BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 05.05.02

==================================================================================== 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: 05.05.02 ==================================================================================== JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. The Tories turned in a pretty lacklustre performance at the local elections. How ARE they going to make us love them again? I'll be asking their Shadow Local Government Spokesman Theresa May. Might REGIONAL government breathe new life into local democracy? And the parties of the Left are in retreat on the Continent. Should Tony Blair be worrying here? That's after the news read by Sophie Raworth. NEWS HUMPHRYS: The old joke came to life... we DID vote for a monkey in the local elections. Will we take regional government more seriously? LOUISE ELLMAN: 'I don't think people will vote for a talking shop, but they will vote for a body that will make a difference'. HUMPHRYS: And the Dutch Labour Party may be the next victim of the swing to the Right in Europe. What does that mean for the Labour Party here? JOHN EDMONDS: 'The lesson from Europe I think is that vagueness doesn't work, that the Left has to have distinctive policies.' PETER MANDELSON: 'Unquestionably those that have lost in Europe have lost because they're not New Labour enough.' HUMPHRYS: Well try as they might, the Tories succeeded in convincing no-body really that the local elections had been a triumph... or even much of a step forward at all. They won a few more seats than last time certainly, but only a few. And they don't look any more of a threat to Tony Blair's hold on power now than they did before we went out to vote on Thursday. So what DO they have to do to turn the corner? I'll be asking their Shadow Local Government Secretary Theresa May after this report from David Grossman. DAVID GROSSMAN: In the TV studios, even before the results were in, the frantic spinning began. Each party claiming the night was theirs. Iain Duncan Smith - in his first big test as leader - determined to put on a good show. So do the Conservatives have a right to be happy with their performance? In bold figures they appear to have done rather well. While overall, Labour lost three hundred and thirty nine seats, the Liberal Democrat total was up just forty four seats, the Conservatives performed best, gaining two hundred and thirty eight seats and control of a further nine councils. And if we look at the national share of the vote, again the Conservatives at least came out just ahead, Labour are on thirty three per cent, the Liberal Democrats on twenty seven per cent, but the Tories are in first place on thirty four per cent. But the local elections didn't set the Tory leadership dancing in the streets here outside Central Office, and for a very good reason. Despite winning some seats, the party failed to take control of some of their target councils, like Trafford and Wolverhampton and the Conservatives actually lost control of some heartland councils like Cheltenham, Eastbourne and Worthing. Indeed on some measures at least, Iain Duncan Smith has actually made little or no improvements on the party left to him by William Hague. PETER KELLNER: The real problem for the Conservatives is that for an opposition party to be challenging for power at the next election, they need in these interim elections to be getting well over forty per cent of the vote. What did they get on Thursday, a projected share of thirty four per cent. Two years ago, similar elections, William Hague as leader, the Conservatives scored thirty eight per cent and they still went on a year later, to be hammered in the General Election. The Conservatives are way, way short of where they need to be, at this stage in the Parliament, if they're really to be challengers for power at the next General Election. GROSSMAN: So why aren't voters returning to the Conservatives in the kind of numbers the party will need to have a chance of winning the next General Election. Well, the BBC has commissioned some opinion polling to find out how people see Iain Duncan Smith and his party and for the Conservatives the results make depressing reading. If Tony Blair has set the Tories a political mountain to climb, it seems at the moment Iain Duncan Smith has barely got his boots on. When voters were asked which Party: Is in touch with the views of ordinary people? Only eleven per cent thought the Conservatives were. When asked which party has the right leadership team? Only fourteen per cent replied Conservative. And on specific issues, the results were just as bad - for example only thirteen per cent of voters thought the Tories could be trusted to run the NHS? KELLNER: It's quite clear from all the polling evidence that the Conservative Party is still out of it, as far as most voters are concerned. They don't think the Conservative Party is sensible, or credible, or in any way with better policies than Labour. It's got a huge image problem it has to overcome in the next three years before the next General Election. GROSSMAN: Local elections over then for another year. The night's results weren't a disaster for the Tories, but did show the party has a huge amount of work still to do. HUMPHRYS: David Grossman reporting. 