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JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. We're
about to see big changes in the way our police operate... if the Home Secretary
gets his way. But, as we'll be reporting, he may be forced to back down.
And Tony Blair's got a big fight on his hands over his support for President
Bush in the "war against terrorism". Will he be able to maintain his coalition
against terror? And are the newspapers turning against the Government?
All that after the news read by Peter Sissons.
HUMPHRYS: Thanks Peter. Later in the
programme we are going to be talking to the Conservatives' defence spokesman
about the American threat to attack Iraq. Will they give Tony Blair their
full support? And we'll be looking at the way the newspapers seem to be
turning against the government.
But first David Blunkett,
we heard about him a moment ago, he is squaring up for a fight over his
Bill to reform the way the police work. The most contentious bit would
give the Home Secretary the power to intervene in police operations. In
theory he could even order individual arrests. It raises profound questions
about the freedom of the police from political interference. And this programme
can reveal that the pressure on Mr Blunkett is now so great that tomorrow
he is going to meet Opposition leaders in the Lords to discuss a possible
compromise. In police ranks there's great unease too, they are marching
on Westminster on Wednesday. As David Grossman reports, if Mr Blunkett
does not make concessions, he risks losing the whole Bill.
DAVID GROSSMAN: In Sheffield, police are getting
ready to storm a flat where they've been told a man's threatening his family
with a knife. At the moment these officers in the Home Secretary's home
city are concentrating on the immediate future - what they'll find on the
other side of the first floor door. In the long term though there are
fears that the Government's Police Reform Bill is about to launch Britain's
police into dangerous territory.
Every time crime hits
the headlines the government know they're in for a hammering from the newspapers.
But supporters of David Blunkett the Home Secretary would argue that when
it comes to fighting crime he's actually constrained as to what he can
do. Sure Parliament can pass laws, but when it comes to enforcing them,
in England and Wales that's down to forty-three separate police forces.
The new Police Reform Bill though seeks a radical extension of the Home
Secretary's powers to intervene in policing and critics say that,combined
with other aspects of the Bill, represents a huge change for the worse
in the way that Britain's policed that hasn't been properly thought through.
SIR DAVID PHILLIPS: If the Bill were to go through
unamended it would allow for arbitrary intervention into critical operational
LORD DHOLAKIA: We are saying to the Government
that if you do not change, if you do not improve on what we are talking
about, then there is every possibility that the House, the House of Lords
will actually defeat the Government.
GROSSMAN: Officers pull over a
car for not having a tax disc. How Sheffield is policed is now really
between the chief constable and the local police authority. If the Home
Secretary has his way there'll be much more Government involvement - even
removing senior officers deemed to be under-performing. Because the Bill
also includes some provisions that almost no one objects to, like creating
a new Independent Police Complaints Commission, one former Labour Home
Office Minister says the Government should compromise on the contentious
part to make sure the legislation goes through.
MIKE O'BRIEN MP: What we must not have
is a situation where the Home Secretary or as it will in practice turn
out, civil servants in Whitehall, try to micromanage at a local level the
way in which policing is carried out. That would make for very inefficient
policing indeed and very ineffective policing. What we need to have is
a level of operational responsibility on the Chief Constable to decide
what's best for his constabulary area.
LORD DHOLAKIA: Up to now we have had local
policing in this country where there is local accountability geared very
much in terms of the police authority having the powers to direct the chief
constables and the community actually participates in that particular exercise.
We're now being told that these powers aren't adequate and the Home Secretary
wants to assume some of the powers for himself. Well we are saying no,
you cannot do that, you cannot essentially change the local nature of policing
in this country.
GROSSMAN: They know all about political
interference in policing in South Yorkshire. During the miners' strike
of the early nineteen-eighties the police here were sandwiched between
a Labour-dominated police authority that was trying to cut off its budget
- and a national Conservative Government that was determined to use the
police to smash the strike. The result was a breakdown in police community
relations that took years to heal.
RICK NAYLOR: We saw then, the political
nature, political interference in operational policing. It was a very
emotional and emotive time, but we saw some practical effects of how that
actually held back the South Yorkshire police in the way that it wanted
to develop after the strike. There is a fear now with the Home Secretary
taking powers as he proposes to do in the Bill, that this could become
something that is experienced across the nation. I'm not saying that David
Blunkett or his ministers would want to do this but there is an opportunity
there, and we must be very careful before we alter the constitution as
it now stands.
LORD DIXON-SMITH: When you write any law you have
to consider what use can be made of that law by less than reasonable people
and if we put this in place we're removing a protection which works very
much to the benefit of society at the moment because you couldn't have
a let's say a home secretary who could in theory control the careers of
individual police officers, being able to say well now look you've got
to do this, whatever it is, which, if you wish to progress and that would
be completely unreasonable.
