On the Politics Show, Sunday 13 May 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Conservative Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne.
INTERVIEW WITH: GEORGE OSBORNE...
JON SOPEL: Well I?m joined now by Mr Brown?s opposite number, the Conservative Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne. Mr Osborne, thank you very much for being with us. He?s clearly pitching himself as the spin-free alternative to Tony Blair, willing to accept that mistakes were made, more solid, less flashy ? it?s a strong pitch isn?t it.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Yes, but it?s incredible. I?ve shadowed Gordon Brown in parliament for two years and I can?t think of a Chancellor who has done less to engage with parliament, who has employed more spin doctors and who for example most recently in the budget, did everything he could to present his budget as a tax cutting budget, when of course it turned out, almost immediately, once you looked at the fine print that it was a tax con.
So, I think you are entitled to say of Gordon Brown, ?well it?s all very well you talking about these things, but look at your record and indeed, show us the substance?. For example, on Tuesday, in the House of Commons next week, there will be a vote on whether to give parliament war-making powers, which the Conservatives have called.
There will be a vote at the end of that debate. If Gordon Brown turns up and votes for it good, then he will be matching the rhetoric with a substantial vote.
JON SOPEL: Are you saying that in terms of spin, manipulation, there?s no difference between him and Tony Blair?
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well actually, I don?t think there is a great deal of difference. I mean obviously they have different styles and that was very evident in the difference between Tony Blair?s swan-song in Sedgefield and the rather unprofessional campaign launch of the Gordon Brown campaign.
But in terms of the use of the media and the use of spin, they, they invented New Labour together. These have not been the Blair years, these have been the Blair-Brown years. Just count how many special advisors are now employed at the Treasury, how much tax payers money is spent on employing the Chancellors Spin Doctors.
JON SOPEL: Let?s talk about some of the policy areas that Gordon Brown has hinted at and one of the ideas is these five new towns, eco-friendly new towns. Now that?s going to engage, that?s going to outflank you as being greener than the Conservatives isn?t it?
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well, I certainly agree that affordable housing is an absolutely crucial issue and will be a big political hot potato. I mean if you ask people, I guess people listening to this programme, what is their ? one of their top three concerns, getting an affordable house if they?ve got one, is their number one concern, or if they?re a parent, you know finding a house for their children is a top concern, so housing is a key issue. But again...
JON SOPEL: But Conservative councils keep opposing new developments across the South East. Not in my back yard, somewhere else please.
GEORGE OSBORNE: No they don?t, absolutely not. And indeed one of the things David Cameron and myself, Michael Gove our housing spokesman have sought to do is to confront some of the vested interests and understand that we do need more housing in this country and indeed, we need that housing to be low carbon housing.
But if you look (a), at Gordon Brown?s record as Chancellor, we are building less houses each year than were built under the Conservative government. Indeed for the first time in modern British history, the number of home owners is falling.
So you first of all look at the record and then you look at the actual announcement today and you discover, lo and behold, that the same announcement was made a year ago by Evette Cooper, the Housing Minister.
JON SOPEL: Not quite the same. It?s a completely different order of scale.
GEORGE OSBORNE: No, no, no, the idea of building for example at Oakington in Cambridgeshire, which was the think that Gordon Brown has been able to put some specifics on, was announced a year ago and indeed, lots of these that Gordon Brown is trumpeting, he was talking yesterday about access to GPs, who on earth signed off on a GPs? contract which actually closed a lot of the out of hours GP services that the public had got used to? So...
JON SOPEL: He seed to be saying this morning, that maybe that was a mistake.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well he was a bit, he wasn?t very frank in his mistakes. I mean of course, I don?t think there would be anyone in the country, including Tony Blair, who?d say that the Dome was a success. So he highlighted that as the big mistake of the government. It was a mistake.
But there have been plenty others and I thought when he actually came to talking about the Health Service, Gordon Brown has not understood the anger of the public at the closure of the Accident and Emergency wards, the loss of the nursing places and indeed the fury of the junior doctors at the way their future training has been handled.