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. JOHN HUMPHRYS: The government will tell us this week in a White Paper what it wants to do about precisely what Theresa May was talking about there, about regional government in England. Will we eventually end up with elected regional assemblies and if so, what powers will they have....if any? Iain Watson has seen what's in the White Paper and here's his report. IAIN WATSON; New Labour, New Britain, that was a promise back in 1997, power would flow from Whitehall to the regions, but following devolution to Scotland and Wales, the north of England has increasingly felt consigned to the wilderness. Now, after a hard struggle by John Prescott, a White Paper on English regional government is on the way. But some campaigners won't be heralding its arrival; they say it signals that the government have given up on their aim of a radically different United Kingdom The campaign for regional government has been strongest in the North East. So voters here could be the first in England to have a referendum on whether to set up new regional assemblies. But according to an internal government document seen by On The Record, these new bodies certainly won't be as robust as existing Tyneside landmarks. In fact they could have so few functions, people may wonder whether Labour is more interested in devolving power in principle, rather than in practice LOUISE ELLMAN: We have to enthuse people and if we don't do that, people will increasingly disassociate themselves from the democratic process and that is bad for everyone. TREVOR PHILLIPS: If you start with a body where people don't quite know what it's for, they'll never be able to judge it properly, and it's inevitable that they will think this is just another tier of government which we are paying for, which is basically a bunch of politicians sitting in a room arguing with each other. WATSON: In Scotland, when people voted for their own Parliament, they knew it would have control over their everyday lives. It's got its own Education Minister for example. But when it comes to England, the government doesn't seem to have adopted the same grown up attitude. There will be no say for the English regions over schools and powers over other areas are looking decidedly weak. The Welsh Assembly can argue it made a real difference to people's lives. It froze prescription charges two years in a row. But anyone who expects similar powers over health for the English regions could be in for a very long wait. The North East is undergoing something of a cultural renaissance, so you might assume new regional assembly would have control over arts and leisure, well the government can't even promise that. BARONESS SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: In the North East, they'll say, well if we were Scots, it wouldn't be like this. In the South West, they'll say if we were Welsh it wouldn't be like this. It's the recipe in my view for very, very great tensions, between the different parts of the United Kingdom and I don't think that helps keeps the United Kingdom united. WATSON: In a BBC poll conducted amongst English voters in March, around two thirds of people supported regional assemblies. But 68% wanted to see them have responsibility for education, 65% for the police and 61% for health. But the new assemblies will be slim-line bodies electing just twenty-five to thirty-five members and have slim-line powers, mostly over strategic planning. Long standing supporters of regional government think people could reject the new assemblies unless they have very tangible functions. ELLMAN: I don't think people will vote for a talking shop, but they will vote for a body that will make a difference and they'll want to see changes in for example transport, in health, in education and in the economy, but they have to see a difference and that difference has to matter. WATSON: And members of England's only devolved body to date, the Greater London Assembly, believe the government is keeping too much of a watchful eye over them and mustn't make the same mistake again. PHILLIPS: The tier of government that I'm involved in, pan London government, I think has got a job, but it hasn't quite got the tools to do it. It hasn't quite got control over the right bits of transport, over the right bits of regeneration, can't raise the money in the right way. Now I think this is a lesson that needs to be learnt elsewhere. That if you're going to give a tier of regional government a job to do, you also have to give it the tools. WATSON: On Tyneside, a key campaigner for English devolution, Joyce Quin, and her Labour colleagues, are prepared to accentuate the positive. She's delighted that, at least regional assemblies will have a significant say over economic development, thanks to John Prescott seeing off objections from the DTI. JOYCE QUIN MP: I think it's a fair aspiration to have a regional assembly that has real clout, but I actually think that there will be a lot to start the ball rolling with, when the White Paper is published. I certainly think if you're talking about economic development, you're talking about powers over a certain amount of funding in the region which can support very visible projects in the region. WATSON: The last experiment in limited local democracy, elected mayors, put this man in a monkey suit into power in Hartlepool. So there are now Labour supporters who warn the government about taking English devolution to the next stage of evolution. MARK TAMI MP: What happens if certain individuals are elected, are they going to run their own agendas, there are all these hosts of problems I think and if this isn't really based on a real desire of the people, to actually have these institutions or these individuals in the first place, you know why are we actually having them. WATSON: Some champions of regional government suspect those at the very top share that view and are deliberately depriving people of clear reasons to vote for regional assemblies ELLMAN: While ministers like John Prescott have always advocated regional devolution, the Prime Minister has been