet, in the second half of next year and engage in the discussions we need to engage in, to achieve the trade offs, the balancing acts, which any serious prospective government has to engage in, to work out how much of this we're going to do, how much of that we're going to do, in order to have a coherent, sustainable, affordable sensible programme and that's not something you can do over night and we're not going to be put off by the mood of the moment or the need for a fashionable announcement here or there. We're going to do it right.
JON SOPEL: You've just heard Zac Goldsmith making the case for his policy commission, I mean do you see a down side to these commissions. I mean Zac Goldsmith for example, opposed to nuclear power, something you may have to embrace.
OLIVER LETWIN: We've encouraged an enormous amount of debate and discussion at this stage. We don't want to clamp down and just get people to think whatever we might want them to think in the first place, that would deny the whole purpose of this exercise.
The purpose of this exercise is to open up, be very transparent, the policy groups are going out and talking to enormous numbers of people who are actually on the ground doing things, real experts, people who aren't involved with politics but who, who know what they're talking about and many of your viewers will not think that politicians are the most expert people on any given subject, and they'd be right, we're not.
We can't be the experts. So what we need is to gather together all the serious ideas and then we need to do what politicians are elected to do which is to work out how to make a programme that can govern a country and achieve, as I say, the social responsibility we're aiming at, for the country, if we're elected.
JON SOPEL: What about the Amanda Platell point that it plays in to Labour's greatest charge against David Cameron's Tories, that they're all about spin and celebrity and style, and not about substance or accountability. And you can sort of lump Zac Goldsmith in to that, Bob Geldof in to that.
OLIVER LETWIN: Well, I think you'd find some difficulty in lumping the three or four hundred people that are involved in this process in to that, we have some the, the people who've done most serious thinking about these things.
As a matter of fact I think both Zac and Bob Geldof have done some very serious thinking about this too, but the fact is that when you see the work of these commissions, which is work in progress at the moment, some parts of it have been released, but when you see it in total, some months from now, I think you will have to say, this is jolly serious.
JON SOPEL: Okay.
OLIVER LETWIN: This is a group of people who are really trying to get to grips with the problems.
JON SOPEL: Let me get to a specific, Health. You've given an interview to the Sunday Times, in which you're quoted as saying, there are no limits to private sector involvement in the NHS. Is that you position.
OLIVER LETWIN: Not anything that I said as a matter of fact, and I think you will have seen a transcript which happens to have been taken of it. The fact is, the Conservative party has changed. We, some years back, were talking about .. people opting out of the health service.
Now what we're talking about is the real issue, which is how to improve the National Health Service for all patients, how to give really high quality care, free at the point of use, to every patient. And that's what we're engaged in now.
JON SOPEL: Sure, but we've now listened to this tape of the interview with the (Sunday Times) reporter. She asks, ...coming back to my question then, would there be any limit on privatisation or not". You are quite clearly underneath her last few words saying, no limit, no.
OLIVER LETWIN: But what we have as a limit, is a very clear limit, which is we're not going to be paying people tax payers money, to let them out, help them get out of the NHS. What we're doing is having every penny of our commitment to a large growth in public... (overlaps) ...
JON SOPEL: Sorry to interrupt you...
OLIVER LETWIN: .. (overlaps) ...our Health Service go in to the Health Service and what we want to do is to make sure that every penny of that is used in such as way, as to obtain for the patients, the best care that can be got.
JON SOPEL: I'm just puzzled then because Conservative Central Office have issued a statement saying, There is no basis for the Sunday Times story. When we've listened to the tape and there clearly is a basis, you do say, no limit no, and you've more or less said that yourself.
OLIVER LETWIN: But what I'm saying is that the crucial issue that we face here is how can GPs and Primary Care Trusts get the best services for patients. We're determined to have professional responsibility. We're determined to let the professionals on the ground get on with the job and get the best they can for all the patients in the National Health Service, free at the point of use. That's the ideal of the National Health Service and that's the ideal we have to fulfil.
JON SOPEL: So there is no limit or there is.
OLIVER LETWIN: When Patricia Hewitt was asked about this recently, what she said is that what mattered is not the person that's providing the service but the quality of service that's provided within the NHS and that is our position.
JON SOPEL: Okay, let's talk about tax now. I mean John Redwood has said that he is making a plea for early action to cut our taxes. If you keep tax rates down, the economy grows much quicker. Now I know your argument is that this is something that would come a lot further down the road. What of the traditional Conservative argument that you cut taxes to stimulate growth?
