JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first, the other leader
of the opposition... Charles Kennedy. He's not quite that yet... not officially.
The Liberal Democrats have only fifty three seats compared with the Tories'
one hundred and sixty five. But they say things will be different after
the next election. They are on their way to becoming the first party of
opposition. Well... maybe. But they've a lot of voters to win over between
now and then. One of the ways they're trying to do that is to persuade
us that they're different from the other parties. You can believe them
when they tell you something. They don't spin. They don't make promises
they know they can't keep. They're straightforward ... and their leader
is proof of that. Honest Charlie. He's with me now.
Good morning Mr Kennedy.
CHARLES KENNEDY: What a kind introduction. It
can only go downwards ......
HUMPHRYS: It can only get worse, exactly.
So what you're saying is what you're seeing is what you get. That's the
essence of your pitch, if I may use that word.
KENNEDY: Yes, I think so.
HUMPHRYS: Yes, grudgingly.
KENNEDY: No, I say this with
care and moderation because we have got to up our game as a political party.
Now I think the opportunity is there. I mean people will no doubt see
you conversing with Iain Duncan-Smith in the course of this programme,
but I do think if you look at the state of the Conservatives, and you look
at what a lot of people are asking themselves, and you look at parliament
and politics generally at the moment, they're saying here's a Prime Minister
with a three-figure majority in the House of Commons into his sixth year
of office, the country requires effective coherent opposition. Now, you're
not getting that from the Conservatives, they're spending too much time
squabbling amongst themselves ,they're forgetting the people out there
that do want to hear a rational articulate difference in terms of what
an opposition party can provide, and I hope that that is what we are providing.
HUMPHRYS: And an honest difference,
let me test you on a couple of the claims towards honesty that you've made,
and one of them is about honest where tax is concerned. You've always
said, you had always said, if we want better public services such as education
you've got to pay for it. Therefore you had a policy of putting a penny
extra on income tax if you got into power, because that is what education
needed, that penny devoted to it. Now you've dropped that which rather
implies that you're now telling us that we can get something for nothing.
KENNEDY: No, I don't subscribe
to the view that we can get something for nothing. Indeed, the education
discussion of this past week very much solidifies that case. There is
a price tag to be attached to all of this, but what we have acknowledged,
having argued before, during and since the last election that more money
needed to go to education, we voted for the fact that the government are
now putting that extra investment in. The question is about how effectively
does that investment actually reach the classroom. How effectively does
it reach those who are in need of that extra support. Now, that's where
the difference, the debate is now to take place.
HUMPHRYS: No, the big debate is
how you pay for that, and you're saying are you, we don't need tax increases
to pay for it?
KENNEDY: At this stage you don't,
because the government.....
HUMPHRYS: Why did David Laws your
Treasury man say Brown may have to consider tax rises later in this parliament?
KENNEDY: Later in this parliament
he may, he may. I don't know what the economic situation is going to be
in another two or three years time. The Chancellor has just had to revise
some of his own statements, as he said to the House of Commons just last
week. What we are saying is, if that taxation is required we will be honest
enough to go out and argue for that. At the moment we are also being straightforward
enough to say, yes, the government is putting in more money, we voted for
this, we welcome the fact that the extra resources are now being devoted.
Let's make sure it's money well spent.
HUMPHRYS: The point is this, you
believe, along with others - indeed, along with Gordon Brown himself that
he's having to borrow a great deal of money, much more than he would have
hoped to borrow, far more according to many people bearing in mind British
Rail and all them, whatever they call themselves these days, old Rail Track,
that he's going to have to borrow twenty billion more even than he told
us, so therefore they're borrowing too much money. You don't want to cut
spending, clearly you don't want to cut spending, so therefore tax ....
KENNEDY: We do want to make sure
that spending is well allocated.
HUMPHRYS: Of course, of course,
but nonetheless if you're not going to borrow more and you're certainly
not arguing for that, if you're not going to cut spending then it follows
you'll have to put up taxes. Can't you just be honest and say taxes are
going to have to go up?
KENNEDY: No, we're not saying that
at the moment. I think what people really want from politics is transparency
in terms of the taxation, and just seeing that the public services benefit
as a result. Whether it's the fight against crime, whether it's decent
transport, whether it's good education and health services, and so on.
Now, that's a perfectly legitimate sensible argument to put forward.
HUMPHRYS: Except that the sums
don't add up. That's the problem isn't it, and you should say so if you're
going to the straightforward party.
