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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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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..
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
HUMPHRYS: ...as 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
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
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: ...no, 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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: ..you'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: ..no, but do you believe
it ought to be much higher than twenty per cent, that's really what I am
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: ....in 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...
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
RAYNSFORD: ...no, 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
HUMPHRYS: ...the idea .....in 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
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
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
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
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
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.