OLIVER LETWIN: Our position is very straight forward. We're not going to put stability at risk by making any irresponsible commitments to tax cuts. We believe that what matters most to people is the stability of the economy, the stability of their mortgage interest rate, we're never going to put that at risk.
JON SOPEL: So John Redwood. Is he the Chair of a Commission or just a guy who has an interesting opinion?
OLIVER LETWIN: There, there will be many suggestions that will be made to us as we move forward and many interesting things that will be said, many very important things that will be said. But we have a view, in the leadership of the Conservative Party, that puts stability first. We want to see Britain as a low taxed economy, but we're not going to allow ourselves to be budged from the position that we have to guarantee the stability first, before tax cuts.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Now you've made a lot of the need to re-build trust in politics, yet what are meant to make of an organisation, I'm sure most viewers won't have heard of it called CCS, Constituency Campaigning Services, helps you organise in marginal seats. Is it part of the Conservative Party or not.
OLIVER LETWIN: Well, as I understand it, that is an organisation that declares all that (drop out on line) ¿ that it receives to the electoral commission and provides services to our constituency associations, and that's what it needs to do under the law and is doing it.
JON SOPEL: Hang on, look, I just want to reconcile two statements. One from David Cameron this morning, that it is effectively part of the Conservative Party and one to the Guardian yesterday, which says, CCS is a free standing organisation, independent of the Conservative Party, those two cannot be reconciled I would put to you.
OLIVER LETWIN: I think that the position is that technically speaking, it is independent of the Conservative Party and it provides services to our constituency associations. But the important question, which your viewers will want to know the answer to is (line drops out) ¿ that are made to it, declared openly to the electoral commission, and the answer to that question is yes.
JON SOPEL: Right. But, when you're saying, and we've got a few problems with the lines so we may have to cut this short. But when you're saying that you want to clean up politics, it doesn't sound very clear if you're saying, well it is sort of yes-ish independent.
OLIVER LETWIN: No, hold on. What matters in the clarity and cleanliness of politics is that everything which is donated is properly declared under the law to the electoral commission that is going on. Another thing that really matters is er, actually having a proper cap, a much lower limit than there is at the moment in the level of donations, so that we're sure that political parties cannot be persuaded to take a position by a very rich person donating an enormous amount of money.
JON SOPEL: All right. Oliver Letwin, we must leave it there. Thank you very much.
OLIVER LETWIN: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW
INTERVIEW WITH: JOHN HUTTON:
JON SOPEL: To take stock, John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions joins us now, John Hutton, welcome to the Politics Show. Did Tony Blair do enough so that he can now go at a time of his own choosing.
JOHN HUTTON: I think so and I think that's the overwhelming view of people in the Labour Party. We went in to that Conference against the backcloth of a pretty grim couple of weeks actually, where we weren't at our best and I think we have come out of it at our best because what we did during those few days was to focus our attention, not on ourselves, but on the public and their priorities and their concerns, and you know when we look out, not in, and when we focus on providing solutions to the big questions that people have, I think we will do better and I think that's clear from the polls right now, that people do feel, when it comes to Conservatives, Labour, it is Labour who have the answers and, and the ability to make the tough decisions.
JON SOPEL: Just looking at a piece of paper that was given out at the delegate briefing after Tony Blair's speech, he talks about the ten things he wants to get on with, pensions, security, reform of the NHS, independent ... energy white paper, welfare reform, supporting business, local government, ...Middle East, House of Lords reform etc. Sounds like he's not going to get all this done by next summer. Do you think he wants to go on longer.
JOHN HUTTON: No, I think he's made his, is mind up now. This will be the last conference that Tony speaks at, so between now and next September, at some point, there will be a leadership election and we'll choose a new leader but I think what we should all have comfort and draw confidence in, in the Labour Party from is this.
The Tories want to come on to our ground. Now, I know there are some people who worry about that. I don't, we should draw comfort from that because that is our ground. And if the choices between, you know, would, would the Tories do those things, would Labour do those things, people know that we will, we will do it because we have the right values and so it's, it's Labour that's changing the terms of the political process at the moment, not, not David Cameron's Conservatives.
JON SOPEL: But what about the danger of you being perceived as a divided party. I mean we had Tony Blair standing up before the British people eighteen months ago, saying I'll serve a full term and then after the sort of bout of in-fighting after the local council elections, he says, well actually, I'll give ample sufficient time for a successor, and then there's fresh in-fighting, so that civil war erupts earlier on last month, and hey presto, Tony Blair issues a statement saying I'll be gone within a year. He's not the master of his own destiny is he.
