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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007, 09:05 GMT
Liberal policy
On Sunday 25 February 2007, Andrew Marr interviewed Sir Menzies Campbell MP

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

Sir Menzies Campbell MP
Sir Menzies Campbell MP

ANDREW MARR: Welcome. We'll come to all of that later on.

But let me start with some of the big foreign stories that are dominating the news at the moment Sir Ming.

We're expecting a major announcement of more British troops for Afghanistan tomorrow morning.

Do you regard that war as fundamentally different from what's going on in Iraq, something that is apart from anything else potentially winnable?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well I don't think anyone will be surprised if there's an announcement tomorrow in the House of Commons.

And although the government says it's entirely coincidental, the fact is that senior commanders, particularly General Sir David Richards who've just come back from Afghanistan have been arguing for more British troops to be sent there.

And it's convenient is it not that if we're reducing our deployment in Iraq that we should have troops available for Afghanistan.

Yes I think Afghanistan is different. I think it is winnable. That's the judgment of these senior commanders. The fighting is pretty ferocious. Some say it's as difficult and dangerous as the fighting in the Korean War, just as difficult as that.

But there's no doubt that there is a clear set of political objectives. What we need are clear military objectives but also of course fundamentally we need adequate resources so we can achieve both these military and political objectives.

ANDREW MARR: So if the focus continues to turn to Afghanistan, in a year's time we won't see a "Stop The War" march being addressed by Liberal Democrats?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well all of these issues have got to be taken on their own merits and it's quite foolish to start making predictions.

But we supported the Afghanistan deployment. Remember it was fully authorised by the United Nations. It took place as a response under Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO's Treaty, in response to the events of nine/eleven. It is wholly legitimate in international law terms and there are good prospects of restoring that country to a degree of stability. Difficult? Yes.

War lords, the problem of the heroin crop, all of that. But there's no doubt that it is in a different category all together from Iraq. And it's somewhere where we should be putting the resources in order to bring about so far as we can a successful conclusion.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's turn to another part of the same region. Iran. There is a much beefed up American carrier force now off Iran. How concerned are you that the war drums are beating?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well I was in Washington ten days ago and you don't have to go very far in Washington these days to meet people who will tell you that they think there is a real prospect of military action. Indeed one commentator has put it as high as one chance in three. I think military action would be completely unwise. I think it would fan the flames of nationalism in Iran. I think it would buttress Ahmadinejad's regime.

I think it would put our own troops, coalition forces till in Iraq at risk. You run the risk also if you have a bombing campaign of dispersing nuclear material over a wide area. Frankly it isn't the thing to do. And of course we've been told it isn't the thing to do by none other than James Baker, former Secretary of State in the United States who said it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies.

And if as we've heard this morning there are reports that Iran may have launched a missile into space, then I think the argument for engagement with Iran is even stronger than it was before. Not least of course because in the last fortnight or so there appears to be the possibility of a deal with North Korea, based on engagement and also ..

ANDREW MARR: Talking and talking and not threatening.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Precisely. And also ..

ANDREW MARR: ...

SIR MING CAMPBELL: .. if I may just add this point making sure that you engage the countries in the region who have an interest in an outcome.

ANDREW MARR: When Tony Blair was asked about this last week he said "You shouldn't be asking that question. You should be asking the question what are you going, what would you do if Iran did get a nuclear bomb? How are you going to stop the Iranians getting a nuclear bomb?" So what would your answer be to that? Because so far talking has not deflected them it seems one iota.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well it would seem from that that the prime minister's almost accepting that they will. What I think you have to do is to continue with talking. You've to continue with sanctions. As you know permanent members of the Security Council, along with Germany are going to meet on Monday in London to consider what happens next.

I think you can beef up the sanctions for example on export credits, on the ability to travel, things of that kind. And you can also make it clear to Iran that you understand that it has both interests and influence. We may not share all of, indeed we may not share any of its objectives. But you've got to recognise its objectives and try and see, as we've done with North Korea, whether there is a way of accommodating that. And if you don't talk to them then you don't have any chance of success. And just remember this. Before Christmas Ahmadinejad's Party did very badly in local government elections.

