On the Politics Show, Sunday 14 June 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Ken Clarke MP, Shadow Business Secretary.
Ken Clarke MP, shadow Business Secretary
JON SOPEL: Well, in reality, don't we all know that public spending is going to have to be cut back.
That's a question I put to the Shadow Business Secretary, Ken Clarke.
KEN CLARKE: The
they, they certainly are because the government has already announced them and we wait to see how bad things become and wait to have a serious spending review carried out to make sure that we keep our public services in tact but get back to a reasonable level of debt, a sustainable level of debt as quickly as possible.
We can have no confidence in the economy abroad and we can have no prospect of proper economic recovery until that's been done and the public know there are going to be tough and difficult decisions; it's up to the politicians to have a grown up, sensible debate about it.
JON SOPEL: And Gordon Brown today calls your party leader, David Cameron, Mr 10% because of the spending cuts he's going to introduce. Now that's right, isn't it because David Cameron has said, we are going to cut spending more than Labour, we're not going to stick to their spending totals?
KEN CLARKE: Gordon Brown has been pretending that we are the party of cuts and he is the party of investment despite the public figures saying real spending going down, even on Labour's announced plans. Now if the Prime Minister was stupid I would forgive him but he's not stupid, he's a highly intelligent man and it's a kind of child-like deception that he is somehow continuing to maintain public spending if he's allowed to keep in office. Were he to do that, he would ruin the country cos the public finances are already in a terrible mess. But actually, what he's already announced shows what Andrew Lansley showed (interjection) .. would be the consequences if you go on.
JON SOPEL: But that's all the Labour side of it. Let's just stick to the Tories side of the ledger sheet if we may.
KEN CLARKE: Sure.
JON SOPEL: And that is that there will be cuts of around 10% of the departmental budget, that's what Andrew Lansley said.
KEN CLARKE: I wouldn't put it - he was saying that would happen on Labour's figures, we haven't produced our figures yet. But what we have said is we expect that we'll have to be tougher than Labour has so far dared to admit but we have also said we must be allowed to carry out a proper informed public spending round. When we get in
JON SOPEL: So could it be - sorry to interrupt you
and it would actually
JON SOPEL: Could it be tougher than 10%?
KEN CLARKE: It depends what happens to the economy. At the moment we're all hoping that the economy is getting near to the end of the recession. Things are getting worse but they're not getting worse at the pace they used to do. What you have to do with any public spending round and I've had lots of them, is actually address the situation at the moment - I used to do them year by year. You can't announce them years in advance. You do have to look at economic reality. You do have to look at pressures on your services. You have to make some sensible governmental decisions about what your biggest priorities are and then you actually have a public spending round based on what the economy can afford, whilst still being able to recover and go back to normal growth with low inflation.
JON SOPEL: You said that you know, that the Conservative Party can't give detailed figures now on its spending plans. You can say with broad philosophical terms, you can say in broad philosophical terms, we believe in a smaller state. Would you say that?
KEN CLARKE: I
no I wouldn't say that. What I say is in order to have confidence in the British economy, to be able to finance our debts, to make sure that sterling gets more stable in its value and to give us a chance of growth, then we need to have a plan to return to a level of public debt that is sustainable and in the medium term and the next few years, we've got to get out of the appalling mess we have at the moment, back to a sustainable level of debt. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: But why not in principle
and a Conservative government, when it gets in power - the ideology of should the state be bigger and is the public sector good and is the private sector better, all that has got to be shoved on one side for sensible economic policy making. But the prime minister shouldn't be allowed to produce there (interjection)
JON SOPEL: I'm sorry to interrupt again.
child-like slogans, brushing aside that we have a serious debt problem.
JON SOPEL: Okay. So why is NHS, you said you've got to make sensible spending figures, why is the NHS sacrosanct, it's had a massive increase in public spending on it?
KEN CLARKE: It won't have the kind of increases it had a few years ago, which it couldn't absorb which led to huge increases in payroll and pay rises and falling productivity. It will still need some more money because we have an aging population, we have a rapid clinical advance, we have rapid pharmacological advance and it is inconceivable that a society like ours is going to be able to stop expenditure on the NHS rising in real terms, that is the reality. It's a perfectly reasonable expectation on the part of the public that we will carry on improving the quality of care for an aging population. So the NHS does present that reality, and it should be accepted as a reality on both sides of aisle in the House of Commons as it were.
