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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 April 2007, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Cameron: 'Don't walk on the other side'
In the second of a series of leadership interviews, Jon Sopel spoke to David Cameron in Devon on bthe Politics Show Sunday 22 April 2007...

David Cameron and cow
We're getting an irresponsible Britain and I want to see a revolution in responsibility. And this goes all the way down the line.
David Cameron

In his interview with the Politics Show, David Cameron urged people not to 'walk on the other side', blaming the Labour government for creating what he calls the 'irresponsible society'.

The Conservative leader also talked about his party's prospects in the local elections in northern England, and the Scottish Parliament elections, (Asbos) his speech on Monday restoring a 'civil society', tax breaks for marriage, his assessment of the party's progress since his becoming leader and David Miliband.

On the state of society, Mr Cameron said:

"My worry is that after a decade of a Labour government, that said the State is always the answer, more government is always the answer, they actually created the irresponsible society...

They've taken responsibility away from people. You know, they used to say, Mrs Thatcher was - 'there's no such thing as society'.

To me, Blair and Brown have created, 'There is No Such Thing as Society Britain', they've sucked responsibility away from people and I want to give it back to them."


BBC One POLITICS SHOW, recorded April 20th 2007


JON SOPEL: David Cameron, it may be bright and lovely here in Torquay. Is the picture looking as nice in the North of England.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I've been campaigning in the North of England, I was in Carlisle recently, in York and other parts in the North West as well and I'm getting a good response.

I don't make predictions, but I want to see the Conservative Party recover in every part of the country and that includes the North of England, where I think we've got some very strong candidates standing in the Council Elections.

JON SOPEL: Worth just underlining again, you still don't have a Councillor in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, a couple in Sheffield.

DAVID CAMERON: Well obviously, in the big cities we have to build our way back and that can take time and we have to be patient about that but don't over state this. You know, in Yorkshire, we control more councils than Labour. In the North West, we control eleven councils, that's only two less than Labour and look at the enthusiasm in the Conservative Party.

In the North West we are fielding far more candidates than Labour. In Yorkshire, we're fielding far more candidates than Labour. And another thing actually, I'm quite proud of, when it comes to tackling (interjection)... the BNP, the Conservatives this time are fielding more candidates against the British National Party than any other party, and I'm proud of that.

JON SOPEL: Just on Yorkshire, Yorkshire post poll in January, which is the last one they did, the Tories... 29%, you're 40% in the rest of the country, so not doing that well.

DAVID CAMERON: Well, that was back in January, we're making progress, we're making progress across the country, campaigning very hard. I was in York recently, we don't have councillors on the City Council today, I hope we will. A very strong campaign being held there.

But don't overstate it, across the North as a whole, we do have Councils and Councillors, and we're building in strength and I hope we'll make progress on May 3rd.

JON SOPEL: What about what your MP for Shipley, Philip Davies says, because he was, you know, said that poll was a wake up call. He said, it's a wake up call that proves that the messages that might work in the Home Counties, don't necessarily work up here.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I don't think actually, the, the issue that we're raising at the local elections specifically of vote blue go green, focusing on the environment, I think actually, that is not some namby-pamby southern message. The idea that clean streets are safe streets.

That if you clean up your neighbourhood and get rid of the grime, that helps you tackle the crime, that is a message that resonates right round the country, cos it's true right round the country and it's a message we're taking right across the North of England.

JON SOPEL: You use the word namby-pamby, I've got to put another quote to you and this is one of your candidates in the East Riding, Ros Jump she said, Cameron is seen as a Southern softie, I don't go out of my way to talk about David Cameron. As far as everyone round here is concerned, David Davis is the leader.

DAVID CAMERON: Well David Davis is an excellent Shadow Home Secretary, we work very closely together. Obviously, you can't please all of the people all of the time and I don't try to.

JON SOPEL: Are you a Southern softie?

DAVID CAMERON: No, look, I am what I am. I'm someone who was brought up in the countryside, who lives part of his life in London. I think I am taking the Conservative Party in the right direction, and taking it to parts of the country where we've been absent for too long.

