On the Politics Show, Sunday 13th September 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson, Home Secretary
And we can speak now to the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, who joins me now from the quayside in Hull, where he's been waiting
Alan Johnson, welcome to the Politics Show, I wonder whether you agreed with Brendan Barber in that there can be absolutely no cuts in public expenditure at the moment?
ALAN JOHNSON: Well I didn't catch all of Brendan's interview but look, the point is this, we've already set out, Alastair Darling in the budget last year, our plans for the next five years, we will halve the fiscal deficit. When I was at health, I made a contribution, £2.3 billion to a £5 billion pound saving in year 2010, 2011.
The issue is this, on Tuesday, 15th September, it's the first anniversary of the US Federal Reserve stepping back and allowing Lehman Brothers to collapse, that sent this pandemic around the world, and it was Gordon Brown who argued that we needed to tackle this through a fiscal stimulus that we could, that the worst thing to do would be to stop public spending in the middle of this recession, otherwise it would drift into depression, and its, Brendan's views and David Frost's views are all part of this debate, but around the world, every leader of every major democratic nation agreed with Gordon Brown. David Cameron didn't, the Tories got it wrong on probably the biggest single issue of judgement that we'll face this century.
Q: Okay, but Alastair Darling made a very important speech a, a few days ago on public expenditure where he was talking about hard choices that lie ahead. I just wonder what sort of hard choices he was meaning?
ALAN JOHNSON: Well you'll hear that the in the pre-budget report because Alastair said yes, of course, we have to look at this issue of debt in relation to GDP, yes it's going to go up, it's not going to go up as high as US and Germany, because we actually got our debt down in the late nineties, down from 42% to 36%.
The big debate, John, and the big political question is the Tories would cut now, in fact they'd have cut last year, never mind this year, we'd have been seeing police numbers cut now, as well as opposing the nationalisation of Bradford and Bingley and Northern Rock and all the other, opposing the short term suspension of short selling, they've got every single judgement wrong.
Now they say, if you cut the price of a cheese and pickle sandwich in the House of Commons canteen, we'll resolve all this, now they say they want to give a tax break to the 3,000 richest people in the country, which will cost £2 billion, I'm afraid there is a very healthy debate about this, but I think the Tories have got it wrong on every single count at every single stage.
Q: And yet
you look at a poll in one of the papers today suggesting that the public are right behind that approach, that they think that the biggest problem that needs to be tackled is the deficit.
ALAN JOHNSON: Well, I, I haven't seen the poll and you know the politician that takes every single step in accordance with whatever particular opinion poll is around, the public, as we run up closer to the general election, the public will be looking at two things.
First of all, was Gordon Brown right or wrong about the way to tackle this recession, I remember David Cameron saying that the 2.5% cut on VAT, burn money on 10 Downing Street, now they're saying don't put the VAT rate back up at the end of the year.
That's one thing, then the public will be looking for what our vision is for the future and they can look at a party that actually has an ideological antipathy to the public sector, or they can look at us as to how we can take services, the masses of people, hospitals, schools, the police, through a difficult time and out the other side.
Q: Right, well let's look at what my have to happen in this land of hard choices, and obviously you're not going to write the pre-budget report here on the Politics Show, although it would be nice if you did.
What about, for example, the whole issue of universal benefits, because there are reports in the papers today that maybe you could start looking at some of the benefits that go to the middle class where they don't need them, I mean child benefit, winter fuel allowance for wealthy pensioners, giving people over 80 free television licences, maybe that is money that's being spent badly.
ALAN JOHNSON: Well I would disagree actually, but there has to be a debate about those issues, yes, and we're not going to have the debate on the Politics Show now, particularly with the Red Arrows coming over. Listen, for free TV licences for the over 75s, it was Help the Aged and many other organisations that pointed out that women of that age, mainly women of that age, were actually more likely to be housebound and dependent on their televisions for some connection with the outside world, well, you know this wasn't money just frittered away, and in terms of the investment in health and education, look around you wherever you are in this country, and remember what life was like in '97, so first of all, all of this investment was very necessary.
