On the Politics Show, Sunday 7 December 2008, Jon Sopel hosted a discussion on the year in politics with David Davis, Ken Livingstone and Vince Cable.
JON SOPEL: Well it's our last Politics Show of the year; so here's a gallop through some of the big political events of the past twelve months, as we saw them, starting all the way back in January.
INTO 2008 PACAKAGE
JON SOPEL: Amazing, just some of the big events of the year. Well with me now are three of the politicians of the year. Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London. David Davis, whom you saw there, resigning his seat, to fight a by election on the issue of civil liberties and Vince Cable, the Lib Dem's Treasury man who's been one of the post effective critics and soothsayers, it should be said, over the past year. Vince Cable, you got huge laughs and often repeated, when you said that Gordon Brown had gone from Stalin to Mr Bean. He's now gone on to be the come-back kid hasn't he?
VINCE CABLE: Well I, if we're looking for another image, I think probably King Canute, you know, the guy who ordered back to tides, abolished boom and bust but you know, unfortunately economic history tells us, we get these crises from time to time and he's been in the middle of one and as you saw from the quote, he's in total denial and just refuses to accept that we are in a crisis that is partly of British making, not just an international one.
JON SOPEL: Ken Livingstone, if the resurrection or whatever it is of Gordon Brown had come a little earlier, maybe you'd still be in City Hall.
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Oh, we'd be quite happy to have the Mayor Elections right now. It was the absolute low point and I was, I was meeting the CBI of Portugal about ten days ago and now, we shouldn't under-estimate just what a global image Gordon Brown now has because what the business people in Portugal think, your man seems to be on our television all the time, he is setting the agenda and other politicians are responding to it. And I do think this is a quite remarkable revival and I wouldn't say that the outcome of the next election is in any sense yet settled.
JON SOPEL: I just want to go back on one thing that must have been personally incredibly difficult for you. I mean were you throwing things when you saw Boris Johnson waving the flag at the Olympic ceremony?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, I was just thinking you should take your hands out of your pockets, button your suit up and walk straight.
JON SOPEL: Now you must have felt more than that.
KEN LIVINGSTONE: No, no. I mean, for me the pleasure was getting the Olympics because it brings billions of pounds of investment to London. Waving the flag, it's a minor part of all of that, it's actually transforming the East End after thirty years of neglect. And any how, we don't know who will handing the flag over to Chicago… (interjection)
JON SOPEL: No personal feeling …
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well I was there. I must say I mean because Boris didn't go to the opening, I mean the Major of Beijing invited me to go, and I'm glad I went because it was a stunning opening ceremony, which we will not be able to cap because it must it have cost fifty million pounds.
JON SOPEL: David Davis, aren't you worried that the election of Boris Johnson as Mayor, may just turn out to be the high water mark for the Conservatives and actually, as Ken Livingstone was just saying there, it's all going back a bit.
DAVID DAVIS: Pretty unlikely. I mean it's certainly true that Gordon has got some better global coverage as Ken said and I wouldn't dispute that but the real truth is that people will look at this and they won't believe the line, this all started in America. They won't believe that because our levels of house price inflation were not American created. Our levels of government debt and our levels of private debt were not created in America, they were created here and what's going to happen over the course of the next year I suspect is that people are going to realize that.
JON SOPEL: Do you think there's a tough challenge for David Cameron in how he positions himself and the Conservative Party, over what to do about the economic situation because it has looked like Gordon Brown has taken the lead on this and that the Tories are trying to play catch up.
DAVID DAVIS: No, I don't think so. This is a very, very difficult situation we're in, in terms of the whole country, in terms of the whole globe. In that respect, Gordon Brown is right and there are no straight forward answers. The Keynesians don't have an answer, the Monetarists don't have an answer, they're all sort of confused amongst themselves. We had Robert Wright on television the other day admitting that he didn't even know if he was right, you know, and he's probably the most eminent American expert on the subject. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: And there's you, as a traditional tax cutter, I think it's fair to say, do you still think that cutting taxes is the way to do this.
DAVID DAVIS: My view is very simple and that is that you have to design the economic strategy for the age you're in. The age we're in at the moment is one of massive over-borrowing by the government. I mean we are simply in the circumstance … (interjection)
JON SOPEL: (overlaps) and therefore we they're right to tax people who are earning a lot of money.
