BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 23.09.01

==================================================================================== NB. THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT 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 ==================================================================================== ON THE RECORD RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE DATE: 23.09.01 ==================================================================================== JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. While the world waits anxiously for the Americans to act, we'll be asking: what are the options and how can the Government maintain support in this country for our role? And I'll be talking to David Blunkett about what else we should be doing to deal with the extremists here at home. And where do the Liberal Democrats go from here. That's after the news read by Darren Jordan. NEWS HUMPHRYS: There is any amount of speculation but only one certainty... no-one knows exactly what the Americans are planning to do. An attack on Afghanistan seems inevitable, according to many of the papers this morning, the SAS have already begun operating there, but what form it will take we simply have no idea. Nor can we be sure how much political support there will be in this country when the bullets start flying and our own forces become involved. I'll be talking to David Blunkett about security here at home and what new measures he might have in mind, but first , Iain Watson reports on the options facing President Bush and the political fallout. IAIN WATSON: Letters of condolence for the Protheros'. Any bereavement is painful, but, over the past ten days this Somerset family has suffered as their hopes have turned to despair. Their daughter, Sarah, is one of the six-thousand, three-hundred and thirty-three people formally reported as missing - but presumed dead - as a result of the terrorist attacks on New York's twin towers. REVEREND DAVID PROTHERO: Everyone's emotions are raw at the moment aren't they and everyone's reacting, and so am I, reacting with a sadness and wanting to deny that it's ever happened and wanting to do everything possible to make sure it never ever happens again. WATSON: The destruction of the World Trade Center devastated the lives of people in sixty-three countries who've lost relatives and friends. Recent opinion polls, in the US, the UK and in continental Europe, have shown strong support for a military response and an international coalition is now being forged. LOUIS MICHEL: We are ready to support even military, of course, military support - we don't exclude anything. LORD CLARK: I think it's right that we try and assist our American allies and to weed out the people who perpetrated this terrible crime and we join them in the fight against terrorism. It's all our fight. WATSON: The events in the USA have united most countries in one response: this must never be allowed to happen again. Something must be done. Tracking down the sources of terrorist finance is - relatively speaking - the easy part. But it's much more difficult when it comes to military action. Tony Blair spent much of the past week helping to build a massive coalition against terrorism. But the question is whether that coalition, not just between countries but also within countries will hold, especially if we face a long and perhaps open-ended campaign. PETER KILFOYLE MP: Hawks in the American Administration I fear are trying to shape an agenda which settles old scores, rather than meets the needs of a campaign against terrorism. If anything, they're going to make matters infinitely worse. MOHAMMED SARWAR MP: If Britain sides with America, then there is a danger that terrorists will target Britain. WATSON : Cruise missiles have been the US weapon of choice in past conflicts, most recently in the Balkans. But President Clinton's strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan three years ago in response to attacks on US embassies had little effect. The pressure on President Bush from the American people for action is getting through. If he becomes tempted to launch similar strikes now, some experts say the value is likely to be more symbolic than real. COLONEL MIKE DEWAR: The last Cruise missile attack on a Wadi in the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan, we think had precious little effect, apart from knocking down a few huts and killing a few goats and maybe the odd individual. DOUG HENDERSON MP: Well I don't think air strikes would work, it would be like bombing Belfast to try and root out IRA terrorists. That wouldn't work in Ireland and it certainly won't work in Afghanistan. WATSON: Just how wide ranging are American aims in their war against terrorism? The main focus currently is on Afghanistan as the assumed hiding place of Osama Bin Laden, the man the US and UK governments have named as their prime suspect in the attacks on the United States. This terrorist outrage struck Lockerbie in 1988. A former M15 officer who was involved in investigating the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, says that building up evidence can take years - that sometimes early intelligence reports can point in the wrong direction. DAVID SHAYLER: If you look at the Lockerbie case the initial investigation concentrated on Palestinian organisations. As time went on and they started to gather hard evidence, it became clear it was the Libyans. But it took over two years to get indictments against two Libyans. So at the moment we cannot really say that Bin Laden is involved with this because there is no hard evidence, and we are in danger of rushing in feet first before we establish the facts. WATSON: Doubts about the evidence on Bin Laden have led to calls here for him to be handed over to an independent court, and not to the United States. SARWAR: No country can be accuser, investigator, prosecutor and at the same time judge and jury. If there is evidence against Osama Bin Laden, then that evidence should be presented to the International