GROSSMAN: You're talking about a police
LORD DIXON SMITH: Yes, that is the ultimate possibility.
GROSSMAN: This is along way from
any totalitarian nightmare. Neighbourhood wardens employed by the council
patrol one of Sheffield's housing estates. Today they're providing a reassuring
presence outside the Post Office on pension day. They can call in graffiti
removal, keep an eye out for vandalism, and a thousand other urban irritations
the police just don't have the time to deal with.
Now these wardens in Sheffield
and the others like them up and down the country actually have no more
legal power than you or I would walking the streets in a brightly coloured
jacket but the Police Reform Bill could change that. The Home Secretary
wants to create what would be called community support officers and they
would have the power to detain suspects. Critics say that's dangerous
new territory and would turn what are at present a useful supplement to
law enforcement into a second class and cut price police force.
LORD DIXON-SMITH: We think that this is not right
in principle. We think that curiously enough the most important work that
the police do is on the beat and if you're looking for one of the reasons
for the rise in street crime, it is quite simply that the police have withdrawn
from the streets to a considerable degree.
FRED BROUGHTON: The policing function on the streets
when you're stopping, searching, detaining people, and using force is the
most difficult of all the policing functions. It's where the problems happen
and it's where the disputes happen and it's where the criticism of policing
happens and that's why we can't quite understand why a government would
want to move to the most critical part of the policing role that at that
point where you're dealing with aggression and hostility potentially, that
you'd want to reduce the standards and the quality. It just seems unacceptable.
GROSSMAN: When the Sheffield neighborhood
wardens find something they can't deal with - in this case an abandoned
car - they hand it over to the police. It's an arrangement that all seem
happy with. The new style community support officers though would be under
the direct control of the police, and so it's feared that over-stretched
force commanders may be tempted to send them into potentially dangerous
situations instead of their regular officers.
PHILLIPS: Let's imagine that we
have a call of distress, to a domestic dispute, to a missing child or whatever
and we have one of these patrols nearby. Are we going to send them or not?
Well if it's a life saving or life threatening situation, we clearly are
and then we're going to put them in a situation they may not be trained
to deal with. Would it be efficient anyway to have people, a proportion
of your work force, that can only deal with a small part of the business?
Will it be possible to isolate them to particular tasks? Wouldn't it be
better to have police officers, at slightly greater cost, both in terms
of training and whatever, who can do the whole task?
O'BRIEN: There shouldn't be a creeping
agenda, of them taking over some of the responsibilities of properly qualified
British police officers. I mean policing is a profession, it's a profession
which requires qualifications, standards an independent complaints procedure.
It is a profession which has a great deal of credibility in the eyes of
the British public, they don't want to see that undermined.
GROSSMAN: This debate on reform
is taking place at the same time as negotiations on new pay and conditions
for the police. In the ranks they're not at all happy with what's being
offered by David Blunkett. Among other things many believe changes to their
overtime rates will make them significantly worse off. In a recent ballot
the package was rejected by a 9-1 margin.
O'BRIEN: I think ministers have
actually put together a very good package but they haven't gone out and
sold it, they haven't sold it to the bobby on the beat. Most police officers
in this country, as we saw in the recent ballot by the officers, think
that they will lose financially. Now they are putting their lives on a
line for our fellow citizens on a day to day basis dealing with criminals
and protecting our society. What they don't want is a pay cut - David's
got to go back to Gordon and say, a little bit more money, we've got to
then go back to the police officers, explain what the package really means
and then I think we will get David Blunkett delivering on the sort of police
reform that is so necessary.
GROSSMAN: Another call - this time
about a stolen van. The chances are that no one will ever be arrested
let alone prosecuted for this, but many police are unhappy with what happens
to the people they do catch. Senior police officers have been saying that
the Government should spend less time telling them how to do their job
and much more thinking how criminals can effectively be brought to justice.
PHILLIPS: Far too many people commit
crimes and in the end are not brought to justice, and when they are brought
to justice the outcomes are often hugely ineffective, visibly ineffective
to the public and to victims. So you know we, all of us who are involved
in this process, police officers, prosecutors, the courts, the sentencers,
all of us have got to recognise that the system at the moment is not working
well. We're looking at some crown courts where the acquittal rate in contested
cases is eighty per cent.
GROSSMAN: From the control room
in Sheffield, the support staff send officers all over the city. When
it comes to the Police Reform Bill though, the Government isn't in complete
control. That's because, despite their thumping Commons majority they need
to get it through the Lords first and many in the Upper House have made
it clear that they think the Bill is fundamentally flawed. Indeed, some
predict that unless there are significant concessions, David Blunkett the
Home Secretary risks losing the legislation altogether.