Actually, let's take an example in the North, Sunderland, at the last local elections, we got a result in Sunderland that if we'd got in a General Election, we would have won Sunderland Central. Now, that is hardly a soft, Southern seat is it.

JON SOPEL: Okay, leave aside the personal bit of it, but the way it manifests itself in policy is clearly a concern to some people, and saying you know, well actually, you're concentrating on the wrong issues and whilst environment may play well in sort of urban areas where people have got heightened awareness or whatever about the environmental issues, you need to be talking about issues like immigration and law and order and crime on the streets.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think - what I've brought to the Conservative Party is a very balanced approach that we've put absolutely upfront the National Health Service as our number one issue, our number one priority and we campaign on that and that is good right round the country.

And I think I've brought a better balance to the Party, that yes, the National Health Service and the Environment, where we've led the debate, we should campaign on those issues, but also, a key part of Conservatism is value for money. Keeping your council tax down, making sure money is spent wisely.

All Conservative councils have that as a priority so let's add those issues together and I think actually, we can have a very strong result.

JON SOPEL: So what is the benchmark for success then in these local council elections? I was reading what Eric Pickles, your local Shadow Local Government Minister, and he set the bench so low that frankly a limbo dancer would struggle to get underneath it. He said something along the lines of, you know is it essential that you get a foothold in the five key cities in the North of England. He said, well no, we don't regard that as a key task.

DAVID CAMERON: Well, what the key is, is to do well right across the country. We're obviously coming off a very high base; we're the largest part in local government, we control more councils than anybody else. Labour have had the, Labour are now... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: So do you want to make a break-through on those seats...


DAVID CAMERON: We want to make a break-through right across the North of England. JON SOPEL: And one should judge you if you fail... (interjection)... to make a break-through in Manchester and Newcastle and Gateshead?

DAVID CAMERON: No, let's take the example of Manchester. I think the way to judge us to look at Greater Manchester, not just the City centre, look at Greater Manchester.

Are we making progress in Bolton, in Bury, Salford, Wigan, places like that across the North West. Are we making progress in those areas? That's the way to judge us and I hope that we will make some progress. Yes.

JON SOPEL: When you went to Scotland, you apologised for Thatcherism. Do you need to have made that apology to the North of England, where there's obviously, still in those big cities, a problem.

DAVID CAMERON: No, I don't believe in endlessly issuing apologies. I want the Conservative Party to get off its knees, in the North of England and in Scotland and campaign vigorously on the very positive agenda that we have. And I think what, you know, people across the North of England are saying to me, is they're fed up with Labour, they think they've been let down.

They want to hear a positive alternative from the Conservatives. And what's interesting about the local elections is what a positive message we have about safer street, cleaner streets, greener communities. These are all positive politics. It makes a huge change from the sort of negative stuff we were hearing from Labour last week.

JON SOPEL: And how would you say you're doing in Scotland because some of the polls suggest you may be slipping behind the Liberal Democrats in to fourth place?

DAVID CAMERON: Well, in Scotland, I've been three times during the campaign. I was most recently in Gretna, not Gretna Green, but just across the road. I think we're running a very positive campaign.

I think Annabel Goldie has come across extremely well, no nonsense, common sense. I don't make predications. You know if you want predictions, get someone from MORI or ...


DAVID CAMERON: I want us to recover everywhere. I'm passionate about the Union, I'm passionate about the Scottish Conservatives doing well. It's a hard fought election up there.

A big fight obviously between the SNP and Labour going on as well, but you know, there are many places where I want the Conservatives to start to make progress in Scotland.

JON SOPEL: Right, I just noticed the difference, in the North of England you said you were doing well. In Scotland you said, you would like us to do well and there's a tough fight on your hands. It does sound like Scotland is more difficult.

The Barker Gallery: Blair's legacy... The Great Leveller

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think it's got, you've obviously got the situation where you've got the debate about the Union and the Scottish National Party as well. So another thing in the mix but I think the argument in Scotland that I'm making is look, you had a Labour government in Scotland.