Tribunal and I will support any call that Taliban must hand over Osama Bin Laden to the International Tribunal and if he's guilty, he must be punished and he must be brought to justice. WATSON: Currently the niceties of how to put Osama Bin Laden on trial don't arise. As the Taliban won't hand him over - the allies face the problem of tracking him down. SHAYLER: Let's face it, we couldn't beat the IRA in Northern Ireland and that's where you have got access to where records of where people live and so on. The idea of trying to find terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan is going to be impossible. There is a very real practical issue here that if you start fighting terrorists with terrorism you will increase terrorism. WATSON: Special forces in training. It's widely thought the task of rooting out Bin Laden will fall upon America's Delta Force troops and Britain's SAS. COLONEL DEWAR: Going in very quickly, either eliminating their target or physically capturing it and taking it out of Afghanistan. Now that is perfectly possible. British special forces have operated in that area. US special forces are well equipped and well trained to do a similar operation. Perfectly feasible. WATSON: A former defence minister doesn't doubt the ability of our special forces, but warns that deployment of ground troops could cost British lives. KILFOYLE: We seem to be moving into a situation and I'd say it was certainly true of Afghanistan that if we were to be engaged in any shape or form, there will be casualties and whether the British public and, indeed, the American public, will countenance that remains to be seen. WATSON: The message from the US administration is that they won't be satisfied with simply putting on trial Osama Bin Laden. They also want to shut down his organisation, Al Qaida, or in English, the base. It's known to have operated training camps in Afghanistan. but it may difficult to take action against them without also tackling the fundamentalist Taliban regime which has allowed them to operate. Despite this low-rent version of a cold-war style military parade in Kabul, the Taliban aren't an army in the conventional sense, but they are a very effective guerilla force; so some experts say the West should fight fire with fire and arm the home-grown opposition - the Northern Alliance - to take on the Taliban. DEWAR: They could beef up, if you like, the Northern Alliance and help it expand out of its northern chunk of territory, currently occupies some thirty per cent, up to thirty per cent, of the northern part of Afghanistan. The aim might well be to expand this into the whole of Afghanistan. WATSON: But at this point some of those who believe action should be taken against Bin Laden wouldn't support toppling foreign regimes as a war aim - at least, not without UN endorsement. KILFOYLE: There are lots of appalling regimes around the world and I think it's rather difficult for any one nation or indeed group of nations to arbitrarily pick from amongst those particular regimes that they despise and set out to overthrow. I mean the last thing we need to do is to encourage a whole new generation of potential suicide bombers. WATSON: The message from the summit of European Union leaders on Friday was one of unity. Behind the scenes, there may be some doubts about ousting the government of Afghanistan, although few would shed tears for the Taliban. But what may place the wider coalition under increasing, perhaps even unbearable pressure, is if the US begins to target even more Muslim states. LOUIS MICHEL: We want of course a proportionate reaction, and a targeted reaction, so they promised full consultation. I think the United States allies will immediately feel if they should react too strongly for instance, they will immediately feel that the European Union cannot follow that, and so I think they will be prudent. WATSON: The Americans have been saying that the war on terrorism doesn't begin and end in Afghanistan. Countries which harbour terrorists or sponsor terrorism could also face reprisals. Iran was in the past seen as a rogue state but will be courted by the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw this week . But their old foe, Iraq, may suffer a different fate. Sudan and Somalia have in the past been accused of sheltering terrorists as has Libya, though they denounced the recent attack on the US. Some experts certainly believe there will be some form of action beyond Afghanistan. DEWAR: A more conventional war in Iraq I think is, is a definite possibility. I mean links have already been proven to Saddam Hussein's intelligence people who are known to have spoken to one of the hijackers about a year before the events of last week. So it, it is, it is very possible that Saddam Hussein and his regime will become a target. Indeed, there has been much talk of the Americans wishing to finish the job that they didn't finish in 1991. WATSON: American fighter planes aboard the USS Enterprise - a vessel with high name recognition for American television viewers. It's reported to be in the Indian Ocean, while as many as five-hundred US fighter aircraft are thought to be stationed on land around the Middle east. The US is ensuring it's keeping its military options open. Britain will have its full complement of twenty thousand service personnel in the Gulf state of Oman by the beginning of October. Although they are on a military exercise, their headquarters staff have had their duties changed to be on standby for any operation against world terrorism. While some politicians don't rule out a wider conflict, others worry about the potential consequences of British involvement. SARWAR: My fear is that if British government supported American actions outrightly, then there is a real danger that the people and, in particular, the people in the third world countries and Muslims, will regard Britain as the 'Yes' person of United States of America. MACKINLAY: Of course I and my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour Party understand the gravity of the situation and are