On the Politics Show, Sunday 21 October 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed former Home Secretary, David Blunkett
JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, David Blunkett, welcome to the Politics Show.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Thank you very much. I'm sure he'll be fine in the scrum.
JON SOPEL: I saw you writing in your Sun column that you were a bit of a Eurosceptic yourself now, what do you think that he should do. Is there a need for a referendum?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, I don't think any of us would start from here because there's no question in my mind that Europe is an issue that is a no win, when we're debating it in the United Kingdom, and that's partly because of the mine blowing headache giving bureaucracy, that we all have to put up when we're dealing with Brussels.
My, obvious question is, can we persuade people that the Treaty, is so different from the constitution, that there is no need for the kind of referendum that was held and where there were defeats in France and Holland, in relation to the original constitution, and I believe, and I think we're going to be debating this for at least three months in parliament, that the opt outs and therefore the consequent decision to be able to opt in where we chose to, is sufficiently different and is different to any other country in Europe, who are accepting on the whole, the Treaty as a whole.
JON SOPEL: So what's your balance view then. Do you think there is a need for a referendum or not.
DAVID BLUNKETT: No, I don't think there is. I, we've only had the Treaty in English for just over two and a half weeks and I was very worried that we weren't actually explaining to the British people, what the difference was between the original constitution and this, not just the Treaty that was agreed by Europe as a whole, but the Treaty plus the protocols and the opt-outs which we've agreed, which means we can decide what to opt in on in those particular cases, where there are controversy. For instance, we have something, I mean this is again the jargon drives people crackers, but there was something called the Schengen Agreement; we're not part of that in terms of border controls and immigration.
So when people say are we giving up any of our immigration and border controls, no we're not. Are we giving up any of our powers in relation to foreign policy, no we're not. Are we some how being squeezed out of the security council or the UN, no we're not. So there are many issues over which people were worried, where we've negotiated a situation, where we can chose to opt in if we want to, if it's in the best interests of Britain, and in the end you know, that's the only bottom line isn't it. Is it in the best interests of our country.
JON SOPEL: And you were talking about the mighty headache that was Europe a little earlier on. Do you think that Tony Blair has given Gordon Brown a mighty headache by agreeing to hold a referendum a few years back, when you were in the government, and that has actually led to this increased pressure now that there should be a referendum.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, I think the idea of having a referendum on the original constitution was unanswerable because other countries in Europe, as I've just mentioned, were actually doing that, and there was great controversy. You'll have seen that across the other twenty six, only Ireland, because of their constitution, are actually holding a referendum, and that's because they believe, as some commentators in Europe have suggested this weekend, that, that treaty is different to the Constitution and particularly criticized Britain, because once again we've done what John Major did and negotiate an opt-out, and a trace to opt-in.
Now there are controversial areas but I think they right to be debated in parliament. For instance the question of whether we have unanimity on energy policy. Well we've seen over the last few years, a complete change from dependence on coal and sometimes imports of coal, to dependence on oil and gas and we've seen what's happened with geopolitics and Russia, and therefore Europe has to act as a whole and where that's in the interests of Britain, we should be in favour of it.
JON SOPEL: Right. Let's move to matters closer to home. I don't know whether you heard the news bulletin there, but the outgoing President of the Black Police Officers Association saying there should be more stop and search in inner cities, more targeting, maybe necessarily, of the ethnic minorities, if you're going to stop gun and knife crime. Where do you stand on that.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well we need proportionality. I think Keith Jarrett, from the experience he's had, is right that where the community co-operate and want this, then there should be bravery by the police in terms of being able to do it. In other words, they shouldn't back off, just because they're having to deal with a situation where you've got black on black crime. And we've seen tragically, in my own city here in Sheffield, that it was a black sixteen year old who was killed, dealing with quite often, a community substantially of ethnic minorities, who want to have a safe community. I don't think we should just go about stopping people for the sake, it has to be in terms of targeted and intelligent policing, but it has to be with the co-operation of the community. And to be honest, where that community find that they're the victims of crime, they'll want to co-operate with stop and search.
JON SOPEL: But we heard there that - the counterpoint which is that if it, you know that this could alienate the very community that you're trying to help.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, if it were, then it would be bad policing, badly targeted and it would be counterproductive. I think in situations where you know there is gun crime and gang crime and drug crime taking place, you have an obligation to work with the community and say look, this is why we're doing it. This is why we need to take urgent action. And I think that's true whether it's black or white. The question is, where is the crime taking place, where is the risk and who's at risk.
