BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 15.12.02

==================================================================================== 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: 15.12.02 ==================================================================================== JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon and welcome to the final edition of On the Record. Fourteen years of political reporting, analysis and interviews and this is the last one. We'll be looking back at those fourteen years and hearing from the political stars who've waxed and waned during that time. What were the big events, the lasting changes and how did they deal with them? So... the political highlights AND some of the politicians' low points...with a wee bit of humour thrown in too. All after the news read by Darren Jordon. NEWS HUMPHRYS: Thanks Darren. Welcome back. Later in the programme we'll have an interview with the prime minister..... a recorded interview. Recorded five years ago. In the past couple of programmes we've had the leaders in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the two main opposition leaders in Westminster. And we'd hoped, naturally, to finish off with Mr Blair. But, sad to say, Downing Street decided otherwise so the interview you'll be seeing is when I spoke to him at the height of the Ecclestone affair ... the first time his Government was accused of sleazy behaviour. That's our number one as it were in On the Record's political pop chart of the last fourteen years and - in time-honoured fashion - it will come at the end. So let's count down, as Alan Freeman would have put it, .... Our top ten political memories. First ...One of the great misjudgements the last Tory Government made. It was the decision to shut down the few remaining coal mines that had survived the Thatcher years. What they got so disastrously wrong was the way people would react to the announcement. Not just the miners. Not just the unions. Not just the public. But their own MPs and even their own ministers. The man at the centre of the storm was the President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine. This was Tarzan at bay as he had never been before in his long political career. Terry Dignan. QUOTE FROM NEWS. PETER SISSONS; Good evening - the headlines at six o'clock: British Coal is to close thirty one pits. TERRY DIGNAN: Back in 1992 the Conservatives wanted to shut down most of the mining industry. It's costing too much to run said the grandly-titled President of the Board of Trade Michael Heseltine. ACTUALITY. DIGNAN: Mr Heseltine and the Tory Government were in trouble - they faced a crucial vote that week in the House of Commons. Early one October morning Jonathan Dimbleby and the team arrived at Mr Heseltine's house for an interview which could make or break the minister's career. It was pure theatre. JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Good afternoon and welcome to On the Record. Last weekend the fortunes of the Government were at rock-bottom - or so it seemed. This weekend the Prime Minister and his colleagues are in even deeper trouble. It comes to something when a headline in the SUN, yes, the SUN, reads "IS MAJOR A GONER". That was yesterday. Today, the newspapers are at it again with the firing squad aiming both at the Prime Minister and especially at Michael Heseltine, witness the MAIL ON SUNDAY - "HESELTINE ON THE RACK - MINISTERS JOIN CALLS FOR HIS SACKING IN PITS ROW". Mr Heseltine, the Government was in enough trouble already before this happened, now you have the nation up in arms, you have the Party in revolt. In the manner and timing of your announcement, you have made a spectacular error of political judgement and really landed the Government in it, haven't you? MICHAEL HESELTINE: If I am in that position, I accept responsibility for that. I am the minister involved and I don't seek to share the responsibility or run from it, but let's try and understand how that came about. DIMBLEBY: But we're talking about the politics of the timing of your announcement and the manner of it. Did you expect... HESELTINE: Jonathan.. DIMBLEBY; .....did you expect the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee to say that this was on your part, "crass stupidity"? HESELTINE: I understand the intensity of the reaction but... DIMBLEBY; Did you expect it? HESELTINE: announcement of this sort is bound to produce that sort of reaction but it doesn't make the decision go away and if they had had to share the dilemma that I shared, as all colleagues in Government who are involved in this process had to share, there is no simple way of avoiding what is a very unpleasant decision. DIMBLEBY: You