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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 January 2006, 12:11 GMT
Lib Dem woes
On Sunday 22 January 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed Chris Huhne MP, Lib Dem leadership candidate

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

Chris Huhne MP
Chris Huhne MP, Lib Dem leadership candidate

ANDREW MARR: And now to the Liberal Democrats.

You have to hand it to them, they have learned, finally, how to make headlines - not always the right headlines but that may follow.

Here on Sunday AM we have detected a theme. Watch these pictures. Charles and Sarah Kennedy, first - who is in the background, staunchest supporter? And then Mark Oaten, who went last night - again, who was his staunchest supporter?

Well yes, in both cases, it is the wonderful Lembit Opik MP. Everyone at Westminster loves him - not just for his name - but to anyone in public life, if Lembit's for you, if you find Lembit at your shoulder, run for your life.

And so to the dark horse contender in the Liberal Democrat race - Chris Huhne.

CHRIS HUHNE: Very - very unfair on Lembit - I'll be delighted to have him on the team.

ANDREW MARR: You're a brave, brave man, I have to say. So, so you'd have Lembit at one shoulder, well, despite that we will continue this interview in an optimistic note, from your point of view. Let's, let's turn to the news last night - I suppose - very, very, sad indeed for Mark Oaten, very embarrassing for the Liberal Democrats. Do you think it was right for him to be exposed in this way?

CHRIS HUHNE: I think that if you're in public life and you're an MP and you take a high profile role, then I'm afraid you're going to be subject to scrutiny and I certainly don't approve, for example, of the sort of protection that French politicians have under the privacy laws. I think there is a different issue, people who are not in public life and who can also be exposed in a similar way in the tabloids and the behaviour I find increasingly difficult.

But Mark has been very straightforward about this, he's apologised to his constituents, whom he served very well, his family; and I think he needs the time and the privacy to consider things with his family.

ANDREW MARR: So, you're saying to everybody, in effect, back off there. Nonetheless Charles Kennedy, and now Mark Oaten, your party's lost an awful lot of talent pretty quickly, hasn't it?

CHRIS HUHNE: Well it's undoubtedly extremely regrettable from both points of view. Clearly, I think Charles has an enormous amount to offer and I think all of the leadership candidates have said very clearly that as soon as he's dealt with the problems that we know about, all of us would love to have him back in a front bench role firing on all cylinders. And there are other examples in politics, no names, no pack drill, of people who have done exactly that.

ANDREW MARR: Which takes us to your campaign. You're one of those left standing in it at the moment. You've been all round Fleet Street, you've been - spent a lot of time in Europe - but in terms of the Commons, you've been there for a grand total of eight months! And a lot of people say, well, Chris Huhne, very good guy, no doubt, or might be a good guy but it's much, much too early to stand for the leadership of a party.

CHRIS HUHNE: I've been a parliamentarian for six years, so that's two years longer than David -

ANDREW MARR: A different parliament.

CHRIS HUHNE: - longer than David Cameron. I think the skill set is important. If you look at what is needed for a leader, you need somebody who has communication skills, can put messages crisply - I had 19 years, as you say, pretty senior roles in journalism under a lot of pressure. Dealing, for example, with Captain Bob Maxwell on the end of a phone yelling abuse about stories that we were running.

So I know about the media. I've built up a business from scratch - a team of economists, largest team of economists in the City, when I left it - having started with an empty room and a telephone. So I know how to motivate a team, I know how to build up a team and I disagree that the European Parliament experience is irrelevant because it seems to me that the experience may be very relevant to what happens after -

ANDREW MARR: But it's a very, very different forum, much less ...

CHRIS HUHNE: It's working together, it's working together with other parties in order to deliver a Liberal Democrat agenda and I've got a very good track record of working both with the Labour side and the Conservative side in order to do that. And I think that's relevant experience for British politics in the future.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's look at British politics in the wider context. We have, everyone seems to think, a reviving Conservative Party at one side; by the next election we assume that Gordon Brown will be the Labour leader and things will look different; you won't have the Iraq war as a great issue for the Liberal Democrats; lots of people see a squeeze coming on your party now.

CHRIS HUHNE: Well I think there's no doubt that the physical environment is becoming more competitive and we have to be nimble and we have to be agile and we have to be very clear about what we're proposing.

I think that the challenge is one that we can meet, as we did, for example, when the Labour Party was reviving at the end of the 1990s, by being crisper and clearer and more honest about what's actually necessary to deliver the agenda which we care about on the environment and other issues.

ANDREW MARR: So give me a crisp, clear, honest, Chris Huhne proposal that will make us all sit up and think.

CHRIS HUHNE: Well one of the key things, I think, if we're going to tackle global warming and make the planet sustainable for our children and our grandchildren, we have to change our behaviour. And that means we have to put up taxes on behaviour which is undermining that sustainability, using -


CHRIS HUHNE: Well I think we have to bite the bullet on fuel duty, on household fuel bills and I think on aviation fuel. And I think we have to take the money which we raise from that - because it's designed to change behaviour - and actually put it back as part of our social justice agenda, our fairness agenda, at the bottom of the income distribution to take people out of tax.

So, for example, I think it's crazy that we have a minimum wage on one hand and at the same time we say that people are still going to pay taxes on that minimum wage. I think we should make sure that anybody on the minimum wage is out of tax.

ANDREW MARR: So the same amount of tax but fairer tax, and you'd be - you'd be prepared to take on, for instance, the low cost airlines that so many people use, you'd be prepared to take on the motorists lobby.

CHRIS HUHNE: I think, I think there is an exact parallel here with what we did in the 1990s when we were arguing, and Labour was very afraid of arguing, that we needed to spend more money on health and education and we needed to raise a penny on income tax in order to do so.

We need to do exactly the same thing on the green agenda. When David Cameron arrives and says 'I'm cuddly, I'm green, I care about all these things,' fine, but where's the beef? Where are the proposals? Where, where are you actually going to get the change in behaviour we need?

ANDREW MARR: Now, you are the dark horse, people say - that's, that's the kind of thing people say - I mean do you have any chance at all? You've got Menzies Campbell, who's very well know, you've got Simon Hughes who's been hugely popular with the party grass roots, why should the party go for you and not for those other ...?

CHRIS HUHNE: Well I think I have a very good chance and I don't think I would still be in the race, having overtaken, after all we had four contenders at the beginning of the week, if that wasn't the case. I have the parliamentary support - 22 Westminster parliamentarians.

I'm delighted that it's a balanced ticket, half men, half women - I think the party needs to represent the country which we seek to represent, and I think that if you look at the skills that I bring to this particular race, I wanted to give members a choice. All I'm saying is give us the time to show during this campaign that I can do it.

ANDREW MARR: Right, well we'll all be watching with great interest. Chris Huhne, 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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