DAVID DAVIS: Every single tax, increase or reduction you create, you look at from its impact on the economy. Dynamic … (interjection)
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Look, everyone has been guilty and complicit in this. This is the Reagan Thatcher agenda coming home to roost. (interjection) And the tragedy is, Blair bought in to that and got us to accept it. I mean when I got my first mortgage back in the '70s, you had to prove you were a respectable person to pay it back. Then we hit the '80s and it's all borrow. The house prices would all go up. It wasn't just Britain it was America, all over the world. And we've now, I think this is a significant a time as the 1930s and a new economic structure will be put in place which will see us all out and is going to be one in which you don't borrow so much, you have to bring the debt down. Personal debt, government debt, all of it, it's going to take a decade to do that and it's going to be painful.
JON SOPEL: Let me bring in Vince.
VINCE CABLE: I think there are things we understand have to be done. In an emergency, you have to get interest rates down and that's happened. The government has to take a lead in keeping the economy going and they're doing that, probably they're not doing enough compared with the Americans. Where the government are now stuck is that the government put vast amounts of money much money in to the banking system. It was the right thing to do at the right time and Gordon got a pat on the back for it. They don't now know what to do with it. The banks have been given completely contradictory instructions, lend more, the financial regulator is saying lend less, be prudent. And the banks are all over the place. Now, course, they've got us in to this mess but they, they've got to get us out of it and the government is completely lacking a strategy for directing the banks in to the next stage of the crisis.
KEN LIVINSTON: Well, if the banks don't respond soon, the government will intervene. I think really the government is holding off. It doesn't want to have to run the banks but it will if it has to.
DAVID DAVIS: I don't propose to be the defender of the bankers here but let's be clear about one thing. I mean Ken was saying, oh it's the Reagan Thatcher agenda, the big changes in my view, which were problematic were some Clinton reforms abolishing important defences that were put in place in the 1930s about amalgamating debt for banks, retail banks, they were very serious structural changes which … (interjection)
JON SOPEL: What were your reflections on the return of Peter Mandelson, Ken Livingstone?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well, I mean, not someone I've been close to politically, I have to say. I think that most of the people who are most worried about that were the Tories because he's, I mean while I've got profound disagreements with Peter, no one denies, he's an absolutely formidable strategist and it will be a much tougher election for the Tories, because he's back.
JON SOPEL: David Davis, I saw you calculating what your answer was going to be.
DAVID DAVIS: Well I was thinking about that word 'strategist' actually; he is a formidable tactician and you see, I don't know about strategist. I'm not entirely sure. I'm not sure I would look at the Blair years and say they were great strategies, they were not ones that developed a great outcome for the country. But he's a fantastically effective tactician and you can see why he's been brought back cos Brown is incapable of running the government machine by himself so he's brought back Campbell, he's brought back Mandelson.
JON SOPEL: I just want to go to, kind of - what a year it's been for MPs, the House of Commons and democracy. It started off with that whole row over MPs and their expenses, about whether they should have to kind of offer receipts against the money they were going to claim. MPs have shown themselves, Vince Cable, in a pretty squalid light haven't they?
VINCE CABLE: Well, there is a danger I think at the moment of MPs appearing to be self-important. When actually, the whole problem about this disaster over the last week and you know, using the police to get after Damian Green. It's not actually MPs and their privileges that's the issue, it's the public whose freedoms are being threatened. If they can't communicate with their MPs in confidence, if we can't do our jobs on the public's behalf and that's what's under threat. It's not MPs and their perks and their privileges and if we present it like that, we're going to completely lose the argument.
JON SOPEL: How important is this David Davis?
DAVID DAVIS: Extremely important. I mean…(interjection)
JON SOPEL: Not worth resigning and forcing another by-election over is it?
DAVID DAVIS: When I suggested that to David Cameron earlier in the week, he wasn't entirely enthusiastic!
JON SOPEL: What did he say to you?
