On the Politics Show, Sunday 10 December 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Sir Menzies Campbell, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.
JON SOPEL: And I'm joined now by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Menzies Campbell, welcome to the Politics Show.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Thank you very much.
JON SOPEL: You're talking about re-aligning the relationship with the US, what does that mean.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well it means really balancing that relationship and getting away from the relationship which was the, that Blair has demonstrated as being one of such closeness that people have felt that it was almost subservient and we've also discovered in the last two or three weeks, first from Geoff Hoon yesterday or the day before and then Kendal Myers the United States State Department analyst saying really, that when it came to influencing the decisions that were taken in Iraq after the military action had been concluded, Britains were counted for very little indeed. Now, if you give unquestioning support in any set of circumstances, it's inevitable that that support will be taken for granted and your influence will be diminished.
JON SOPEL: I just wondered whether what you're talking about is rebalancing our relationship with the United States or rebalancing Tony Blair's relationship with George W Bush, because George W Bush is a waning influence, he's going to be going soon.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well, for the last three or four years, how would you distinguish between the two. And what do we know about Gordon Brown's attitude towards these matters? Now, very interesting, echoing language I had used myself some time before, the Conservative leader started to talk about re-balancing the relationship and that of course caused a certain amount of dissent within his own party, because there are some people who subscribe pretty well to the neo-Con philosophy, which is now so discredited in Washington.
But my point is this, is that we will be much better of an ally of the United States, much more effective as their ally, if we're candid about the nature of the relationship, rather than behaving in a way which suggests my ally, right or wrong.
JON SOPEL: Well I'm just wondering then, compare and contrast, Liberal Democrats, foreign policy outlook, to the Conservative Party's, it's identical.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Certainly not. For a start, Mr Cameron can't bear to talk about Europe because half his party won't let him. Gordon Brown...
JON SOPEL:... he said the agenda of the Commission seems very positive in terms of deregulation, and making sure Europe is more competitive. That was him in Brussels last week.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Yeah, it took him twelve months to do so and previously, when he was having meetings with Mr Boroso, he had them in secret. And everyone knows that Europe is a fault line that runs right the way through the Conservative Party and everyone knows how reluctant Gordon Brown is to deal with it because if there are any meetings, he goes at the last possible moment, and leaves as early as he can. These two parties have put a pincer round the European argument and it's time we broke out of that and that's what I'm going to try and do on Tuesday.
JON SOPEL: Is it valid to even think of ourselves as a bridge in that old fashioned, sort of analysis, that we are the bridge between Europe and the United States.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Yes, because we have a relationship with the United States, often very substantially built on defence which does give us a different relationship from other members of the European Union. But by the same token, the European Union as Sarah Ludford was quite rightly pointing out in that film we just saw, could do much more acting, more cohesively and coherently, particularly with regard to the Middle East.
If for example, the European Union's view about the Middle East had been the one that prevailed, then we'd be further along the road. I don't say we'd necessarily have achieved a settlement, heaven knows, that's a very difficult thing. But we'd be further along the road towards achieving such a settlement. What we've got to do now...
JON SOPEL: So is that your...
JON SOPEL:... is that a specific area where we could...
MENZIES CAMPBELL:... yes of ocurse.
JON SOPEL: I just - but I just wonder how far you would get in the Middle East without having American signed up to it.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well, I think if we create the circumstances of which the two state solution becomes feasible, if we create the circumstances in which there is recognition for Israel by Arab countries, throughout the region. If we'd built upon our friendships for example with Egypt, er and with Jordan, then we can create a climate in which America influence over Israel can be exercised in a way which is positive and towards the achievement, as two state solution.
JON SOPEL: But I just wonder whether... (interjection)
MENZIES CAMPBELL:... I mean one of the difficulties of...
JON SOPEL:... about the two state solution for example is that that sort of gets suddenly - got a major push when George W Bush signed up to it.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well probably they do in relation to it. Now we've got our Prime Minister saying he's going to do this for the next six months. The difficulty is that because of what we did in Iraq, then our - we've embarrassed our friends in the Middle East because of what we did in Iraq and we've made it even more difficult to deal with those who are opposed to us, and that's why the decision to take military action had such enormous consequences for the people of Iraq but equally, such enormous seismic influence throughout the whole region.
JON SOPEL: You talk about Europe taking a more central role in our foreign policy. You've given us a briefing which says, so we should be more willing to pursue British priorities through collective, EU action, where our partners share our goals. That's read as one of the biggest caveats in history.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well, not everyone agrees with ¿ I mean the European Union has twenty five members, it will be twenty seven on the 1st January, but there is a consensus within Europe, we believe in the rule of law. We believe in democracy. We believe in economic liberalism and these are all values which I think we can best pursue on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom, through the European Union, but let me give you some more specifics.
How are we going to deal with the issue of immigration or climate change or terrorism unless we do so on a collective basis and the most obvious collective, within which to do that is the European Union.
JON SOPEL: But I just wonder whether you know, you look at the history of the European Union trying to grapple to find a joint foreign policy position, I don't know, you look at Kosovo or the Balkans- hardly the finest hour?
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well, but that's because we stood off...
JON SOPEL: (interjects) And that's because we've got different interests.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: No, it's because we stood off. If you remember, the Prime Minister came to office saying he wanted Britain to be at the heart of Europe and after that we saw very little, the occasional foray in to Europe to make a speech in Stutgart or something of the kind.
If Britain were to exercise the sort of leadership it can bring to the European Union, then we could have a European Union much more effective internationally, but one which better reflected our interests.
JON SOPEL: And just a story this morning in the Sunday Times talking about how you're about to get more public money to fund you because - what's all this about. Is it true?
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well, you should know better by now than to believe everything you read in the Sunday papers, nor do I. Sir Hayden Philips has been asked by the government to look at the question of...
JON SOPEL: (interjects) It might be true.
MENZIES CAMPBELL:... public funding and until he produces his report, I think all speculation is idle.
JON SOPEL: But it might be true.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: You'll have to wait to see the contents of the report. You'd better address Sir Hayden with the question.
JON SOPEL: Sounds like it's possible then.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: Everything is possible, but we won't know what is probable until Sir Hayden Philips produces his report.
JON SOPEL: Would you like the money.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: I think there's a real argument to be had about the funding of political parties in this country.
JON SOPEL: That's a yes.
MENZIES CAMPBELL: I think it's an argument which has gained additional salience because of the issues arising out of appointments to the House of Lords. What we need is total transparency and total responsibility for how public money is spent. Watch this space.
MENZIES CAMPBELL:... what Sir Hayden comes back with, then I think we'll all be happy.
JON SOPEL: Sir Menzies Campbell, thank you very much indeed.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH Sir Menzies Campbell
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The Politics Show Sunday 10 December 2006 at 12.10 GMT on BBC One.
This is the last Politics Show for the autumn series - we return again on Sunday 14 January 2007, 12:00 GMT- in the meantime, from us all... have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
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