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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 September 2007, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Liberal aspirations
On Sunday 16 September Andrew Marr interviewed Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Lib Dem leader

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Sir Menzies Campbell MP
Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Lib Dem leader

SIR MING CAMPBELL: I think if we're going to have a referendum at all we should have a referendum which isn't part of some phoney war but which actually puts the real question to the people of Britain - "Do you want to stay in Europe or do you want to come out?"

ANDREW MARR: There is a very important treaty on the edge of being agreed which across Europe leaders say is ninety per cent or so identical to the old constitutional treaty on which there was going to be a referendum.

Are you seriously saying there shouldn't be a referendum on that?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well I believe that the document, which I've looked at, and which of course is the basis upon which a final document is to be produced, does differ in sufficiently material respects that a referendum is not required on the document which ought eventually to emerge.

ANDREW MARR: So...

SIR MING CAMPBELL: But I do believe, but I do, well...

ANDREW MARR: ... Is wrong, Bertie Ahern is wrong, they're all wrong about this?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: No, no. Well we each have to make our own individual judgments. And no doubt their judgments will be coloured to some extent by the - Giscard's case by the fact ..

ANDREW MARR: Well he wrote the thing originally.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Yes of course ..

ANDREW MARR: He ought to know.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: .. and was deeply, deeply depressed when France voted no in a referendum. So I reached my own objective judgment. I don't believe a referendum is required in relation to the treaty we anticipate.

But you can't make that final judgment totally and completely until you've seen the final document. But I'm much more concerned about the fact that the case for Europe is going by default. And it's time for these pro Europeans like myself to make that case as vigorously as we possibly can.

ANDREW MARR: We know that the country would very much like the chance. The polls are overwhelming on that subject, to vote on this. To say the only vote you can have is in or out is bullying.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Bullying? What do you think a referendum on, on this document that we anticipate is likely to be about? It's likely to be about whether or not we stay in or out.

So what it seems to me to be right to do now is to say to the people of Britain, look is this an institution you want to continue to be associated with, an institution which has given us sixty years of peace and prosperity, an institution which will help us deal with immigration, with climate change, with terrorism. An institution which helps us when we go to the world ..

ANDREW MARR: But this isn't ...

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well let me finish if I may. When we go to the World Trade Organisation to argue our case against the Americans' attitude towards us in trading terms, an institution which gives us much more clout than if were trying to make these arguments ourselves.

ANDREW MARR: You're making the case for the European Union but this is a treaty which removes the national veto, a great swathe of areas which puts in new elements of a central bureaucracy and quasi government, in the view of a lot of people who are not the usual suspects, the old Euro sceptics, it is a very, very big change.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: But ...

ANDREW MARR: When eighty odd per cent of the country would like to vote on it why is right for somebody in your position to say they can't?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well if that's my judgment it's right that I should exercise my judgment. For heaven's sake there are far too many politicians in this country who lick their finger, hold it up and see which way the wind's blowing and then say what they're in favour of. This is what I'm in favour of.

ANDREW MARR: Right. One newspaper said that over the last year or so what has happened to your party's polling position has been that it's collapsed.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well that's absolute nonsense. In the two parliamentary bi-elections of just a few weeks ago Ealing, Southall and Sedgefield where we pushed the Tories into second place, indeed Ealing, Southall we pushed Mr Cameron into second place because he said "vote for David Cameron's Conservative candidate". Now these are the polls which count.

ANDREW MARR: Yet, if you look at the national picture it seems to be pretty clear. Your ratings have been poor. Since Gordon Brown has arrived your party has gone through the floor.

You talked about earlier this year, you've got to base camp. You know if you look at the polls it seems as if you've gone back to the, to the hotel at the airport since then.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well I know you have to have colourful questions, particularly on a Sunday morning, but look we have maintained our distinctive position in British politics.

We are in truth the true opposition because the Conservative and the Labour parties agree about so much. They agree about tuition fees. They agreed about Iraq. They agree about Trident. They agree about civil nuclear power.

