On the Politics Show, Sunday 17 June 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Shadow Chencellor, George Osborne
JON SOPEL: George Osborne, welcome to the Politics Show. We don't even know what's in the Treaty, it's not even negotiated yet and yet we seem to be hearing the Tories saying, well, it's going to need a referendum. Why?
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well, we've said that it will need a referendum if there is a transfer of power from Britain, from the British people to the EU and to Brussels, so that's the condition we've set, but you know, this is not an... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: There could be a tiny little transfer of power or there could be a gigantic transfer.
GEORGE OSBORNE: We've said if the deal they sign up to, that Gordon Brown will be tied in to, that transfers power to Europe, European institutions, then there should be a referendum. This is not an extraordinary position to adopt Jon, this is what we were promised by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, just a couple of years ago and it would be extraordinary, for a new Prime Minister who has promised to listen more, to engage with the public, to get away from all the disconnect which has grown up between the British government and the British people? it would be extraordinary if Gordon Brown's first act would be to rule out giving the British public a say in something as fundamental as the transfer of power to the EU.
JON SOPEL: But if it's an amending treaty that? it's not a constitution, no anthem, no European foreign minister, it just codifies all the other treaties, then does that need a referendum.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well we're saying that if there is a transfer of power. I mean it's not about whether there's an anthem or not, it's about whether real political decisions, that are currently taken in Britain, are now taken in Brussels. It's about whether real political power that exists in Britain, is transferred to the EU. If those things happen, if there is that transfer, and let's remember that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is going around telling people, look, what we're going to do is dress this up as an amending treaty, but it's going to have much of the essential bones as a constitution. I mean she's actually written that letter to the other European heads of government. If that is what happens, then there should be a referendum. That is what was promised by Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, that is what we expect them to deliver upon.
JON SOPEL: But I'm just wondering, there can be transfers of powers, you know, with a Europe that has grown so much, you do need more qualified majority voting, as a way of making decisions. Now there can be small hand overs of power which are just to do with sort of, making things run more smoothly, and then there is the sizeable questions of whether we're giving up whole... You just seem to be saying, if there is any transfers of powers.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well that is, you know, absolutely, as we were promised...
JON SOPEL: So anything..?
GEORGE OSBORNE: If there is a transfer of power, now of course, I can't go in to the detail of what they might sign up to because we don't know what that is going to be. But we've set that condition, as I say, you know, Gordon Brown has promised to be a more humble government, to listen more to the public, he's talking about things like citizen juries this weekend. Well that's all well and good, this is the first big test of that. Now he promised a referendum to the British people before, is he going to deliver on that promise now he's actually in the hot seat, now he's actually the Prime Minister.
JON SOPEL: It's quite interesting because David Cameron, since he's become Conservative Party leader, really hasn't spoken about Europe that much. It's almost like, you know, we don't want to talk about Europe because it just reminds voters of the sad old days of the Tory party, when they were tearing themselves to shreds. Isn't there a danger that the more you ramp this up as an issue, the more it will remind the people about the Conservative Party's obsession over Europe.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well first of all, I wouldn't argue we've not talked about Europe. I mean I've been...
JON SOPEL: It's not been central.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well it certainly, you know we have wanted to move away from the impression that we were obsessed by this subject and no other and we've talked a lot about the importance of the national health service and the education system and a competitive economy and so on. But, you know, I've been with David Cameron to Sweden and talked to the Swedish Prime Minister, Nicholas Sarkozy has met with David Cameron, the Czech Prime Minister was talking to David Cameron last week about reforms in Europe.
In other words, we have been out there talking to the rest of Europe about how Europe can be that 21st century, the EU could be that 21st century organisation that is bringing jobs and investment to our continent in an age of a profound, global, economic change. So it's been part of the policy mix, but I agree, we're not obsessed by it. And indeed, even after this Treaty is or is not negotiated and whether or not there is a referendum, we will of course continue to talk about all the other subjects which matter to the British people, like the quality of their local health care, like the choice they get in their schooling. Like, how you get successful businesses and so on.
JON SOPEL: It's not just opportunism as a sort of way of making Gordon Brown feel uncomfortable, tie him in to a decision, just as he's becoming Prime Minister.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Absolutely not. Well first of all, you know, there is a big event happening, there is a European Council, so there's a real event happening, that's why we're talking about it this week. And of course, you do have this extraordinary situation, where a British Prime Minister is about to take over and his predecessor will have signed him up to some kind of Treaty, just a few days before and really, Gordon Brown should be sitting at that European Council rather than Tony Blair. But the Labour Party have mishandled this transition and so be it.