say you understand the mood, did you expect the degree of revulsion that you have occasioned by this announcement, did you expect people to say that this was a callous decision, a brutal decision, that you are a callous and brutal politician in the manner in which you've done it? HESELTINE: People must make that judgement... DIMBLEBY: I asked whether you expected it? HESELTINE: I expected some very significant reaction, the words, you never quite know. DIMBLEBY: You talked about the history, there is a history of consulting the victims. Why did you fail to consult the victims, was that not a spectacular error of judgement? HESELTINE: Well it's not for me to do the job of the Coal Board, I don't have a responsibility to consult the employees of the Coal Board, that's for the Coal Board. DIMBLEBY: Was it right not to consult them? HESELTINE: That's a question you must put to the Coal Board. DIMBLEBY: Well, I'm putting it to you, you're the Secretary of State, you must have a judgement about whether it's right to consult the thirty thousand men that have been put out of work. HESELTINE: The Coal Board have responsibilities, it is for them to discharge those responsibilities and as you know, these matters are now before the courts. DIMBLEBY: Were you completely uninterested in the statement they made? HESELTINE: It isn't a question about being uninterested, it is. DIMBLEBY: Did you ask them about it? HESELTINE; It is not a question about being interested, it is a question of the Coal Board being responsible for carrying out their duties under the law. DIMBLEBY: But this is like Pontius Pilate, with respect... HESELTINE: Not at all, I. DIMBLEBY: Because you made the decision, you are in the dock along with the Coal Board, in the public mind you're in the dock. HESELTINE : That will undoubtedly be the case but you're asking me whether I have got a responsibility to do the job of the Coal Board for them and I don't have and that's the short answer. DIMBLEBY: The Employment Secretary, Gillian Shephard, is said to be incandescent with rage. HESELTINE: I've read those stories, but the fact of the matter is that at the key - where the scale of these matters were being discussed an Employment Minister was present. DIMBLEBY: So if Gillian Shephard is incandescent with rage because she feels that she wasn't given full knowledge about the scale and timing and costs, that's her own fault? HESELTINE: Well, I never used those words, and I don't believe that she didn't know about the full scale of it all. DIMBLEBY: Why didn't you tell David Hunt about the pit that was going to be closed in North Wales about which he knew not until he heard about it publicly? HESELTINE: Well, the answer is a very clear one. That the Coal Board only made that decision at the very last moment and so Ministers - I didn't know about that decision until the very last moment. DIMBLEBY: Can you stay as President of the Board of Trade if you lead from the front as you've done on this and you go in and you lose the vote? HESELTINE: I intend to try and help the Party win the vote. DIMBLEBY: If you lose it, amongst others.. HESELTINE: I'm not dealing with hypothesis, hypothetical situations. DIMBLEBY: Well, what's your answer then to Winston Churchill, who this morning said, "if the vote is lost, then you must go". HESELTINE: Well, that is a view he holds, the great thing is therefore for him to come and help us win the vote. DIMBLEBY: Resigning isn't much in fashion at the moment, are you saying: I stick in, come what may? HESELTINE; I'm saying that I want to help the Party win the vote. DIMBLEBY: It's rather hard luck isn't it for you, there you were two weeks ago, blue eyed boy of the Party, now you're on the rack, virtually on the cross. HESELTINE: Well, you don't come into politics expecting a sort of easy ride. DIMBLEBY: Do you expect to survive this one? HESELTINE: I will do my best to help the Party win the vote on Wednesday. I believe the case - in economic terms - is unanswerable and that the measures that we have provided socially are as generous as we could reasonably afford and far, far more generous than the other nearly three million people out of work have received in very similar circumstances. DIMBLEBY: Michael Heseltine, thank you. HESELTINE: Thank you. DIGNAN: The miners lost their jobs but Michael Heseltine survived. indeed he was later promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and became one of On The Record's most frequent contributors. HUMPHRYS: Terry Dignan. On any scale one of the most important stories of the last fourteen years has been Northern Ireland. It has sometimes seemed more farce than high drama with endless, tedious argument about seemingly, impenetrable