BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 07.10.01

Interview: MICHAEL HOWARD MP, Shadow Chancellor.

Mr Howard confirms that Conservative MPs have been asked to resign from the right-wing Conservative Monday Club and insists that there is no room in the Party for people with extremist views.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Michael Howard, is it time to ditch Thatcherism and embrace the middle ground? MICHAEL HOWARD: I think what we've not got to do is to define our approach by reference to the past, by reference to whether we are or are not going to ditch Thatcherism. Margaret Thatcher did great things for this country, we were on our knees as a country in 1979, she transformed the country, that was twenty years ago. We've now got to move on and what we've got to do, I think, is very simply this, I don't think that those people in Hemel Hempstead or elsewhere are going to take us as seriously we want to be taken until we can show them that we will make their lives better. And that means developing clear, credible and convincing policies that will show them how we are going to deliver better health care for them, better education for them. It is a scandal that at present in this country, people are dying from illnesses and diseases from which they would not die if they lived in France and Germany. That is the state of affairs which we've got to tackle and I think we have certain advantages over the present government, we are much more likely than they are to come up with policies which are going to make people's lives better, that's what it's all about. HUMPHRYS: You have to show them all that but you also have to show them, don't you, that you are different from the perception that many have of you and the point that Gary Streeter made, the Deputy Chairman of the Party, is that if you think of Thatcherism as your Clause 4, in the way the Labour Party ditched its Clause 4, got rid and said that's a break with the past now, then you may be able to change that perception, that's the point really isn't it. So it's relevant to today. HOWARD: We have to change the perception that people have of us obviously.. HUMPHRYS: And one way of doing it is to say, Thatcherism is behind us. HOWARD: ..we suffered a crushing defeat at the last election, well I suppose I've just said that. I said that what Margaret Thatcher did actually saved this country twenty years ago... HUMPHRYS: Sure you but agree with Gary Streeter's view that.. HOWARD: ..that was twenty years ago, we've got to move on and we've got to come up with policies which people are going to see, are going to make their lives better. Let me give you a practical example, one of the reasons why I came back into the Shadow Cabinet, a set of statistics, in East Kent, in the area I represent in Parliament. In March 1997, just before the '97 election, when we were still in office, there were forty people waiting more than thirteen weeks to see a cardiologist, with a heart problem, forty people who needed to see a heart specialist - not proud of that, that's forty people too many. In March 2001, after four years of Labour government, in East Kent, there were two hundred and sixty-nine people waiting more than thirteen weeks to see a heart specialist and many of them won't ever get to see that heart specialist, they'll die before they ever get to see their specialist. That is something which makes me very angry. That's something we've got to do something about. HUMPHRYS: And I want to come on to the question of spending on things like the National Health Service and Education in a moment. But let's just be quite clear what you are saying about this Gary Streeter use of the expression Clause 4 in relation to Thatcherism, you are saying you do agree with him that that is something that you now have to put behind you. HOWARD: I am saying we have got to move on. Margaret Thatcher was actually a very pragmatic political leader, she had principles, we have principles, she applied those principles very pragmatically, we've got to apply our principles very pragmatically. We've got to apply them in a way that will meet people's needs in the first decade of the twenty-first century and that's a different decade. HUMPHRYS: So you accept the Gary Streeter analysis as it were, right. I don't hear you differ, so I will accept that as a... HOWARD: ...well I've put it in my own words. I didn't see what Gary actually said, I've told you what I think. HUMPHRYS: Fine. We heard from that lady in the focus group, saying that - I have made a note - "They don't seem that they are a party from all walks of life. They are a certain class or clique of people." That's a problem for you isn't it? HOWARD: It is and we've got to deal with that and we've already started to deal with that. I heard a very interesting interview on the Today programme last week and I can't remember whether it was you who was doing it with Dr Zaki Badawi, the Head of the Muslim College. HUMPHRYS: Yes it was. HOWARD: Someone I know well, whose views I deeply respect and he was being interviewed in the aftermath of what Margaret Thatcher said about the Muslim reaction to the events of September the eleventh, of which Iain Duncan Smith has said he disagrees. HUMPHRYS: And I take it you do as well? HOWARD: Of course I do. And what Dr Zaki Badawi said was that Iain Duncan Smith should appoint a Muslim adviser. Iain had already done that. He'd beaten Dr Badawi to it. He has already appointed a Muslim adviser. And we absolutely take this very seriously indeed, of course we've got to be representative of the country as a whole, of course we've got to welcome every section of our national community into the Conservative Party and that is indeed a very high priority. HUMPHRYS: Well, he clearly sent a very strong message by doing that, your new leader. Is he sending a very strong message over the Monday Club as well? We heard that three MPs have resigned from it at the request of the party. When are you going