BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 05.05.02

Interview: THERESA MAY.

How are the Conservative's going to persuade people that they are an alternative government.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Theresa May, I take it you wouldn't argue with that conclusion, you've still got a huge amount of work to do. How are you going to persuade people that they should regard you as the next government? THERESA MAY MP: Well we've certainly got a lot of work still to do and we always said in advance of these local government elections that we were looking to make some modest gains, to make some progress because of course, the last time these councils were all up, and most of these councils were up, was 1998. We've made some progress since 1998, we've taken some seats, some councils in areas where we'll need to be making gains at parliamentary elections... HUMPHRYS: But you didn't do enough, that's my point. MAY: It was a night of mixed fortunes for all the parties and I don't think it would be right for any party to say, it was wonderful for us and so forth. HUMPHRYS: Exactly, so how are you going to persuade people that you are the next government or an alternative government? MAY: Well, it was never going to happen at these elections, it's a long process and we've got a lot of work still to do John. And part of that of course, will be the policy review that the party is undertaking at the moment and people of course will look at,....will have an opportunity come the next General Election, to make a comparison between the Labour government and what it's been doing and the way it's been failing to deliver particularly on public services and a Conservative Party that will be presenting a new package of policies to people. But that policy review work is still in train, it's started, it will take some time before that comes to fruition. HUMPHRYS: I understand that it takes a while to polish up your policies in the fine detail. But the worry for you from that particular poll that we've done and others tell a similar story, only eleven per cent of people think that you are in touch with them and what Francis Maude, one of your erstwhile colleagues, still colleague I dare say but not in the Shadow Cabinet, says what you need is root and branch modernisation, root and branch and that's what you are not doing isn't it. MAY: No, actually we are doing quite a lot to change the party. But again it takes time to pull that through and I fully accept that as a party we do have an issue about this sort of image that we are presenting to people and about persuading people that as a party we have changed from their perceptions. And it's not an easy thing to turn around a political party overnight. But there are some things that we are doing, if I can just give you a small example from the local government elections, just a small example, the way we actually launched our campaign. We didn't do it in a press conference in Conservative Central Office, which is what's tended to happen in the past. We actually went out, we went to Bradford, we wanted to show that as a party we know there's life beyond the M25 and that beyond the M25, life isn't just the countryside and rural areas, it's actually urban areas as well. So there are small things that we are doing. In looking at how we choose candidates for the next Parliamentary...for Parliamentary seats for example, we are looking at changing our selection process, making changes there to ensure that we can get more women, more ethnic minority candidates elected for the party. So a whole variety of things are taking place. HUMPHRYS: Yeah, I wanted to get on to that question of selection of candidates and tolerance in general because what Iain Duncan Smith your leader says is that he will be intolerant of anybody who was intolerant of others. Well we have had a prime example of that in the last few hours haven't we, a colleague of yours, in the Shadow Cabinet, making a racist joke and apparently, I say apparently, but maybe you'll tell me otherwise, apparently not thinking of resigning. MAY: Well I understand that she's apologised unreservedly for any offence that she's given with....from that particular joke and I think I can do no better than to reiterate the comment that in fact the Commission for Racial Equality made which is that it was an unfortunate remark to make. HUMPHRYS: Yeah, unfortunate. But the trouble is that it was more than unfortunate wasn't it, because what it shows is that you've not fundamentally changed because after all, if you don't believe that sort of thing, then you don't make jokes about that sort of thing do you. What it does is, it demonstrates an underlying feeling and that's what many people will take from this, they will say 'same old Tories'. She's got to go hasn't she? MAY: I think what - as I say - it takes time to turn people's perception of an entire political party around... HUMPHRYS: I'm not talking about perceptions, I'm talking about reality.... MAY: ...yes you are, you just said about what people are going to take from that, into how their perceive the party.... HUMPHRYS: ...we see here somebody who is in the Shadow Cabinet, making a blatantly racist joke. Now it isn't a