issues. But underlying it all, the despair and the fear of yet another terrible atrocity if the politicians failed. So many people have died. So many hopes for peace dashed when political ambitions and personalities clashed. It was John Major and Albert Reynolds, the Irish Prime Minister, who made the dream of lasting peace begin to look a reality when they stood together on a chill December evening to announce their Downing Street Declaration. But the process had begun even before that with secret talks between the IRA and the British Government as On The Record revealed. Iain Watson. IAIN WATSON: In 1990, troops were still, prominently patrolling the streets of the Northern Ireland. But even during the dark days of the troubles, the Secretary of State told us he could see a day when Dublin would give up their claim to the North - as part of an overall settlement. Eight years later, this was finally to happen in a referendum. PETER BROOKE MP: A government can say we are prepared to put that to the people. I can conceive of circumstances under which in order to achieve a resolution, people might be prepared to do unexpected things. WATSON: Under 1993 Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness revealed the Conservative Government had held secret talks with them; despite a continuing campaign of IRA violence and a ban on broadcasting the voices of Republicans. His words are spoken by an actor. MARTIN McGUINNESS (VOICE OF AN ACTOR): The meeting which took place three years ago in October 1990 was a meeting between a representative of the Foreign Office and myself. It was a meeting at their request. It was in a quiet residential area somewhere in the North of Ireland. I arrived by car; he arrived by car. There was absolutely no security whatsoever and everybody was at ease. WATSON: Just a few weeks later, the British and Irish Governments jointly agreed the Downing Street Declaration. It said there'd be a place at the negotiating table for Sinn Fein if the IRA declared a ceasefire. In 1994 they did just that. But it came to a violent end at Canary Wharf in February 1996. It had been clear from an interview with Gerry Adams the previous autumn that Republicans hadn't been happy with the progress of the peace talks. GERRY ADAMS (1/10/95): What the British Government are trying to do is to almost subvert this peace process. In my view, because militarists who fought in Ireland, or who were in charge of a war policy in Ireland for twenty-five years are still seeking to win some sort of outdated and unviable and unachievable military victory. WATSON: After another IRA ceasefire and a change of government in the UK, the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 and endorsed in a referendum. This heralded a new era of power sharing in the Province. But Unionists refused to join the new institutions until the IRA made a start on the decommissioning of their weapons. The Secretary of State told us she hoped progress could be made later that year MO MOWLAM: Let me say very clearly the process will not move forward unless there is decommissioning along the lines that are outlined in the Good Friday Agreement: a number of dimensions, commitment to democratic peaceful non-violent means, end to violence such as punishment beatings, not using proxy. There's a whole host and I still believe that the Parties know what has to be done. Let's give ourselves the summer to see what progress we can make on these dimensions. WATSON: But eighteen months on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and David Trimble told us he was sticking to the line: 'no guns, no government' DAVID TRIMBLE (4/10/99): There's no question of people being involved in the administration without decommissioning, that has to happen. WATSON: Two months later and he'd changed his tune. The power sharing executive was set up. Although there had still been no decommissioning, the IRA were at least now formally talking about it. But by the following spring, David Trimble was under pressure from hardliners in his own party to pull out of the executive. Echoing Lady Thatcher, he insisted: There Is No Alternative DAVID TRIMBLE (21/5/00): My critics have nothing to offer. Nothing at all, no achievements to point to, no hope to point to for the future either. WATSON: But after fighting off challenges to his leadership, David Trimble resigned as First Minister in July 2001. Taking up his post again only in November after some IRA weapons had finally been put beyond use. But in the spring of this year, On The Record reported that the peace process was under unprecedented strain as communities clashed around the Short Strand area of Belfast. Sinn Fein refused to join a cross community