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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 October 2005, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Young pretender?
On Sunday 09 October 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed David Cameron MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

David Cameron MP
David Cameron MP

ANDREW MARR: Now then, he looks good, he sounds good. But is he tough enough, is he different enough, to take on Labour's big guns?

The Sunday Times points out today that the Tories have been rather good at sending their young men over the top in recent years only to see them being mown down by the Blairite machineguns.

So can David Cameron succeed where, for instance, William Hague could not?

Before he gets there of course he has to win over his fellow MPs who are a notoriously fickle and prickle electorate, who get their first chance to vote in nine day's time when they're going to be looking for substance as well as style, for guts as well as gloss.

That alliterated David Cameron. Welcome.

DAVID CAMERON: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: David, I suppose the criticism of you that has come out through this extraordinary, I mean day after day of fantastic coverage. It must make you slightly uneasy actually.

DAVID CAMERON: I've had more fun reading the newspapers in the last week than I normally have, I have to say.

ANDREW MARR: Well I have to say, JFK, Reagan, Tony Blair. But if it's a mere criticism, it's that you're all things to all men, that people on the right of the Tory party think you're one of theirs.

People who are on, as it were, the centre-left of the Tory party, think you're one of theirs. And there are echoes of course of Tony Blair and a bit of that. Is there any policy position that you can say is a distinctive David Cameron position that your rivals wouldn't go for?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I did, I've made one particular point that I think our policy at the last election on health where we were encouraging people to opt out of an NHS waiting list with some money from the NHS to go private. I think that was wrong.

And my other, the other candidates haven't said that. But let me just take on the other two points. I think this idea of some Tory Blair is just rubbish. I think there are two sorts of politicians in this world, there are those who come into politics to tell people what to do, that's Tony Blair. And there are those who come into politics to set people free. That is David Cameron and the Conservative party.

ANDREW MARR: You said yourself that you were a Tory Blair....

DAVID CAMERON: N I didn't say, what I said which is right, which is the Conservative party needs to understand what's changed over the last eight years, why we've lost three elections in a row. People don't want a party that's trying to turn the clock back to 1997. They want us to understand what's changed and to be relevant today, for the challenges we're going to have a country after Blair, because he's going.

We're going to be facing Gordon Brown. And I think all elections come down to a simple question - who's the party of the future, who's the party of the past? I'm looking at Brown, this is the man who's stopping public service reform, who's complicating the tax and benefits system. We should be the party about setting people free. If we do that, we can win.

ANDREW MARR: Sure, let's look at David Cameron, though, rather than Gordon Brown, just for a while. You mentioned the Health Service and keeping the Health Service fully public as one of your positions. What about education? It's been suggested that you might favour vouchers tilted towards the less well-off as a way of breaking up the difference between private schools - you went to Eton, famously - and state schools. Is that true?

DAVID CAMERON: I think we need to start from a position of two principles. The first is rigor. We need more rigour in the system. I want to make sure that government sorts out the A-level system and restores credibility in that, we need proper vocational qualifications. I'd like to see synthetic phonics which works best, at the heart of the national literacy strategy. So there's a rigour agenda.

I think the second agenda is about autonomy for schools, genuine autonomy, giving schools the freedom to spend more of their own money as they choose, letting them set their own culture and ethos. And I think that should be the focus for the Conservative party... Over time, yet, let's look at more mechanisms for giving people choice, and particularly for helping children in inner city areas.

ANDREW MARR: So you think we could start to break down that division? Because the other stuff you've been saying while perhaps admirable, is exactly what Tony Blair would be saying if he was sitting on the other side. You might say he doesn't mean it but that's what he says.

DAVID CAMERON: But the point is you've got to look at what people do. They've actually done the opposite of what I've suggested. There isn't rigour in the system. They've got a curriculum and qualifications authority that is saying A-levels should go out the door.

They haven't introduced synthetic phonics so there isn't the rigour agenda. And as for autonomy, they never stop telling the schools what to do. In the long term we've got to look at choice mechanisms. And we've got to look at ways to make sure that the money follows the pupil into the school. And also make it easier for other organisations to set up schools. I don't see why the state should have a monopoly on providing education. I think the City Academy programme is a good programme.