If you don't want the divorce offered by the SNP, the Conservative Party is now a moderate, sensible, centre right party. Cares about personal responsibility, strong defence and money and care to people that get left behind, championing the environment, it's a party there for people in Scotland who want that middle way if you like and you know, there's a different political culture in Scotland. We have a fight on our hands but I'm determined in time we will build.

JON SOPEL: Okay, well, so note the modest goal that you set for that. Just talk about civility, because I think you're making a speech on Monday about this. What's all that about.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think one of the things. I think we should try to look at progress, not just in terms of GDP, how much money we're making, but try and look at general well-being. Are we actually happier as a country? And a key component of happiness and well-being is are we behaving properly towards one another and there's just incredible incivility in this country, people are rude to each other. Public discourse is so bad-mannered.

I was talking to some women the other day on the train down to Dartford who said the behaviour of children on buses is just appalling, but they don't feel they can say anything, cos they're going to get sworn at and shouted at, and I think we really need to improve levels of behaviour at the outcome. You know, this isn't just a sort of government responsibility. That's part of the problem, you know


JON SOPEL: So don't walk on the other side?

DAVID CAMERON: Don't walk on the other side. Government can't make all the difference on its own. What we need, is what I talk about, social responsibility where we all take our responsibility - government yes, but also individuals and families, businesses, and the media as well. I think one...

JON SOPEL: (interjects) So if you had a group of hoodies walking along the street towards you and they were throwing litter and they're all about six foot two and quite muscle bound and all the rest of it, but - would you go after them and say, will you pick that litter up right now.

DAVID CAMERON: I'm not asking anyone to do anything they don't feel comfortable with and I think you know, you judge the circumstances accordingly, but I think what I'm saying is that how we treat each other is a key part of well being in our country. It's not something government can deliver but it's something we all care about and if we care about it, we should talk about it, we should address it and everyone should do their bit.

But Jon, my worry is that after a decade of a Labour government, that said the State is always the answer, more government is always the answer, they actually created the irresponsible society. You know, the police officer feels, I can't stop someone cos I've got to fill in a form.

The head teacher feels, I can't expel someone from my school because they're behaving badly, because I'll be overruled. They've taken responsibility away from people. You know, they used to say, Mrs Thatcher was - there's no such thing as society. To me, Blair and Brown have created,

'There is No Such Thing as Society Britain', they've sucked responsibility away from people and I want to give it back to them.

JON SOPEL: Is that through less legislation?

DAVID CAMERON: Often it means instead of sitting here and saying, you raise a problem and I come up with some government initiative, instead of that, it's saying, yes government may have a role to play but we've all got something to do - as fathers, as families, as businesses, as individuals, as the media sometimes. I think this is really important. We all play our part, if we actually want to build a stronger society.

JON SOPEL: Okay, you talk about the media taking responsibility so you wouldn't enact legislation, you just think the media has got to act responsibility by itself - should the media have shown these pictures this week of the kid who made the video after he'd killed those thirty two people?

DAVID CAMERON: It's a very difficult one that because obviously there is a public interest in trying to explain what happened. I think what's right is for the media to have a debate about restraint and I think having it on some permanent loop with a sort of NBC logo on, frankly was pretty sick and I think actually, that company had a look at themselves and then pulled back. What we need is for the media...


JON SOPEL: Where has the government legislated that it shouldn't have done. I mean people think... well, what about ASBOs?


DAVID CAMERON: A good example, let's take the example of young people behaving badly. It's a problem right across the country, no denying it. ASBOs the government's answer, well intentioned but now I think out of control. These thing are being handed out like confetti, they're being breached all over the place.

They're not working. And they're taking away the responsibility from parents. Clearly, ASBOs are right for some kids, but if you start pretending that government action is the solution to every problem, you create an irresponsible society.

JON SOPEL: And if you live in North London and Camden or where ever, where they've had lots of use of ASBOs and crime has gone down, well then maybe the local council turns round and says, they work. They're making a difference to ordinary people's lives?

DAVID CAMERON: In some circumstances they do work clearly. But in many parts of the country they've just been handed out, over and over again. They get breached and nothing happens. So the young person thinks, well actually, the State action isn't working and the parents think, well it's nothing to do with me Gov any more, cos the government is dealing with it.