DAVID DAVIS: There was a lot of laughter. The simple truth is it's called parliamentary privilege, it ought better be called democratic protection. It is about protecting the rights of constituents, protecting the rights of whistle-blowers, protecting people who should be protected and in fact we've got some, … not very effective laws to protect them. So it is important and it's of a piece for the whole year, I mean this week as well we've had the European Court - I didn't think I'd ever say something good about the European Court, the European Court of Human Rights overturned the government on DNA data bases. We've seen big changes on the government's withdrawal, backing off on ID cards. We've seen them drop the ideas to monitor all our telephone and email traffic. All those sort of things. Actually, we are beginning to see quite a change in the tenor from the beginning of the year (interjection) … hard line, so this, the end of the year, actually seeing, well actually these things are serious we've got to protect them.
JON SOPEL: What do you think of what David Cameron is going to say on the Politics Show in Northern Ireland in a minute, where he says - I would like to have confidence in the Speaker. Isn't that just, you know, are you going to say that you've got confidence in the guy or not.
DAVID DAVIS: Well I mean the Speaker has made a, made a serious mistake. The whole system in the House of Commons made a serious mistake. Speaker, the Clerks, the Sergeant at Arms, the lot, it's the whole system and he's responsible for it. So there's no doubt about that. Frankly however, this issue is bigger than him. This issue - other people have made mistakes, I think the police have made mistakes, I think the Home Office, the Cabinet Office have made mistakes. What we need to do is fix the system, not make a tribal battle over whether the Speaker should be here or not, but actually fix the system. But the democratic protections back in place.
JON SOPEL: Ken Livingstone, what about the position of Boris Johnson now. As Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, having spoken to Damian Green, who is a suspect in a criminal investigation, I mean isn't he in breach…? (interjection)
KEN LIVINGSTONE: I'm, I'm certain he has broken the rules about conduct and one of the reasons why I made it clear, had I been re-elected major, I was not going to appoint myself to Chair the MPA, is I think is politicizes policing. You want … (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Should he be disciplined?
KEN LIVINGSTONE: Well, there's a procedure to go through. But I do think it's completely unacceptable for him, knowing there had been a police raid on Damian Green, for him then to phone and talk to somebody, who's in the same political party and then to appear with the Acting Commissioner of Police and say, I don't think this will lead to a serious charge. I mean this is ridiculous that the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, is pontificating about what the police will do in a public setting and imagine, think of it as more of orthodox criminal, I mean if I'd been the Chair of MPA and some … (interjection) …
DAVID DAVIS: … more orthodox criminal?
VINCE CABLE: … but I really think we should stop digging. You know, the Police Authority should never have got in this in the first place. They're nothing to do with national securities - it's about whistle blowing and the availability of information…. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: We've got very little time left. I want a quick thought for the year ahead, 2009. David Davis.
DAVID DAVIS: Dominated by the economy. Dominated by the attempt to recover from that and also dominated by the civil liberties issues which have become very important, our freedoms and protecting our people.
JON SOPEL: Would you like to return to the front bench?
DAVID DAVIS: For me, that's not in my call. I'm very happy. Back benchers can be just as powerful as front benchers.
JON SOPEL: Would you be happy to serve if you were called?
DAVID DAVIS: If I'm needed for a real, proper job, then I'll obviously do my duty.
JON SOPEL: Okay, that's a job application I think. Ken Livingstone … (interjection)
DAVID DAVIS: It is absolutely not a job application!
KEN LIVINGSTONE: A long difficult year with the economy. If we're lucky, we'll be out of it by this time next year. But I think we'll be dominated by what Obama does. I mean they're saying he could be very much like Kennedy in the '60s - the whole world is going to be looking. People will be saying, why aren't we doing this. Why aren't we doing that. So I think it's going to transform the politics of virtually every other country, what comes out of Washington? (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Okay, the pretty serious issue to send up. Would any of you take the call from Strictly Come Dancing if they rang?
DAVID DAVIS: Not over anybody's dead body.
KEN LIVINGSTONE: If I had any skill, but I don't. I'd make John Sargeant look good.
VINCE CABLE: I've been lobbying hard for it! (laughing over)
JON SOPEL: Try stopping him is Vince Cable's quote. All of you, thank you very much indeed for being with us here on the Politics Show.
END OF DISCUSSION
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The Politics Show Sunday 7 December 2008 at 1200 GMT on BBC One.
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