to say no Tories should belong to the Monday Club. It is incompatible, membership of that club is incompatible with membership of the Conservative Party? HOWARD: Well you are quite right to say that three Members of Parliament have been asked to resign from the Monday Club and they have. After the Party Conference the Chairman of the Party, David Davies is going to meet the Chairman of the Monday Club and they will have a discussion on this. I am not going to pre-empt that discussion. One thing is absolutely clear - there is no room for people with extremist views in the Conservative Party. HUMPHRYS: And you would accept that some of the views expressed by the Monday Club in the past have been extremist, support for voluntary repatriation for instance. HOWARD: Yes, some of the views expressed in the past have been extremist. There is no room for extremist views in the Conservative Party. HUMPHRYS: So therefore by definition almost, membership of such an organisation would be incompatible with membership of the Party, wouldn't it? HOWARD: Well I've told you I am not going to pre-judge the outcome of the discussions, the Chairman of the Party... HUMPHRYS: I was just interested in your view, obviously as a very senior.... HOWARD: ...those matters will be discussed at that meeting while I am making absolutely clear as Iain Duncan Smith has already made crystal clear is that there is no room for people with extremist views in the Conservative Party. HUMPHRYS: The trouble with that view, set against some of the other actions that Iain Duncan Smith has taken since he became leader is that there seems to be an incompatibility. He appointed well, he appointed Laurence Robertson to the front bench. Now Mr Robertson is a man who supported John Townend, one of your MPs at the time, who said black immigration has created a mongrel race. As a result of that, he was cautioned by the Whips, as I understand it. He is now on your front bench. HOWARD: Well, I am not sure whether you were quoting Laurence Robertson or quoting John Townend ... HUMPHRYS: John Townend's was the quote, but Laurence Robertson was asked what he thought about it and he thought it was broadly right. HOWARD: Laurence Robertson, as far as I am aware, made one injudicious remark, for which he apologised. And that's an issue which has been dealt with and that's a chapter which has been closed. HUMPHRYS: But didn't it display an attitude, I mean, if you made such a remark you'd expect me to say, "Good God, you really believe that Mr Howard?" HOWARD: And if I said "No, I don't and I apologise for it" that would be an end of it. HUMPHRYS: But did he say "I don't really mean that"? HOWARD: He said, he apologised for it, and that's an end of it. HUMPHRYS: Apologised for an embarrassment of the Party perhaps, but apologising for your... HOWARD: No, no, no, no, no. He apologised for making the remark. Look, we can talk about this endlessly. The fact is as I've made plain today and as Iain Duncan Smith has made plain earlier, there is no place in the Conservative Party for people with extremist views. HUMPHRYS: Let's go to, you raised the question of the Health Service a moment ago. Our Health Service costs a great deal of money. One of the perceptions of that focus group that we brought together there was that you don't, the Party doesn't care enough about public services. Iain Duncan Smith has said that it is an aspiration that you should cut public spending from forty per cent ish, which is where it is at the moment, down to thirty-five per cent. HOWARD: No, he was referring back to something that John Major had actually said... HUMPHRYS: ...with which he'd agreed? HOWARD: that quote. No he didn't actually say he agreed with it, if you look at it very carefully. I have no target for public spending as a proportion of GDP. What I will say is this - other things being equal, it is better if taxes are lower, not as some matter... HUMPHRYS: ...oh well that's... HOWARD; ...well, no, no, no, wait a minute. There's a particular reason for my saying that, I'm not saying that because it's a matter of dogma, or anything like that. If you look at the evidence internationally, you will see that countries with lower taxes, countries with public spending as a lower proportion of GDP do better economically, grow faster, create resources more quickly, which is better for everyone, and better for the public services as well as for individuals. So other things being equal, the lower we can get public spending as a proportion of GDP, the better, so long as that is not at the expense of the public services that people want and expect. And our overriding priority is that we will give people the health care that they need and are entitled to, give people the education they need and are entitled to and the same applies to law and order, and to transport as well. And let me tell you why we are much more likely to achieve that than the Labour Party ever is. The truth is that when actually push comes to shove, what do the Labour Party do? They do the kind of deal with their trade union paymasters that we saw Stephen Byers do in Brighton last week and they are captured, they are still captive to their gut prejudice against the private sector. Now what we say is, we want to harness all the resources that are available in our society to tackle these pressing problems of healthcare and education and the other public services. HUMPHRYS: In just a few seconds that remains, it is therefore possible that there would be no tax cuts under a Conservative government, given all of that. HOWARD: It is possible. It is possible. I would like to see tax cuts, but we are not going to put tax cuts ahead of the need to give the people of this country the healthcare, the education and the other public services which they are entitled to and which they are certainly not getting now. HUMPHRYS: Michael Howard, thank you very much indeed. HOWARD: Thank you John.
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.