ANDREW MARR: If the polls continue to move down and are such, shall we say at ten per cent by Christmas would you go?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: No I don't answer hypothetical questions of that kind. I've made it perfectly clear to you and to others on other occasions I will lead the party through this parliament, through the general election and into the next parliament.

ANDREW MARR: Come, come what may?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Why do I want to do that? How, why do I want to do that?

I want to do that because I think that our party alone has got the policies which are necessary to deal with the issues of climate change because we are faced with one of the most authoritarian governments that we've seen in this country since the end of the second world war.

There are great divisions now in British politics and not between left and right but between liberal and authoritarian.

ANDREW MARR: If all of that is true, why is your party so apparently unpopular?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Not unpopular. In notional opinion polls we are not as high as I would like. But what you haven't done is to go back and look what happened to the Liberal vote, Liberal Democrat vote when John Major became prime minister ..

ANDREW MARR: Well actually ..

SIR MING CAMPBELL: .. the votes went - the notional ..

ANDREW MARR: Strangely I have.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: .. hold on. The notional opinion poll went down.

ANDREW MARR: Yes.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: It's exactly the same when Tony Blair arrived. And what happened? In the succeeding general elections we improved our position in the House of Commons to the point at which we now have the largest representation of a third party since the early nineteen twenties.

ANDREW MARR: If you believed at any stage, looking at these hypothetical, meaningless opinion polls that you were a problem would you go?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Notional opinion polls ..

ANDREW MARR: Notional opinion polls?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: .. I didn't say "hypothetical and meaningless" I say they're notional.

ANDREW MARR: But if you looked at them, nonetheless, and the numbers coming back on your own performance were such that you thought you were a problem would you then go?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: I've made it clear I will lead the party through this parliament, through the general election and into the parliament beyond. No one should be in any doubt about that ..

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: .. either in television studios or elsewhere.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's look at the last part of that phrase which is "beyond the next election" because there are talented, relatively young colleagues, quite naturally wondering when is it going to be my turn.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well they're talented young colleagues to whom I've given opportunity ..

ANDREW MARR: Yes.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: .. so that they can demonstrate their talent. That's why I've promoted people perhaps rather earlier than they might have expected so that they can show just how talented and capable they are.

And when the time comes for there to be a leadership election and I've no doubt whatsoever there will be a number of extremely well qualified candidates who'll be able to offer themselves.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to the environment. By how much would the tax on an ordinary family car, say a Mondeo or something like that, rise if the Liberal Democrats were in a position to effect tax?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well we'll produce a graduated scheme based on emissions. But at the top level people whose motor vehicles were the most polluting would pay vehicle excise duty of two thousand pounds per annum.

ANDREW MARR: What about flying? Would you make it actually more expensive for families to fly overseas on holiday?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well at the moment you know that it's individuals who pay not, it's not based on aircraft movements. And as a result transport aircraft don't pay any, those carrying cargo don't pay anything.

And half empty aircraft pay less than full aircraft because the taxation is levied on the number of passengers. We think aircraft movements is the basis by which to do this. We've set this out in detail in our documents for this Party Conference. We would expect to raise another two billion or so. Under heading at the moment it raises about four billion.

That provides one third of what is necessary to reduce the basic rate of income tax from twenty pence as the chancellor announced in his budget to sixteen pence.

And we'd find the rest of the money for that by changing the capital gains tax taper and also by setting one level of tax relief for those making investment in pensions. It's all there in detail.

ANDREW MARR: Well it is there in detail. There are a lot of people who've looked at it in detail and say that 4p proposed cut in the basic rate of income tax is expensive and actually not affordable.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Twenty billion. No it's twenty billion. And you do it from three sources. From increasing environmental taxation as I've indicated, both in relation to vehicle excise duty ..

ANDREW MARR: Can I just stop you ..