KENNEDY: I think we are perfectly
legitimate in the criticisms that we make of Gordon Brown and of the government
in the fact that they denied that there was a need for extra taxation and
then implemented it after the General Election, having disavowed such an
approach. No wonder people get pretty cynical with folk like me in politics,
when they say. Well look they do one thing before an election, and then
they do something else after an election.
HUMPHRYS: But even with that extra,
with the extra in National Insurance that we're going to have to be paying
from the spring, the sums still don't add up do they, given all the extra
spending that he has in mind. Unless you're going to borrow more money.
Still more money.
KENNEDY: No, it's a question of
efficiency and effectiveness in how you actually devote the very, very
substantial sums of money that are going into the public services. Now,
I don't think you can do it, and this is where the big criticism of Gordon
Brown comes in - I don't think you can do it by this over-micro management
of each of the public services that we've got in this country. I think
that you have to accept that decentralising decision making and the financial
control that goes with it probably means that you get a more efficient
use of the budget sums.
HUMPHRYS: But it doesn't mean spending
less. You wouldn't pretend that for a moment, so if you're not going to
KENNEDY: We have voted for these
increases. Of course we have.
HUMPHRYS: Precisely, precisely,
so, if you're not going to spend less and you can't borrow any more, then
I repeat, it follows the taxes would have to go up.
KENNEDY: I do think that efficiency
is the key to all this, and I'm not at all sure, and indeed from what I
hear from people who work right across the whole ambit of the public services,
they don't feel that money is efficiently devoted in terms of the national
resources. I would like to see more local people having more local control
of the sums that ...
HUMPHRYS: You - all this talk of
efficiency and everything and not wanting to put up taxes, you sound exactly
like the Tories, which may of course not be a coincidence, because what
you're after is the soft Tory vote isn't it. That's where you are actually
getting your votes from, or some of them.
KENNEDY: Well, I'm interested in
people coming to support us full stop, and I don't think that we should
get over obsessed as a party in this stage in the political cycle if I
can put it that way, by what people's previous allegiances have been.
I think that people just want a straightforward approach about what you're
going to raise, what your priorities are, how you're going to go about
it. Now, there must be many Conservatives looking at the state of that
party at the moment, shaking their heads in disbelief, despair frankly,
but they are looking for an opposition party which is able to articulate
a responsible view.
HUMPHRYS: And when they look at
you they may start shaking their heads with a wee bit of disbelief as well
eventually because, let's.....
KENNEDY: Why would they do that?
HUMPHRYS: I will give you another
example. I think I've given you one, but I'll give you another one, and
that is your ear-marking of National Insurance for health now. This implies,
implies.. it quite clearly states in your view there is going be greater
investment, I'm quoting, greater investment than we have every proposed
before to rebuilding a world class NHS. That's the intention, that's the
ambition, according to your alternative budget. But it simply isn't true
is it. Doing that would not imply that, would not lead to that.
KENNEDY: Well, the key question,
or the key issue, about ear-marking NICs for this - National Insurance
Contributions for the Health Service is that it is year on year on year.
In other words, you can have a Chancellor that stands up as Mr Bountiful
and says "I'm going to give you billions more pounds for the National Health
Service". "Terrific" everybody says "good news". The problem is that
that is time limited, if you ear-mark National Insurance Contributions,
that becomes a rolling contribution to the future of the NHS.
HUMPHRYS: Oh, it may well do, it
may well do, but what it doesn't mean is what's that quote again "greater
investment than ever". According to your own man, your own frontbencher,
Nick Harvey, it is a book-keeping exercise that does not commit any extra
money to the NHS, that's what he said.
KENNEDY: Well, I don't know the
context in which Nick and we mustn't get our Nicks mixed up here.
HUMPHRYS: We mustn't. But let me
help you out there, let me give you another one...
HUMPHRYS: ...and you would know
the context of this because he said this at a meeting just recently. Jonathan
Davies, another man you will know every well "it is the economies of ENRON
and the honesty in tax raising and not the honesty in tax raising of which
we have been so proud".
KENNEDY: Well, I...
HUMPHRYS: Pretty clear what he
thinks about it.
KENNEDY: Yes, well I don't agree.
I do not agree and in a political party, a democratic political party,
you can have honest and open disagreement. I think the way that we have
gone about this has been very systematic, has been very responsible and
I think long-term it would deliver better for the future of the National
Health Service than short-term fixers.