also nervous, but the bottom line is that we know we have to deny terrorists access to weapons of mass destruction which could be an atomic weapon in a suitcase or, or a chemical let off in the London Underground in a Coca-Cola tin. That's the issue. BRUCE GEORGE MP: If there is evidence that any state was providing intelligence to whoever the terrorists are or had provided them with protection, provided them with passports, if a whole range of criteria that had been devised are met, you know, then it may well be that that country will be targeted but if they are targeted the same rules apply and that is it must not be indiscriminate, it must be based on solid evidence. WATSON: The war against terrorism won't be limited to faraway countries of which we know little. It'll also be fought on the home front. If effective action is to be taken to prevent, rather than simply respond to terrorism, then some say we may have to face profound changes to our everyday lives. If destruction also breeds creation, then the events in New York may prove influential in giving rise to new thinking on civil liberties. The UK government is on the brink of introducing more anti-terrorist measures, although Downing Street in a briefing note to MPs reassured them that the European Convention on Human Rights wouldn't be infringed by new legislation. But even a champion of open government now says there must be a new balance between liberty and security. LORD CLARK: We're gonna have to start rethinking many of the ways in which we approach our civil liberties whilst trying to protect them as much as possible. For example, ID cards, must be on the agenda now. Must be debated. Airports - we've got to step up the check-in. We've got to make sure that the asylum seekers that none of them can be any way an excuse for a front for terrorist groups, and that can easily be done, and these are the sorts of things we've got to try and do which will affect the way we live, but may be necessary if we're gonna win the fight against terrorism. MACKINLAY: It's very important that those drafting the legislation the Home Secretary's going to bring to Parliament in a few weeks time, does ensure that for every limitation on liberties, every curtailment there is a balancing safeguard. WATSON: Those who have suffered most have more immediate concerns. As the Protheros' remember their daughter, they also fear that other people, as yet unknown, could be facing a similar fate to those who died in America. REVEREND PROTHERO: I hope that the gospel of reconciliation will somehow find its way through the darkness and through, through the desire for revenge which isn't going to achieve anything. WATSON: The British government have stressed that any action against terrorism mustn't be seen as a war on Islam; that they simply have no option but take action against those thought responsible for inflicting grief on the Protheros' and thousands of other families across the world. But the methods they employ in their battle, will determine whether they can maintain broad support - and continue to occupy the moral high ground. HUMPHRYS: Iain Watson reporting there. JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well the Home Secretary David Blunkett is in our Sheffield studio. Good afternoon Mr. Blunkett. DAVID BLUNKETT MP: Good afternoon John. HUMPHRYS: Come to the question of what we're doing at home in a moment, can I ask you first about what seems to be, see whether you agree with this, a growing reservation about what actions the United States might take, given that everybody seems to agree that something must be done, there is serious reservation about what? BLUNKETT: Well that something must be done is absolutely hopeless unless people accept that that something involves tackling sending signals to preventing the actions of terrorists, so we need to take a deep breath and to reflect that immediately after the terrorist attack on the 11th September people feared that there would be an immediate, inappropriate and indiscriminate response. That didn't take place. A great deal of consultation and thought has taken place since and a great deal of preparation. Now I would have thought that would have reassured people that we weren't simply lashing out, we were trying to ensure that the response was both proportionate and targeted at those who threaten all our lives in the future. HUMPHRYS: Doesn't seem quite to have reassured many quite senior people in your party, some very senior people like Clare Short, and we heard from others, Peter Kilfoyle and so on in that film. BLUNKETT: Yes, Peter's a very good friend of mine, but I have to ask him a question and I think it's one that your own article in one of the Sunday's poses today as to whether there are moral equivalents and we have to ask ourselves, because this is a fundamental argument that goes on behind the scenes in politics about moral relativism. If someone destroys the life of almost seven-thousand people, their families, innocent people, not involved in Bin Laden's war against our state of life, as well as the Americans but innocent people, do we simply sit back and protect ourselves only by taking measures at home, which in themselves are then criticised by the very same people who are worried about the proportionality of the action we take against Bin Laden internationally, in other words, we can't have it both ways. HUMPHRYS: But do you share the view and it's expressed at the front page of the Independent this morning, the opinion poll that they've done and the many people that they have talked to, that yes, to go back to that phrase, something must be done and targeted action must take place, but they are very reluctant, people in this country are very nervous about the implications of a wider assault that might for instance lead to another war in the Middle East, or something. BLUNKETT: Yes of course they are and I think one of the great strides that have been taken over the last ten days, and I hope my breath in terms of it lasting, is that there is, at least some appreciation in the Middle