perception that she made a blatantly racist joke, it is the reality and you say it is unfortunate. What I am suggesting to you is, that it isn't the perception of this, it is the reality and it demonstrates an underlying feeling in the party. That's what people will see from it. MAY: No, as I say, I echo the comment that the CRE made, it was an unfortunate joke to make but I think in terms of the way the people see the party and the attitudes that people see in the party. Yes we have got work to do, I fully accept that, I've already admitted that but there is a way for us to go in a whole variety of areas. I mean it is absolutely necessary for us, as a party, to have more women standing for example at the next election in seats that they will be able to win, to have more ethnic minority candidates standing in seats that they'll be able to win. HUMPHRYS: They'll hardly be encouraged, ethnic minority candidates, on the basis of what Mrs Winterton said will they? I mean are you... MAY: ...there's a great deal to be done within the party John, beyond one joke. HUMPHRYS: Sure, indeed and I want to get on to that, but let me just clear up the Ann Winterton business first of all. Are you perfectly happy yourself, as a member of the Shadow Cabinet, are you perfectly happy that she should remain in her position. MAY: I've said, that as the CRE have said, I think the joke was unfortunate.. HUMPHRYS: ..yes... MAY: ..of course whether she remains in her position is a matter for her and the leader of the party. HUMPHRYS: And your view? MAY: As I say, it's a matter for her and the leader of the party as to whether she does... HUMPHRYS: You would not endorse... MAY: I think it was an unfortunate joke... HUMPHRYS: you say... MAY: I think it was an unfortunate joke to have made in the circumstances. HUMPHRYS: But you would not endorse her staying in the Shadow Cabinet? MAY: As I've said, I think it was an unfortunate remark, whether she stays in the Shadow Cabinet is a matter for the leader. HUMPHRYS: Alright. As far as women candidates are concerned, your record at the moment is pretty miserable isn't it? Fourteen out of a hundred and sixty-six Conservative Members of Parliament are women. None really were selected for a winnable seat at the last election, apart from those who were already holding the seat. You've got to do something. But what you have ruled out is actually forcing the constituencies to choose more women? MAY: We've certainly ruled out quotas for the constituencies in terms of all women short-lists, we've said we wouldn't go down that route. What we have accepted and here was an example of the party changing, was that we actually supported the government when it put forward legislation to enable us to take positive action of a whole variety of types, should we wish to do that in terms of getting more women selected. You're absolutely right, I think it's essential that we get more women selected in seats that they can win for the party. That was a clear message that Iain Duncan Smith gave in his speech at the party's Spring Forum at Harrogate. He said to the assembled people there, who are key party activists we want to see more women and ethnic minority candidates, we want a greater diversity of candidates and it's up to people making the selections to do that and to put that into practice... HUMPHRYS: ...but tell me that... MAY: ...there's a real intention there. And we're looking at our whole selection process from beginning to end, to see if the changes are necessary, what changes are needed, in order to ensure that we can have more women and ethnic minority candidates. HUMPHRYS: But hard to see what can change if you've ruled out, as you say you had done, all women short lists and quotas and all that sort of thing. What you're talking about it exaltation and encouragement and Francis Maude, again let me quote him to you, a very senior figure in your party 'the time for that is passed, we need action and we need action fast'. So what action, specific action can you take if you've ruled out the other. MAY: Let me give you one example of a thing that the party is doing and I think it's essential and it's something that I have long said from my own experience was important in terms of selecting more women, if I can just concentrate on the women issue and that is getting more women onto our candidates' list in the first place. What happens at the moment, is constituencies are faced with, if they've got three hundred CVs in a winnable or sitting Conservative seat, they're probably faced with the vast majority of those being men and a very small number women. If we can get that balance better, then I think we can start to encourage people to look at women as part of the whole, rather than just as a small group, so actually encouraging more women to come forward, is important. Now there's chicken and egg there because rightly some women will say, well hang on a minute, you've only got fourteen women in Parliament, if I come forward as a candidate, does it actually mean I'm going to get selected, what chance have I got of getting through? So we obviously have got some work to do there, but there's one example of a part of the selection process where I think we can make a real