The idea of getting business money into inner city areas where children have had little advantage in life, and giving those schools independence, is a good idea. But it's not being done properly, the schools don't get the proper independence, and that's something...

ANDREW MARR: It does sound, it does sound slightly as if you want to take Tony Blair's words and then put them into practice properly.

DAVID CAMERON: No it's far more than that because everybody knows in this country we need proper public service reform. Now this lot have had eight years...


DAVID CAMERON: ...and even by Blair's own admission you know every time I start the reform I don't go far enough. And what we need to do as a party - I can't write the 2009 Manifesto now, that would be crazy.

We need to spend the next three years really thinking through the long-term policies that are right for the country. Not necessarily always popular - we've got to show a real conviction and judgement about these things.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. Flat tax off the agenda now Angela Merkel's got into some trouble in Germany.

DAVID CAMERON: Well the problem in Germany is that they introduced this idea in the middle of an election campaign, and I was there, and it had a terrible effect for the centre right party. The right thing to do is what George Osborne is doing, he's set up a flat tax commission now, look at the issue now, see if we can make taxes simpler and flatter. Because...

ANDREW MARR: But what about lower, because a lot of people feel, rightly or wrongly, they're over-taxed at the moment and want to hear from you that you would cut back public spending to cut taxes? The traditional Tory position, if you can.

DAVID CAMERON: I think we are overtaxed in this country. But what I want to do is do the hard work of showing how we'd control public spending. How we'd reduce waste. How we'd make the economy competitive. And I want tax policy to be part of an overall economic policy which I think we haven't given enough emphasis to in the past.

So it is not a question of cutting taxes to appeal to people's, you know, greed or whatever, I don't believe in that. Lower taxes is about having a really competitive economy that's going to compete with the Chinas and the India's of the future. And so actually we can't afford not to have lower taxes over time.

ANDREW MARR: You say in your manifesto that you want a more honest, open politics, more connected to day-to-day reality in modern Britain. When you are asked if you'd smoked dope as a student you go all "oh I can't talk about this" it's a bit pathetic isn't it?

DAVID CAMERON: I don't think it is, you know, look, I did lots of things before I came into politics that I shouldn't have done. We all did.

ANDREW MARR: Now, let me, let me ask you the question straight. Because it is absurd that you feel that you can't say those words.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I've seen...

ANDREW MARR: As if we're back in Bill Clinton times.

DAVID CAMERON: Andrew, I've seen what happens when members of a Shadow Cabinet start giving different answers to this question and the whole thing becomes a farce. What are we going to do, have some sort of McCarthyite hearings into every member of parliament. I didn't spend my early years thinking "I'd better not do something cause one day I might be a politician"...

ANDREW MARR: Of course you didn't...

DAVID CAMERON: I didn't know I was going to be a politician..

ANDREW MARR: Of course you didn't... but why not just the obvious.


ANDREW MARR: Because this is exactly the kind of politicians obfuscation that drives people nuts.

DAVID CAMERON: I think if you look at what the Labour Cabinet did, none of them have answered this question. The Prime Minister hasn't answered this question. They know, you know, and actually all the people watching know. What matters most of all is what you're going to do..

ANDREW MARR: You had a bit of dope when you were a student, so what?

DAVID CAMERON: We can, you can go on asking this question, or we can talk about the things that actually matter to people in terms of policies and ideas and how we're going to change the Conservative party.

ANDREW MARR: Well this does matter, because if you become Conservative leader then, you know, there are policies on drugs, soft or hard drugs.

DAVID CAMERON: Well let's talk about them. I'm very happy to talk about them.

ANDREW MARR: What do you think about cannabis now?

DAVID CAMERON: I think that - I sat on the Home Affairs Select Committee and we looked really carefully at the whole issue. And we looked at the science. And the view we came to is what matters most is education and treatment.

And in terms of education you need to make sure that the classifications of drugs actually make sense and that young people feel they're not being told nonsense. And that's why we reached the conclusion we did...