JOHN HUTTON: No, I think he is and I think it was probably always what he wanted to do. But I think one thing is absolutely clear to all of us that if we present an image of, as a divided party, then we will suffer. What the public want from any government is their absolute commitment to focus on the problems that the country is facing not tittle tattle and personality politics because that is a huge turn off and a drain on energy.
So, what the public are saying to us very clearly and we've got to respond to this, and I think we did last week, is look these are the problems, this is what's going on in my life, what are you going to do to help me get through those problems. People don't just want to you know, get by they want to get on, and they want a Labour government to help them do that and to sign post their way through the challenges that they see facing them and their country in the... (overlaps) .. future.
JON SOPEL: Mr Hutton, my first question to you was has Tony Blair done enough to choose the time of his departure and you said yes. Has Gordon Brown done enough to ensure that he becomes the next leader.
JOHN HUTTON: Well do you know, I've been saying, you know, to anyone who's prepared to listen over the last few weeks that look, there is going to be a leadership election at some point in the future and there will be time to, to focus on those issues then. I am not going to discuss the leadership election now. Partly because there isn't one erm, and partly also because I think it a ...(overlaps)...
JON SOPEL: ...you're prepared to discuss Mr Blair's departure time, therefore why not discuss the leadership contest which comes as a consequence of it.
JOHN HUTTON: Well, it's clear when Tony is going because he's, he's told the country that. Erm, you're asking me to express a view about the leadership election and who might come out of it well and who's going to win and so on, and I'm definitely not going to do that.
JON SOPEL: Are you going to run.
JOHN HUTTON: I think it's very unlikely that, that I will be running because I've got a, a big job in government and I want to focus on that.
JON SOPEL: Not a definitely not.
JOHN HUTTON: No, as I said, I think it's very unlikely that will be running but look, there isn't a leadership election now, and there won't be one for some considerable time.
JON SOPEL: Okay.
JOHN HUTTON: I'm not going to get drawn in to a, are you standing, is he standing, what do you think of this candidate, what do you think of that candidate. I've got a job to do in government. I 've got a big job to do, we've got pensions reform, the child support agency and welfare reform to sort out and I think to be perfectly honest John, I've got enough on my plate, getting on with that.
JON SOPEL: And the Tories are starting their conference, and they clearly feel they've got the wind in their sails.
JOHN HUTTON: Well they would think that wouldn't they. And particularly after the last few weeks from our side, where we have not been at our best, but I think it is quite interesting, if you look at the polls coming out of the party conference, now no one should read anything in to one poll, of course not, but I think part of our problem at the Labour Party, has always been a confidence thing.
You know we're not actually behind in the opinion polls, vie a vie the Tories, and I think you know, given all the things that have happened, we all should draw comfort from that. I think it is there to win the next election, provided we continue with the reforms, we continue to govern as new Labour, we continue to put the public first and I think the Tories, what do we think and make from the Tories at the moment. Well, good on style, utterly woeful when it comes to substance, unable to make big tough choices, and we saw that today very clearly from Oliver Letwin.
Oliver is a very nice guy, people in politics have a lot of time for Oliver, but you know, they shouldn't let him out in public to talk about what the politics are for the Tories cos he has a horrible habit of actually telling them what they actually do want to do, rather than what they want us to think that they're going to do.
JON SOPEL: And what about on funding. I mean there's this whole...
JOHN HUTTON: Well, I think on funding too, I think the last couple of days, and particularly today has been quite extraordinary, I mean David Cameron this morning, I think lifted the lid on the secretive world of Tory Party finances. Now this organisations in Coldshill, no one really knows very much about it, but one thing we do know is that if it's part of the Conservative Party, then a different set of rules apply to it and we have to know who's funding it.
Now, he said today that it was part of the Tory Party. Now, if that is true, it raises very serious questions about whether the law has been complied with, and I think someone is going to have to take a very long, careful look to see if the rules have been broken here. But one thing also you know here Jon is that if he knows the donors, the people who are coughing up the millions and millions of pounds that go in to this secretive organisation, ...Midlands Industrial Council, he should come clean with us.
JON SOPEL: Okay.
JOHN HUTTON: If he believes in open transparent politics, this is his chance to prove it.
JON SOPEL: John Hutton, thank you very much.
End of interview woth John Hutton.
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The Politics Show Sunday 01 October 2006 at 13:35 BST on BBC One.
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