police board, and Martin McGuinness declined to denounce an attack on a Catholic recruit to the new police service. MARTIN McGUINNESS: Don't ask about one specific attack because.... WATSON: Why not? McGUINNESS: ...because I have just come from a community yesterday that has been attacked on a daily basis by Loyalist Paramilitaries and you don't ask me my views on that. WATSON: I did and you condemned it. McGUINNESS: No, I don't... WATSON: You condemned the Loyalist attack. I am saying do you also condemn the attack on the Catholic recruit. McGUINNESS: I am sorry but I don't be asked specifically. WATSON: The Government suspended the Northern Ireland Assembly in October this year. In his most recent interview with On The Record, David Trimble said he would not sit in Government again with Sinn Fein until he saw tangible progress towards the complete disbandment of the IRA. TRIMBLE: (1/12/02): We need to see radical movement by Republicans on both weapons and on their structures and capability. We want to see what effectively would be the end of their private army. WATSON: In the fourteen years that On The Record has been on air, we've chronicled how life has improved dramatically for the people of Northern Ireland. But there appears to be some way to go before distrust and division are finally laid to rest. HUMPHRYS: When On The Record was first broadcast the Liberal Democrats were not much more than a fringe party, they were about to reach their lowest point, fourth place, behind even the Green Party in the European Elections. The merger between the Liberals and the SDP seemed to be a disaster. Things had never looked so bad for a party that was once the mightiest in the land. Well those days may still be a way off, but at least now they are talking about becoming the next main party of opposition. Terry Dignan followed their progress for the entire month of the by-election that transformed their fortunes. TERRY DIGNAN: When we followed the Liberal Democrats on the campaign trail in Newbury, we didn't realise it at the time but the by-election marked a turning point in the Party's history. They had just nineteen seats when On The Record began - today they have fifty-three. While the activists meeting voters, Lib Dem Leader Paddy Ashdown was at local party HQ practising his lines before the daily press conference. PADDY ASHDOWN MP: The other thing I'd like to say, Chris, if you and the others agree, is in a cheerful upbeat fashion, something like this: you know there's nothing I enjoy more and there's nothing I know my by-election team enjoys more than a good battle, and this looks to me as though it is going to be a battle royal with the Tories - puts us as the challengers - a battle royal with the Tories. "I enjoy nothing more than a battle and our by-election team enjoy nothing more than a battle and let me tell you that my judgement is that this is now developing into a battle royal between ourselves and the Conservatives. You will know that battles aren't won until the last bugle sounds. My view is that this is going to go through right to the tape." DIGNAN: The rest of the Liberal Democrat message to the voters? Depended on who they were talking to. IAIN KING MP: The most important one we'll be doing is the one to undecided Labour and undecided Tory. They get different letters. The undecided Labour will basically get the plain tactical message: "If you hate the Government, you haven't got a chance of electing a Labour MP, but David Rendel's the nearest best thing". And to the Tory voters it's saying: "David Rendel's an aristocrat, he's from Eton, he's a good bloke and he's got not an ounce of socialism in him. Which is true, they're both true, but it's perhaps slightly misleading to tell different people different things. This was one of the last by-elections covered by the late Vincent Hanna. His arrival set Lib Dem nerves jangling. VINCENT HANNA MP: You're not telling us what the canvassing returns are, you're not telling us what your forecasts are and you're hoping that people will find out what your policies are in the next few days. Doesn't sound like a Liberal Democrat by-election campaign to me, I think you're going to lose it. BEN RICH: They are just all writing their stories on it. Well, I think their line, because this is what Hanna's saying, is that the fact that Liberal Democrats won't release canvass figures and the fact that David this morning said there's still a lot of people to make up their minds, means the Liberal Democrat campaign is in dreadful trouble and this is a disaster. DIGNAN: When the votes were counted it certainly was a disaster - for John Major's Tories. Newbury was the first test of opinion after the 1992 General