East that the Israeli/Palestinian situation has to be taken into account and hopefully over a period of time resolved. People will be concerned, but they'd be even more concerned if internationally and at home we didn't take the basic measures, firstly, to strike back and to get the signal across that we're simply not prepared to sit there and wait for the next creative and imaginative terrorist attack, because it was, in the attack on the World Trade Centre and on the Pentagon, but we are prepared to take action that seeks to protect our democracy, whilst maintaining the right of free speech and maintaining the ability to disagree, a right which those very terrorists would take away from us. HUMPHRYS: Do you share reservations about widening this beyond Afghanistan, to say, Iraq? BLUNKETT: Well I think there's been a very considerable discussion going on in the United States in the Executive of the United States, which those in the know have not only known about, but it's been written about, people are aware, that in traditional terms there are hawks and doves. What our Prime Minister has been able to do, not only by the tremendous stand he's taken, but by also ensuring that Britain had a voice with the United States, is to ask the very question that people will be asking who are viewing this afternoon, which is, "have we evidence on where Bin Laden was aided and how he was aided, and the financial, as well as the organisational backing? And did that involve regimes?" And of course, that debate has led us to the pause that has taken place over the last ten days, so I'm answering your question by saying, of course they're looking at this and taking it into account, and the fact that there hasn't been an immediate response and that those who wanted a strike within days on other countries have been asked to hold their hand. HUMPHRYS: So you're saying we need to be cautious, in short? BLUNKETT: I think we need to ensure, as we've been saying from this country, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been saying, that we actually look to strike back at those who are identified as being the terrorists or supporting the terrorists. HUMPHRYS: Can we look at what's happening here at home now. We know that some people are being held on suspicion, clearly, you're not going to talk in detail about anybody being held by the police but can I ask, if you can, just to clear up this single area, those three people who are being held, are they being held on suspicion of being connected with what happened in the United States or on suspicion of something, of being involved in something that might have been planned in this country. BLUNKETT: They're being held on suspicion of whether their actions and their contacts and the way in which they behaved was involved with or contributed to the terrorist act. And we obviously have to route here, not merely whether people have been involved directly, but whether people have aided and succoured those who engineered and took the terrorist actions, and that does of course involve quite wide ranging inquiries. It's why time has been taken to identify and then to pick these people up, and of course our securities as well as policing services are doing that now on an hourly basis, so with the experience we've had regrettably from Northern Ireland, we have good practice in terms of knowing how to and where to look for these people. HUMPHRYS: There are as we know many extra police on the streets of our big cities. What are they doing. I mean it's very hard to see how any number of extra police can wage this war against terrorism, spot the things that are going on that we might be concerned about, to protect us. What are they doing, all those extra police? BLUNKETT: Well, there are two tasks immediately. One is to protect any likely target and to have sufficient surveillance to watch whether people are acting suspiciously in approaching or in fact around those areas, secondly, to protect the people who may be at risk. And as I met the Islamic leaders in this country on Friday, giving support to the stance of our government, very clear in their condemnation of terrorism, said to us, "Please ensure that we are protected, that people who are at risk receive the necessary action" Now, that's true of anyone whatever their race or religion in circumstances where crazy people are likely to do crazy things, and sometimes are encouraged to do so by others. So that's what they're doing. I want the policing operation not to frighten, not to create insecurity because we need to live our lives. If we're going to avoid our economy disintegrating we've got to live our lives as we normally would, within reason, taking care of course, but we've also got to make sure that people do feel that in those circumstances we as government are fulfilling the traditional role of government, which is to provide that security, that order, that stability. HUMPHRYS: So what's your assessment of the risk facing us. John Stevens, Sir John Stevens the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said "We are the next biggest target". Do you agree with that? BLUNKETT: Well, I talked to him on Friday after he'd been reported as making those remarks. He indicated to me that he was answering a very specific question. We don't know where the next target will be, which is why dealing with terrorists in this way is both a bigger challenge and a greater laying down of the gauntlet to us than we've experienced before, even when we were dealing with the IRA who, we knew where they were and knew what their particular objectives were at that time. With terrorism of this sort with suicide bombers, with people who could strike at any time, we're dealing with a different enemy. HUMPHRYS: Geoff Hoon, your colleague in the Cabinet, the Defence Secretary, talked in an interview this morning about us having been - he didn't use the word complacent I don't think, but he talked about us not having taken warning, sufficient warning of previous threats to us, not having taken sufficient note of those warnings. Do you agree with