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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 09:02 GMT
Kinnock ready to be nuisance

Neil Kinnock doesn't really know what he'll do when he leaves the European Commission next year.

He'd consider the House of Lords if the opportunity to be an elected member arose, though he doesn't seem wildly keen to be honest.

I've been so bloody respectable and responsible...I'm going to be a bloody old nuisance

Neil Kinnock
He'll definitely watch a lot more sport, go to the theatre more, listen to a lot more music and see more of his grandchildren.

Oh yes, and he'd also like to be "a bloody old nuisance".

Inspired by the work of his wife Glenys in trying as an MEP to help tackle the "tragedies and catastrophes" in the developing world, he says a role in that field is a possibility.

"You've got to get stuck in," he says. "So maybe something like that, because I've been such a good boy for 25 years, I've been so bloody respectable and responsible...I'm going to be a bloody old nuisance."

Loyalist

Mr Kinnock is on good form as he sits back in a leather armchair in his office at the European Commission's London office.

I would like to think that there could be a referendum next year

Neil Kinnock
The former Labour leader steps down as commissioner for internal reform at the end of 2004, and you get the impression he's looking forward to a new life.

He accepts that when Glenys says he's too much of a loyalist to suddenly start causing trouble, she may have a point.

But he adds: "There are different ways of being a nuisance.

"I'd like to be a really big nuisance to Mugabe for instance, I'd like to be a sensationally big nuisance to Saddam Hussein and a few others... really rip into the bastards - just for my own catharsis, apart from the fact that it's entirely justified.

"There is always a case for attacking evil and if you are in the position that I'll be in a couple of years time, (I'll) actually have the time to do it. A lot of full time politicians haven't got the time to do it."

Punches

And there is an acknowledgement that where Neil Kinnock goes, politics won't be far away. Would he, for instance, be interested in future roles in active politics?

There's a lot of feeling that the efforts at consensus have been less than energetic

Neil Kinnock on the US and Iraq
"I could say 'no' to that but I know, given me, that I may as well say 'oh yeah, I'm not going to breathe.'"

One campaign on which we can expect him to be prominent is that to take the UK into the euro, a cause about which he is passionate.

He pulls himself up to the edge of his seat, jabs his finger in the air and occasionally punches the arm of his chair as he makes his case.

Competitive

Opposition to the currency infuriates him, largely because he believes too many people, he says, are victims of their own lack of curiosity - preferring "mythology and knee-jerk reactions" to "good information, rational analysis and clinical calculation".

He cites the exchange rate as an example. It is sensible, he says, to advocate a competitive pound - not a weak pound - and "that will mean a pound that is less expensive against the euro".

"But people really do think that disaster is being invited if the argument is made for a more competitive pound."

Mr Kinnock has no doubts that his argument will win through eventually.

Campaign

Britain outside the euro, he says, will lose investment and political influence; the pound - buffeted between the euro and the dollar - will fall prey to currency speculation, and with that will come instability and cuts in public spending.

Glenys and Neil Kinnock
Mr Kinnock has been inspired by his wife's work
"It's very good for money markets but not for anybody else," he says.

Not that he is expecting to get out on the campaign trail just yet. Gordon Brown may be making his assessment of his five economic tests by June, but Neil Kinnock is sure there won't be a referendum in the UK this year.

"There isn't enough time this year, but next year is a possibility," he says, adding that he also sees 2005 - ruled out by some because of its proximity to the next general election - as possible for a euro vote.

Regret

Mr Kinnock, who maintains close links with Tony Blair, sees euro entry as first and foremost an economic decision, but with huge political implications.

And politics will play a big part in the decision as to when a referendum will be held.

The factors involved include attitudes to the euro, the standing and strength of the government and "the general feeling of well being or ill being about the economy".

"Those things have got to come together because basically - and it is not at all cynical - you don't have (a referendum) unless you think you are going to win it. It just doesn't happen."

And Mr Kinnock accepts that at the moment, there is little hope of winning a vote on the euro.

Battle

"People have got to be persuaded and it is very clear that as things stand at the moment in the opinion polls, there is certainly not a majority in favour of the euro," he says.

So how will the battle be won? "Just by keeping up the argument - it is as basic as that."

And what if the UK does turn its back on the euro - where will it be in 10 years time?

"We will still be one of the biggest countries, one of the biggest economies," he says.

"But in terms of influence on politics we will be in a kind of second class."

Mr Kinnock says UK entry to the euro will be made easier by proposals for "very radical reforms" to the controversial stability and growth pact - the rules eurozone countries must follow - being put before European finance ministers in March.

'Golden rule'

He says the proposals would allow countries more flexibility, while also seeing the EU embrace "the continentalisation of the golden rule" - Gordon Brown's dictum that borrowing must be for investment and not for consumption.

Mr Kinnock has high praise for Mr Brown, saying some governments would have "gone into reverse" during an economic downturn - but that the government was right to go ahead with its 20bn borrowing plans.

"It's the right thing to do and it also happens to be the Labour thing to do - to ensure that there is a continuity of investment - and the right thing to do in economic terms."

For all the occasional quarrels within Labour, Mr Kinnock says the government "on its worst day is 1,000 times better than the Tories on their best day".

Defence

He has his own quarrels, he says, adding: "I would have a hell of an argument over foundation hospitals, but the fact is that this experiment is taking place against the background of the highest ever real terms level of investment in the health service."

He says he believes the package for tuition fees unveiled by his former chief of staff Charles Clarke is a "substantial move" towards the graduate tax he favours, and that there is time before implementation to get further changes in the plan on those lines.

And he mounted a staunch defence of public-private partnerships so loathed by some in his party.

Such plans, he argued, mobilise cash that would not otherwise be available.

'Disingenuous'

"A total reliance on private finance would simply not be sensible, but standing around waiting for classical public investment to come on stream is a luxury that Britain hasn't got."

It is disingenuous for Labour members to argue against PPP, he said, when "intelligent Labour councils" set up such partnerships in order to protect public service from cuts from the Thatcher government.

"We thought that was bloody great," he said.

"How the hell can we speak with pride about the public-private partnerships developed by local government in order to protect people against the worst excesses of Thatcher and then we get the chance to turn it into an accountable regime at national level, there is something wrong with it?"

What critics mustn't forget, he says, is that Labour was left with what he insists was a massive rebuilding task inherited from the Tories: "Five years is a long time, but it's not long enough."

Some in Westminster believe that before the next general election, there's every chance Mr Kinnock will be sitting around the cabinet table as one of those hoping to keep Labour in power for another term.

'Enriching'

He, however, seems genuinely non-plussed about the Lords suggestion.

The kind of attacks made for instance against me - the Welsh windbag - did produce in the Labour movement an over-reaction which was understandable

Neil Kinnock
"I'd have to give some thought to it, but I have to say it's not an automatic instinct," he says.

On politics in general he is concerned about apathy - and renews his call for compulsory voting.

And he is also concerned that the passion is slipping out of politics, though he adds: "The kind of attacks made for instance against me - the Welsh windbag - did produce in the Labour movement an over-reaction which was understandable."

Too many politicians have, however, reverted as a result to a "modulated tone and less colourful tones".

Europe has been an "enriching" experience, he says, but you suspect that by the end of next year he will be ready to move on - perhaps to the development role inspired by his wife's "extraordinary" work.

"Maybe if I can help out there," he says.

"Do something that makes a difference - because, by God, there's a lot to make you angry."


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