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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 September 2006, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Labour leadership
On Sunday 03 September 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Hilary Armstrong MP, Minister for Social Exclusion

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

Hilary Armstrong
Hilary Armstrong MP, Minister for Social Exclusion

ANDREW MARR: ... Welcome and good morning Hilary Armstrong.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Morning Andrew. I hope to goodness we're not going to quite fulfil some of your predictions but never mind.

ANDREW MARR: The ASBO in the womb?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Yes. I think that's ... characterisation.

ANDREW MARR: Why has, I mean this is all targeted on people right at the bottom who have been resistant to earlier government plans.

Seems to many people that although the government might have raised the income of many working families and has cut down a bit on child poverty, you failed when it comes to people right at the bottom?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well what we have done is raise many, many people out of that dire poverty and worklessness that had blighted their lives and their families' lives for generations.

And we have got many more into work. And through the minimum wage, through Tax Credits, we've lifted their incomes higher actually than, each year, than the rest of the population. But ..

ANDREW MARR: But there's this group at the bottom ...

HILARY ARMSTRONG: .. There is a group at the bottom that no government has previously effectively tackled. And we are now taking the next step.

And it is because those just above have actually been doing much better that this group have become even more exposed.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of these people don't want your intervention and don't want your help.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well my problem is I've worked with a lot of them over the years. And I know that they too have aspirations for their family. They too would like their children to be doing well.

For all sorts of reasons - some, they just haven't had the experience, the, you know they've not had the, the, the role models. They've not had the ability to actually see what they can do to raise their children's opportunities.

ANDREW MARR: So ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Others have had such bad experiences from the State that they really don't want the State anywhere near them.

And what, but what I do know, because I've worked there and I've done it, is that if you can find what it is that would really tap into them, then you can begin to change their belief in themselves and their ability to cope with the world and to raise their children more effectively.

ANDREW MARR: So give us, so give us some examples of what you're talking about.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well I was just a few weeks ago in Bolton at one of our Family Intervention Centres. And there they are taking in - it's a voluntary organisation, NCH - are working with those families. They, some of them they work with on an intensive basis, maybe twenty hours over a week.

I met some who were actually living residentially in a property with twenty-four hour availability of workers. Now the, most of them had gone in because if they hadn't gone in they knew they were about to lose their house or their children would be taken into care. So there's a bit of threat around.

ANDREW MARR: So it's quite ..., it's quite tough?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Bit threat around it, certainly very tough.

ANDREW MARR: And, and no extra money is coming in is there?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: But what, but what those families were saying to me, one young mother was saying "We would never get anywhere unless people were pushing us. My partner is a drug addict.

He is this morning ..." - I couldn't see him because he was that morning at a treatment centre.

She said "If these people hadn't worked with us and weren't actually pushing him he might not have gone because ..." but she says "He knows if he doesn't do that he'll lose me. I'm not going to put up with it any more" and what's more he would lose his child.

So you know you've got to find the right motivations, you've got to find the right things. But actually we know that intervention can work.

ANDREW MARR: Okay. Do you think the Labour Party should now have a debate about its future direction?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well I hadn't noticed that we weren't talking about the future. This that I'm coming back to is something that's absolutely inbred in Labour people.

ANDREW MARR: So when Alan Milburn and ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: It's how do we get to the, the real issues.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: And we are where we are in a third term because we've led on identifying the issues that are really affecting our communities today. What are the issues in a really changing world that we've got to be facing up to. And as a government we have not shrunk from actually facing those issues.

And the same is true today and probably even more so that we have got to take hold of those issues. John Hutton said yesterday it's the job of the cabinet to lead the debate on those issues.

ANDREW MARR: So when Stephen Byers and Alan Milburn say "Let's have a big debate about Labour's future direction of what New Labour now means" you don't think that's necessary?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: What I'm saying is that is what we ought to be involved in all the time.

ANDREW MARR: But are you involved in it?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: We ought to continue - I am certainly involved in it. I am bringing out a new action plan in the next few days. We, I'm talking with all of my colleagues across government. It's forming part of the way the Treasury are looking at the cross cutting reviews for the next, the next spending round.

ANDREW MARR: But you, yes you know as well as I ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: We will be getting on with that.

