Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Sunday, 21 February 2010

Lord Mandelson transcript

On Sunday 21 February Andrew Marr interviewed the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson.

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

ANDREW MARR:

Now the Prime Minister's carefully crafted attempts to present a softer side have been somewhat complicated this morning by a series of stories about his temper and tirades - not necessarily the image he wants to project on the weekend he launched what looks like the beginning of Labour's long election campaign. Well I'm joined now by his colleague and strategist-in-chief, the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson. Welcome.

LORD MANDELSON:

Good morning.

ANDREW MARR:

The picture painted by Andrew Rawnsley of the Prime Minister with his temper and so on behind the scenes is not an inaccurate one, is it?

LORD MANDELSON:

It's not really one I recognise. Look, the Observer is re-launching today, so it has to flam up its front page. And all these colourful writers like Andrew, they've all got books to sell. We in contrast have got a country to run, and that's what we're going to get on with.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure, of course, but this is you know years of conversation. These stories, I'll put to you again, are not a surprise to you, are they?

LORD MANDELSON:

Well what are the stories? They seem to be a story of a man who is quite emotional, is quite passionate in what he believes and what he's doing.

ANDREW MARR:

Gets angry.

LORD MANDELSON:

A side of him that people don't always see. Who gets angry, but chiefly with himself. Who doesn't bully people, but he is …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) You know in the end, if you boil it down, I suppose what it says is he's a bully.

LORD MANDELSON:

Yes. And what I was going to say is that I don't think he so much bullies people as is very demanding of people. He's demanding of himself, he's demanding of people around him. He knows what he wants to do. He does not like taking no for an answer from anyone. He will go on and on until he's got a policy or an idea in the best possible form which he can then roll out. On the way, yes there is … (Marr tries to interject) there is a degree of impatience about the man. But what would you like? Some sort of shrinking violet at the helm of the government when we're going through such stormy waters? You know I heard, I heard …

ANDREW MARR:

It doesn't tip over to beyond that?

LORD MANDELSON:

No. I heard David Davis earlier contrasting him with John Major. Look, I happen to like John Major and I admire a number of things about John Major, but we all know that he threw in the towel long before he lost the election in 1997. His party were hacking him to bits. He came to the conclusion that actually a change of government, a change of party would be rather good for Britain. Now Gordon Brown is not in that same position.

ANDREW MARR:

Right. And he hasn't hit you, he hasn't shouted at you?

LORD MANDELSON:

Hit me?

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah.

LORD MANDELSON:

Metaphorically or physically?

ANDREW MARR:

I don't know. Either.

LORD MANDELSON:

(laughs) Well I think history records we've had our moments, but I would like to think that I took my medicine like a man.

ANDREW MARR:

So you think that by and large, he loses his temper from time to time, but it's nothing out of the ordinary?

LORD MANDELSON:

I don't think so. I mean does David Cameron not lose his temper? I mean does he care so little about what he's doing or what he's trying to achieve or his policies that he never becomes dissatisfied …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

LORD MANDELSON:

… that there's no passion in the guy? I mean perhaps there isn't. I don't know.

ANDREW MARR:

I'm not going to go through all the different stories that you weren't party to and don't know anything about because you can't comment on them, but it is said here that you said to Gordon Brown at one point that he was in danger of going down as "the worst Prime Minister in post-war history."

LORD MANDELSON:

Well, I think that says it all, doesn't it? It's completely untrue.

ANDREW MARR:

You didn't say that to him?

LORD MANDELSON:

I did not say that, no. It's completely untrue. And I remember Andrew, who I also happen to …

ANDREW MARR:

Rawnsley?

LORD MANDELSON:

Rawnsley, not you - you're a completely different, you know, author - writing a book in which he was describing a meeting that I had alone in a room with Tony Blair. I think it was one of my different exits from government at one time or another. And he described this and described me bursting into tears. Now, look, Andrew Rawnsley wasn't in the room. I never told him this. I think it's rather unlikely that Tony Blair told him anything either. But he wrote it in such a plausible way that you'd think that he was in the room at the time. Now he's a very good, colourful writer, but that's it.

ANDREW MARR:

We are going to go into an election. I mean David Davis put it himself when he said he thought this was going to be the most personality driven election for a hundred years.

LORD MANDELSON:

Hmm, not so sure about that.

ANDREW MARR:

Well the personalities of all the leaders are going to be under extreme scrutiny. Isn't it right that people are able to read private accounts of what the Prime Minister's been up to and make judgements about what is, in your own judgement as well I guess …

LORD MANDELSON:

Well …

ANDREW MARR:

… a complicated, very often angry man?

LORD MANDELSON:

He's an intriguing man. He has an intriguing personality. I happen …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So it's fair that we know about these things?