that, have we been a bit complacent in the past? BLUNKETT: Well, I don't know what Geoff was referring to, maybe perhaps the attacks on the American Embassies in Tanzania, in Kenya three years ago, but... HUMPHRYS: I think in more general terms. You know, where we've had our security forces, our intelligence people have had a number of warnings that may or may not have been passed on, but we've been a bit sort of lax in following them up. I think that was the idea. BLUNKETT: Well I don't think anyone perceived a suicide attack of the nature that we saw against the World Trade Centre. I don't think we'd envisaged that people in taking theirs and other peoples' lives on the planes and in the offices would actually do such a thing, so I put no blame on people who did not imagine other than in dreams and outrageous films that nobody would for a moment have taken any notice of in real life.... HUMPHRYS: No, but in general terms, have we been a wee bit complacent? BLUNKETT: Well, we do take our democracy and our freedoms for granted, and I shall be saying more about this later in the week because I'm publishing a little book where I say that we need to secure our democracy in depth, we need to develop people's appreciation of what they've got to lose and at the same time, provide that security, that order, that stability, that mutuality, internally and across the world, that enables us to live together. We're interdependent, we can't isolate ourselves either as individuals and families, nor as nations, and that really does bring us back to the beginning the question we just had, which is, that you can't separate out the moral imperatives here. The need to appreciate that interdependence globally as well as at home, leads us to have to both strengthen our own democracy, to engage people with it so that we know what we're defending and why, and to be vigilant in taking difficult measures to protect ourselves, and that second part is going to be the crucial balance that I've talked to you about on the radio twice over the last ten days where, of course, we must take action that involves avoiding people literally making a monkey out of us, literally abusing democracy, but we must try and do so proportionately as we are in striking back against the terrorists. HUMPHRYS: So what is the purpose of the new anti-terrorist legislation that you are proposing to introduce quite soon we're told? BLUNKETT: Well the Prime Minister is examining at the moment the package of measures from a number of departments and I don't wish to pre-empt what he might wish to announce except to say that, whatever we do will take time to put through parliament, even with emergency measures, and there may be more than one necessary bill, the drafting of those in a democracy and to be able to put them through parliament coherently is a tremendous challenge so nobody need talk about recalling parliament this week or in the following two weeks to pass legislation. It will take us time to get this together. The purpose firstly, obviously, is to provide mutual recognition and to align what we are doing with our fellow European Union members so that we can recognise their judicial and policing systems in their own democratic system, secondly to be able to make sure that people who are at risk to us are dealt with decisively and that includes those who may be trying to enter the country, and thirdly to balance those against maintaining free speech and the rights that we take for granted so that the terrorists don't achieve their ultimate goal which is to destroy our economy, our democracy and our way of life. HUMPHRYS: But it is possible, isn't it, inevitably, that some of the measure proposed, might, if they are going to be sufficiently Draconian, sufficiently effective is perhaps a better word, might fall foul of the Human Rights Act, and therefore present us with a problem. BLUNKETT: Well there are two things. Contrary to general belief, the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into our own Human Rights Act will at least allow our judiciary to make judgements related to our own act, albeit that Article, I don't want to lose the audience at this point, but Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights as I've discovered over recent weeks is very difficult indeed to deal with in these circumstances, but yes there will be a balance to be struck, there will be tensions between the ECHR and the Human Rights Act and the necessary protection that we seek, and of course, in looking at these of the last week or two, I've actually found out that these tensions were there in the Second World War, that judgements had to be made by a judiciary, they did so of course with an eye to the political realities around them, and I hope that in getting this balance right we can accept one fundamental tenet of our system, which is that it is elected representatives who can be removed and who are accountable in a democratic open and transparent parliament who should be the prime concern, the prime protectors of our rights, rather than having to rely on the judicial system, which by its very nature, might protect us against authoritarianism but isn't accountable. HUMPHRYS: So is it possible that we might have to try and find a way of amending our Human Rights legislation, difficult though that may be? BLUNKETT: Well far be it for me to enter into these very difficult areas on a television programme, important as it is, and with time that you've given me to explain it. I think we'll have to find an accommodation which allows us to ensure that we take the kind of actions that prevent those terrorists undermining and doing away with the most basic freedoms of all, the freedom from insecurity, from fear and of course from taking of life. HUMPHRYS: So you would take whatever action is necessary to prevent that happening, in other words, to prevent that ultimate sanction by the terrorists against us, that is more important at this stage in our history or at least, that takes priority. BLUNKETT: That is the objective. The means of getting there and