On the Politics Show, Sunday 25 November 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development
JON SOPEL: I spoke to Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary who accompanied Mr Brown to Kampala. I began by asking him what impact he thought he'd made since getting that job in June.
DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well, over the course of the summer we saw the largest rise in our budget of any department across Whitehall as a proportion of our previous budget. That means there will be more assistance available to more people in the years to come, thanks to the Department for International Development. We spend about 5.1 billion pounds at the moment, that will be increased to about 7.9 billion pounds and that means that we'll be changing lives, right across the world. This morning, in Kampala, I saw for myself a school that has been partially funded by British taxpayers. It was a fantastic example of the difference that is being made with more young children now going to school and yet the classroom in which I stood had a total number of pupils of a hundred and twelve. Now I wouldn't want my son educated in a classroom of a hundred and twelve pupils. So, on one hand it was a sign of progress and on the other hand it was a sign of just how much further we have to go supporting countries like Uganda, make that transition to development.
JON SOPEL: Yes, we're doubling our support for the Africa Development Fund, some reports say that we're about to overtake the US as funders of the World Bank. Some people might say we're spending too much on international development.
DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well, I think all of us in the United Kingdom have an interest in living in a world that is more prosperous, more secure and more sustainable and our work, as the Department for International Development, takes forward that mandate every day to make sure that we assist countries in the process of development. You know, there used to be a view that what happened over there wasn't really very relevant to people back in Britain. But in a world in which a virus can cross a continent in a plane ride or in which the climatic effects of climate change in one part of the world can rapidly be felt in another, I think what we're learning is that we live in an ever more inter-dependent world. There are about nine billion people on our planet in the years to come. We need to make sure that those people have the chance of an education, have the chance of a healthy life and I believe we've all got a huge interest in the United Kingdom, in assisting them on that journey.
JON SOPEL: You've very close to Gordon Brown. We've seen you out and about with him in the past couple of days in Uganda. If I ask you how he is, I'm sure you're going to tell me he's fine, he's resolute. But he wouldn't be human if he didn't feel bruised by events of the past few days and weeks.
DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well I think Gordon has the prospective of being a politician who's been a very senior minister for what, ten years now. If you'd seen him as I did this morning, at that school in Kampala, it was in many ways a vindication, an affirmation of so much that he's campaigned for over recent years. Because we're not just in the 61st quarter of economic growth in the United Kingdom now, we're also a country that's taking a leadership role on international development issues, which Gordon championed when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer for many years. That kind of experience, I think gives you a prospective, to deal with the inevitable events that are thrown up when you're the Prime Minister, and gives you a sense of the longer term view, the big challenges that we face, whether internationally on issues like development or climate change, or domestically, on issues like the health service, education or the stewardship of the economy.
JON SOPEL: But do you agree there is now perception that you may have lost control of events.
DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well I think there's two questions in front of every government. First of all, do they have a forward agenda and secondly, how do they deal with the kind of events that are inevitably thrown up in the course of any parliament. And I think if you look at the management of events, whether foot and mouth, whether the terrorist incidents back in July or the flooding for example, then most people recognize that we've discharged those responsibilities effectively. At the same time, if you look at the Queen's speech, the forward looking agenda internationally on climate change, but domestically on issues like the Health Service, the big change we're anticipating in terms of the school leaving age and apprenticeships up to the age of eighteen, or the positive agenda in terms of building more houses, to provide affordable houses for people trying to get on the housing ladder, then people would recognize this is a government, not only capable of dealing with those events, but also with a very clear, forward-looking agenda.
JON SOPEL: Just on the style of government. There's something I read in the Telegraph, which you can tell me whether it's right or not. The cliqueiness is returning to Downing Street. Mr Brown, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander - you, talk by phone every day at 7.00am and meet at 10.00am to discuss what political direction to take.
DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: I, er, (fluffs) listen Jon, this is er, nonsense. I mean the style of government I think has seen quite a significant shift in recent months. We have longer cabinet discussions, Gordon has made it part of his mandate as Prime Minister to make sure that he involves cabinet colleagues around the table on a range of different discussions, and that's certainly been what I have witnessed at the Cabinet Table. Of course I talk to colleagues, I'll reveal to you exclusively, I had breakfast with David Miliband this morning. The fact is, we talk to our cabinet colleagues all the time. We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we weren't in constant dialogue and discussion with other colleagues across government. But on the other hand, I think what people are actually caring about, who are watching this programme is not so much the internal workings of the government, as the output of the government on those big issues, whether it's housing, whether it's health, whether it's education, or of course whether it's the economy.
JON SOPEL: How would you then describe, I don't know, the past couple of weeks for the government.
DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well of course, we've had headlines in the last couple of weeks which you wouldn't wish to have read. I don't deny that for a minute. On the other hand, I think the real question is, how do we deal with them, how do we move beyond the challenges that we face and make sure that we're dealing with the bigger concerns that I believe people have. Now we've expressed deep regret in terms of the loss of the data from HMRC. There's an investigation underway. And at the same time, we took action in relation to Northern Rock, which had wide cross-party support, and was reflective of a whole series of international events that have manifested themselves, not just in the United Kingdom, but also now in the United States and in Germany. The real challenge for us as a government is to get on with the job. That's what I'm doing here in Kampala, as the international development secretary, it's what my colleagues back in the United Kingdom are doing, day in day out and it's on that basis I think ultimately, we will be judged by the people.
JON SOPEL: Douglas Alexander speaking to us from Uganda.
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The Politics Show Sunday 25 November 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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