ANDREW RAWNSLEY: And I'm joined now by the former
Conservative Cabinet Minister and Vice-President of the European Commission,
Is it possible, Leon Brittan, that we are witnessing the strange death
of Tory England?
SIR LEON BRITTAN: I don't think so. The Labour
Party was considered doomed when we beat them hollow in election after
election in the 1980s and look where they are. What we need...
RAWNSLEY: Not a great parallel
for you of course because they spent eighteen years in opposition.
BRITTAN: They took a long time.
I was going to say the question is how long it will take to get back, not
whether we'll get back and what we need is cooler nerves and a less frenetic
atmosphere and a longer timescale and a longer view. The point is that
the strategy that has been followed by the Party, I believe, has been roughly
right, the tactics, as we've seen in the last week, have been pretty unfortunate.
RAWNSLEY: You say we need cooler
nerves. Now, who are you talking about, are you talking about Conservative
MPs, or are you talking about the leader? We heard a Conservative MP saying
in public just now in the report what many of them are saying in private,
that Iain Duncan Smith has to raise his game and he's only got until next
summer to prove he is up to the job. Is it his problem, has he created
this febrile atmosphere you talked about?
BRITTAN: No, we all have to is
RAWNSLEY: Oh, you're all to blame?
BRITTAN: In a way, because Iain
Duncan Smith has made mistakes, nobody's doubting that, himself as well,
but he hasn't exactly had much support from the Party in the House of Commons
and by all this kind of talk that we have of deadlines and timescales and
so on and so forth, it doesn't help the Party. You can't stop commentators
and journalists doing it, but I think the Party itself ought not to join
in. One thing is quite clear, if anybody thinks that another contested
leadership election with all the passions and disagreements that goes with
that is the way to improve the position of the Conservative Party in the
country, they really need to think again, that is not the way to do it.
RAWNSLEY: Let me be clear about
this. You're saying then that Iain Duncan Smith should remain safe as
leader until the next election?
BRITTAN: No, I think Nigel Waterson's
RAWNSLEY: Or are you not saying
BRITTAN: Nigel Waterson's right
in this sense that politics move fast and you can never be sure of anything,
but I think to talk about having a leadership election at this stage is
a great mistake, what you need to do is quite clear. You need to press
the points made at the Party Conference, the new ideas on policy, on the
public services, that's what you've got to stress...
BRITTAN: And then, of course, see
how it goes.
RAWNSLEY: Ah, see how it goes at
this stage. So how long
do you give Mr Duncan Smith?
BRITTAN: I'm not giving...it's
not for me to give him or any...
RAWNSLEY: But you've a very experienced
seasoned Conservative politician - how long do you think he's got?
BRITTAN: I don't think there's
any particular period of time that he has got, or that the party has got,
and I think the less you talk about periods of time, the less you talk
about leadership elections and the more you talk about the actual issues,
about the mistakes the Labour Government is doing...making, about the policies
that were put forward at the Party Conference, that increases the chances
of us making progress. How quickly we make it, and how the leader will
fare and how he will do, I think focusing on that is the best way of ensuring
that we don't make the progress that I think we can make, faced with a
very vulnerable Government and perfectly sensible policies except, of course,
on Europe, where I do disagree with them...
RAWNSLEY: Yes, we'll come that
in a minute. You see, admire Mr Duncan Smith or not, the Conservative
Party did elect him for a Parliament, he was elected by a majority of Tory
members, what right have Tory MPs to reverse that decision before the next
election, however he performs, whatever rating the Conservative Party gets
in the polls, you're stuck with Mr Duncan Smith until the next election,
BRITTAN: Well, it's not a question
of stuck with him, he has been elected leader of the Party. I have made
it quite clear that I don't think a fresh election for the leadership of
RAWNSLEY: Just now.
BRITTAN: Or generally - I can't
think of any situation in which an election for leadership of the Conservative
Party is going to be a way forward. On the other hand, you know, the Parliamentary
Party are keeping, they see what's happening on a day to day basis and
they have to take their responsibility to do what they think is in the
interest of the Party.
RAWNSLEY: If that includes putting
a revolver to Mr Duncan Smith's head and pressing the trigger?
BRITTAN: Well, I've just now said
that I think having a leadership election isn't now going to help...
BRITTAN: And I can't see any circumstances
in the future where a contested election of that kind with somebody putting
up against him is really going to help.
RAWNSLEY: You see you voted for
your old friend Ken Clarke last time round, it was defeated then and by
quite a large margin. He was defeated the time before. Twice now, Ken
Clarke has been rejected by the Conservative Party. Isn't it time your
old friend retired gracefully from the scene because every time Ken Clarke
talks about his continuing ambitions to lead the Tory Party, he simply
undermines Mr Duncan Smith?
BRITTAN: But he doesn't keep talking
about his ambitions.
RAWNSLEY: He did only the other
day. He said he's got this hobby of running for leadership.
BRITTAN: What he said...well what
he actually said is that he is not seeking the leadership of the Conservative
Party but people like you keep pressing him and say...
RAWNSLEY: It is our job.
BRITTAN: Of course it's your job
but...to keep saying do you rule it out?, is it impossible?, is it inconceivable?
Well anyone who is seriously on the political stakes is not going to say
that because the circumstances... you don't know what might arise and he
has a perfectly honourable ambition, he's not pressing it, he's not pushing
it, he's not part of a plot. I think it was a mistake of Iain Duncan Smith
to accuse those who voted on a particular issue of plotting, that was unsustainable
and, of course, it's particularly difficult for a leader of the Party who
made his reputation by voting again and again against John Major's Government
to play the loyalty card.
RAWNSLEY: There we must leave it,
I'm afraid, on that advice to Iain Duncan Smith. Leon Brittan, thank you
very much indeed.