DIXON-SMITH: We would say to the Government:
look, please, this matter is very, very serious. You've got a very wide
range of very knowledgeable and very experienced people who think that
the Bill goes too far. If you want to get it through the House of Lords,
if you're serious about having the Bill, then in fact some movement will
O'BRIEN: I think David Blunkett
can get through this very good package if he just tweaks this Bill and
the overall policing package just a bit. He wants to put a little bit more
money in to police officers' pockets so they don't lose out financially,
because of the overtime changes and I think most police officers would
appreciate that. He also needs to make sure that Chief Constables do not
feel vulnerable, that he will be able to sack them.
GROSSMAN: In Sheffield police have
a 999 call from a block of flats. The nature of the police service that
stands ready to come to the aid of the public in the future depends on
what's in the legislation going through Parliament right now. This time
the emergency call turns out to be a false alarm. The Government though
has a lot more work to do if it's going to convince its critics that fears
about the Police Reform Bill are equally unfounded.
HUMPHRYS: David Grossman reporting
JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well the Home Office Minister
John Denham is in our Southampton studio. Mr Denham, good afternoon.
JOHN DENHAM: Good afternoon.
HUMPHRYS: You're gonna lose this
whole thing unless you compromise aren't you. We hear that David Blunkett's
going to meet opposition leaders in the House of Lords tomorrow. You are
going to have to back down on allowing the Home Secretary to intervene
in police operational matters, aren't you?
DENHAM: Well I think what we've
got to do is make sure everyone's concentrated on what we're actually trying
to achieve. We of course... we respect the local accountability that's
there to Police Authorities, but let's not forget that at the moment, if
you have the misfortune to be in a car accident on the boundary of two
counties at the moment, the chances are the police officers who arrive
from two different directions couldn't speak to each other on the radio
because they have different radio systems. So there are some real practical
problems here, about having good policing systems in place, that's what
we want to achieve. Now if we can make the legislation clearer, so that
it doesn't open up, I don't think it does at the moment, but so that it's
very clear it doesn't open up some of the more dramatic policy, possibilities
people were talking about in your piece, then we'll be happy to do that.
HUMPHRYS: You're not really suggesting
that the Home Secretary intervened to make sure that the police can talk
to each other on their radios and sort out their radios. I mean, the point
that Jeff Rooker, Lord Rooker made, your colleague in the House of Lords
was that if Clause Five is unamended it'll be rejected outright. We are
not stupid, we can see that, he said.
DENHAM: Clause Five, Clause Five,
let's...talk technical, it's a different part of the Bill. That's the ability
of the Home Secretary at the end of the day to take action if firstly the
Chief Constable, and then the Police Authority have failed to act in a
demonstrable way and as a result, people in their communities are not getting
the quality of protection, or the quality of policing that they should
desire, now we do believe that at the end of the day, and it's not the
sort of thing you'd expect anybody to use on a regular basis, but at the
end of the day, government has to have the ability to do that. We're quite
happy to talk about how that is phrased to make sure that what we actually
achieve is what we've said we want to do, a last resort, to make sure that
the public in every community in this country can get a good quality of
HUMPHRYS: But that's exactly the
point isn't it? I mean, you've just made it clear. It is a principle that's
involved here, it's a question of overriding local accountability and you
are prepared to do that. That's exactly what we're talking about.
DENHAM: And then, so we need to
look at the debate about this part of the legislation. The Police Federation
who represent about a hundred and twenty thousand officers are in favour
of this part of the Bill. The Association of Chief Police Officers have
not rejected it in principle. They have expressed concerns about how far
it goes. So that's the discussion we're in. The discussion is one where
most people who have looked at this say: yes, in principle, we can see
the need for this. What we must do is make sure it delivers what the government
has said we want it to deliver.
HUMPHRYS: Well, must say, listening
to David Grossman's, watching David Grossman's film there, they seemed
to be pretty opposed to it, and if Lord Rooker is saying it's got to be
amended, well you know.
DENHAM: Well I've seen lots of
Bills go through there, both Houses of Parliaments since 1992, both in
government and in opposition. Many have been changed, improved and clarified
and I wouldn't for one moment say this is a Bill that shouldn't have any
changes associated with it...
HUMPHRYS: ...so you might...
DENHAM: ...but I think on the issue
of principle, it's very important to say we do believe that at the end
of the day, if all other people who are responsible for putting things
right have failed, government must be able to act. If there are ways of
looking at how we do that, then we'll do that.
HUMPHRYS: So when Oliver Letwin,
the Conserv..., the Shadow Home Secretary says, and I quote "The operational
independence of the Chief Constables is a cardinal feature of the rule
of law in this country, and this Bill is a fundamental threat to that".
What do you say to him, because he speaks for an awful lot of people,
doesn't he when he says that?
DENHAM: Because he's wrong. Firstly,
unlike.... your introduction was completely wrong, because your introduction
said that the Bill would give the Home Secretary the power to order the
arrest of named individuals, or to direct a specific operation. In fact
far from that, the Bill makes it perfectly clear that the Home Secretary
couldn't do that. What we're talking about here, is if the performance
of the Police Service fails so consistently for so long, and nothing is
put...done to put it right, that actually some action needs to be taken.