HUMPHRYS: But it isn't this the
greatest...the greater investment than we have ever had before? That's
what it is not and you have said it would be that and it won't be that,
by your own admission, it won't be that.
KENNEDY: Year upon year, year upon
year, year upon year it will be just that...
HUMPHRYS: You can't possibly say
KENNEDY: Well what the National
Health Service needs is a long-term stability. It needs...
HUMPHRYS: That's different.
KENNEDY: ....it needs less political
interference from the centre...
HUMPHRYS: That's different too.
KENNEDY: ...and it needs a guarantee
of subsequent funding year upon year upon year...
HUMPHRYS: And that's different,
KENNEDY: and that...
HUMPHRYS: It is not the greatest
KENNEDY: ...and that is what our
policy would deliver.
HUMPHRYS: All right, well, we'll
leave that one rest for a while.
KENNEDY: People will judge.
HUMPHRYS: And indeed they will.
KENNEDY: People will judge.
HUMPHRYS: As in all these things.
Let's give you another one and this is red tape. You want to cut all
the red tape I think I'm using your phrase here again that "holds enterprise
HUMPHRYS: The truth is, the truth
is that you want a whole raft of new regulations.
KENNEDY: Well, in what respect,
I mean in what respect?
HUMPHRYS: Right...in what respect.
KENNEDY: Political parties want
to do certain things.
KENNEDY: ...that by definition
involves regulation. One of the things I keep saying regularly to the
people that I work with is that for every idea we come forward with, I
would like to see proposals for things that we would stop the state doing...
HUMPHRYS: Oh, I've heard that before.
The Tories said exactly that a few years back, Labour have said exactly
that. Let me give you three areas where you want more and not less regulations.
KENNEDY: Fire away.
HUMPHRYS: You want more flexible
working, therefore that imposes certain conditions on employers, you want
more consultation before bosses can sack you...
HUMPHRYS: ...exactly the same...you
want greater protection, greater protection even than we have just had
for more...for part-time workers. Now, in each of those cases, that means
that the bosses cannot do what they want to do. You may say it's a very
good thing. You may say quite right, bosses must be circumscribe, they
must protect their workers, but in each of those cases, there would be
profoundly more regulation.
KENNEDY: But look, an enlightened
society, one that works in a sensible, harmonious way is one in which actually
good business, good company, corporate approach is environmentally aware,
its employee aware...
HUMPHRYS: I don't argue with that.
I don't argue with that...
KENNEDY: .....and so on and so
HUMPHRYS: I don't argue
with that. What I'm saying is it's more regulation, not less regulation
and if you're going to have this bonfire of red tape, you're not going
to produce it.
KENNEDY: Well, look, we have a
system in this country where at the moment, if you take some of the things
you have just been referring to which derive from European Union Directives,
for example, a lot of gold-plating goes on in our country. What's gold-plating?
Gold-plating is when...
HUMPHRYS: Means we don't bend the
KENNEDY: ...the mandarins in Whitehall
say "right, here's an EU Directive, we've agreed to it, we've signed up
for it, we're going to implement it". Fine. What we'll do is we'll tag
on quite a few other things that have been gathering dust in the Department
of Employment or whatever it might be - the DTI or something - and this
is a good excuse and then if anybody complains afterwards, well, we can
always blame it on Brussels.
HUMPHRYS: All right.
KENNEDY: Now, we want to have a
much more transparent approach than that.
HUMPHRYS: Let's give you another
one. Renewable energy, a very big thing for your party.
HUMPHRYS: Very big indeed. You're
saying one thing nationally, which is twenty per cent should come from
renewable energy, which obviously means mostly wind farms, that's the way
it is at the moment anyway, the vast majority would come from wind farms.
But locally, on the ground, your people, Liberal Democrats, are saying
"we don't like these things" and the fact is, I think it is seventy five
per cent of all wind farms are stopped because of planning objections.
Now your people on the ground are many of the people who are supporting
those objections, so one thing nationally, the other thing in the real
KENNEDY: Well, I think when it
comes to the planning process in this country, it is, by definition, all
about local accountability and local decision making, but that doesn't
in any way take away from the viewpoint that the party would adopt and
pursue on a national basis.
HUMPHRYS: So when...if you were
in power then you would like your local people...
KENNEDY: What...what I can do...
HUMPHRYS: ...to say "no you can't
object to that wind farm"...like you, with yours on the Isle of Skye for
instance. You have been a bit equivocal about the great big wind farms
they want to put on the Isle of Skye.