maintaining those balances are precisely the discussions that we are and will be having over the next few weeks both in terms of government and then subsequently and openly in a parliament that can debate these issues, only free to do so because we protect ourselves from having to take even more Draconian measures by allowing the terrorists to act against us freely in the belief that somehow that moral equivalent exists that I talked about at the beginning of the programme. HUMPHRYS: So you would do those things even if it meant the Human Rights legislation having to be amended in one form or another, however it were done? BLUNKETT: I am not making a judgement at the moment until... HUMPHRYS: ...but it is possible? BLUNKETT: ...I had the opportunity with is possible that we will have to change the balance in terms of ensuring that that most basic right of all, the right to live freely in this country, is maintained. HUMPHRYS: Let's look at that question then of living freely in this country, and that's identity cards, we've spoken about this past of course and a number of other people have raised it. You'll have seen, the public seems overwhelmingly to support the introduction of identity cards, and they feel that this should be given a higher priority than it seems to be given at the moment. Are you impressed by that? BLUNKETT: Well I'm giving it a fairly high priority in terms of the discussions and the consideration behind the scenes. What I've said before, and I repeat again this afternoon is that it would be quite wrong for me to make a snap announcement or to do so with my colleagues when we haven't had the chance to properly think through the implications and of course to do so on the back of the attack on the World Trade Centre. There are much broader issues about entitlement and citizenship and not merely security in terms of some form of identity card which we are looking at very seriously indeed. HUMPHRYS: And are you looking a compulsory ID card or something voluntary? BLUNKETT: Without pre-empting the decision of government, because this needs to be taken not just by myself but by other colleagues with me, without pre-empting any final decision I do think it's worth me just saying that I think a voluntary card in the present circumstances would not be a great deal of help. HUMPHRYS: We have many people who would say entirely pointless. BLUNKETT: Well you've just said it. HUMPHRYS: Right. And as far as compulsory cards are concerned, if they were to come in, the worry again that many people have, and this will something that you've considered yourself quite clearly is that they can be easily forged, so that given that, given that they may prove ineffective, the potential loss of our liberty in that narrow respect would be something that you'd be concerned about. BLUNKETT: Well of course the technology has changed. The ability to have thumb or fingerprint cards, or even the iris of one's eye, is very different now in terms of people potentially forging the cards, it's partly why the deliberations have to be about entitlements, not just security, this should not be seen in the discussions that are undoubtedly taking place, and I've seen the newspapers this morning, should not be purely on the basis of some sort of police state. We don't have a police state, nor will we have a police state so long as we can combat the kind of terrorism that we saw two weeks ago. HUMPHRYS: And one of the things that worries many people about that is that within the country there are many organisations that have been proscribed as a result of the relatively new legislation, but they are still out there, their supporters are still out there, and they hate that, and they're scared of that. BLUNKETT: Yes I understand that very well. The Terrorism Act came in, it was passed last year, the twenty-one organisations that are proscribed were dealt with by my predecessor Jack Straw at the end of February. Those organisations and those who belonged to them are being monitored, and action will, I promise everyone, be taken, the moment any of those individuals steps over the line. HUMPRHYS: But defining steps over the line is a bit tricky isn't it? And many other countries accuse us of harbouring terrorists. BLUNKETT: Well it's tricky only because of the very democracy that people are seeking to defend and others are abusing, so we have this genuine problem of making sure that we have due process of law, but we have due cause, not only to pick them up, it would be very easy for me to say to the police and security services, pick them up, but actually to take them through to prosecution, one individual for instance who has been shouting his mouth off lately, was picked up in 1991, '96, '98 but was not adjudged to have taken sufficient steps to warrant prosecution. In the first case, he had actually threatened the life of Margaret Thatcher, so you know, we do in a democracy have restraints and structures that are neither respected by, nor understood, by the people we are now dealing with. HUMPHRYS: Right, but your first priority as you have acknowledged in this interview is to protect that democracy and many say if it means changing the law to make it easier to pick up these people and hold these people, then do it. BLUNKETT: Yes they do and I am hearing it and I say what I've said before that my instincts are the same as the men and women who are sat in their lounge this afternoon watching this programme but I have a responsibility to make sure that whatever with the Prime Minister and my Cabinet colleagues we bring forward to parliament, not only stands up to scrutiny, but actually is effective in dealing with the terrorists in protecting ourselves and ensuring that they ..that the measures stand up to scrutiny in years to come. My instincts are to ensure that we take whatever action is necessary to prevent those engaged in terrorism abusing our democracy in order to destroy it. HUMPHRYS: So your instincts are possibly to change the law? BLUNKETT: My instincts are to ensure that the law is proportionate to dealing with the threat