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Let me finish. Vehicle excise duty and also taxing aviation. You do it by getting rid of the CGT, the capital gains tax taper and you also do it by having one level, one rate, basic rate of tax relief for invent, for investment and pensions. It's all set out in black and white.

ANDREW MARR: Now though the CGT taper sounds technical you're going for the hedge funds?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: No, what we're doing is we're going for those people who have made the best, who have done the best of all out of the last ten years of this Labour government.

ANDREW MARR: Well the kind of people running the hedge funds.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well all right, these are the people who get very large city bonuses. Meanwhile at the other end of the scale, in the Chancellor's budget, and his great conjuring trick in the last minute of his budget designed to try and put off David Cameron who was to try his next great announcement, the reduction of the basic rate, twenty two pence, to twenty pence, that was at the expense of the ten pence rate.

Do you know what the result of that is? If you were on eighteen thousand five hundred a year in this country and you're not eligible for tax credits, you now pay more tax after Chancellor Brown's last budget than you did before.

It is the lower income and the middle income groups in this country who have suffered worst at the hands of this chancellor. It's time the balance was redressed.

ANDREW MARR: I'm, well I'm very interested in that because as you say both of the other parties have concluded that the very wealthy at the top are beyond reach in some ways, that they can go overseas or whatever.

But you think they're not. One of the ways that you propose to go for the wealthier is presumably by the introduction of local income tax which will ..

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Yes we do indeed.

ANDREW MARR: .. produce a 45p in the pound over all income tax rate. Well I mean according to all the boffins who've looked at it you're talking about another 4p, 3p or whatever in the pound.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Three point five pence. But let me anticipate your next question. Ninety per cent of the households in Britain would benefit as a result of our tax proposals.

ANDREW MARR: Which can only mean that the other ten per cent ..

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Yes.

ANDREW MARR: .. will be absolutely hammered.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Yes and, yes and those ..

ANDREW MARR: It would.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: .. households whose household income is of the order of seventy thousand pounds per annum. Now we need ..

ANDREW MARR: But those people would, you really would squeeze them till the pips squeak?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: No, no we don't, now come on, that's, if I may say so, that's old Labour language. We've set all of this out in detail. I think it is right that people on lower and middle incomes who have suffered so badly should be allowed some redress.

And the people at the top end in this country have done very well, indeed they've done too well because extraordinarily under a Labour government the division between rich and poor has become greater. It's time that was redressed.

ANDREW MARR: Given what you've said about Gordon Brown could you not work with David Cameron?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Look my view is this, maximum votes, maximum seats, maximum influence. And if ..

ANDREW MARR: So you won't tell me whether you could or could not in the future work with David Cameron?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: No. I'll tell you the only two principles which will ... first of all I think ..

ANDREW MARR: Cos everyone thinks you could work with Gordon Brown cos he's a neighbour and a friend but they worry about whether you could work with David Cameron.

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Well Mr Brown and I have got some pretty serious policy differences as it happens in spite of the fact that he's a friend of mine. I believe that if that circumstance were to arise the public interest and the preservation of the values of the Liberal Democrats are the two principles by which I would conduct myself in the affairs of the party.

ANDREW MARR: You've probably got a fairly rough old week ahead of you. We'll see, if you hear over the next few days or weeks that Gordon Brown is calling an October general election. Will your heart lift? Will you be pleased?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Of course it will. We're ready. I've just been to ..

ANDREW MARR: Despite all those meaningless poll figures that I was quoting at you earlier?

SIR MING CAMPBELL: Yes. Yeah. I've, I, we're ready. He can call the election any time. I said when he came in that he should have an election because he doesn't have a mandate.

If he wants to seek a mandate next week at his Party Conference or the week after rather at his Party Conference I shall be happy to respond. We're ready for it. Bring it on Gordon.

ANDREW MARR: And remember the people at the top have done too well. You don't often hear politicians saying that. Sir Menzies Campbell speaking to me last night.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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