On the Politics Show, Sunday 16 March 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed David Cameron
JON SOPEL: David Cameron you started off with 'Let Sunshine Win The Day', and you're increasingly sounding like Mr Negative.
DAVID CAMERON: Oh, I don't accept that at all. If you look at my speech, what I'm saying is actually incredibly positive and optimistic.
It's that if we give more parents and people more control over their lives and more responsibility, then actually we can solve the big problems that we face in terms of teenage pregnancy, drug addiction or teenage crime or whatever; it's a very positive outlook about what society can do if we work through it, rather than pretend that government can just pull the levers out and have all the answers.
JON SOPEL: But in your speech you're saying today you know, you're going to have to say no, more than you say yes. You're talking about ... as this country enters troubled times, we could hardly be worse prepared and on and on and on.
DAVID CAMERON: Well, there is no doubt when it comes to the economy that we are badly prepared, you know we have the highest tax burden in our history. We've got one the highest levels of budget deficit of any developed country. We've got one the highest inflation rates in the G7, we're not well prepared and I wouldn't be doing anyone a service if I pretended that the garden was rosy.
Specifically what I said about saying no rather than yes is we have to recognise, as an Opposition, that if we win the next election, it will be tough and there will not be some large kitty of money to spend and we will have to say no a lot as well as hopefully, being able to say yes to some of the things we want to do.
JON SOPEL: Is that deliberate political strategy then to make people feel down about the state of the economy so people feel disenchanted with Labour.
DAVID CAMERON: No, not at all. It's just trying to reflect, accurately, the situation that we face today. What we can see today as around the world, is a downturn in global economic conditions. A downturn in terms of the government downgrading its economic forecast for Britain and so we need to ask ourselves, what lessons can we learn from this.
And the fact is the government did not put away money in the good years. The cupboard is bare. Other countries who've got budget surpluses in thinking, how can we cut taxes, how can we help people with the cost of living.
In this country, when you go shopping, the price of bread is up, eggs, milk, fill up the car with petrol, the price of that is up and yet the government is actually hitting you and saying, well I'm afraid it's more taxes when you go to the pub and have a pint, more taxes when you buy a car, even though the cost of living is tough and people are finding it tough.
JON SOPEL: Would you like to be seen as the hair-shirt party.
DAVID CAMERON: No, I want to be seen as a modern Conservative Party, which you know, tells it like it is. We're not forecasting doom and gloom in the economy, we're just making a realistic assessment of the conditions that we see and a realistic criticism of how the government has handled things and a very straight forward assessment of what we would do.
Let me say one thing, I cannot sit here and promise we're going to cut the cost of living and make everything easier for Britain's families. But what we can do is say we will stop making it worse. That's why we say, any new green tax, will go in to a family fund and cut families taxes.
That's why we say, councils who want to put up large increases in council tax, they've got to have a referendum and ask local people. Let's stop making it worse, that is both something we could do and something that is believable.
JON SOPEL: You talk about the economic downturn, the fact that things are pretty difficult out there. Do you accept the argument that lower taxes could stimulate and kick-start the economy.
DAVID CAMERON: Well lower taxes can help but I'm a fiscal conservative ... that you can't spend money you don't have and the problem for the British economy ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: So is the American example wrong, where there are tax cuts being introduced to help kickstart the American economy (interjection)
DAVID CAMERON: No. Listen. Let me try and explain. The reason they can do that in America is they have not got as big a budget deficit, as a share of national income as we've got. Because our deficit is basically 3% of GDP, there's nothing left in the locker. If the government had announced some big tax cut on budget day, I think actually the markets would have taken fright.
The currency would have fallen, that would have been bad for Britain. But the fact is, they should have been in a position, where they could have done it. They weren't... why not, because they didn't put money aside in the good years.
JON SOPEL: So if you come the election, and you've talked a bit about families and what you think you can do to help. Could you say to people watching this that if you're a hard working family, you'll be financially better off under the Tories.