and that where the law failed in very different times, without the threat of suicide terrorist bombers, suicide actions that threaten the lives of civilians, not of the military, that we actually take the necessary steps to ensure that we get that right. HUMPHRYS: Home Secretary, many thanks for joining us. BLUNKETT: John, thank you. HUMPHRYS: The Liberal Democrats begin their annual conference today... overshadowed of course by the terrible events in the United States but buoyed up to some extent at any rate by their successes at the last election. The problem for them is what strategy do they adopt from here if they are to achieve the ambition many have for them.. and that is to become the main party of opposition? As Terry Dignan reports, they are divided on whether to move to the left... or to the right. TERRY DIGNAN: The Liberal Democrats begin their annual conference today... overshadowed by the terrible events in the United States but buoyed up to some extent by their successes at the last election. The problem for them is what strategy do they adopt from here if they are to achieve the ambition many have for them and that is to become the main party of opposition? As Terry Dignan reports, they are divided on whether to move to the left... or to the right. In a quiet Surrey suburb, a group of Liberal Democrats attend a Tandoori night. Following the horrifying events of September the eleventh, the atmosphere is, understandably, sombre. But, on the domestic front, tonight's special guest feels supremely optimistic. EDWARD DAVEY MP: "Because I think we will be in Government in Westminster within the next ten years." DIGNAN: Although the Liberal Democrats have tasted electoral success, they say the 2001 campaign was just for starters. They want the top table at Westminster which means overtaking Labour and the Conservatives. But to achieve that aim they may face painful decisions about where they really stand on the big domestic issues, like taxation and the management of public services. DAVEY: "Seven seats saw....." DIGNAN: Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey says simply continuing to target Conservative seats won't be enough to win power. Instead Liberal Democrats should make their goal Labour's urban heartlands where, it's argued, dissatisfaction over public services has lowered turnouts. Their positioning to Labour's left on tax and spending is seen as a strength in this regard. DAVEY: When people use those terms, they're talking about the tax and spend debate. Now I'm very comfortable with the Liberal Democrats' current position, which in those old-fashioned terms of left and right, does put us to the left of Labour. Therein lies an opportunity for us. Because a lot of those abstainers were people who didn't like Labour. They couldn't ever bring themselves to vote Conservative. But they didn't like the fact that New Labour was, in many ways, aping the Conservatives and adopting a very centre-right position. DIGNAN: Yet on election night, the Liberal Democrats under their new leader celebrated gains made, yet again, mainly at the expense of the Conservatives. CHARLES KENNEDY MP: "We are very much the party of the future." DIGNAN: But are they? If the new Tory leader alienates some Conservatives by moving rightwards, it could be a lost opportunity for Charles Kennedy if his party goes in the opposite direction. MARK OATEN MP: I think that would be wrong, that would be dangerous, and this current climate where we have an enormous opportunity to benefit from a, a right-wing Conservative Party, we'd be foolish to position ourselves in the left, in that sense. VOICE OVER: "From the BBC. This is Five Live." DIGNAN: In the broadcasting studios, with military conflict looming, the politicians respond to voters' anxieties. But normal politics still intrude. The voters want to know where the Liberal Democrats are heading. Because what they stand for now is higher taxes and higher public spending. EVAN HARRIS MP: People actually trust more a party that has a menu with prices rather than one, as we've seen Labour do, saying, everything'll be fine, and no-one will have to pay any more tax. It doesn't add up, and I think the mass abstentions at the last election showed that people realised it didn't add up. LORD CLEMENT-JONES: I think to his enormous credit Charles Kennedy went for the fifty per cent above the hundred thousand disposable income taxation bracket in order to pay for education and health, to improve our public services, and I think that was a very popular policy. After all, we were the only party that significantly increased our representation at the last election. DIGNAN: The Winchester MP Mark Oaten first came to prominence after beating the Conservatives in a by-election landslide. Now chairman of Liberal Democrat MPs, he worries about the party having a left wing image and says the pledge to raise taxes may have to go. OATEN: One of the political dangers is that the commentators will increasingly see us as a populist party which is to the left of the political spectrum, that wants to constantly put taxes up and hasn't got any creative thinking. Now I don't think that's where we are. I think that we've been honest in the past about saying that we do need extra funds, but now it's a time to question that, and to say, well, if we want to improve our public services, maybe there's a different way. HARRIS: I don't think it's a question of left or right but if to the left of Labour means we are in favour of the NHS as the best way of providing fair, good quality care, then, yes, and we'll certainly take our chances being identified as the party for decent public services. OATEN: "Ingrid, do you want to look at the diary." DIGNAN: But Mark Oaten fears that at its next appointment with the electorate the party will have become too attached to higher spending and taxes, even though the idea may be popular with Labour voters. OATEN: "Good. Alright." DIGNAN: He wants the party to consider using the private sector to improve services. OATEN: Critically this Party has to make its mind