LORD MANDELSON:

Well it depends whether they're true or not, doesn't it? And if it's not true, then it's not fair. It's simply a lot of sort of smeary goings on of the sort …

ANDREW MARR:

I think Andrew Rawnsley would say they're pretty … these are pretty well sourced most of these stories. You know he spoke to a lot of people.

LORD MANDELSON:

(over) Andrew, let me just say this to you.

ANDREW MARR:

A lot of them are actually on the record or quoted in the book.

LORD MANDELSON:

Let me just say this. If I had to make a choice and put my money on whether Andrew Rawnsley is telling the truth or the cabinet secretary overnight and today, frankly I'd put my money on the cabinet secretary.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's turn to what looked like the beginning of a long election campaign yesterday when there was a sort of launch of various slogans and so forth.

LORD MANDELSON:

The rally we had in the West Midlands.

ANDREW MARR:

The rally.

LORD MANDELSON:

It was great, cracking.

ANDREW MARR:

Now the theme there is a fairer future for all. That must be code for further tax rises in due course or further impositions on the rich because the numbers don't add up at the moment, a lot more has to give. You yourself have said it's got to be a combination of fiscal tightening, it's got to be cuts in the public sector, and it's got to be economic growth …

LORD MANDELSON:

(simultaneously) It's also got to be economic growth.

ANDREW MARR:

… which I'll come on to as well. But on all of those three …

LORD MANDELSON:

Most importantly, incidentally.

ANDREW MARR:

… we've had the words, but we haven't yet had the beef. So let me ask you about the tax side - stories about VAT going up to 20% and so on. Something quite dramatic is going to have to happen on the tax side beyond what you've already announced.

LORD MANDELSON:

Well one thing we do know is that if the Conservatives were to get into government and were to cut further and more furiously and say bring forward the deficit reduction by a year, that would equate to cutting half the schools budget in this country or putting VAT up to 23%. Now what we've done in contrast …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) There isn't a gulf between what Alistair Darling's saying and what they're saying.

LORD MANDELSON:

(over) Now hold on a moment. Let me finish and let me make the point. What we've said in contrast is that we have to do what we do - we've set out deficit reduction programme, we're going to half the deficit in over four years - and that will mean some reduction in spending and it will mean some increase in taxes. But in the case of the taxes, we've set out what we're going to do. We've announced that.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So no further advance on taxes …

LORD MANDELSON:

Well if …

ANDREW MARR:

… no further changes on VAT or income tax.

LORD MANDELSON:

… if economic growth were to disappoint, if we were not to keep on the road to recovery as we are at the moment, if we weren't going to use the strength of government to back business, to back enterprise and those expanding sectors and markets that we know are going to grow but which we need in this country to have our share of - if that disappoints, then there may be a need for further spending reductions.

ANDREW MARR:

Right, well let's turn directly to that.

LORD MANDELSON:

(over) But that's some… that's something that we can't tell at this stage. And one thing is clear: what we should not do is imperil the recovery or imperil future growth because that is the best antidote to debt. The best way we're going to reduce the deficit …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I understand. Well let…

LORD MANDELSON:

… is by getting the economy growing.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's talk about …

LORD MANDELSON:

And therefore to take a silly …

ANDREW MARR:

I understand, you make a point.

LORD MANDELSON:

… to make a silly or premature move now to imperil that is the last thing our economy needs.

ANDREW MARR:

So when the next series of government figures come out a little after halfway through April …

LORD MANDELSON:

Yuh.

ANDREW MARR:

… if they show that we have returned to recession, then that a) commits Labour to having to increases taxes; but b) blows a hole really through the last big card that you've got, which is that we're getting you out of this.

LORD MANDELSON:

Well I'm not going to speculate about what figures we may …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) The January figures on tax revenues were very, very disappointing from your point of view.

LORD MANDELSON:

Well they weren't actually unexpected for this reason. I mean the January tax revenues correspond to 2008/2009, which was at the sharpest point of the recession. So it's hardly surpri…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) No, but I'm tal… sorry, I'm talking about the tax take for January …

LORD MANDELSON:

I know.

ANDREW MARR:

… was very low.

LORD MANDELSON:

And what I'm saying is that that is a reflection of the state of the economy at the sharpest point in the recession in 2008 and 2009.

ANDREW MARR:

So you think the April figures will certainly show that the recovery continues?

LORD MANDELSON:

Look, let me give you an example.

ANDREW MARR:

Sorry, just on that. You think the April figures will show that the recovery is continuing?

LORD MANDELSON:

I certainly hope so, of course I do.

ANDREW MARR:

Hope so, but don't necessarily know so?