Secondly, we can lock in that investment, we're talking about future growth and what Alastair Darling will be looking at is a much healthier situation, 12 years on, from what we found in the public services, whether it was pensioner poverty, a large part of the reason why we gave free TV licences to the
over 75s, whether it's in schools, whether it's in education, whether it's in employment, all of those issues have been addressed.
Q: You talk about a healthier situation, I wonder whether we can say now that, with the recession, the worst is over?
ALAN JOHNSON: No, sorry, are you saying
Q: I'm asking, I should explain to viewers that we've got a very noisy PA system in the background where you are at this even, Alan Johnson, so apologies for the sound quality, but I wanted to ask, is the economy now through the worst of the recession?
ALAN JOHNSON: I don't think we're through the worst of the recession, I, I mean it's a matter, I think Alastair Darling has led us through this, with Gordon Brown, in, in, absolutely calling every single turn of this the right way.
When, when we look at this now, there, I don't think we can say that we won't get any more bad labour market figures, I don't think we can say that we're in a situation now where manufacturing is going to recover completely, what we can say, I think, is we've seen the early signs, in the construction industry, in consumer confidence, in my own constituency here we've seen that the, that the increase in unemployment has kind of levelled off.
Now I'd like to think that's the early signs, but I think there's a long way to go and what I think the British public need to do as we approach the next Election is listen to the various
plans of the parties for how to get through this and also our record as to what we've done over the last year.
Q: And on the political outlook, Gordon Brown said he was going to work on his weaknesses, when he spoke to the PLP before the summer break, have you seen any signs of improvement?
ALAN JOHNSON: I'm not one of those who thinks there's a big list of weaknesses there, look, I believe we have the absolute best leader of our party. There is no one else who can do the job as well as Gordon Brown has done and indeed, as I was saying earlier, he's got accolades from around the world for his judgement on the most fundamental issues.
Look, we can't, as a team, stand in the middle of the pitch deciding who our captain should be while the, while the other team runs ring, rings round us, we have to unite behind our party, we have to defend our record, we have to explain our vision, we have to display our unity.
Q: But they are running rings round you at the moment.
ALAN JOHNSON: No, but if we did suddenly come to a halt again and start talking about the captaincy no, I think...if you look at what's happening with the Conservative party, on every single level, if you really examine, and I don't think that scrutiny comes until you run up to the General Election, then you'll see a party that's got practically every important call wrong during the biggest economic and political crisis.
Q: Alright, I just want to .. sorry to interrupt you but you've made that point, couple of other quick points, what did you make of the demonstrations outside that mosque in Harrow in North London and the suggestion that this somehow kind of marked a return to Moseley and the British Union of Fascists, that was a bit of an overstatement, wasn't it?
ALAN JOHNSON: I don't, I remember Moseley, I'm old enough to remember him on the streets of North Kensington in the early fifties. Look, this is, so far as we can tell, and we're not complacent about this at all and it's an operational matter for the police, I'm not Boris Johnson thinking that I rule the police, it's their operational decisions, and they've got these decisions right.
This is not something to get worked up about in the sense of an imbalance between the right of people to demonstrate, which is really important, and people feeling that they have to turn up in large numbers because they oppose the people demonstrating.
The police can ensure, as they did on Friday, that the people who wish to go about their daily business are protected and are allowed to do that without being interfered with, while the people who want to display their views and protest and do whatever they want to do, and it was a static demonstration not, not a march, are allowed to do that, so I don't think we should over egg this and I don't think we should give this group an exaggerated sense of their importance.
Q: And very quickly, if you were asked to share a platform on Question Time with Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, would you say yes or no?
ALAN JOHNSON: No.
Q: Definitely, no way, under any circumstances?
ALAN JOHNSON: I've gone 59 years without sharing a platform with a fascist, and I don't intend to start doing it now.
Q: Okay, Alan Johnson, thanks very much for being with us, thank you.
ALAN JOHNSON: Thank you.
END OF DISCUSSION
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