JON SOPEL: What do you think is happening on Royal Mail because Harriet Harman was asked this morning about the timetable for it. Didn't give a - I think it's fair to say, precise answers about when this might be coming to the Commons?
KEN CLARKE: Well Harriet Harman is one of the people in the Cabinet trying to kill it off and Lord Mandelson is insisting that they carry on. I'm on Lord Mandelson's side because I think it's absolutely essential that this policy is carried out. I want to see Royal Mail modernised, made competitive, made one of the best in Western Europe. At the moment it's one of the most old fashioned mail systems and it's unable to compete with its continental rivals. So we agree it needs part-privatisation, private capital, some private sector management, turn it round and change it. And it's the test really of whether this strange government that Peter Mandelson has put together with Gordon still nominally in charge, is capable of taking a difficult decision on any serious problem. Not as important as public finance where Gordon Brown is just deceiving people and is in denial. Royal Mail is a straight choice. Are they going to try and modernise the Royal Mail, have they succeeded in modernising their party or do people like Harriet Harman get away with going back to Old Labour, saying, oh, nationalisation good, private capital wicked and anyway it will upset the Labour movement and let's not do it. It's quite interesting to see whether any big decision can be taken and I would judge them very much by whether we go ahead with the second reading in the Commons of the Royal Mail bill over the next week or two.
JON SOPEL: Just finally on this - you mentioned Lord Mandelson, he's got a fantastic title now, does that mean you now have the Shadow title, with all those words in front of him.
KEN CLARKE: (laughs) Well Gilbert and Sullivan couldn't have done better. I should be swelling with pride and perhaps designing myself a uniform, he's the First Secretary of State whatever that means, he's Lord President of the Council, an honourific title largely which he's swiped from one of his colleagues. He's got a new department with his second new name in two years and he just annexed another colleague's department.
JON SOPEL: Ken Clarke and he assures us that the garden is not paid for by the taxpayer. We'll hear more from him later in the programme on the subject of Europe. Very interesting things he has to say too.
JON SOPEL: Ealier, I asked the Shadow Business Secretary, Ken Clarke, whether the Conservatives would accept the Lisbon Treaty, if it had already been ratified.
KEN CLARKE: Well you're reckless if anticipating an Irish referendum. Last time they were all persuaded it was going lead to the legalisation of abortion and the conscription of Irishmen in to an European Army and I have no idea what they'll debate this time. If the Irish Referendum endorses the Treaty and ratification comes in to effect, then our settled policy is quite clear, that the Treaty will not be reopened. But it has also been said by David Cameron - and he means this - that it will not rest there and he will want to start discussing the divisions of competence between nation states and the centre of the European Union.
JON SOPEL: It will not rest there. What does that mean?
KEN CLARKE: Well, he has spelt that out to a certain extent. Again you're asking the government to anticipate what will happen. I think we will want to open negotiations with the European Union about the return of some responsibilities, particularly in employment law to individual nation states. Those will be sensible negotiations. I actually don't think from that, that the British will be alone. I think there are some other member states who think it's perfectly legitimate to start reconsidering whether or not something like the opt-out to the old social chapter might not be reconsidered.
JON SOPEL: We've spoken to a very senior British Diplomat who said the rest of Europe is in "no more mood for more years and trench warfare on past treaties." You do seem to be saying that there are certain competences that you, there are bits that you'd like to unpick.
KEN CLARKE: I don't think anybody in Europe including me is in any mood for any more tedious debates about treaties which have gone on for far too long which is why this needs to be resolved. I don't, we're not talking about a solemn sort of Treaty negotiation, what we're talking about sensible discussions about proper division of responsibilities between nations and European Union in limited areas.
JON SOPEL: Ken Clarke, speaking to us a little earlier.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH KEN CLARKE
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The Politics Show Sunday 21 June 2009 at 11:00 GMT on BBC One.
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