A lot of evidence that the clerics are now becoming very anxious about the isolation to which Iran is being subject. And there is a lot of dissent among the population because of course the economy is doing very badly and the sort of investment which is necessary in order to ensure that they exploit their oil resources properly has largely been cut off as a result of Ahmadinejad's policies. So there's a lot to argue about.

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: But you can only argue about it if you get into the same room.

ANDREW MARR: I, I understand. Let me ask you about one other story related to it. Because at some point there'll be the threat of rogue states with missiles of one kind or another. Wasn't it right for Tony Blair to engage in talks with the White House about Britain becoming part of the so called son of Star Wars missile shield, something that could potentially protect this country against incoming missiles.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well remember what he's trying to do. He's trying to, as it were, push Poland and the Czech Republic aside it appears. Because we don't know anything about these talks. I mean here you've got a most extraordinary situation. You've got a system which is not proved. You've got prime minister conducting conversations which we know nothing about with the possibility of some facilities being offered in some part of the United Kingdom that we don't know about. It could hardly be more speculative.

But I was in Munich a fortnight ago and I heard Vladimir Putin make a speech which many people thought was the most aggressive speech made by a senior Russian politician since the end of the Cold War. And there's no question but that Russia is very concerned about the notion of this system being built close up to its borders. And the risk of course is if the system is built at all that Russia will think that its nuclear capacity has been undermined and will seek to respond to that. We may have something approaching an, an arms race. We should be discussing ..

ANDREW MARR: A new, a new, a new cold war?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Yeah.

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Exactly.

ANDREW MARR: Let me turn to domestic politics. You've got a busy spring ahead, lots of elections coming up.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: We have indeed.

ANDREW MARR: The Party hasn't been moving upwards at all in the polls. What's your message to the people in your Party who as you know very well are still muttering about your leadership saying that if there isn't an election shortly after Gordon Brown takes over, then you should stand aside for somebody younger?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well they haven't been muttering those words in my ears. And I'll wait until I hear someone do. Look what we've done is, we've turned the Party round.

We have started the process of writing the election manifesto. I've appointed the Chair of the General Election Committee. We are selecting our candidates. And there's no doubt, we're ready for an election at any time it may be called. And as for the opinion polls ..

ANDREW MARR: Meanwhile the Conservatives are romping ahead. I mean they're way ahead at thirteen points.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Yes, yes I know. But these opinion polls go up and down as you well know. And the fact of the matter is we're around twenty per cent. That is better than the Liberal Democrats have achieved in three out of the last four general elections. Of course I'd like to have higher opinion polls but I can tell you this.

The Party is in very good heart and the sort of votes and polls that you get in real ballot boxes have continued to be very strong for us. Dunfermline and West Fife nearly, came within a whisker of Bromley and Chislehurst. Continued good performance in local government.

And of course while all this is going on, while you and I are talking about all of this within the Westminster village, Liberal Democrats are running the great Northern Cities of Newcastle and Liverpool and being responsible for the management of large parts of local government in this country.

ANDREW MARR: Well it ..

SIR MING CAMPBELL: We've got a lot to do but we're doing what we have to do extremely well.

ANDREW MARR: It doesn't look like Westminster behind you there Sir Ming but, so when the likes of David Owen say it will be time to move aside for, what he calls a young Turk by whom we think he means somebody like Chris Huhne.

You're quite convinced that there isn't a sort of a bubble of feeling inside the Party that that will, that will grow?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well I'm not sure Chris Huhne fills the definition of, of a young Turk. But listen, a long time ago I learnt not to take Doctor David Owen's political judgment very seriously and I'm not doing it now.

ANDREW MARR: Ooh, all right. Well thank you very much indeed Sir Ming.

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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