We need a sense of responsibility where parents and schools and businesses and everyone plays their part. We're getting an irresponsible Britain and I want to see a revolution in responsibility. And this goes all the way down the line. The government yes, it has its responsibilities, but let's do more to strengthen families. Let's allow head teachers to take responsibility for their schools.

Let's in our public services, instead of covering the doctors and nurses and teachers and police officers with instructions and red tape, harming their discretion and their professionalism, let's set them free. Let's give them discretion, give them responsibility, that's what we need in Britain. I think what's interesting is, yes there are things going wrong with the economy in Britain now.

But the real problem is the break-down in society that we've got after ten years of a government that's encouraged irresponsibility. And it's that social breakdown, I want the Conservative Party to deal with.

JON SOPEL: And here you are, arguing for a more minor role for government, less legislation. Let people take responsibility and yet you're advocating giving tax breaks to marriage. Why?

DAVID CAMERON: Because I think we need to strengthen families. I think we should have a test...

JON SOPEL: But why only in marriage?

DAVID CAMERON: Let me answer the question. I think we need a test in our politics. Is what I'm going to do, going to encourage a sense of responsibility in our country. Is it going to help strengthen families. Today, there is no recognition of marriage in the tax system.

I happen to think that's wrong. I'll tell you why. Because I think all the evidence shows that marriage is a good institution, the evidence shows that co-habiting couples, half of them split up by the child's fifth birthday. The figure for married couples is one in twelve. This is not about religion or morality. This is about what works. Marriage is a good institution and it should be... (interjection)...

JON SOPEL: Will it make any difference?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I think, if you - look I'm not saying...


JON SOPEL: (interjects) Are you doing it because it will make a difference and keep more married couples together?

DAVID CAMERON: Of course Jon, I'm not arguing that a married couple is going to stay together because they get a few extra pounds of tax relief, of course not. But we've got create a culture that says families...

JON SOPEL: So it's interference?

DAVID CAMERON: It's not interference. Government has to do its bit. It can help change the culture. I want a culture that is more pro-family, more pro-marriage. That we have less family break-down, that's what I want to see in our country. Government can't do that on its own, of course not, but where government can help is through the tax and benefits system and I believe it should take those steps and therefore encourage a much more pro-family culture in Britain. Other countries have a more pro family culture. You saw the UNICEF report...

JON SOPE: (interjection) So someone who's been married three times get help but the two broken families that get left behind don't.

DAVID CAMERON: Well, I think marriage should be recognised, because marriage is a good institution. At the moment, take the tax system and the benefits system. The tax system doesn't recognise marriage at all. Right.

The benefits system recognises that any form of couples coming together and then discriminates against it. And we've got people in our country now, with children who are actually together, but they're living separately because of the benefits system.

That is crazy, what are we doing encouraging people who actually are together, to pretend they're separate. That is anti-family, it's what we've got to stop.

JON SOPEL: Final thought. A few months ago you said we were half way up the mountain. I heard you use exactly the same phrase last Sunday with Andy Marr

DAVID CAMERON: Big mountain...

JON SOPEL: So you're only half way up so you've either got lost, you've got altitude sickness or you need a new Sherpa.

DAVID CAMERON: No, I think it is big mountain. I think we've made good progress. I've been doing this job for a year and three months or so. And I think we've made good progress, we're been ahead in the polls for a whole year.

We've got the biggest number of councillors we've had almost, I think ever in our history, we're controlling more councils, you know, very good mood in the Conservative Party, making real progress, but yes, we need to go further and we have more to do. But I'm confident that we're heading in the right direction and I'm confident, I don't go around saying, we will win the next election, it's all in the bag, but we can do it, it can be done. The sense of momentum is with us. The purpose is with us. The team is strong too.

JON SOPEL: And who would you rather face in the next election, Gordon Brown or David Miliband.

DAVID CAMERON: It's not for me - to me they've all failed. They're part of a government that hasn't delivered and I say, bring them on, I can't wait for it.

JON SOPEL: David Cameron. Thank you very much.



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The Politics Show Sunday 22 April 2007 at 14.00 BST on BBC One.

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