considerably less supportive and who knows, maybe the Bill that comes forward now will create the hurdles that he hopes will stop it happening. WATSON: Labour activists were chuffed with the results of the local elections but could face a tougher challenge to win referendums on regional government. At Downing Street's insistence, anyone who lives in a county council area and who opts for a new regional assembly would in effect be simultaneously voting to abolish their county or district council; the electoral commission will pronounce on which. Opposition to this will come not just from the Tories but from within Labour's ranks, starting next door with the North West. COUNCILLOR HAZEL HARDING: I think personally in Lancashire that we do a good job, and as far as I'm concerned is what works with the people of Lancashire that matters. We are at times accused of being remote ourselves, but we are as close to every community as every school that we help to run, every home help that goes into people's homes. We are very close to our community in fact and I think people would see a region as being a step further away. THERESA MAY MP: We believe that the key difference between county councils and the government's proposed regional government, is that county councils already have an identity, that people feel comfortable with and county councils obviously have a historic reference as well. People know their counties, they don't know an amorphous regional area. WATSON: During the 1997 General Election campaign, Tony Blair famously compared the tax raising powers of the Scottish Parliament to those of a parish council. Well, if Scotland is comparable to a parish council, the English regions won't even have the clout of a church restoration committee. At least it can appeal for more cash, and has the freedom to spend its own money. The new English regional assemblies will have their spending limits capped even more tightly than local councils. Misunderstandings have been part of Hartlepool's history. They hanged a shipwrecked simian as a spy during the Napoleonic wars. But when voters went bananas at last week's elections it could be due to a feeling that local councils have peanuts for powers. Some say the government's attitude to the regions is due to an underlying failure to take any local democracy seriously. PHILLIPS: If people think the local government is really just a sort of shouting match between slightly powerless politicians, what they're going to do is they're going to put people in the council seat, who are protests, they are jokes, they are way out in the fringes. If we want local government to really have a serious purpose, to attract serious and effective people, then you've got to give it the powers, you've got to give it the resources, to carry out the job, and if they fail, then you have to let them answer to the people. Central government can't really be nanny on local government. WILLIAMS: The Number Ten policy unit has become a Prime Minister's department and so what you get is a very great deal of powerful control from the centre and a lot of bright young men and women who feel they justify themselves by coming out with initiatives that they then impose on the people. Whatever innovation you get at the local level tends to be snuffed out by the structure of central control. WATSON: The North East could become a beacon to other English regions that want new assemblies, but it may be a massive task to convince people that it's worthwhile erecting a new tier of government. Especially one which doesn't have powers grounded in people's everyday lives. Campaigners will hope the regional White Paper will be something to build on and not a farewell to their high hopes for further devolution. HUMPHRYS: Iain Watson reporting. JOHN HUMPHRYS: The turnout at the local elections may have been higher than people expected, some people anyway but two out of three people still did not bother to vote. The Government's been experimenting with different ways of trying to get more of us to do so. But, as Iain Watson's film showed, local government now has few real powers. So what's the point of voting if you think your local council has very little effect on your life? I've been talking about that to the Local Government Minister, Nick Raynsford, and I asked him whether he accepted that the turnout at the elections had indeed not been very good. NICK RAYNSFORD: No, it's the case that we've had poor and disappointing levels of turnout for some time, but with all the pundits saying we were going to get a very low turnout this time, I am moderately encouraged by the fact that turnout is rising and I am particularly encouraged that in those areas where we did pilots, particularly of postal voting, there was a very significant improvement in turnout. Now, there's evidence there we need to look at carefully, decisions need to be taken about how we can help people to vote, because I do believe that if we act sensibly and use the experience of these pilots, we can make a difference in the future. HUMPHRYS: But maybe it's not so much how you can help people to vote, it's how you can give them an incentive to vote. People don't want to vote, can't be bothered to vote if they think there's no point in it. And the problem is that local authorities do not have enough power, we have a very centralised system of government in this country, much more so than in most other countries. RAYNSFORD: There are two issues on this. The first is that in our White Paper on local government that we published six months ago, we made it clear we want to increase the scope for local authorities, reduce the red tape and the bureaucracy and reduce some central government controls to give greater