DAVID CAMERON: I think we can say that. We don't know exactly what we're going to inherit. But what we can say to families is first of all, we'll stop making it worse. New green taxes will mean cuts in family taxes and council tax, as I said, this referendum to stop swinging council tax increases. I think that is helpful.
And families, I think do understand the concept of sharing the proceeds of growth. If a family gets a pay rise, most people think right, I'll spend a little bit cos I'm better off, but I'll put some aside to help pay down the mortgage or reduce the indebtedness of the family and that is exactly how we would manage the nation's finances. As the economy grows, use some to pay down the debt, we'll cut taxes, use some to grow spending... (overlaps)
JON SOPEL: Does that apply equally to married and unmarried couples.
DAVID CAMERON: Yeah. We said that we think marriage is important, it's a good institution, we should recognise it in the tax system. But if you look at the sorts of suggestions we've made about tax, things like stamp duty, things like inheritance tax, of course they apply to everybody.
JON SOPEL: I don't want this to sound flippant, but you're essentially saying, trust me, I'm a politician.
DAVID CAMERON: No, not at all, we're putting ourselves in quite a tough straight jacket. You know, if the government had said, ten years ago, you know what, we're going to share the proceeds of growth. We're not going to spend more than the growth in the economy. If they had done that, we'd have lower debt, we'd have lower taxes, we'd have a stronger economy.
So we're saying, we're going to put ourselves in quite a tough straight jacket. We're not going to try and spend our way out of difficulties because we know in the long term, a low tax economy is a stronger economy.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Another area of family life that you spoke about and talked about families having to run the chocolate gauntlet at the supermarket check-out ie that families are kind of burdened by all these shiny wrappers of chocolate. What are you proposing to do about it.
DAVID CAMERON: Well, I think one of things we'd do is raise the issue and say to business, you know, do you realize what your responsibilities are. I don't think the answer is always passing a law or regulating something or banning it. Part of it is actually saying look, have you thought about your social responsibilities. We all know what it's like as a mother and dad, you know, there is that gauntlet, there's often, there's like a ... what is it, a racing term (interjection) ...
JON SOPEL: ... precisely because they have thought about it that they have placed the chocolate bars there, because that will increase sales.
DAVID CAMERON: But actually, when I raised this a couple of months ago, in fact, do you remember the thing about the Terry's Chocolate Orange, and while they're pushing at you, you're trying to buy a newspaper and they say would you like one these half price chocolates as well.
've raised it, and actually some shops did change their practices. They started putting fresh fruit at the counter and stuff like that, so actually raising this issue is part of it and on Monday, we're going to be launching a paper about corporate social responsibility.
What business can do and what we're saying is, instead of just thinking about regulating and legislating, actually, we should have, you know, responsibility deals between business and government, getting round the table and saying, right, what are we going to do to deal with the obesity. What are we going to do to help parents in terms of pester power in commercials. This is not all about regulation. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: What happens if Prime Minister Cameron, two years in to office, finds that the chocolate bars are still at the front of the supermarket at the check out. Will you legislate then.
DAVID CAMERON: Well let's take a good example where you know, parents are very worried by advertising on television to children. You know, what you should be doing as a government is trying to get business to face up to its responsibilities and behave responsibly and if that doesn't work then there is always the threat of regulation and legislation at the end of it. But I think it's much stronger if you try to get business to accept their responsibilities, which they're not doing. Take climate change... actually, you know, Marks & Spencer... (interjection)
DAVID CAMERON: ... it's a very short point. Marks & Spencer and Tesco and others are doing more than the government is asking them to because they think it's actually good for them and good for their business, good for their customers and the rest of it. So don't think that business is just out to make money and doesn't care about its responsibilities, it does. And we really are beginning to see that.
JON SOPEL: Okay. What about TV Producers, Magazine Editors, all media... introducing children to sex and violence and emotional dilemmas at far too young an age. Do you want to change the watershed, do you want to change the rules.
