On the Politics Show, Sunday 13 May 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Matthew Taylor - former Downing Street Aide.
INTERVIEW WITH: MATTHEW TAYLOR: Former Downing Street Aide
JON SOPEL: Well I'm joined now by Matthew Taylor, Head of the Royal Society of Arts, and until last year a top aide to Tony Blair as head of the Policy Unit at Number 10. Matthew, fascinating array of opinions and regional variations in how they viewed the ten years of Tony Blair?
MATTHEW TAYLOR: I think your poll confirmed something we know, which is that people in the North, maybe less well off than people in the South, but they're more cheerful. In fact it is in chimes with - as I understand it, when large companies do customer satisfaction surveys around their stores, they have to make an adjustment because it always appears that shop managers in the North do better than the South and it turns out this is simply because people in the North are less likely to complain and more likely to be happy; so it's not just about government, it's in general.
JON SOPEL: Could it also be that you've shovelled much more money up to the North of England than to the South, and maybe you've fed your heartlands well and less well in the South.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: There might be an element of that but if you look at the poll, you've got people in the South East saying that they're not better off than ten years ago, when demonstrably wages are much higher, people's living standards are much higher and an awful lot of people in the South East are still sitting on huge property windfalls.
JON SOPEL: Well I guess if you're in the South East and you're trying to get a foot on the property ladder, it's a rather different picture.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Yeah, I think one of the differences is that there's a huge pace of change in the South. You've also got polarisation between the rich and the poor, and I think people on the whole tend to prefer living in slightly more stable communities where the pace of change is slightly less.
So part of this is sort of general sense of anxiety in the South, and issues about the sustainability of the South, does it overheat - transport systems not working. Think of the number of people in the South East who have to get in to crammed trains to get to work every morning, for example.
JON SOPEL: Labour used to criticise the Liberal Democrats for seeming to give one message to one part of the country and another message to a different part of the country. Maybe that's absolutely right. Maybe people have different perceptions and therefore you have to nuance your message much more, depending on which sort of group you're talking to?
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Well these does appear to be a North South Divide and we saw this in the elections last week where the Conservatives did very well in the South but they still didn't make much progress in many of the big cities in the North and in Scotland.
I don't think you can have different messages though, because you get very quickly caught out if you're doing that. I think people have got the same sorts of concerns around the country, they're worried about the economy, public services - it's just as I say, that in certain communities people tend to have sunnier or less sunny dispositions.
JON SOPEL: Okay, let's talk about one area, where across the country, there seemed to be a similar perception and that is on the issue of crime, and everywhere they think the situation has got much, much worse for them.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Well that's absolutely the case. One the tragedies of politics is...
JON SOPEL: Hang on, are you saying that crime has got worse or the perception of...
MATTHEW TAYLOR: No, people's perception has clearly deteriorated and one of the problems about politics of course is that if you succeed in addressing an issue, people's interest in it declines.
When Labour came in to power ten years ago, the economy, unemployment, these are very high impact issues, crime was further down the agenda. Now what's happened is that the top issues and polls from... two or three years, crime, asylum, migration, all the sort of home office issues, where, you know, clearly people feel worried about issues to do with civility, they're worried about diversity, the pace of change in society. It's hard for the government to keep up with that.
JON SOPEL: There's another interesting aspect to this because I think the headline figures are that crime rates have gone down if you - I mean I know there's a debate over the statistics of which - set of statistics you look at, but the government would say, well the most reliable set of statistics show that crime in virtually every area has gone down since Labour has come to power. And yet, you're perceived as having made the crime situation a whole lot worse. It either means that your presentation is rubbish or the people are wrong.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Well I think what it demonstrates, the media is obsessed with crime and in a sense there's a... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Oh, you're not blaming it on the media!
MATTHEW TAYLOR: No, there is a disconnect between the overall crime figures and what is presented in the papers day in day out. But I think that this reflects a broader concern that people have got about the state of civility.
The attitude that people have to each other on the street and there's a sense I think, a general sense that the social fabric feels weaker to people than it did in the past and that is a broader social trend. And something that David Cameron is, effectively - in talking about it, he hasn't come up with any solutions to it, but he tapped in to that general sense that society feels slightly fragmented at the moment.
And that's partly to do with the pace of change in our lives, it's partly to do with issues like migration and diversity, which is changing the face of many communities very quickly.
JON SOPEL: Also, just staying with the whole perception issue. I mean on the Health Service for example, polls are now suggesting that the Tory party is ahead of Labour on the Health Service, when Labour has farmed billions in to the Health Service.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: I don't think there's any question that Labour is paying a price for the fact that it took quite a long time for get this whole policy right. There's an interesting contrast between Health and Education. Generally people's assessment of education is that the record is one of improvement, schools have got better.
They're more negative about the Health Service and unfortunately, Labour is doing some very tough things on the Health Service. I think they're the right things, but they're doing them rather late. If they'd done these things a few years ago, they'd be paying off by now.
JON SOPEL: And just to turn to present day and current events and Gordon Brown campaigning and him trying to present himself as the, I don't know whether the spin free alternative is the right way to put it, but I mean you've worked with him, you were head of Number 10 policy unit, what's he like to work with.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Well, he's been an incredibly effective politician, he's been a very effective Chancellor. Look, I think the thing about Gordon Brown is that he...
JON SOPEL: You ummed and erred there, you didn't want to answer that question.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Well I was trying to see what you were going to... I think the interesting thing about the... for Gordon Brown, is that being Prime Minister is an incredibly different job from being Chancellor. So there's two things about Gordon Brown, one he's always worked with Tony Blair and he won't be doing that in the future.
And the other is, when you're Prime Minister you have to do monthly press conferences, you have to do weekly Prime Minister's questions, you have to respond to events as they come to you. And those things will inevitably change the way in which Gordon is perceived, the way in which he behaves. It's a very very different job.
JON SOPEL: Is he an easy or difficult man.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: I think it depends what you're working with him on actually. You know, I've enjoyed working with him over the years, but a lot of the conflict between Number 10 and the Chancellor is to do with endemic conflict you get in government between Number 10 and the Treasury.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Matthew Taylor, we must leave it there. Thank you very much indeed.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW TAYLOR
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The Politics Show Sunday 13 May 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.
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