freedom, particularly to those high performing local authorities. So, there is an agenda here to extend local government powers. But frankly there is no evidence that it is actually to do with the powers of local government, that as against central government, that turnout is reducing. Afterall in the last General Election, there was a very substantial reduction in the turnout for national government, which according to your thesis has too much power. HUMPHRYS: But if you want to give local authorities more power, the way to do it is to enable them to raise more of the money that they spend. At the moment, it's only twenty per cent, now that is very, very low indeed and if central government controls the purse strings, you can understand local authorities saying 'you know what can we do, we can't raise our own money'. RAYNSFORD: There is an issue here and it's the product of the changes which the Conservative Government made after the fiasco of the Poll Tax, when they dramatically increased the amount of central government funding for local government and reduced in parallel the scope for local authorities to raise their own revenue. Now, we are looking at that... HUMPHRYS:'ve had five years to look at it. To do something about it. RAYNSFORD: We've been doing quite a lot to increase central government funding for local authorities, there's been a twenty per cent real terms increase in funding from government to local government over the last five years and we are now having a revenue, which I shall be heading, over the next few months, looking at the balance of funding between central and local government. But, it's also an issue about how you give local government more powers and more scope to do things and that is the key theme of our White Paper and we are carrying forward a very exciting agenda for devolution and for giving more power over a lot of decisions to local government. HUMPHRYS: Come to that in a moment but stay with the funding for a minute. In France it's fifty per cent as opposed to twenty per cent here, is that the direction that you want to go in, you're prepared to go in? RAYNSFORD: We haven't set any... HUMPHRYS:, but do you believe it ought to be much higher than twenty per cent, that's really what I am asking. RAYNSFORD: We certainly think there is a strong case for looking at the balance between the money that's raised centrally and the money that's raised locally and that is the purpose of the committee which I'll be chairing later on this year. HUMPHRYS: And the other thing is then, what they do, what they're allowed to do with that money. At the moment a very large part of it is ring-fenced, it's gone up from four per cent when you came in to power, to fourteen per cent, gone up more than three times. Now, you've said that you will restrict it, whatever that may mean, but that's not what people want, what many people want is that you give them, you cut it back so that you say to the local authorities, this is your money, you spend it the way you want to spend it. RAYNSFORD: There's a very interesting tension here because not unreasonably government and indeed the electorate, quite often want to see money used for specific purposes and that's ultimately why government over the last few years has been saying in certain cases, money needs to be ring-fenced. But, if you take this too far then you produce a position where there is no scope, real scope for local government to take decisions and to use money the way they feel it will have the best effect. What we are now doing, is trying to move back, away from the position we've got into where there has been this increase in ring-fencing, which we acknowledge, to a position where local government has more freedom to decide what are the priorities and to use their resources to get the results that their electorate feel are important. HUMPHRYS: Sir Jeremy Beecham, as you know, the Labour Chairman of Local Government Association, he says 'there is still no sign of it abating at all'. Indeed, he sees it possibly increasing. I mean why can you not say, we will stop doing it, we absolutely stop doing it, gone up more than three times. RAYNSFORD: As I said John, there are reasons why in certain cases, it's a process... HUMPHRYS: So you're not going to do anything about it then... RAYNSFORD: We are, we are, but we are not going to stop entirely, decisions that in certain cases money must be used for objectives that will improve educational standards, that will improve relations between local authorities and the police and therefore improve the effective policing of communities. These are priorities that the public want to see results... HUMPHRYS: But it's you setting the priorities, that's the trouble. If you believe in local government, you say, you decide, you decide on your priorities, you decide how to spend the money, but what you are saying here this morning is: we think this is good for them. If you believe in local government, you let them decide what's good for them. RAYNSFORD: No, what I'm saying this morning is there has to be a balance and the balance is between national priorities, because the public expect government to act on national priorities, but also real discretion for local government to set local priorities and to make a difference. That is the basis of the agreement that we have reached with local government, it was regarded as one of the most exciting things in our White Paper when we said that we would negotiate with local government on the balance between national and local priorities. That's what we are doing through a whole series of programmes, like local public service agreements and in general, local government welcome this as a move in the right direction. HUMPHRYS: Well, you say that, but Trevor Phillips, who is another Labour man, the Labour Leader in the Greater London Assembly, he says you've got to give us the resources and the powers, if you fail, if we fail in local government, then you've got to let us answer to the people. Isn't that right, isn't that the right way to go? RAYNSFORD: Well we are actually doing that, we are increasing very significantly the funds to local government at twenty per cent increase in real terms over the last five years..... HUMPHRYS: But they can't decide how to spend.... RAYNSFORD: .....and we are reducing the number of restrictions on local government and giving greater freedoms and flexibilities, that was all part of our White Paper which was only published six months ago, which we are now putting into effect, we've already abolished a whole series of restrictive measures and consent regimes requiring local government to get approval from the Secretary of State before they can do things, we've got a whole further series of deregulatory measures in train, it is extending freedom and the scope of local authorities to make a difference. HUMPHRYS: Well, you say that, but some people say in fact you're going in the opposite direction. If we look at regional assemblies which has been one of the great promises that you've made, right from your nineteen-ninety-seven manifesto onwards Tony Blair was absolutely sworn to do it, you said you would give people the chance to vote for them. But why should they bother to vote for them if they can see, as they can now see, that they're going have effectively, they're going to have no powers? RAYNSFORD: Well that's not the case, you'll obviously have to wait until the near future when we will be publishing our Regional Government White Paper. But that White Paper will set out a role for regional assemblies and those areas where people want to have it, it will be permissive. There's no question of imposing this, but where people decide that they would benefit from having an elected regional assembly, they will have the opportunity to do so, and I think you'll see when the White Paper comes out that there is a significant and appropriate range of powers available to those regional assemblies. Let me just highlight one of the difficulties. If they were to be given substantial powers over, for example, education, this would be restricting local government's powers. It isn't our view that you should be taking power away... HUMPHRYS: that case. RAYNSFORD: ...well, there's obvious point, because there are areas where regions can make a difference on the issues that need to be dealt with at a regional level on things like planning, economic development, transportation planning... HUMPHRYS: RAYNSFORD: ...I'm not going to go into the details, what I am going to do is to spell out the principle, which the government very strongly believes in, that we should devolve to a local level responsibility for things that are best handled locally, and at a regional level, allow the regions to make a difference. Now if you were to take education away from local authorities and give it to the regions there would be an outcry that we were doing exactly the opposite - we weren't devolving, we were taking power away. HUMPHRYS: And this is one of the many reasons isn't it, why Tony Blair himself doesn't actually want these assemblies to happen at all. And that's why, in the words of Louise Ellman the Bill is going to create the hurdles that Tony Blair hopes will stop them happening, that's the truth of it, isn't it? This is a particularly political issue, Tony Blair doesn't want anything to do with it. John Prescott does, Tony Blair doesn't, Tony Blair usually wins. RAYNSFORD: No this is not the case at all. We would not be publishing a Regional Government White Paper... HUMPHRYS: ...well you have to... BOTH SPEAKING TOGETHER RAYNSFORD: Well we wouldn't be if the Prime Minister was not in support at all of the policy there would be no White Paper. So we are doing this with the full support of the government, but it will be a powerless (sic) package which will involve devolution of powers from central government, and also powers that are currently discharged by quangos and non-elected bodies and not taking power away from local government to benefit the regional assemblies and I think most people who look at this will understand that's a sensible package. HUMPHRYS: Another area where you've come across serious problems, particularly since Thursday, isn't it, the elections on Thursday with the fringe candidates, that, where you saw a monkey becoming the mayor is your ideas for mayors. Are you going off that idea now, because you were going to compel Birmingham and Bradford, for instance, to hold referendums to decide whether they wanted a mayor, you're not going to do that now apparently are you? RAYNSFORD: Well there's no decision taken about Birmingham and Bradford where we made it clear a couple months ago that we wouldn't take a decision pending consideration of the recommendations from the Electoral Commission who have had some very useful suggestions to make about the way in which referendums are conducted and the role of local authorities during those referendums and we felt it was right to consider those before a decision is reached. HUMPHRYS: You were minded to force them to consider holding a referendum? RAYNSFORD: That was the position we spelt out. But we said we wouldn't take any action until we've considered fully the implications of the Electoral Commission proposals. Now in the meantime of course, there have been a number of mayors elected this last week, and there has also been, there has been very little publicity about it, a further series of