JON SOPEL: Now, in the past, when you've been on this programme, you've sort of hinted that you thought that where David Cameron should be positioning himself, is as hire to Blair, to use the shorthand and you may not have used that precise phrase on there, but there's a lot you've said that is very similar to that. Now I see David Davis and William Hague saying, we're absolutely not that. What's going on?
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well, I never said, ?heir to Blair.., let's get that straight. What we have said is that we want to replace Tony Blair. We're not going to turn the clock back to 1997 and where there are some things, like city academies, like foundation trusts in hospitals, foundation trust hospitals, which Tony Blair has introduced, and often with the support of Conservative MPs in parliament, then we are not going to get rid of those things. But let me be clear, we are going to get rid of the spin, the distortions, the failure to deliver and the fact that the vast majority of our public services, were stuffed with cash, tax payers money, without the reform that was required to make sure that that money got actually through to the front line, and got through to the doctors and the nurses and the teachers.
JON SOPEL: Let me just remind you of what you said. As the Prime Minister leaves office, there is agreement between him and ourselves on the essentials of the way forward, then we have William Hague yesterday saying, I want to take on the argument that we're copying New Labour, copying their strategy, copying their policies, this could not be more wrong. Hard to reconcile those two?
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well I disagree with that. What we've said is, on public service reform, I was talking ¿ the quote you used from me there is about public service reform. When Tony Blair talks about choice, alternative provision in health and education, those are Conservative ideas. They're built on things like grant maintained schools, GP fund holding, which a previous Conservative government introduced. Now...
JON SOPEL:...whether this repositioning, which is what it is being spun as by William Hague and David Davis, is because of the row over grammar schools.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Look, we want nothing to do with the Blairite spin, the failure to deliver and so on. But where Tony Blair has picked up Conservative ideas, belatedly, at the end of his premiership, then we're not going to abolish them and a very important message of David Cameron's leadership, from the beginning has been, we are not trying to turn the clock back. We are going to be in the mainstream, centre ground of British politics, and I would argue that after eighteen months of the Cameron leadership, that is exactly what we have delivered on.
JON SOPEL: How damaging was the grammar schools row.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well it didn't go particularly smoothly, but the debate was, and remains, how do you improve the two or three thousand secondary schools of this country, that the vast majority of people listening to this programme with school age children, send their children to, and I'm unapologetic about focusing the debate and our policy thinking on those important secondary schools.
JON SOPEL: And do you want to widen the debate on policy. I know that's the next stage for you, is fleshing out what the Tory policy is going to be. If you open it up, isn't the danger that your grass roots are going to say, actually, we like grammar schools and would rather have a few more of them.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well, I mean we want to open up our policy process and we're setting out how we're going to do that next week with our speak up, stand up, campaign and take the nation's dispatch boxes, you know, get the whole country involved in policy making. Because in every other area of your life, you expect a say over how decisions are taken that affect you. You expect a choice in things. Only in politics do we have this top down model, where someone like Gordon Brown, sits there with his one or two closest advisors, hands out the occasional idea, much of which is not very new, we want to really engage with the public in a genuinely exciting process, use the policy review process, reports like how to regenerate our cities, which we published on Friday, future reports on the National Health Service and so on, how we empower the front line users of those services. How we trust teachers and nurses and doctors, use all that and get the public engaged in this process. We can either sit here, you and I are both interested in politics. We approach it in different ways, but in the end we're both concerned about the fact that much of the rest of the country thinks the political process and the way it's reported, is disconnected from them and we want to engage with those people.
JON SOPEL: But what happens if you, instead of having a top down approach, you have a bottom up approach and the Tory grass roots say, and you know what we want, we want grammar schools.
GEORGE OSBORNE: Well, you know, I'll tell you, as a Member of Parliament, I have had one letter on grammar schools in the last five weeks, I promise you, one letter. So I don't see, in areas like mine, where there are no grammar schools, a great clamouring for a return to the 11 plus. What we are talking about is engaging in how you improve those secondary schools that the vast majority of the public, the comprehensives, send their children to.
And that is where the debate on education is going to be and on healthcare it's going to be how we get the money to the front line, trust the doctors and nurses to deliver for the patients. So that's what this big policy debate is about and it's going to be very exciting.
JON SOPEL: Okay, George Osborne, thank you very much for talking with us.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE OSBORNE
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The Politics Show Sunday 17 June 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.
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