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Charles Kennedy interview transcript

On the Politics Show, Sunday 14 September 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Charles Kennedy MP.

Charles Kennedy
You're not having tax cuts regardless of whatever the consequences might be
Charles Kennedy MP

JON SOPEL: And joining us now, the former Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy. Mr Kennedy thanks very much for being with us on the Politics Show. Do you think you're going to win over voters with the promise of tax cuts.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, I think it's an integral part of the message that needs to go over. We've known for quite a number of years that people think two things about tax. One is historic, they think it's too high but they think it's too high particularly through the stealth taxes that have been such a feature of Gordon Brown over the years. But the second thing is, they see it being apportioned unfairly and this is a key I think to what the Liberal Democrats are trying to say.

It's not just tax cuts, willy nilly come hell or high water. It's tax cuts for a purpose, smaller government, more individual freedom, more disposable income for people, particularly those at the lower end of the spectrum. People want political parties to have a head and that's an important thing, in other words, costed proposals, they also want us to show where our heart is too and I think that on the spending priorities that we're singling out, particularly social fairness, I think that's a message that needs to come through.

JON SOPEL: So you were wrong then when you went in to an election saying you would put income tax by a penny and put the top rate up to fifty pence.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, I don't see this as a great departure, I see it as a development in the continuum of where the world has moved on to over the last number of years. For example, back in the 1980s, we were arguing for a penny on income tax for education. Then the government actually put extra resources into that sector and Health with it. That became a policy that had to move on. We looked at the top rate of tax last time around.

If you look at the proposals that re being put in front of the conference tomorrow, it's quite clear that the very wealthiest will continue ? (interjection) ? on their investment income, their unearned income, to contribute significantly more in some cases, if you've very, very rich indeed, than they do at the moment. The real beneficiaries will be those at the bottom end of the income scale. That is the same principle in practice.

JON SOPEL: Well how would you feel if, the way you get to a tax cut means that you have to abandon your commitment to scrap tuition fees and you did so well in those university towns at the last election, is that worthwhile to have tax cuts.

CHARLES KENNEDY: No, you're not having tax cuts regardless of whatever the consequences might be and I don't think Nick or Vince Cable or anybody else would be arguing that. What you're looking at here in the round is a financial package that you put to people, which will distinguish us certainly from a very jaded and discredited government. But equally, has got to distinguish us, partly, for some of the reasons that were being touched on in your package there, from the Conservatives. Now, I would find it unbelievable that the Conservatives, in some shape or form, will not be leading in to the next Election with some element of tax reduction, in the package that they're proposing.

However, what I equally do doubt is that they will have anything in terms of the level of social fairness, commitment, that will be a defining feature of what we are putting forward and remember, what a lot of voters will be looking for. (interjection) ? People are going to be turning away from Labour, we know that, from all the evidence before us at the moment. The Liberal Democrats are well placed to take those votes. But equally, we've got to be hard-headed and make sure the figures add up, for those who are yet to be persuaded and that we need to hold on to.

JON SOPEL: You said hard headed, you're saying that you're going to raise twenty billion pounds a year from savings in wasteful government expenditure. Frankly isn't that one of the most dishonest claims that politicians make - what we'll do is we're going to crack down on waste. If it were that easy, governments of whatever political colour, would be doing it.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, we started this process when I was Leader myself and when I appointed Vince Cable as our Treasury Spokesman. At that point, that was a number of years ago now, about four years ago, midway through the last parliament, we were looking for five billion of tax cuts and we were able to come forward with a costed programmed, to that effect. We're looking for more now, partly because government has grown, partly because there's a lot of commitments that this government have entered in to that we wouldn't go ahead with.

For example, the vast expenditure that will take place on identity cards, to name but one. So there is a lot in the pipeline that can be tackled and tackled with credibility. But we will have to provide, come the General Election, like the other parties, a costed manifesto. We will highlight those areas where we do see the cuts taking place, but equally, we've got to be quite sure and quite certain in the way in which we present that, that the social emphasis we give, as a result, is there for all to see too.

JON SOPEL: Okay, you talk about Vince Cable. He's also given an interview where he says frankly, the Liberal Democrats ought to abandon its overt support for the Euro. Now someone who in your Conference speech a couple of years back said you know, let's get more pro European please. I wonder what your reaction was to that.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well I'm hoping, if I'm called to speak in the European Debate on Tuesday at the conference myself, not just as a Lib Dem but as President of the All Party and the non Party, European Movement in Britain. Vince has been on television, I watched him on another channel, just within the last couple of hours, saying that isn't the case.

That's not what he's saying. That the position of the party remains the same. We're committed in principle to the Euro, subject of course to an affirmative referendum and that when circumstances are correct, which we don't judge them to be right now, we want to see Britain participate. Now that was the position when I was Leader, Vince has confirmed early this morning, that's the position. I'm happy with that.

JON SOPEL: A couple of years ago, there was dissatisfaction with Charles Kennedy, they all professed support for you and then you were gone. Last year they all professed support for Menzies Campbell, a few weeks later he was gone. And we now see that one in three activists are professing unhappiness with Nick Clegg. How much longer has he got.

CHARLES KENNEDY: I haven't seen that particular survey myself. But I would say quite frankly that we've got a leadership which has bedded down extremely well. I don't think there's any appetite whatsoever within the Liberal Democrats for yet another leadership contest. We've seen from the Conservative Party in days gone by that these things can get rather fractious and distracting. We're seeing that and my goodness in spades at the moment, with the Labour Party. No appetite, no need I think Nick's position is secure.

You know it was amazing, it was a very close leadership result between Chris Huhme and Nick and yet, the two and their respective supporters have worked incredibly smoothly together, in the period since, so that you're not having any stories which you might have expected at the eve or the beginning of this conference, about rival camps, none of that is happening and Chris will be supporting, I understand, the very tax package that you were asking me about. (interjection) A happy house. Thank goodness.

JON SOPEL: A very brief final question. The money that you got from Michael Brown at the last election, the biggest ever donation, 2.4 million pounds. He's been convicted of perjury, on the run from the police, facing a whole string of charges. Shouldn't you quite simply give that money back.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well, the electoral commission themselves have said that that money was accepted by the officers of the party, in good faith and that the proper checks were carried out and we have been therefore completely vindicated in the transparency and the properness of our approach.

Now, the legal issues that are before the courts, that is not directly a matter for us, save I gather from one and that is, at the moment, as we speak, going through the judicial process. I honestly can't comment because of those reasons. But I do not doubt whatsoever that the conduct of the Party was one of propriety throughout.

JON SOPEL: Charles Kennedy thank you very much for being with us.


Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 14 September 2008 at 1200BST on BBC One.
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