I actually believe that that's what the public would expect.
HUMPHRYS: And that action might
involve ordering the arrest of certain people, in the final analysis.
DENHAM: No, no, no and the Bill
makes it very clear. You, you, we're not talking about how you respond
to a particular bank robbery, or particular actions of an individual. That
cannot be done. No Home Secretary would want to have that power, not least
because we'd all be confronted every day of the week by demands of why
haven't you arrested so and so. What we're talking about, is if a force
is persistently failing, for example to tackle persistent offenders and
burglars in their area, that every effort has been made to get them to
adopt the best practice which has been shown to work in other places, the
Police Authority hasn't acted, then do you leave that community at the
mercy of those, the rules, or do you say to the Chief Constable, we need
to know how things are going to be improved.
Now I believe that the
Chief Officers, and certainly as represented by ACPO, can understand our
argument and have said they do. They want to be sure that the powers we
have are limited to those types of circumstances.
HUMPHRYS: Well, some might say
it's a bit of a fine distinction really between saying 'go and arrest Joe
Bloggs from down the road' and 'go and arrest an awful lot of Joe Bloggses
who have been doing a lot of burglaries'. I mean, you're interfering in
or could theoretically be interfering in their operational duties. That's
the point of it.
DENHAM: Well we recognise that
the difference is so absolutely fundamental between the overall performance
of a force and individual operations and individual actions that we have
explicitly written it into the Bill that that cannot, that it cannot get
into that area of action. We've gone that far because we recognise that
needs to be laid down in law and that actually fundamentally stops a Home
Secretary from doing what your introduction suggests he was trying to do.
HUMPHRYS: So when the Home Secretary
meets his opposite numbers in the House of Lords tomorrow, what sort of
compromise is he going to be offered? Because clearly there'd be no point
in the meeting unless he had something to say.
DENHAM: Well I think what we would
say, and I don't think this is the time to go into the detail of that discussion.
We've set out very clearly the important but limited areas in which we
think the powers of intervention are necessary. We will be happy to discuss
how we ensure, if it, if people feel it doesn't do it at the moment, the
Bill actually reflects our desires and our intentions and does not reflect
what some people have raised as a much wider and frankly more sinister
agenda which we're not interested in.
HUMPHRYS: Alright, well something
you are interested in is community policing, something that the rank and
file police officers do not like, Police Federation very cross about it
indeed, because what they say you're doing is you're, you're looking for
cops on the cheap effectively. You're going to have to compromise with
them as well on this, aren't you?
DENHAM: Well this is a proposal
that was put forward initially, not by David Blunkett or myself or the,
by the Metropolitan Police Service and by Sir John Stevens the Commissioner.
They argued that there are a range of patrolling duties that you need in
a major city like London that don't require the full, trained, tested police
constable to do, and act as a complement, as a supplement, to the main
body of police officers. Now the background to this of course, is a rapid
expansion in the number of police officers in this country. We're heading
for record numbers of police officers in England and Wales this year. We'll
have, we believe, a hundred and thirty thousand by this time next. So no-one's
talking about policing on the cheap. But it's about having additional people
to work with the police. And I think that the arguments put forward by
the Met, frankly were, were won conclusively after the tragedy of September
11th, where the police needed to put a large number of people on to the
streets with a very high profile, to reassure the public, but actually
that involved a lot of use of police officers who are also needed in London
to be tackling other types of crime.
HUMPHRYS: But there is still a
shortage of policemen, obviously, nobody disputes that. Why don't we have
more of those, which is what everybody says and why, a lot of people say
why can't we go back to the old system we used to have, sort of community
wardens, we didn't call them that, we called them, I don't know, park keepers
or even attendants at public lavatories and caretakers and all the rest
of it. You know the sort of people I mean, the sort of people we saw all
the time, who were walking around the place, representatives of authority,
who did work with the police officers.
DENHAM: And in a modern way that
is actually what we are seeking to do, community support officers will
work directly to the police, they'll work for them and be directed by the
Chief Constable. But we also want the police service to link up, effectively,
with the type of people that you were talking to in Sheffield, the neighbourhood
wardens, they don't work for the police, they're not directed by the police,
but we can have a much more effective, if you like extended police family
by making use of that wider group of people.
HUMPHRYS: Alright, let's look briefly
at the way our criminal justice system operates, obviously you're not happy
with it, nobody seems to be happy with it, certainly senior police officers
are not happy with it. You've accepted that it needs, I think, end to end
reform is the phrase that's been used. You now agree for instance, that
there is need for more stop and searches, but, you seem to be making that
very difficult by adding on enormous amounts of red tape because of the
way they would have to conduct those stop and searches and all the details
that would have to go in their reports afterwards.