referendums, five areas held referendums on Friday, three of them decided they wanted to have elected mayor as the head of their local authority so you will see further mayors elected later on this year as a result of those decisions. HUMPHRYS: But sure, let's be clear about Birmingham and Bradford. You are not backing away from your view that they must hold referendums? RAYNSFORD: There's no decision taken. We've made it clear that this was a matter we would put on hold... HUMPHRYS: ...backing away from it? RAYNSFORD:, we, we've not taken a decision and we will reach a conclusion in good time. HUMPHRYS: There is a worry about directly elected mayors though isn't there? I mean we saw it. As I say, we saw it on Thursday. And it isn't just monkeys being or, people who wear monkey suits being elected, or robocops or anything, it does give the BNP another chance to establish footholds in local authorities. Is that something that bothers you? RAYNSFORD: No, I think this is a bit of spin that has been put on the mayoral elections which is not justified. If you look at the results on Thursday night, the BNP made no impact at all on those areas where there were mayoral elections. The area where they made progress in Burnley, there was no question of a mayor, it was a traditional council election... HUMPHRYS: ...the idea Burnley couldn't they? They could perfectly well do that, get a few people to petition for a mayor in Burnley and then they could enter that race, obviously. RAYNSFORD: Well they could, but the evidence of the overall turnout, the overall level of voting across Burnley as a whole, suggests that there was no, there would be no chance of them winning and it would be important that all the mainstream democratic parties come together to prevent any such outcome. But the suggestion that somehow this is opening the way to the BNP seems to me to be a wholly false analysis. HUMPHRYS: As far as the BNP is concerned there's this new code of conduct for councillors now. Might it mean that BNP councillors could be banned from taking part in council votes on certain issues, where they might be deemed not to be impartial, where they might be deemed to have their own agenda?. RAYNSFORD The code sets out certain very important principles, that all councillors must subscribe to. Those include treating all people, all constituents in an equal and fair way. Now if the BNP candidates, councillors, were to openly and clearly give preference to one particular group of constituents to say that they wouldn't look after the interests of all their constituents whatever their background or their race, then potentially they could be in breach of this code. And that of course would be a very serious matter. HUMPHRYS: And there's no question that of course they do not regard all of their constituents as equal because, some, depending on their colour are more equal than others, so this could be a problem couldn't it. And the worry that some of your own people still .......the Whip has is this could play into the BNP's hands. I mean if they were to be banned from taking part in a particular vote for whatever reason, whether it was on schools or housing or whatever they could present themselves as martyrs. RAYNSFORD: I think the point that Phil makes I wholly subscribe to and it was part of my own analysis eight years ago when tackling the problem of the BNP candidate who was elected in Millwall in London. We knew that we had to address the serious issues, concerns that the people of Millwall had, and there are serious concerns the people in Burnley and elsewhere have about the problems of education, about poverty, about unemployment, poor housing. Those concerns are legitimate concerns which must be addressed and it's right that all serious political parties should be doing that. But there's also a question about probity and integrity in public life and we have this code of conduct for good reasons. We expect councillors to behave in a responsible way and to look after the interests of all their constituents and it would be quite wrong to say that somehow the BNP because they have espoused openly racist views should be exempt from the requirements of that code. HUMPHRYS: It could end up being banned......... it's possible. RAYNSFORD: It is possible but it is entirely up to them as to how they behave. If they behave in a way that discriminates unfairly and unreasonably against any individual people in the area they represent, then that would be their own decision and they will have to answer for it. HUMPHRYS: Nick Raynsford, thanks very much indeed. RAYNSFORD: Thank you. HUMPHRYS: I was talking to Mr Raynsford a little earlier this morning. HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair is going to Holland this week and he will lend his support to the Dutch Labour Party in the election campaign there. They need all the help they can get. Like so many other left-wing parties on the Continent they're coming under pressure from the right. And just as in France where the Le Pen beat the Socialists, the Dutch Labour Party is facing a challenge from a right-wing populist. Mr Blair does not have the same problems in this country. Labour's position in the polls seems to be pretty unassailable. But there are many people in the party who are worried about what's happening across the channel and are drawing some lessons from it ... as Paola Buonadonna reports. PAOLA BUONADONNA: Tony Blair was swept to power in nineteen-ninety-seven on the crest of a wave of centre-left triumphs, now the pendulum is swinging the other way. Right-wing coalitions dominate Austria, Italy, Denmark, Portugal. The left is under threat in France and Germany too but the next electoral fight will take place in