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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 January 2006, 13:09 GMT
Lib Dem turmoil
On Sunday 08 January 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat President

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

Simon Hughes MP
Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat President

ANDREW MARR: So, new year, new leader for the Liberal Democrats. Sir Menzies Campbell has confirmed that he's going to stand, but will there be a contest or a coronation?

The party's president, Simon Hughes, is one of the other likely contenders - indeed the bookies put Menzies Campbell as favourite and Simon Hughes second, so - good morning Mr Hughes.

SIMON HUGHES: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Looking at today's papers, do you think that your former leader lost his job because of his own frailties or because of a political coup?

SIMON HUGHES: The short answer is a combination of things conspired to mean that Charles had to stand down yesterday and before anything else I am going to, again, pay tribute to the fact he has given us a brilliant six years and we are very grateful to him and it's great that he's not going away and I am sure he will come back to frontline politics as well as stay in politics.

The sequence of events was that a series of concerns after the election - some political, some personal - led to the events you know about in December. There was a testing of the water, there wasn't a majority for change, either in Parliament or in the wider party in December.

ANDREW MARR: What changed then?

SIMON HUGHES: The parliamentary colleagues believed they wouldn't want to give up the fight and they gained more support and once Charles had lost what looked like a majority of his parliamentary colleagues then it wasn't going to be possible for him to carry on.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think some of your parliamentary colleagues behaved badly?


ANDREW MARR: Which ones and how do you -

SIMON HUGHES: I'm not going to -

ANDREW MARR: - what do you mean (OVERLAPPING)

SIMON HUGHES: - no - well I'm not going - no - no - I'll - Andrew I'll elaborate the answer to that, I'm obviously not going to get into names - but the two things that I had complaints about - well I had three, I have three complaints. It was clearly the case that some people began to organise leadership contests last year, when Charles was very clearly still in harness.

That seems to me to be unacceptable and inexcusable. Secondly, it seemed to me that colleagues were clearly regularly briefing the media, unattributably, when they should have been talking to each other and had the conversation happened with each other then that would have been far better for the party and generally for the body politic.

And thirdly, at the end it seemed to me that colleagues were being unnecessarily harsh publicly when it might have been possible to have a more dignified exit - although I have to say yesterday Charles gave the most dignified and mature resignation statement and gave himself huge credit for doing so.

ANDREW MARR: Those are tough words - are you talking about your likely rival Sir Menzies Campbell?

SIMON HUGHES: No, I'm not identifying who -

ANDREW MARR: It sounds like you are.

SIMON HUGHES: No - no - Andrew, I'm absolutely not and it would be unhelpful but it's no good me seeking to speak on behalf of the party as a whole, which is the job of our party president, without reflecting considerable anger of membership round the country, the people who pay the money and the people who do the work, supporting us in Parliament, for the fact that the parliamentarians appeared sometimes to forget who their other duties were towards.

ANDREW MARR: What are the consequences of that anger?

SIMON HUGHES: There's some healing to be done, is the answer to that question. It can be done, political parties are rough and tumble places, it's not a soft option in life and nor should it be - either between parties or in parties. And it will heal quickly, we're actually a much less internally divided and divisive party, in my experience, than the others - we don't have factions and warring camps traditionally.

We actually come together - we come together very well and my job is to go on making sure that the party continues that tradition and I believe we can do so and do so ... soon, but I hope there will be some apologies and I hope there will be some forgiveness.

ANDREW MARR: You mentioned at the beginning of the interview that there were political reasons behind what has happened - this coup, if coup it was - and those are presumably about the direction of the party - does it go social liberal, slightly more to the left or perhaps does it come slightly more to the right, the so-called market liberal tradition. What's your take on that?

SIMON HUGHES: Interestingly, Andrew, I don't think that was the cause of Charles' departure. Charles, quite reasonably said after May, look we have a considerably larger party, we have 20 new MPs, we have to take time to decide on our strategy, and he said we should take a year. I agreed with that. I still agree with that and actually that's what we're going to continue to do.

The new Conservative leader said in December he would do the same, it would take them 18 months. So the debate about exactly how you put together the economic and social liberalism was going on - that wasn't the issue, the issue was whether it was right for Charles, having done two elections, to do a third or whether we would need a change; whether the change of Conservative leader meant that we had to move quickly - there was no need in my view to move as quickly as we have -

ANDREW MARR: Can I just come back to the politics very briefly? You are seen, as it were, and I caricature slightly, as the tax and spend man of the party. Every hand signal, wink and other gesture that I can pick up from you and others suggest that although you can't announce it, you are going to stand. Is there therefore going to be a sort of ideological discussion within the party around the leadership?

SIMON HUGHES: Well I'll try quickly to answer all three questions in one. Firstly, I will make my intentions clear once we, the party, have decided what the process is and that will be within a week from now. Secondly, there ought to be a debate about where we go and I think the members will want that, irrespective of how many candidates there are taking part in that - I sense that there is a mood for that.

But thirdly, don't caricature us simplistically - I know you won't and haven't and others won't - it's not as simple as left wing and right wing and some of us are much more complex beasts than that would suggest and we're going to have that debate and get the mix right because we have a huge opportunity still and we believe we can take ground that is naturally there for the taking for liberal democracy, grow the party and soon be in government - that's why I'm here.

ANDREW MARR: President Hughes, 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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