up. Do we want to put the consumers at the heart of the debate? Do we want to come up with a form of delivery which means we have the best hospitals and schools for our constituents? Or are we going to just purely say, no, it must always be the public service which does this because we believe in public services and local authorities. I argue that the consumer should come first, and our own beliefs about how it should be delivered should come second. DIGNAN: Bill Newton-Dunn was a Tory Euro-MP before defecting to the Liberal Democrats. BILL NEWTON DUNN MEP: "Getting cold?" POLICEMAN: "Very much so. Good evening, sir." DIGNAN; Looking favourably on private sector involvement in schools and hospitals might encourage other pro-European Conservatives to regard the Liberal Democrats as their kind of party. NEWTON DUNN: The idea of bringing in private finance would be attractive to the, the floating voters and even professional Tory MPs who are disaffected. Yes, they see that as a sensible way forward. DIGNAN: But moving rightwards just to accommodate the views of Conservatives uncomfortable with their new leader Iain Duncan-Smith would be unpalatable to many Liberal Democrats. And especially if it meant downgrading the pledge to raise taxes in favour of a bigger role for the private sector in managing public services. HARRIS: Even if the analysis was right that we could compete for right-wing votes with an increasingly right-wing Labour Party and an extremist Conservative Party, then I don't think that can be done by Liberal Democrats with conviction. DIGNAN: Liberal Democrat officials may struggle to attract the media to Bournemouth this week when most eyes will be on another part of the world. Yet domestic politics won't be completely overlooked: UNNAMED WOMAN: We do have quite a lot of photo-ops arranged as you know, but ..... DIGNAN: Liberal Democrats calculate that tensions in the Labour Party over public services will worsen. Having ended co-operation with Labour, they're well-placed to exploit them. Here at Liberal Democrat HQ, the party will undoubtedly be looking for ways of trying to win over disaffected Labour supporters. Indeed, some argue the Liberal Democrats now have a golden opportunity to try to weaken Labour decisively by, for example, co-operating with Labour-supporting trade unions who oppose private sector involvement in public services. LORD CLEMENT-JONES: I do see it as quite historic, because I do not see that certainly the New Labour ethos is pro-union in any sense of the word. If anything, they're much closer to business. That's why we are, you know, having discussions with the unions because, quite frankly, we agree with them and we're much closer, they're much closer to us, on these sort of policies than they are with the Government. DIGNAN: Tony Blair is accused of moving rightwards because he wants hospitals like this one to embrace the Private Finance Initiative. PFI allows companies to build and manage hospitals in return for a fee. Liberal Democrats say they don't rule out private sector involvement in public services. Yet their criticisms of the idea echo those made by trade unions and Labour backbenchers. HARRIS: It is effectively at the price of no more efficiencies, taking money out of health care and into profit for shareholders and we wouldn't blame the private sector for that - that's the job of the private sector. So, the case for the private sector in health care, particularly PFI, is unproven and, at worse, the evidence is that it's counterproductive. DIGNAN: Party policy documents call for evidence that PFI gives value for money. But some want this week's conference to back tougher opposition to PFI. LORD CLEMENT-JONES: PFI needs to be properly evaluated for all the hospital building projects so far. Until that evaluation takes place, then we shouldn't proceed with any more. DIGNAN: So the party should be more robust? LORD CLEMENT-JONES: Yes, I think they should. I don't think that the party will be hostile to that amendment at all. I think it goes with the grain of the way that they see the controversy going over their local hospitals. DIGNAN: In seats like Winchester, where many Conservative voters have switched to the Liberal Democrats, there's a fear of the party being typecast as a pale version of old Labour. The last thing the Liberal Democrat MP here wants is a set of policies which might well appeal to some disillusioned Labour voters but at the expense of deterring potential Conservative defectors. OATEN: I accept that we would be turning away some of those individuals if they saw us as being purely a party of the left, a party which supported trade unions, and said the only solution to difficulties was putting taxes up. I don't think that's where we want to be in the next year. UNNAMED WOMAN: Yes, we do take payment by credit card. I'll put you through to somebody. One moment. DIGNAN: Others argue that even losing some votes to the Conservatives would be a price worth paying if large numbers of Labour voters switched to the Liberal Democrats. HARRIS: I think that would be more than compensated for by the vast majority of people who recognise the potential that the health service and our state school system have to deliver high quality public services. OATEN: Charles Kennedy described our Party, if it were to go down to the left, as moving into the biggest cul-de-sac in British politics, and I think he's right there. DIGNAN: When these Liberal Democrats re-assemble at the Claygate Tandoori in just a few weeks, it's likely the talk will again be of events far from home. But the dilemma over which direction they should take on the big domestic issues won't have gone away. Until it does, the prospect of there being a Liberal Democrat Prime Minister will remain little more than a dream. HUMPHRYS: Terry Dignan reporting there. And that's it for this week. Don't forget about our Web Site if you are on the Internet. Until then, good afternoon. 20 FoLdEd
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit 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.