the Netherlands. The people of Maastricht and voters throughout the Netherlands will be going to the polls in ten days' time and the mood in the political circles of the left is sombre. They share the shock felt in the rest of Europe at what happened in France two weeks ago and they wonder if something similar might not be in store for them. In a highly unusual move, Tony Blair is planning to fly over here and campaign for his political allies, amidst concerns inside Labour that a shift to the right in Europe might have an impact on the party back in Britain. JOHN EDMONDS: The lesson from Europe I think is that vagueness doesn't work, that the left has to have distinctive policies and to say 'we're a bit like the right but we manage quite well, but that's our only difference' I'm afraid that's not enough to win elections. It doesn't enthuse the electorate and it doesn't enthuse your own supporters. PETER MANDELSON: Unquestionably those that have lost in Europe have lost because they're not New Labour enough, they haven't drawn the right lessons, applied the right ideas, they haven't been parties prepared to modernise their social democratic thinking and look to the future and address those issues, including those emotional issues the electorate demand and as a result they've paid a huge electoral price. BUONADONNA: The Dutch Labour party have had a brutal wake-up call recently when the government led by Wim Kok had to resign following blunders in Bosnia. Today in Maastricht, a new leader will boost morale with speeches and entertainment. But don't panic - Tony Blair remains a powerful ally, ready to share his victorious strategy with his Dutch colleagues. DICK BENSCHOP: It's very important, not just an act of solidarity, to show that it matters for him as well which course the Netherlands will take, which is important for Blair, British government, Britain in terms of where Europe goes, but it's also important to show that modernised social democracy of which I think both Labour Party in Great Britain and my own Labour Party here in the Netherlands are two prime examples, that they can withstand this challange, and even in those changed circumstances, in this other climate. BUONADONNA: And this is the challenge - Pim Fortyun, a flamboyant right-wing populist, has already conquered Rotterdam with his anti-crime, anti-immigration rhetoric. Now, this prosperous, traditionally tolerant country could give him enough votes to put him in government, a powerful threat to Labour who've been in power here since nineteen-ninety-four. PYM FORTYUN (INTERPRETED): All I'm doing is making the problems of a multi-cultural society open for discussion which is something that left church, which is how we refer to the Dutch Labour Party in Holland and the extreme left have been making impossible for decades now. And the people are delighted that they are now able to discuss these things. It is of course too absurd for words that such a taboo has existed for so long in a democratic country with democratic leanings but if I have understood correctly this same taboo still exists in the United Kingdom too. BENSCHOP: Fortyun offers nostalgia, going back to the fifties, when things were small, when there were no foreigners but that's not the way forward for a modern society. My party, social democracy, is offering a way forward for modern, strong and social Netherlands, and that is the choice. BUONADONNA: Labour are worried because they have seen their left-wing colleagues in Europe fall victim to lethal mix of apathy and mistrust. Many in the party blame this on the failure of the centre-left in Europe to enthuse their voters with traditional left-wing policies. But others argue that voters here in the Netherlands, as well in France and in the rest of Europe are genuinely worried about crime, immigration, asylum - the core issues of the right - and that it's vital for the left to engage in this debate. The new Dutch Labour leader Ad Melkert will have to figure out how to neutralise Pim Fortyin on crime and immigration. In Britain Labour has taken on these issues early on and now doesn't shy away from referring to swamping immigrants and cutting benefits for truants. MANDELSON: These are issues that have huge emotional resonance with the voters and if the left doesn't address them, then they're going to sever that, their connection with the voters on that ground and open up and cede enormous amounts of political space to the right-wing. BUONADONNA: But in the long term, it's very hard for left-wing leaders to upstage the right when it comes to its basic themes and many in Britain feel uneasy about even trying. CLAUDE MORAES: The concern with trying to sate the appetite of the right, particularly the far right but also the mainstream right in Europe is that you will never outdo them, we can't out-tough the right on issues like asylum and crime. As soon as you go down that road they will pick another issue. In France for example immigration was the watchword, now crime is code for essentially black crime in places like Paris and Marseille. So we need to ensure that we don't try and outdo them but provide distinctive leadership on these issues from the centre-left. BUONADONNA: After the speeches, it's time for a little relaxation Dutch style. While there's no doubt New Labour are good at spinning, some in Britain feel that New Labour policies are actually responsible for the demise of the Left in Europe and it's time Labour went back to its core issues. EDMONDS: New Labour is dead. It's a strange event because I'm not sure that all the supporters of New Labour realise that they've got a corpse on their hands but you've got to redefine now, re-invent the Labour government, and drawing