ANDREW MARR: You know as well as I do that what they're really talking about, what people are talking about is ensuring that the next leader of the Labour Party is securely locked into the same trajectory as the current leadership is taking?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well what I'm interested in is that the Labour Party is seen very clearly to be addressing the issues that matter to the British People. We're living in a world that is changing more rapidly than folk of my generation like.

ANDREW MARR: But if, but if ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: And we've got to face those issues ..

ANDREW MARR: But if the polls ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: And we've got to have ways of debating it. This is about the Party too. Is the Party mature enough to actually take these new issues and find a way forward that resonates with the British people but is built into the values that the Labour Party came in order to espouse.

ANDREW MARR: The question is, is the Labour Party mature enough? Because if you look at the polls you know you're at a, you and Tony Blair are at record lows. And if you look at the ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: But that's because we ..

ANDREW MARR: .. world ...

HILARY ARMSTRONG: ... record highs for so many years. And you know ..

ANDREW MARR: Well you're very far down at the moment.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well we are down and I'm not complacent about that, Andrew. But I do remember, and there's a very good member of the PLP who regularly reminds me, that eighteen months before the ninety-two general election we were twenty five points in the lead. We then went on to lose that general election.

I am concerned that we continue to work with the British people, that the Labour Party is seen to be absolutely listening to and engaged with the British people about the huge challenges that face all of us ..

ANDREW MARR: You don't feel this is ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: .. in this changing world.

ANDREW MARR: You don't feel that this is crisis, what crisis? Given, given all the stuff in the papers about meltdown. There's a survey of Labour MPs on ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well ..

ANDREW MARR: ... The World This Weekend which shows that a very, very large majority want the Prime Minister to go soon and you know you read the stuff for yourself. I don't need to quote it to you.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: I, I know all about surveys. In the Whips Office I used to spend my time telling members not to ...

ANDREW MARR: Not ...

HILARY ARMSTRONG: ... answer them. And most MPs still don't answer them. It's the ones who are in ...

ANDREW MARR: I think, I think most of the MPs actually ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: .. in a bit of ..

ANDREW MARR: .. in this survey who were asked did answer it.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well yes but that, but I suspect never - you know it's, it's a bit like statistics are BBC surveys of MPs, if you don't mind me saying so. But no, the real issue is we've got a job to do.

ANDREW MARR: But you ...

HILARY ARMSTRONG: We've got a job to do to represent the British public. It's only sixteen, fifteen, sixteen months since the last general election.

ANDREW MARR: I know but ...

HILARY ARMSTRONG: We've got to get on with it. It's a unique situation. We've never had this sort of transition. And the real test is for the party in how it handles the transition.

But it should handle the transition knowing that there's no good us retreating into ourselves. We've got to be out there with the public, understanding what their anxieties are, right across the board. And there are ideas ...

ANDREW MARR: My, my only point for the polls ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: .. you've heard ..

ANDREW MARR: .. is that you don't, you don't seem to be achieving that at the moment.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: Well, but maybe, if you let folk like me talk about the issues we are getting on with, the public will begin to understand that that's precisely what's going on in government and in the Labour Party.

ANDREW MARR: All the, all the sort of briefing and stuff at the moment seems to be that Tony Blair would like to stay on and then depart possibly next May, next summer. Would you be, would you be comfortable with that?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: I am comfortable in a government that is driving forward, fulfilling its manifesto pledges and getting on, not with the tittle tattle, not with who's supporting this one, that one or the other one, but with what are the issues that are challenging us ...

ANDREW MARR: The future of the ..

HILARY ARMSTRONG: .. what are we there to do, and what can we actually do to make sure that everybody in this country gets opportunity.

ANDREW MARR: The future ...

HILARY ARMSTRONG: That's what I'm in it for.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah the fu... but the fu...

HILARY ARMSTRONG: How do we get everybody to have the opportunity? How do we enable them to fulfil their aspirations? That's what the social exclusion action plan's about.

ANDREW MARR: Fu..., future of the Prime Minster, identity of the Prime Minister, hardly tittle tattle. All I'm asking, May next year okay by you?

HILARY ARMSTRONG: I'm saying that I'm very confident in the leadership of the Labour Party ..

ANDREW MARR: All right.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: .. whichever the personality is. I'm confident that they will lead us forward in a way that means we can get on with the job of serving the British public.

ANDREW MARR: All right.

HILARY ARMSTRONG: That's what we're there for.

ANDREW MARR: Doesn't sound like a headline to me. But we'll see. Moira with the news headlines. Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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