JON SOPEL: You?ve been keen to try and show that Gordon Brown?s finger prints are all over the failures of this government, as you would see them. But the economy has been stable ? down to him. Inflation has been low ? down to him. Interest rates relatively low ? down to him. Unemployment low ? down to him. I mean he?s got a success story to tell.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well look, on the economy, inflation is actually double now what it was when he became the Chancellor the Exchequer and of course, for fifteen years or more, longer than Gordon Brown has been Chancellor, we?ve had global low inflation and global low interest rates relatively speaking. But that is down to the Chinese workforce, more than down to Gordon Brown. (interjects)
JON SOPEL: Would you want to compare average inflation rate under the Conservatives as under the Labour government?
GEORGE OSBORNE: As I said, the whole world, from the early 1990s moved in to a period of global low interest rates, global low inflation. One of the things we might ask, why is inflation in this country double the European average? Why are interests rates in this country, higher than in many other countries?
So you know, there are some macro economic questions and indeed it?s one of the reasons I put, as a Shadow Chancellor, economic stability first, ahead of for example, promises of tax cuts. But let?s see, you know, get Gordon Brown to match the rhetoric with some actual substance.
By the way, we were just talking about home owners, a great opportunity for him would be to scrap the Home Information Packs, which there is great anger about, which will make it more expensive for people to buy their first home. There is something he can do, either as Chancellor for the next few weeks or if he wins the leadership election of the Labour Party, as Prime Minister.
JON SOPEL: Let?s talk about something else that he?s talked about since he?s launched his campaign and that is a government of all the talents. What would you say, I don?t know, someone like Lord Coe, Sebastian Coe, having led the Olympic Appeal, was suddenly asked to become a Minister in the government? What would you advice him and what would you do about it.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well it?s a very hypothetical question.
JON SOPEL: Well Chris Pattern or somebody like that.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well I mean you know, people... we have a government which we want of course people to help and advise, and indeed Seb Coe worked incredibly closely with Tony Blair on winning the Olympics. Chris Pattern in Northern Ireland and in Hong Kong and indeed as a European Commissioner, worked with the government.
I want to work with the government. There are issues where we can work together. Some of these housing issues, there are going to be lots of Conservative local authorities involved, cos we run most of the local authorities in the country thanks to last week?s elections. So you know, there are areas of course, where we work for the common benefit of the country.
But my experience of dealing with Gordon Brown for two years as his Shadow, is that he is the most tribal and factional of politicians. And there are some extraordinary stories in some of today?s Sunday papers, of the way he has treated Labour colleagues like John Hutton and Frank Field, you know, which if they are true, and of course I?ve no idea whether they are true, but if they are true, say volumes, speak volumes about his style and his way of acting in politics.
JON SOPEL: But then it will be a political master stroke to bring one or two of the Tories in, or a Liberal Democrat in to the government.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well, as I say. In fact when Gordon Brown is questioned about this phrase, a government of all the talents, he actually says well I don?t necessarily mean bringing in people from other parties. I wouldn?t be surprised if you know, the odd business person comes to join the government and advise them, but you know John Major did that, Tony Blair did that, Margaret Thatcher did that, Harold Wilson did it. It?s hardly an original approach to government.
JON SOPEL: Very quickly, is his Scottishness a problem? Alan Duncan, the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary on this programme a year ago said, I think, ?I?m beginning to think it?s almost impossible now to have a Scottish Prime Minister because they will be at odds with the basic constitution, construction of the British constitution.?
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well I don?t agree actually, I don?t think the Scottishness is a problem. I think there are constitutional issues around the relationship between Scottish MPs and their voting in Westminster. But Gordon Brown?s Scottishness is not a problem, the problem with Gordon Brown is he?s been running the country for ten years and can I end on this point.
If he wants to restore trust in politics, he should live up to the promise, the demand he himself made in 1990, that there should be a General Election when there?s a change of leadership. He said that back in 1990, if we hold him to his word, and he was dodging the question earlier in the interview he did for Andrew Marr, let him now confront this issue of trust, stick up for what he said before and hold that election, should be become the Labour leader.
JON SOPEL: Okay, George Osborne, thank you very much for being with us.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE OSBORNE
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The Politics Show Sunday 13 May 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.
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