JON SOPEL: Yeah. If you're from the ethnic minorities, there's already a sixth time - you're six times more likely to be stopped. If it was to increase further, I mean there is a risk of unsettling relations in those communities, although the end may be laudable.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, that's why with considerable controversy, we introduced the idea that if you are stopped as well as searched, you should be given a written docket, in terms of why that stop and that search took place, what the intelligence was, rather than simply being stopped because somebody doesn't like the colour of your face.
JON SOPEL: Can I just turn to a matter that I seen you've been writing about and this is the sort of policy on inheritance tax. For ten years, when you were in the government, you didn't really move on inheritance tax and suddenly, because the Conservatives proposed it at their conference, you did. Is that good leadership.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well there were adjustments, but here, here is the ? that I was writing about in The Sun. The question now is, can a very small proportion of the population, in a democracy with a diminishing turn out in the elections, actually have a disproportionate effect on the way in which the government make decisions and make policy, and the answer is yes, because in a democracy, the - any government, any party will have to take notice of not just that small proportion who actually are aggrieved about a particular tax policy, but actually those who are aspirant about being in that position, and all be it that it's a small proportion, they can swing in the marginal seats, the vote, and therefore determine who the government is.
Now the lesson I learned from that is you need to mobilize the 40%, that's two out of very five of our electorate, who don't bother to vote, and they don't vote because they don't believe politics is anything to do with them. They're often the most disadvantaged and alienated, and they're actually doing themselves enormous dis-service. So if we could mobilize as the French presidential election did, 85% of our population, get people to understand that politics is very much something to do with them, we'd be debating poverty as Gordon Brown has endeavoured to do, over the last ten years, much more strongly and we'd be mobilizing those people to vote.
JON SOPEL: Well that's a very interesting point you make Mr Blunkett. You're saying that the government has caved in to a small pressure group. I thought this government was meant to be about for the many and not the few. Should Gordon Brown have simply said, well I know there's a huge hue and cry about inheritance tax but frankly, this concerns a very small percentage of people, we're not moving on it.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well the concern for the many not the few, is why we've got tax credits. Why we've invested so heavily in education and health.
JON SOPEL: Sorry to interrupt you.
DAVID BLUNKETT: A small proportion of our population, would not benefit because they've opted out of those services.
JON SOPEL: Sure, but are you saying then that what the government has done is caved in to pressure and it shouldn't have done.
DAVID BLUNKETT: No, I haven't said they've caved in to pressure. I was trying to make an intelligent political point that we've got to persuade people that politics at every level makes an enormous difference to their lives and therefore it's crucial that they vote and once they start voting in numbers, once they return to voting, actually any party will have to take notice.
Whereas with the Conservatives, it's pretty easy, the, the smaller the turnout, the more likely it is that their voters will be the ones who are voting and their interests will have to be taken in to account. And in the end, you know, it's just common sense in a democracy, you take account of, you adjust your policies, to take account of the fact that you... (overlaps) ...you're going to affect no one if you're in opposition.
JON SOPEL: All right. I saw you said something very interesting when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, you said, so welcome Gordon, let's hope you use sound judgment and have good people around you, who are prepared to tell you the truth, when you least expect it or when you least want it. Has that been happening.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Yes, and incidentally, I said exactly the same to Tony Blair and I'm very pleased because I've got quite a lot of people around me including my constituency, who do just that for me. I think he has, I think the first three months were an example of that. I think what John Reed's written in one of the Sunday newspapers today, reinforces that view and I think we need to put behind us, what I think Gordon himself has indicated, was an unfortunate, period, two weeks of uncertainty, about the General Election.
JON SOPEL: Do you think that he has set out a clear enough vision. Yes, he wants to you know, make education and the health service better of course. But do you think there is a vision on how you're going to get there.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well you know, people are not so worried about vision. I mean we do have a vision about modernizing Britain to deal with the global economy about actually helping people through the most enormous and rapid change, that's why we're investing so heavily in modernizing and reforming education and health and our transport system and why we've got the best economy in Europe. What people want is a strategy that allows them to feel the difference in their every day lives so that the experiences they have change for the better.
At the moment, we're in a pretty miserable period in Britain where you know we lose in Russia, we lose in Paris, we can't eat, we can't drink because it's bad for us. I think we've got to get out of that and we've got to have a bit more fun and we've got to have a bit more joy about looking to a much better world, a much better future and that future is better because we've had ten years of a Labour government.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Thank you for the joy you've brought us Mr Blunkett. Thank you very much indeed.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH DAVID BLUNKETT
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The Politics Show Sunday 21 October 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.
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