DAVID CAMERON: I think we should look at those things but first off, let's ask TV, Music, Video Producers, to examine their own responsibilities. Let's have these sort of partnership deals between government and business to deal with this issue and if they don't work, then yes, I think we think should look at things like film classifications and video classifications and ask ourselves, you know, are we doing enough to help parents. Yes, we should. But let's try and recognise this is not all about passing laws, it's about all of us thinking, what is my responsibility.
JON SOPEL: So Britain is too liberal at the moment on these things.
DAVID CAMERON: I think we're not a responsible society enough. Let me give you .... I think the best way I can put it. Take McDonalds, actually, they're quite a responsible company, they do lots of things in the community. Would we be satisfied as individuals and parents if we said to McDonalds look, okay it's fine you give money to charity, never mind what you put in your burgers.
In the end, we do care what they put in our food and they should care what they put in their food and just the same with the... (interjection) media. It's no good saying that this TV Company or that Radio Company does lots for charity, they've also got to think about what they broadcast and what effect that has on our children. It's about all of us saying, I'm not just an individual, I'm not just an island, I'm part of a responsible society.
JON SOPEL: Okay, I want to, you keep using this word about being responsible. Are you saying then at the moment that Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Morrisons, whoever else are irresponsible over the way they lay out their aisles and that the Media Companies are irresponsible in what they put in their magazines and on their television programmes.
DAVID CAMERON: Well ... some are and some aren't and I think that's perfectly reasonable for a politician to ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Well which. Which of the supermarket chains are irresponsible then.
DAVID CAMERON: Well I think it's perfectly sensible to praise good practice and to criticise bad practice when you see it. And what did a couple of years ago with the WH Smiths and Chocolate Orange was I criticised what I thought was bad practice. I think that's perfectly fair enough. In my speech, I also criticised a company that sold the Lolita bed. There's a problem here (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Which media companies are being irresponsible, which supermarket chains area being irresponsible.
DAVID CAMERON: Well I haven't got a little list in my pocket I can give you but what I believe is politicians should feel free to speak up and praise good practice and criticise bad practice, as part of trying to build a more responsible society without immediately reaching for the legislation and the regulation.
And I think this is such an important conversation we've got to have in business. Go back to all the family stuff, I think that a business that says, well what about the costs of these regulations on maternity or paternity, whatever. I would say to them look, the reason your taxes are so high is because of the consequences of family break down and social failure.
You know, the reason we pay so much tax because of the high crime, the educational failure, homelessness and the rest of it, is because of family break down. So where we, as a society and as businesses invest a little more up front, to try and help mums and dads with their children. Give them that flexibility to help families stay together.
Now, you know, if you want to know what your vision of society is, that is mine, a responsible society in which all of us says, I'm not just an island on my own, I'm part of something and I'm going to live up to my responsibilities, that's ...
JON SOPEL: Does Gordon Brown have a clear vision.
DAVID CAMERON: I don't know, you'd have to ask him. I don't, I don't sense one at the moment. I feel we've got a government that is just sort of clinging on to power and every day they seem to get up and think well, what have the Conservatives just done, oh they've got an interesting proposal to get people off welfare in to work. We'll sort of imitate that.
They've got a great proposal to let people pass their homes on to their children without paying inheritance tax. We'll sort of imitate that. But if politics is about getting out of bed in the morning and just copying part of what your competitors do, where is the vision, where is the passion. I just don't think there's any point in this government any more. Look at what's happened to child poverty.
Look at the fact we've got four hundred thousand more households in deep poverty. Look at the fact we've got the highest number of single parents in Europe. What did these people go in to politics for. I sense there's a lack of purpose and vision and actually, it's time for them to get out of the way.
JON SOPEL: Okay, but your family policies ... this is poll-driven isn't it because you found out that the people when they've started a family, tend to move away from the Conservative Party. We've heard about all this polling data you've got and suddenly we get a speech on the family.