difference in bringing more women forward and I want, but it's not just about mechanistic solutions to this, I want Conservative Associations to be selecting more women and ethnic minority candidates because they're good. Not because we've changed the selection process in a way that happens to lead to that, but because they see that these are people who will make good Members of Parliament and good representatives. HUMPHRYS: The problem with that, you said once, didn't you, at Cambridge Union that you'd be happy if it was more men in Parliament, so long as they were good. And the problem with that view is that if that is seen to be the view of the Conservative Party, people are entitled to say, well nothing's changed in truth. Again you see, nothing fundamental, nothing fundamental has changed. MAY: Well many years ago I made the quip that when people were saying, did I want to see half-and-half in Parliament, I said actually, what I want to see is good Members of Parliament and that's what I want to see and that's what I've just said to you. I want women and ethnic minority candidates to be selected by our party, to stand for seats they can win for Parliament because they would be good Members of Parliament not because of some.... HUMPHRYS: ..the idea that there aren't plenty of good women candidates around is preposterous. MAY: ..oh there are candidates. No I'm not suggesting, I'm... there are excellent candidates around and that's why I want to see them being selected and getting into Parliament. There's a real... HUMPHRYS: ...but you won't make the constituency select them? MAY: There's a real determination in the party now from the top down John, that we actually do need to change on this particular issue in terms of the greater diversity of candidates. As I say, we're looking at our whole selection process, we're looking at what we can do at the various stages. HUMPHRYS: But you've closed off most of the options that are open to you. MAY: No we haven't closed off most of the options HUMPHRYS: ...realistic options... MAY:, with due respect, I think it is quite wrong to say that the only options that are available are either all women short lists or some form of quotas. There's a whole variety of things that we can do along the way, to work with associations to show them, apart from anything else, what the job of being a Member of Parliament is about and the sort of person that they need to have to do that job. HUMPHRYS: Let's talk about public services if we may. You tried to persuade us that you love the public services, but when you're faced with choices, as we can see, you tend to opt for the private rather than the public. MAY: No I don't think that's true of us as a party. What are you thinking of? HUMPHRYS: Well I'm thinking of all sorts, I'm thinking about the NHS where you've told us effectively we're going to have to pay more, Railtrack is another example of that, I mean, I could go on. MAY: What is important in the public services is that people receive the serv..., a good quality service and the service that they need, and if you look at, for example, on the railways, since privatisation, we have seen more people using the railways and a significant... HUMPHRYS: ...disaster with Railtrack... MAY: ...a significant amount of investment in the railways and what we're now seeing is uncertainty, nobody really knows what's going to replace Railtrack, people are wary of investing, companies are only be..., train operating companies have been given short-term franchises, they're not able to make the investment and the commitment to improve the services that people want. What we want to focus on, is not, is this public, is this private? What we want to focus on is the delivery of service to people. That's what we've been talking about in local government elections, councils, Conservative councils delivering better public services. HUMPHRYS: Just a final thought. Labour persuaded us that we should give New Labour a chance because there was a massive change they brought about, it was Clause Four first of all and then other things. They had big ideas. Seems that you don't have those big ideas to persuade us that you have changed and that you are in touch with us. MAY: No I think we have. One important idea, which is actually about power to people and about giving people responsibility in their communities, that's why, in local government, for example we're looking at reversing this whole trend of centralisation that has got worse under Labour over the last few years so people feel all too often their local councils are not empowered to make decisions for their local communities. We want to see community government where people, councillors are... have the freedom and the power to make decisions that make a real difference to people's quality of life, making life better for people in their local communities. We want to encourage those communities, neigh... with other ideas, neighbourhood policing, giving people back power at a local level and stopping this constant centralisation which this government has brought in and which there will be continuing with regional government. HUMPHRYS: Theresa May many thanks.
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.