DENHAM: Let's deal first with the
criminal justice system, we do have to get it working effectively as a
system and that's why reform to each part of it is needed. We are doing
that with police reform, we've at the moment got major consultations underway
on sentencing and also on the structure of courts, on the Halliday and
Auld Reports and those, I think, indicate the need to change the system
and to have a much more consistent focus on victims and witnesses and what
happens to them in the criminal justice system because without those people
you can't have a criminal justice system at all. So the need for reform
HUMPHRYS: And all the red tape?
DENHAM: Red tape we are determined
HUMPHRYS: But you've added on to
DENHAM: Can I just make a point.
We ourselves did a study back in the Autumn of what happens to police officer
time and we found that forty-three per cent of a police officer's time
nominally there for patrolling duties actually has to be spent inside the
police station. So we are going to cut that and we have a group led by
the former Chief Inspector of Police, work with the police service, to
tell us how to do that and that will free up more time of police officers
to be on the streets. So, we are very alert to this. But when you come
HUMPHRYS: ..stop and search.
DENHAM: ..the issue of stop and
search powers, those powers are very important, I've said so myself in
the House of Commons just a couple of months ago. But given the whole of
history, we also know that they need to be used in a targeted and effective
and sensitive way and the Lawrence Inquiry Report recommended changes to
the procedures by which that is done so that we can use the power effectively
and that is necessary. It's been called for by leading members of the Black
Community within recent days, but in a way that maintains the trust of
communities that they are being used effectively.
HUMPHRYS: Some people might say
there's a touch of hypocrisy about your overall approach here because
we had a Criminal Justice Bill, it was withdrawn and what was it withdrawn
of, a Fox-Hunting Bill, so you might be said to worry more about foxes
than human victims of crime?
DENHAM: Yes, of course that didn't
happen though. What happened in the Home Office was that, look at the events
of September 11th, we had to introduce at very short notice, a major piece
of anti-terrorism legislation and that did knock other timetables back.
But we are committed to Criminal Justice Reform, we will publish a White
Paper setting out what we want to achieve and there's no diminution at
all of our commitment to change.
HUMPHRYS: John Denham, thanks very
much indeed for joining us.
HUMPHRYS: Old Labour were always complaining
that they had two enemies when they were fighting elections: the Opposition
parties and the Tory press. But New Labour managed to win the papers over
... a triumph of media management. It's stood them in good stead for many
years now. But is it changing ... and if it IS, what does it mean? As Paul
Wilenius reports, there are some ominous signals emerging from what used
to be called Fleet Street.
PAUL WILENIUS: This is the type of delivery
Tony Blair is not so keen to see. Up to thirteen million papers every day,
full of stories of government troubles, like Mittalgate and Stephen Byers.
And there could be much more to come.
Tony Blair's breakfast time reading's a bit grim these days. The national
newspapers appear to have gone on a feeding frenzy, biting chunks out of
some of his Ministers, some of his policies and even the way he runs his
government. Now every government has its ups and down with the media, but
there is a fear that this could signal a return to the bad old days when
relentless attacks by a hostile press and about success of Labour leaders
PIERS MORGAN: I think there's a pretty
choppy ocean out there at the moment full of sharks and the carcasses of
new Labour are being thrown to the sharks one by one, the tough ones are
coming through it and surviving, the weak ones are being chewed to pieces
and the atmosphere is pretty febrile.
CHARLES CLARKE MP: There are a number of newspapers
in which it's impossible to get even a fair hearing for what we are saying
or doing. But I think the greatest danger for us, indeed for any politicians,
is to say well that's being said in a certain newspaper, we're therefore
going to divert what we do and how we do it for that reason. We have to
keep firm to our central path. But by the same token we have to do what
we can to contest some of the distortions which are there.
WILENIUS: Labour has a long history
of wars with the press. Fleet Street's savagery condemned Neil Kinnock
to election defeat, while fierce attacks undermined the Wilson and Callaghan
MARTIN LINTON MP: I've always believed that the
press does in certain circumstances have quite a big influence over the
voters. As I, you know, I wrote a book about the Sun's influence in the
'92 election, which certainly convinced me that there are certain circumstances
where the press can be influential.
WILENIUS: A new more peaceful relationship
seemed to be unfolding under Tony Blair. He famously won over the Sun and
also a stunning election victory in 1997. But within a few years the first
signs of renewed hostilities began to emerge, over issues like the Dome.
Although broadly, newspapers were still supportive, attacks over foot and
mouth, tiny pension increases and high fuel tax rises began to hit home.
ROSIE BOYCOTT: The government were kind
of outraged that we took a very strong stand against them, and it came
very much down to who are you there for. I mean they seem to see us as
kind of an extension of the New Labour project, but we weren't, I mean
a paper is for its readers, that is your life blood, you are there to defend
WILENIUS: The mood among newspaper
political journalists, like these attending a briefing at Number Ten last
week, has changed in recent weeks. It's moved from critical to hostile.
