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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 May 2007, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Direction change for Labour?
On Sunday 06 May Andrew Marr interviewed Michael Meacher MP, Labour Leadership Candidate

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

Michael Meacher MP
Michael Meacher MP, Labour Leadership Candidate

ANDREW MARR: Now one of them is the former Environment Secretary Michael Meacher who first rose to prominence when Tony Blair was, Tony Benn was campaigning, sorry, to become Labour's Deputy Leader a quarter of a century ago.

MICHAEL MEACHER: Bit of a slip there.

ANDREW MARR: It certainly wasn't a Freudian slip. It was just a ridiculous slip. Tony Benn, Tony Blair often mistaken. So it's been a while.

Now a lot of people will say this is a completely quixotic, hopeless challenge. There is Gordon Brown with vast numbers of people across the party supporting him, there's a small number of MPs comparatively on the left. You don't even know whether you're going to get through the starting gate.

MICHAEL MEACHER: Well I don't think that that is the right analysis. I think after the local elections, a time when we've lost half of our membership, four and a half million votes.

We lost three hundred odd seats last year, four fifty this year. The Labour Party is facing the writing on the wall and we need a public debate about the change in direction of travel of the government.

I think that is absolutely key. Whoever is the new leader, it's not just a question of changing the face, it's a question of re-invigorating, exciting the enthusiasm, imagination of our supporters.

We've clearly lost it. I mean New Labour, a fantastic machine that produced three election victories. But it has now run its course and we have got to have a fundamental change of direction.

ANDREW MARR: If there isn't that, if, if Gordon Brown carries on in broadly-speaking the same direction as Tony Blair had been, what happens at the next election?

MICHAEL MEACHER: Well we shall see. I don't believe he would be as unwise enough to do that. I think he does intend to make some changes. The real question is whether he can make sufficient changes to bring back all of those Labour voters we've lost. I mean the fact is Gordon Brown is probably more the architect of New Labour than Tony Blair I would say. I mean ..

ANDREW MARR: So it's his fault these, these, these election losses?

MICHAEL MEACHER: Well I don't want to say it's his fault. Well I don't want to say it's his fault. I don't think it's very helpful to sort of pin it on personalities.

I mean the Party is in this situation, what we want to do is look forward in how we can change. And the real question is, if it were to be Gordon Brown is he able to make those changes sufficiently to get back what we've lost? I doubt it.

ANDREW MARR: So give me a sense of the kind of changes that you think are essential in, in policy terms.

MICHAEL MEACHER: Sure. Well in policy terms I actually do think there are two things. You've got to make people feel part of the project. You've got to make people feel they own the party and the government that they share in it.

And I do think that means consulting and listening to your party supporters which we've not done in the past. We should respect conference decisions more. Okay there'll be times when the government can't do it. But we have a mechanism to continue discussions till we thrash out a compromise.

ANDREW MARR: This is all a bit touchy-feely isn't it?

MICHAEL MEACHER: Well touchy-feely is rather important. I mean I do think ..

ANDREW MARR: But what about hard differences?

MICHAEL MEACHER: Well yeah okay. Well I think those are hard differences. It's partly ..

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

MICHAEL MEACHER: .. a manner, it's the manner and style of government is very important. Okay, let's look at the actual agenda. I think the most important problem with our country at the present time is this growing divide between rich and poor. It is really on a scale which perhaps almost takes us back to the nineteen thirties.

I mean the average Chief Executive of the top FTSE one hundred company is now on fifty thousand pounds a week. The pension is eighty four pounds a week. The minimum wage is a hundred and ninety pounds a week. That's point one.

ANDREW MARR: And do you think in the modern world, do you think in the modern world it's possible to touch those people at the top?

MICHAEL MEACHER: Well I, I think it is ..

ANDREW MARR: Before they fly off somewhere else?

MICHAEL MEACHER: I think it is. But there are an awful lot of tax benefits, tax allowances ..

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

MICHAEL MEACHER: I mean what about the non-domicile tax status? This is a scandal that these ..

ANDREW MARR: So inequality ..

MICHAEL MEACHER: That's one issue.

ANDREW MARR: What about Iraq?

MICHAEL MEACHER: Oh well Iraq is certainly ..

ANDREW MARR: 'Cause you voted for the war.

MICHAEL MEACHER: And I bitterly, bitterly regret that. I like many millions of others was deeply misled by what the Prime Minister said and I, it's the biggest political error I've made. I think we've got to get out of Iraq as soon as we can.

That doesn't mean next week, it probably doesn't mean next month, but it means within a very short time, taking the advice of our own military commanders, not of the Americans who would clearly like us to stay. There are domestic issues. There is the whole pension system, the rise of pensioner poverty and means testing. There's the lack of affordable housing in our society. This is a really big issue. Everyone is ..

ANDREW MARR: So, so big questions there. What some people will say is there's the left, yet again, because there's yourself and there's John McDonnell also likely to, wanting to stand against Gordon Brown. And the first thing that happened is when the left gets together it splits. There's the two of you. You've got to do a deal. Only one of you can stand.

MICHAEL MEACHER: Yeah. That's absolutely true. And ..

ANDREW MARR: So which will it be?

MICHAEL MEACHER: We're, that's exactly what we're going to find out probably some time in the middle of this coming week. We have agreed if we stand against each other neither of us is going to get there. So we are going to have to meet. We're going to have to decide who's got the most support, who's got the most nominations.

That person will go through and hopefully the supporters of the other person will switch or the large majority of them and I think on that basis it is very likely we can get them to forty five.

ANDREW MARR: So it's a straight, it'll be a straightforward mathematical thing? And do you really think that one of you will get through that, that hurdle or that gate and will take on Gordon Brown and will at least make a big dent? I mean you don't presumably think you can possibly beat him?

MICHAEL MEACHER: Look I mean I do think, the two reasons for having a, a contest are first of all the Labour Party is a democratic party and every single time we have changed the leader except in nineteen thirty one we've had an election. I think that's right. Secondly we do need this public debate.

I cannot emphasise too strongly that we need to get together with our supporters and agree the changes, quite fundamental strategic changes that we need. Now if we do that then I think we do need a debate. If you say who's going to win, let me just say this. Elections have an internal dynamic of their own.

But the most important thing is, yes, Westminster is a bubble, it's all decided in Westminster, no question about that. You go out into the constituencies and into the trade unions, you may get a rather different flavour, a rather different atmosphere. There's a lot of feeling. And people want to express it. Let's listen to the electorate.

ANDREW MARR: Well we'll be listening and watching very carefully. Michael Meacher thank you so much for coming in.

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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