LORD MANDELSON:

Well, look, I mean is it wise for me just to sit here speculating about what figures we're going to see in April? What I can say to you is this. That we've reversed the VAT cut that helped get our economy through the worst last year. From that there will be further tax receipts, tax revenues will start flowing back into the Treasury. I think our borrowing requirement over the year will be as it has been forecast. I think we will come within that figure. I hope very much - unless we were to make some silly moves, which we are not going to do - that growth, recovery, the road to recovery will be strengthening as the year goes on, and that will be seen by the mid point of the year. But we're dealing, Andrew, with a balance of risks. Now I think that that balance …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I understand that and I know the point you're going to make and you've made it already.

LORD MANDELSON

(over) … No, well let me … Well let me make it if I may.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright.

LORD MANDELSON:

I think that balance of risks favours keeping our present policies on track rather than doing, as the Conservatives would have us do …

ANDREW MARR:

Well they can answer for themselves.

LORD MANDELSON:

… and that's take a complete departure.

ANDREW MARR:

They can answer for themselves.

LORD MANDELSON:

Well they will increasingly answer for themselves.

ANDREW MARR:

But you've got a budget and when it comes to the spending side, which is another thing I'd like to ask about, 11% upwards of a real shrinkage in the non sort of core budgets - this is what everybody's talking about - those are really, really big departmental cuts. Now whether the Conservatives win the election or whether you win the election, a government is going to have to make those kind of really serious reductions, and I put it to you that still politicians are not being straight with the country about the level of reduction there's going to have to be and the pain there's going to have to be.

LORD MANDELSON:

Is that really fair or true about Alistair Darling?

ANDREW MARR:

I think it is. I think it is fair.

LORD MANDELSON:

Really? I'm not sure that it is.

ANDREW MARR:

I think we've heard the headlines. We haven't heard the detail.

LORD MANDELSON:

Look we will address the detail when we know what the state of the economy is towards the back end of this year. There's really very little point in sitting here speculating about how the economy is going to perform to the last decimal point during the course of 2010 and start to make our, you know, spending decisions in detail now. What you do know in outline is two things. You know that we're going very seriously, and we've legislated for this, to reduce the deficit by half over four years. You also know that we're going to keep in place …

ANDREW MARR:

Well we know you've said you're going to do it, but we don't know whether you will.

LORD MANDELSON:

Well …

ANDREW MARR:

Let me, let me ask you … Sorry, I must move on and ask you about the banks because that is one part of the economy which is clearly recovering - doing rather well, the banks, at the moment.

LORD MANDELSON:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

And ask you how you would respond if it turns out that RBS, for instance, are planning to spend something like 1.3 billion on bonuses? Not cash bonuses - we know they're not allowed to do that - but on bonuses of shares when their figures come out next week. Do you think that would be a responsible thing for a nationalised bank to be doing?

LORD MANDELSON:

Well let me underline the point you've made. We've ruled out cash bonuses. Bonuses will be deferred. They will depend on future success and future performance, and that's very important indeed. As far as RBS is concerned, which the taxpayers' capital has refinanced …

ANDREW MARR:

Yuh.

LORD MANDELSON:

… what we've said to them is that their priority is repairing their balance sheets and getting their capital back in place, as they need to do.

ANDREW MARR:

And lending again.

LORD MANDELSON:

And lending again fully. The bonus pool that they've indicated is very much at the lower end.

ANDREW MARR:

1.3 billion?

LORD MANDELSON:

Well it's at the lower end of the banks.

ANDREW MARR:

It's an awful lot.

LORD MANDELSON:

And I think what I would say to RBS is this, and to their Chief Executive Stephen Hester who's a rather strong and rather able man but whose performance in delivery has not yet been tested. Look if further down the line in years to come, he's done well and he's turned around RBS, he deserves …

ANDREW MARR:

But not yet?

LORD MANDELSON:

… he deserves something back for it, and I would be the first to say so. But not now.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay not now. And what about the Conservative idea for handing back to the public directly a sort of bonus when the banks are… It seems a rather sensible and popular idea, doesn't it? Why shouldn't we have some money back?

LORD MANDELSON:

(over) It's a rather, it's a rather silly little gimmick. Look given the share price of RBS, for example now - rather low, people can buy shares and wait for the share price to rise in due course. But look, what I would say to George Osborne and David Cameron is that if the deficit really is the priority and cutting it, what on earth are they doing playing around giving away the assets and shares in RBS at knockdown prices at this stage, which would be at the expense both of the taxpayer as a whole and our future ability to reduce the deficit? It's another piece of sort of headline grabbing, incoherence from those two.

ANDREW MARR:

So on the whole, I gather you're probably against the idea.

LORD MANDELSON:

Well …

ANDREW MARR:

Lord Mandelson, we have to finish there. (Mandelson laughs) Thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS



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