The Cabinet discussed this problem at Chequers on Friday; there was concern
that the newspaper agenda has overshadowed the government's message.
The morning lobby meeting between political journalists and Number Ten
has in recent weeks turned into a bitter Cold War. The big question is:
what's happened to Labour's legendary media control and why are they facing
a near daily onslaught from national newspapers?
One reason is that despite some successes, the Tories are still not seen
as a fully effective opposition to Labour's slick media operation run by
Alastair Campbell. So many newspaper editors and journalists feel it's
now even more important to question the government, and to make sure that
its policies and personalities are scrutinised.
BOYCOTT: I mean the press has a
big role at the moment, especially in an environment where you've got an
enfeebled opposition. The press is very important that it does go over
things, it doesn't just take things at face value and doesn't just repeat
and parrot the government line, and the problem for the government at the
moment is that there are a lot of holes in the strategy.
WILENIUS: The newspapers say they
are only reflecting the growing concerns of their readers, who are still
waiting to see things get a lot better under this government. But there
are suggestions that instead of keeping the promises made to win over voters
and papers at election time, the government is still obsessed with trying
to get good headlines.
TREVOR KAVANAGH: I think that what they've tried
to do is to make every story a good story and if possible a brilliant story,
and in the process they've come out with sometimes rather dodgy statistics
and figures and when they've been caught out they've found that that has
tainted the attitude of journalists and even voters to some of the subsequent
announcements. People no longer fully believe statistics that come out
of the government.
MORGAN: The rather confident maybe
arrogant streak that they've always had in government has been replaced
by a more defensive, edgy, tetchy, not quite so confident, not sure of
where they're going attitude, which is dangerous for them, because it will
increase the feeding frenzy atmosphere with the media who sense vulnerability
for the first time in New Labour, and it's dangerous for the country because
it means their eye is off the ball on policy, which is where it should
WILENIUS: At first Labour's media
machine seemed to be in control. But recently the worm has turned. It's
looked as though the government may have something to hide, and that it
may not be as honest as people thought. So now papers want to assert their
own independence, and follow their own political agendas.
MORGAN: I think for a period in
opposition ironically when Alastair Campbell was here working as political
editor for example, we became a sort of Pravda, an extension of the PR
machine. But it went too far and we became, certainly Alastair has used
this phrase with me recently, a Labour paper and his whinge now constantly
is we're no longer a Labour paper, as if in some way I'd sit back and say
oh I'm really sorry about that. You know I don't want us to be a Labour
paper, I want us to be a Labour supporting paper and they're two different
KAVANAGH: Well I don't think that the Sun
could ever be taken for granted by any political party or any polit...,
or any government in office. I think that we watch and observe and I think
that we will make our decisions as we've done in the last several election
campaigns on the basis of the arguments that have been put forward.
WILENIUS: Delivering better public
services in Britain is the prime aim of Tony Blair's government, although
achieving that aim could become harder if the newspapers keep up their
onslaught. That's a real danger, according to those who should know.
LINTON: When the press takes to
criticising the government, whatever it does you know, there is certainly
a danger that they will succeed some time in, in forcing a minister to
step down when maybe the facts don't justify it, or forcing the government
to abandon a policy that is actually justified .
CLARKE: I think the electorate
would be very, very distressed if they thought we were saying okay, let's
forget what we need to do on schools, let's forget what we need to do on
hospitals, let's concentrate on dealing with what the Mail said yesterday.
What they want us to see us doing is focusing on really making sure we
do try and deliver and as I say they'll judge us on that and rightly so.
WILENIUS: But it's the sheer scale
and the intensity of the attacks which is worrying senior Ministers. Opinion
poll support for the Labour government is still extraordinarily high. But
have the first signs appeared that Tony Blair's own ratings are starting
BOYCOTT: I think it's perfectly
possible that the Teflon coating could be eroded yes, I mean if, if it
drip drip drips, if there aren't enough good things to put in its place,
if we have more instance like Steven Byers, if we start attacking Iraq
and we stay that on side with the Americans, especially after the steel
tariffs announcement of the earlier part of the week. I think that if this
drip, drip carries on or turns in to a flood that the next election could
see a marked swing away from Labour. I think you'll get fewer people voting.
LINTON: If this line, the current
line is pursued where everything the government does is attacked by almost
every paper, then that will have a corrosive effect, I mean it gets into
the political system, politicians spend less time talking to journalists
because they don't see any point because they're going to be criticised
WILENIUS: But what's more, battle
remains to be joined on the one issue which could spark a full scale war
with parts of Fleet Street - the Euro. Sceptical newspapers have already
vilified Tony Blair over it, and some inside the Cabinet believe this opposition
to the Euro could lie behind growing newspaper antagonism.