KENNEDY: No I have not actually.
I have not at all and that application has just gone through...
HUMPHRYS: Are you wholly opposed
to it? Entirely opposed to it? Or entirely in favour of it?
KENNEDY: I'm a supporter of it.
HUMPHRYS: Totally in support of
it with no qualifications whatsoever?
KENNEDY: No, I put in plenty qualifications,
perfectly sensible qualifications, as the local MP should...
HUMPHRYS: But you wanted it to
KENNEDY: ...in terms of the consultation
process, in terms of the decision making, how it was arrived at and so
on and so forth.
HUMPHRYS: But you want the wind
farm on the Isle of Skye?
KENNEDY: I have said so, yes.
HUMPHRYS: Right. All right.
KENNEDY: I have said so locally,
HUMPHRYS: And you would say the
same to other colleagues in Ceredigion for instance, or wherever it happens
to be, where they don't like wind farms, you'd say the same, support them?
KENNEDY: No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't
presume to know.
KENNEDY: It's a matter for them
to make that judgement locally and that's as it should be.
HUMPHRYS: Right, your own leadership -
in Brighton you said, and I'm quoting again that "you were going to quicken
the pace" because you were really on the cusp now of taking over as the
opposition, if not the government. You didn't actually say, go back and
prepare for government.
KENNEDY: No, I did not say that.
HUMPHRYS: But you see, what most people
have seen is you've been extremely laid back since then, at least that
is the perception and the thing most people, I suspect...
KENNEDY: Might be some people's
HUMPHRYS: Some people's perception but
what everybody will know, or at least I think pretty much everybody, is
that you are about to chair this "Have I Got News for You" programme and
they'll say "hang on a minute, is this bloke serious about being a political
leader, or is he a showbiz character?"
KENNEDY: Well, people will say
that sort of thing. First of all I would say there's a local hospice in
the Highlands of Scotland that will benefit as a result of this and it
is the season of goodwill..
HUMPHRYS: No doubt about that.
KENNEDY: But secondly, I think
the more important point is this, that you and I spend a great deal of
our professional and public life bemoaning the fact that too many people
are not engaging in the political process, particularly younger people.
You have got to, I think, in politics today, use the mediums of communication
available to you...
HUMPHRYS: So, they will come out and vote
because they see you do a bit of knockabout on television.
KENNEDY: No, they will pay attention
and they will reflect upon the fact that politicians can also, believe
it or not, be human beings.
HUMPHRYS: But that programme holds politics
up to ridicule. That's one of the things that it does, it pillories politicians,
it lampoons them all the time and you will be part of that.
KENNEDY: It's satirical, it's satirical...
HUMPHRYS: Savage as well..
KENNEDY: Well, I don't know. You've
got to have broad shoulders in this life but the, I think there is a place
for satire in politics. I think that you want politicians who take themselves
seriously but also, can equate with the general public.
HUMPHRYS: But I mean, just try to imagine
Tony Blair doing that when he was Leader of the Opposition.
KENNEDY: Well quite. To ask the
question is to answer it. Could you imagine Iain presenting it?
HUMPHRYS: Well alright - leave that one
on the table as well.
Cherie Blair - what's
your view of what has happened there. I mean obviously you don't want
to attack Cherie Blair personally, nobody ever does because she's.... and
all that. But nonetheless, Number Ten's role in it.
KENNEDY: Well I think obviously
there's been mixed messages that have been coming out of the Number Ten
press organisation in terms of all of this which they probably need to
HUMPHRYS: In what sense.
KENNEDY: There's something obviously
wrong when one impression is given to the press, apparently, so, I've not
been party to any of this obviously, but one impression is given and then
clearly another version of events emerges. Now that's not very effective
or coherent press operation.
HUMPHRYS: That's all you have to
say, it's not very effective or coherent. You don't think it's more serious
than that. You don't think we've been misled.
KENNEDY: It's very difficult to
know. I don't know whether you have been consciously misled.....
HUMPHRYS: .....are they being honest?
KENNEDY: .....in terms of the
media community or not. That's a matter that no doubt will be trawled over
for days and weeks and months to come. I do think the important thing
is that there has got to be voracity where public servants are concerned
and there must be a distinction made between public servants acting on
behalf of the government of the day, which is one thing and public servants
being asked to communicate information which to say the very least appears
to be open to question in a more personal and private capacity.
HUMPHRYS: Charles Kennedy, many thanks.
KENNEDY: My pleasure. Thank you.