the lessons from Europe that means a much more positive agenda. Talking about society as a whole, talking about the general good, public transport, public health, all of those things that people value, means they've got to be paid for, and that means an increase in taxes. Argue the thing strongly enough and we'll win that argument. MANDELSON: New Labour must be doing something right and the idea that we should look instead to experience on the European continent, who have displayed an ambivalence in modernising in their social democratic ideas, who haven't come terms with changes in the economy and society sufficiently, who have not created sufficient connection, you know, with the new electorate, and have paid a huge electoral price as a result, that, that, the idea that we should take lessons from them strikes me as faintly ridiculous. BUONADONNA: As election day in the Netherlands draws closer, the Dutch left have moved their campaign to Utrecht. Many in the British Labour Party are worried that if a right-wing coalition wins the day here and then in France and Germany they're going to find themselves increasingly isolated in the EU. They also fear that the nature of the EU agenda will change. Europe could become much more inward looking, less concerned with civil and social rights and less keen to open up to new members, robbing the Union of much of the appeal it has for left-wing voters. EDMONDS: The European Union will only become more popular if the European Union is seen to deliver positive things for people Britain. A social action programme, better social protection, better information at work, better training, better protection against unfair dismissal, all of that is positive which British people will support. But of course if we have the right-wing agenda and if Tony Blair supports it, then the European Union will just become more unpopular rather than regain its popularity again. BENSCHOP: I'm a bit afraid that if not just the centre right but the extreme right or the populist right in Europe gains, carries the day, gets influence on governments, that there will be a new type, a new atmosphere in Europe going around, of not working together, being interested in your own national interest and not caring for the whole of Europe any more, and if that would be the case that would be very detrimental. BUONADONNA: Utrecht seems far removed from the dramas of international politics but the Dutch government is a key ally for Britain on the issue of economic reforms. Today visiting party leaders will repeat their mantra of flexibility combined with public services. But other centre-left colleagues in Europe have dragged their feet. Some say Tony Blair might find it easier to complete his liberalising agenda in a Europe dominated by the right. SIMON MURPHY: The Prime Minister has been very clear that he regards as a very important priority reforming Europe's economy so that we can actually create more job opportunities. And I think there has been a perception, perhaps based in some reality in the past, that some of the centre-left governments haven't been as enthusiastic about delivering through on the reforms necessary to achieve that aim. Whereas it may well be the case, and we'll have to see over a period of months and years now, whether those new centre right governments actually do want to deliver that more speedily and in a more effective way. JACQUES RELAND: The economic agenda which Tony Blair wants to see implemented in Europe will be much easier to achieve with Europe dominated by right-wing governments. Now that Europe has no longer a country like France blocking some of this agenda and that Shroeder is in a difficult position at this stage, Tony Blair can easily lead the way towards a more flexible deregulated market oriented Europe. BUONADONNA: The alliance between the British and Dutch Labour parties is based on similar views of social democracy, down to the use of the pledge card. But Labour MPs and MEPs are becoming impatient about the increasingly strong links with right-wing leaders such as Aznar in Spain and Berlusconi in Italy and fear that things can only get worse if the right wins elsewhere. MORAES: There will be a real problem of perception here, on the one hand Tony Blair has to be at the heart of Europe, that means he has to work with leaders like Aznar and Berlusconi; however, we mustn't cross the line and be seen to be buying into their agenda necessarily but keep a distinctive centre-left agenda and that's something that has to happen as the pendulum swings to the right and we may see more right-wing leaders in the European Union, it's important to keep our distinctive approach on the centre-left. MANDELSON: Now, Tony Blair has been criticised for striking up a partnership in alliance with Aznar of Spain or Berlusconi of Italy and no doubt there will be criticisms elsewhere, but he has to work with, you know, who is there and not with who he ideally, you know, would like to be there and he has to form a coalition, a strong body of support amongst heads of government for the policies and the direction which Britain believes the European Union should go in and that's what he's doing reasonably successfully. BUONADONNA: Many in the Labour party are greatly concerned about developments in Europe. Tony Blair may feel less vulnerable to a swing to the right and be willing to work with continental right-wing leaders but if this is seen to dilute what Labour stands for, he might find himself fighting a battle on the home front. HUMPHRYS: Paola Buonadonna reporting. And that's it for this week. Don't forget about our website. Until the same time next week... good afternoon. 28 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.