KAVANAGH: On the Euro I think we have more
than a difference of opinion. We are utterly at odds with one another.
Tony Blair appears to want to take Britain into the single currency and
we think it would be a grave and enduring error.
CLARKE: There's some of the newspaper
groups who are owned by people totally hostile to any development of the
European union, and they're concerned about how things are going to go
in that direction. They want to put the government under more pressure
because they fear that we will decide to, to go down that course.
WILENIUS: We all know that today's
headlines are tomorrow's fish and chip paper. But despite the ferocious
attack of the national newspapers on the government, Labour is still popular
with the voters. But those attacks could become more intense and sustained
and the government may have to make a choice between headline chasing or
standing up to its critics.
MORGAN: What I sense with, with
Labour at the moment is they're still trying to fight the media, nothing
they like more than, than insulting us, in berating us, in deriding us
because they're like the, the school bully who suddenly has an uprising
amongst the other boys in the school, can't win, but still thinks he can.
That's how I describe it. They can't beat the media.
CLARKE: There's no way we can be
blown off course. Our course is set by the election and the electorate
that voted on June 7th. They said to us you have to deliver good quality
schools, good quality health care, good quality transport, safe streets,
strong communities, and a strong economy which is really trying to deal
with poverty. That's the message that we've been sent and that's what we're
going to carry through.
WILENIUS: The government may hope
that if it ignores the newspapers, yesterday's nasty headlines will soon
be forgotten. But as history tells us, after a while bad news does tend
HUMPHRYS: Paul Wilenius reporting
JOHN HUMPHRYS: The American Vice President
Dick Cheney arrives here this weekend. He's meeting Tony Blair tomorrow
and then he's off to the Middle East, trying to whip up support for America's
next stage in the so-called war against terrorism - an attempt to overthrow
Saddam Hussein. He's got a job on his hands. There is great unease at
the prospect of an attack on Iraq, not least in the Labour Party's own
ranks. Nearly seventy backbench MPs have signed a motion effectively warning
Tony Blair to tread cautiously. What about the Conservative Party? Bernard
Jenkin is the Shadow Defence Secretary.
Mr Jenkin, you've been....your
party has been standing as it were, to use a phrase 'shoulder to shoulder'
with the government until now in the war against terrorism. Is there in
your view enough evidence, as it stands, to take military action, justify
taking military action against Iraq?
JENKIN: Well, we're a very long
way from making a decision about military action, either the British or
the Americans. There's a huge amount of diplomatic effort and political
effort backed by perhaps the threat of military action which must be brought
to bear, but the issues are not just the direct involvement of Saddam Hussein
in promoting international terrorism, and I've reason to believe that there
will be increasing evidence that he is involved. For example, I understand
that Abu Nidal, the guy who organised the hijacking of the Achille Lauro
is not only being given shelter in Baghdad, but is actually being made
use of by Saddam Hussein.
HUMPHRYS: But you've not yet seen
any evidence that proves that he has been involved in any way supporting
the September 11th.?
JENKIN: Well, the al-Qaeda terrorists,
there is evidence to suggest that he is sheltering some al-Qaeda terrorists.
HUMPHRYS: Have you seen that evidence
JENKIN: I've not personally seen
that evidence, but I think we would need to produce that, but there is
a more important point such as ...
HUMPHRYS: Just before we leave
that. Would that itself be enough. I mean is the evidence that you believe
to be there, would that be enough to justify an attack.
JENKIN: There's a more important
point here, if I may move the conversation on, which is that in the United
States they have made the link very quickly between what happened on the
September 11th and the development of weapons of mass destruction by dictatorships
HUMPHRYS: Have they?
JENKIN: Yes, they have. Well the
real message of September 11th is that we live in a much less predictable,
more dangerous world than many of us hoped and one of the major sources
of that instability and danger are countries developing weapons of mass
destruction who we know have connections with all kinds of terrorism, and
therefore to contain and preferably remove these threats is now a prime
element of American and British policy.
HUMPHRYS: But, would you agree
with your colleague....
JENKIN: That's why the Prime Minister
said in Australia that he completely backed what Bush was saying about
weapons of mass destruction and Iraq in particular.
HUMPHRYS: But what about your own
colleague, Alan Duncan who was on television this morning saying that there
has to be clear evidence, clear evidence, note he said it twice, that
Saddam has this capability and might use it, and Blair should come to the
House to explain his policy.
JENKIN: Well, exactly, I think
that clear evidence will be forthcoming, and I was in Washington a few
weeks ago, I was given a very extensive briefing by the Missile Defence
Agency about the information that they're gathering and I've no doubt that
there will be very clear evidence, and in fact - many people have been
writing about this for some time and Iain Duncan Smith produced a pamphlet
during the last Parliament, and in fact was speaking about it in the 1992
Parliament, that these countries are developing serious missile capability
and possibly nuclear, certain chemical and biological weapons. They will
have the capacity to threaten European and even American cities within
the next few years, so therefore we've got to deal with that.