ANDREW MARR: Would you say to a student now "don't smoke dope"?

DAVID CAMERON: Yes, absolutely. It's against the law and I've seen at quite close hand what happens when people do abuse drugs, and the problems and the nightmare their life can become.

ANDREW MARR: And should it be reclassified up?

DAVID CAMERON: No, I think we've got to look at the science and we've got to get the classifications right so the message we give to young people is credible. But I have actually sat at the back of a class in a secondary school in my own constituency and watched former drug addicts talk about the experiences they had. And it was incredibly powerful. And what I want to see is a new partnership between the government and the voluntary sector.

So that organisations like this can take that message to every school in the country. And the other aspect is treatment, which is vital. We can all talk great tough language on drugs, but what really matters is getting these people into treatment and turning their lives around and that will cut the crime and the health problems and everything else.

ANDREW MARR: And cannabis has changed, it's got a great deal stronger. When you smoked the old joint it was a much weaker drug than it is now.

DAVID CAMERON: I think that's right. We need to look at the science of how powerful cannabis is now and what classification would be right. We came to the conclusions we did on the Home Affairs Select Committee because of the evidence we were given at the time.

But what the Conservative Party's got to do is have a really long-term approach to these issues. Not go for cheap headlines or easy answers, but look at how we can improve drugs education, how we can improve drug treatment programmes and actually get to grips with this problem in a long-term meaningful way.

ANDREW MARR: Let's talk about changing the Conservative Party because that's another of your, that's probably your main single message to the party, you have to change.

It's not clear exactly what you mean by that. Does it mean all women shortlists? Does it mean positive action to get more black minority candidates in as Conservative candidates? What does it mean?

DAVID CAMERON: It means lots of those things. But what there isn't Andrew is there is no clause 4 there is no magic wand, there is no one single thing that the Conservative Party has to do.

It's actually about taking all the things that we believe - low taxes, personal responsibility, support for the family - and explain what that means today in 2005 and in 2009, and demonstrating that we are relevant to people's aspirations today.

It's a big cultural change. It will include things like the health policy that I talked about earlier. And it will include, I think you're right, making sure that in terms of candidates we have a broad range of candidates...

ANDREW MARR: You will have all women, all women shortlists?

DAVID CAMERON: I wouldn't, I'm a meritocrat I believe that you shouldn't have totally open positive discrimination, but I've set out a series of steps we could take to have more women in parliament. Proper headhunting, going out and finding women that would make great MPs. Mentoring programmes like they have in America.

ANDREW MARR: Sure, you did take on Simon Heffer, the columnist, famously, a few days ago. Do you think that one of the problems has been that unelected commentators and journalists have had too much influence on the Conservative party and elected members like yourself haven't had enough?

DAVID CAMERON: I think that what we need is just clear leadership. When I had a go at Simon Heffer as you put it, it is because it seems to me he's just saying to the Conservative party "just shout a bit louder and hate modern Britain a bit more and everything will be fine".

Well I think that's complete nonsense and it's the wrong thing to do and that's why I said so. And I think what the party needs is someone who's got clear convictions as a modern, compassionate Conservative. Who shows the right judgement - when the government does something that maybe is right but unpopular you say.

ANDREW MARR: You say...

DAVID CAMERON: ...back it. But also a clear sense of direction about where the Conservative party needs to go and where the country needs to go.

DAVID CAMERON: In terms of your sense of direction, David Cameron, how many MPs now? What's your total up to now?

DAVID CAMERON: Well, we've I think got 28 or so actually signed up behind the campaign, quite a lot of...

ANDREW MARR: How many more...

DAVID CAMERON: Peter Viggers figures who signed David Davis's nomination papers last time came out for me yesterday which was very encouraging. Steve Norris who's no longer an MP but quite a popular figure, he...

ANDREW MARR: So where do you reckon you got to?

DAVID CAMERON: I don't deal in the numbers. What I want to do is just set out what I think the party needs to do to change and to win. And if people like that they should back me.

ANDREW MARR: David Cameron, it's been a heck of a week. Thank you very much indeed.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

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

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