DAVID CAMERON: No, not at all. If you look at what I said you know since running for Leader of the Party, I put the family absolutely front and centre. In fact some of the things I've said like Bac... are unpopular with some people, they say, oh you're going to put a lot of people off. In the end, you've got to say what you believe. I happen to believe marriage is really important and I think we should back it and if people don't agree with me, when I'm sorry, that's my view.
That's what I believe. So this is not about polling ... it's about what I would bring to politics, my vision of what a good society is and how we try and build it and in the end ... I think in politics all you can do is put yourself forward, say what you believe. Tell people what you're passionate about and then they'll make their minds up.
JON SOPEL: Do you see any similarities between yourself and Barack Obama.
DAVID CAMERON: Not really no because I think American politics and British politics are quite different. He's a Democrat, I'm a Conservative. I mean I suppose we're both trying to, you know, kind of overturn the government and win. I enjoy watching him and he's a great speaker.
But I'm also a big John McCain fan. I think the plain speaking of this man who just, you know, he goes to Michigan and says look, I know we've lost a lot of jobs here but I've got to tell you they're not coming back. You know, it's so frank and refreshing to see somebody who really tells it how it is.
JON SOPEL: I just wondered whether you saw similarities between the fight going on between Barack Obama stressing change and Hillary Clinton stressing experience as the fight between yourself and Gordon Brown, that probably is going to unfold at the next election, along similar themes.
DAVID CAMERON: I think that there's an element of, if you look at what the Labour Party is saying, they're almost saying now, you know, well change isn't possible, just sort of cling to a government that has lost its way but will just try and kind of grind out the daily headline. I think it's totally depressing. I mean I really believe that change is possible if we govern in a different way.
If we respect the fact that real change is working with families and businesses and organisations rather than just ordering ... I think we can change things. And I think that's one of the big dangers for us frankly, is not Gordon Brown and Labour but apathy, cynicism, you're all the same. We're never going to get, we've got to convince people change is possible and I think we can.
JON SOPEL: And of the things, other things you said when you started, which was aside from Let the Sun Shine In, was about ending the Punch & Judy politics and you've kind of ... this is the way you talk now about this government and the kind of weak man, the strange man in Downing Street, what a phoney he now looks, you're weak. How does that square up with ... (interjection)
DAVID CAMERON: Well I feel incredibly frustrated for the country with this government that it's just sort of limping on. So I sometimes maybe let that frustration show too much and I do accept in the House of Commons, you know, Prime Minister's questions is quite, what's the word ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Confrontational.
DAVID CAMERON: Confrontational. It is and you, you can't really get away from that. And maybe it was, you know, I think maybe it was a mistake to say that you can. You just ... the point is ... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Do you regret saying that you can get away from Punch & Judy politics.
DAVID CAMERON: I think ... no. What you can do is when the government do something right, like renewing Trident, when they introduce Academy Schools, you can back them and you can be .. I actually got my MPs to vote for their legislation that otherwise wouldn't have gone through. So ending Punch & Judy politics in that way, I'm completely committed to.
Where we work together for the public good, absolutely. But let's be frank, Prime Minister's questions is quite confrontational and I don't think that's going to change. Sometimes ... it doesn't have to be all the time. You know I, last week I asked questions about Darfur, where we agree, where we both want action, that's good. But some of the time it is about competing visions, competing individuals, competing parties and people want to see that played out.
JON SOPEL: And I also sense some small smile on your face that you quite enjoy those confrontations.
DAVID CAMERON: Look, no, not really. I love the Wednesdays when it's not happening because you don't have so much to worry about.
But look, it's a great privilege to get the chance to ask the Prime Minister questions every week, to stand up there and you know, ask the questions people watching this programme will want to ask, well why are we still shutting maternity units and why can't I see a policeman on the beat when I pay so much taxes. I like having that job of calling him to account and it's a huge privilege and one I, if not enjoy, try and make the most of.
JON SOPEL: David Cameron, thank you very much.
DAVID CAMERON: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH DAVID CAMERON
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The Politics Show Sunday 16 March 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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