HUMPHRYS: Some people would agree
with that, others, some of whom know a great deal about the situation and
have spent many years there, like Scott Ritter of the United Nations, one
of the senior inspectors who was head of their intelligence and he spent
a long time in Iraq as you will know, and he said that by the end of 1998
Iraq had been de-militarised in a greater way than any other country in
history, and in June of last year he said Iraq today represents a threat
to nobody. Well, you know, Mr Ritter, former American Marine knows a thing
or two, spent a lot of time in Iraq.
JENKIN: If you speak to other people
in the UNSCOM inspection team first of all you've got to ask yourself why
did Saddam Hussein chuck them out. All those palaces he was building,
they've all got weapons development facilities. If it's as simple as that
no doubt he will let us in, he will give the UN inspectors full rein and
I'm certain that the issue of UN inspection is going to have a big bearing
on how Saddam Hussein is treated by the international community.
HUMPHRYS If he were to allow inspectors
back in again would that mean as far as your party is concerned there is
absolutely no question of an attack?
JENKIN: Well, I keep saying we're
a very long way from...
HUMPHRYS: Indeed, but I'm trying
JENKIN: But it depends how the
UN inspection team is treated. I think the difficulty that we're going
to be faced with is that Saddam Hussein has pretty well decided that for
his personal survival as ruler of Iraq he requires weapons of mass destruction
and a missile programme, and that is on collision course with the United
Nations which says that he should dismantle these weapons.
HUMPHRYS: Do you agree that...Charles
Clarke said this to me yesterday, that whatever is done, there must be
international agreement before it is done and we have to be very, very
cautious indeed and Charles Clarke of course is the Chairman of the Labour
JENKIN: Well I think that's why
Dick Cheney's coming over to Europe and Asia over the next, and the Middle
East, over the next few days. It's why President Bush has been travelling
abroad, it's why Colin Powell is pursuing a very, very extensive initiative.
It's because there has to be an international coalition against these
countries to be effective, America cannot - it will be very much harder
for America to act on its own and achieve its objectives.
HUMPHRYS: But as things stand,
you seem not to need very much persuading yourself. You seem to believe
there are grounds...
JENKIN: ...well persuading of what?
That we need to confront countries with a dictator...
HUMPHRYS: That we need specifically
to confront Saddam Hussein and replace him in office, kick him out and
put somebody else in.
JENKIN: Well both the Prime Minister
and Colin Powell, Colin Powell was the first person to talk about regime
change, and he's not regarded as a natural hawk. And the Prime Minister
has confirmed the need to seek a regime change, unless things change dramatically,
unless Saddam Hussein changes character, it seems difficult to believe,
that we're going to be able to stabilise the Middle East and reduce the
threat, the ultimate threat to European cities from a country like Iraq,
unless there is a change of regime.
HUMPHRYS: And what about the potential
use, I emphasise potential obviously, of nuclear weapons, and I raise this
because of having read something that your present leader, Iain Duncan
Smith, said a few years ago: We would contemplate the use of nuclear, would
we con......he asked this question, 'would we contemplate the use of nuclear
weapons as the United States seems prepared to do, the possession of such
weapons is of no use unless we have the will to use them. We must make
it clear that we are prepared to use them'.
JENKIN: Well that's exactly right,
otherwise it's not a deterrent and you hear the left complaining about,
about the west's attitude towards Iraq, and say, well if it's just say
sabre-rattling that's alright. Well, if it's just sabre-rattling, and the
dictators know it's just sabre-rattling and there is no resolve behind
that sabre-rattling, then you might as well not bother to round.....at
HUMPHRYS: Just a final quick thought
on what help we could give the United States, we learn this morning that
they'd like us to send twenty-five-thousand troops if it comes to a big
invasion. Where would we get them from?
JENKIN: Well that's a very good
question. I mean, this last couple of months have been characterised by
a whole lot of unexpected cuts in capability, the latest one being the
scrapping of Invincible, the scrapping of the Harriers...the joint force
Harriers, the Sea Harriers, the scrapping of the Fighter Squadron at Coningsby.
These, if we going to get involved in a big military operation, let's not
forget that it was Geoff Hoon that wanted to cancel the ...Syria desert
operation earlier last year, we're gonna have to, I think the government's
going to have to put some money where its mouth is, otherwise that shoulder-to-shoulder
with the United States might mean rather less than it should do.
HUMPHRYS: Bernard Jenkin thanks
very much indeed.
HUMPHRYS: And in a bit of a hurry,
that's it for this week. Don't forget about our web site if you're on the
internet. Until the same time next week, good afternoon..