On the Politics Show, Sunday 30 September 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary
JON SOPEL: I'm joined now from Blackpool by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague. Mr Hague, welcome to the Politics Show, thanks very much, they're raring to go.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Thank you.
JON SOPEL: They're raring to go in Bolton, David Cameron says he's raring to go, I suppose you could hardly say anything else.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well it is true. I mean of course if there is an election now, it's not a snap election any more, there's been weeks of agonizing about this in, in Downing Street, so the other parties are now ready and we certainly have the, the funding in place, the candidates in place and we're ready with the policies for that election and this week we are giving some illustrations of those policies and showing the clear direction of the party, so we are genuinely ready, it has to be said.
JON SOPEL: But look at the polls, all of them consistently showing Labour well ahead and not just the raw figures, also showing ahead on leadership, ahead on economic competence as well.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I always say to my colleague, don't ever get depressed about opinion polls where you're behind, or indeed over excited about ones where you're in front because they can change so quickly and we've seen them change very quickly of course.
Over the last few months we've had Conservative leads until May or June, we've had small Labour leads, big Labour leads and it's one of the reasons that the government are holding back on calling a General Election, thought they don't know whether this is a steady thing, that it may be very volatile, out there in council by-elections, we're still making strong gains as we did in Sunderland last Thursday, so it doesn't feel here, we don't have that down-beat feel you get from some of the media.
The mood here is up-beat, it is optimistic. We know we've got a job to do this week and we have set about that job with some energy I think today and David Cameron will follow that up through the week.
JON SOPEL : I don't want to get caught up in the minutiae of local council elections, but there were nine on Thursday and I think your share of the vote went down in five of them.
WILLIAM HAGUE: I think over - well, okay let's get in to the minutiae then of council by-elections, where overall, according to the BBC's own figures, there was a 5% swing from Labour to Conservative in those elections. Now they of course are only one illustration of opinion, just as opinion polls are only one illustration of opinion. But what we do know overall, after the last couple of years, is that politics is competitive in this country again.
There is no certain Labour victory at a General Election, which there was in 1997, and there was really in 2001. Those days are gone and the Conservative Party now does have the opportunity to win again, the policies we're presenting this week are all about giving people more opportunity and power over their lives, making families strong, making this country safer as well as greener and those are the clear themes that we're establishing through this week; so we are in fighting form.
JON SOPEL: Okay, well you've talked about some of the policies there. You've had these various different commissions and you've had the quality of life one, proposing various green policies, chaired by Zac Goldsmith. You've also had the economic one, chaired by John Redwood. It's fair to say that John Redwood's won hasn't he, because they were very different contradictory proposals.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, when you do work of real substance like this and this has been work of real substance. You know, when you look at Ian Duncan Smith's social justice work, of five hundred pages of real analysis about what is happening to family break-down, drug abuse and so on, in this country - when you do that of course they will throw menus of ideas, which sometimes differ from each other, but then it's the job of the party and the politicians to separate those out and bring them together in a coherent way, and so you will see this week that we will announcing some of the policies we would implement in government, but also some of the ones that we would not implement in government. We will also be very clear about that.
JON SOPEL: Sure.
WILLIAM HAGUE: So I don't think it's a bad thing to have a proper comprehensive, policy review. We've had the most comprehensive for a generation and that's got to be good for politics.
JON SOPEL: And you've made that point. But the bonfire of barmy proposals, as David Cameron put it, all seem to come from the Zac Goldsmith camp. Isn't that - if it is that John Redwood's proposals that you've got to keep economic infrastructure up to speed, it's going to be seen as lurch to the right isn't it.
WILLIAM HAGUE: No there's nothing, we're not lurching in any direction except going forward. There are new challenges for the 21st century. Of course one of those challenges its to have a competitive economy, particularly after ten years of Gordon Brown, has driven us down every league table of economic competitiveness and those are many of the things that John Redwood's report pointed to.
We've got to do that. But of course, many of those challenges are also how to make sure that we preserve our environment and that we take action against climate change and there will be no shortage of policies about that. We're making clear, David has referred this morning to the fact that we would tax flights rather than individuals, that would be an improvement on what the current government are doing. It's one of the ideas from our policy review.
JON SOPEL: Okay, let's talk about another touchstone issue - immigration. You've set Gordon Brown ten questions for his conference, number five of which was, 'is he happy with the level of immigration in to the UK in the last ten years' What's your answer that question.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well David Cameron has already given, a few weeks ago, the answer to that question. We think that in some years that has been too high. We want parliament to be able to set an annual limit. We welcome a great deal of immigration to this country, which brings a lot to the vitality and the enterprise of this country and in fact economically, I don't think we could do without it.
But we ought to be able to set a limit, each year, bearing in mind the housing situation, the social services situation, in the country. I think that is just a straight forward and sensible approach. Of course even the current government have limited the number of Romanians and Bulgarians who can come in, now that they have joined the European Union. So we ought to have that sensible approach.
JON SOPEL: Okay, so might this be a central part of your offer to the British people, if an election is called.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well it will be there amongst our policies. It will not, we will not be saying that is the most important thing for this country. Right at the top of our agenda is the National Health Service. We've been producing proposals about GPs and their responsibilities for out of hours services, right up there is our need to safeguard the environment, to improve schools, to improve our economic competitiveness. These things are all extremely important.
Will we have an immigration policy at the next election, well yes we will, along the lines of the one I've just described. But we won't be saying that is the most important thing, or the only important thing in an election campaign. I think people can take in a range of subjects and they need to see that range. For us, the NHS is at the top of the list.
JON SOPEL: If you were to assess Gordon Brown's performance over the nearly hundred days that he's been Prime Minister, how would you say he's done.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, I'd say that rather like Tony Blair, he learnt a lot about presentation, but there wasn't much actual good governing of the country going on. The problems in the NHS with junior doctors, look like we will still have them next year.
Our economy is still losing that competitiveness, month by month vis a vis the rest of the world. Standards in education are nothing like what they should be and this is the real story of what is happening in this country. But has he learnt a few tricks about how to present himself, well he probably has. But I think that's why there isn't much substance in Labour's revival in the polls.
JON SOPEL: And a very quick final word. Do you think there will be an election.
WILLIAM HAGUE: I think there probably will. But we're ready for it. We don't know of course, we don't make that decision in the Conservative Party. I think they're worried in the government that they would soon lose their poll lead and they want to get an election through in a hurry. But whenever it takes place, we are in fighting form, and we are going to give them the fight of their life. They can be guarantied that.
JON SOPEL: Okay, William Hague, thanks ever so much for being with us. Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM HAGUE
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The Politics Show Sunday 30 September 2007 at 13:35 BST on BBC One.
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