Election and the Liberal Democrats won it by a landslide. True, the Conservatives often lost by-elections only to win the seats back at the next General Election. But this time it really was the beginning of the end for the Conservative Government. And Newbury - it's been Lib Dem ever since. HUMPHRYS: The great fault line in the Conservative Party over the past fourteen years has been Europe. It's not the only party to agonise over Europe - Labour has its problems too. But, the division among the Tories was so deep, so visceral, that it ended up destroying John Major's leadership and the divisions remain, contained for the moment certainly, but still there, under the surface, with the potential to do yet more damage. It all reached its climax when John Major's government agreed to sign the Maastricht Treaty. Paul Wilenius reported on the drama of the debates that followed. PAUL WILENIUS: Within months of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the '92 election, John Major was on the rack over Europe. This culminated in a humiliating Commons defeat on ratifying the Maastricht Treaty. ANNOUNCEMENT: The ayes to the right 316 the noes to the left 324. WILENIUS: His own backbench rebels had joined forces with the Opposition parties . He was forced to call a confidence vote to save his Government. JOHN MAJOR MP: We must resolve this issue and it cannot be permitted to fester any longer. I therefore give notice that the Government will invite the House to come to a resolution tomorrow in support of the Government's policy on the Social Chapter by putting down a motion of confidence. WILENIUS: But it did continue to fester and poison the Tory body politic for years. Amongst the rebels was none other than Iain Duncan Smith, the future leader of the Conservative Party. IAIN DUNCAN SMITH MP: Well, I have to say that the Masstricht process is something I believe that is above party politics because all parties actually had it in their manifesto. I therefore say that if it is, we should vote on it as a single issue, it has nothing to do with confidence in the Prime Minister, who I fully support or the Government. JONATHON DIMBLEBY: So, are you off the fence? DUNCAN SMITH: I've always been off the fence, I'm against Maastricht. DIMBLEBY: And what about the motion? DUNCAN SMITH: Well, I believe that I am unlikely to be able to support the Government. DIMBLEBY: Does mean that you'll probably vote against? DUNCAN SMITH: Yes. DIMBLEBY: Thank you. WILENIUS: The rebels held the balance of power, but John Major tried desperately to assert his leadership over Maastricht and Europe. MAJOR: The lead is quite clear, Jonathan, let me leave nobody in any doubt about the lead. I believe in the wider European interest for us to ratify the Maastricht Treaty is very important. That is why, though on a number of occasions I could perhaps have ditched it, I've been under heaven knows enough pressure to do so, I believe it is right in the long-term interests of this country and its influence in Europe. WILENIUS: There were Tory backbench Europhiles giving John Major public - and perhaps private - support. EDWINA CURRIE MP: If we had an altogether more positive approach to the position that we find ourselves in twenty two years after we joined the European Union and if we were determined that we were going to increase our influence in Europe and make our voice very much heard in Brussels. SHEPHERD: This is not Europe. CURRIE: Well, then, I have a feeling. HUMPHRYS: Alright. CURRIE: Then, I have a feeling we would all, we would all, be looking to the future. Everybody in our Party and perhaps a lot more people in the country, with a great deal more optimism. WILENIUS: The Euro-sceptic Bill Cash was one of many rebels actively campaigning against the Maastricht Treaty, but Major's problems started closer to home. Loyal while in the Cabinet, the former Chancellor Norman Lamont joined the rebels cause as soon as he was sacked. NORMAN LAMONT MP: Europe is an extremely important issue, it is THE issue in the Conservative Party, the centre of gravity of the Conservative Party in the country and on the backbenches, is very much to the Right of that of the Cabinet on this issue and I think you have to take that into account. In my opinion, the backbenchers are absolutely right. WILENIUS: Other Ministers supported this view off the record. On The record they were loyal. A frustrated Major dubbed them the Cabinet bastards. JOHN REDWOOD MP: He said that he is the Prime Minister, he intends to carry on, it is now the time of all men and women of goodwill in the Conservative Party to accept that fact and get down to the business in hand. WILENIUS: Only a year later, John Redwood challenged Major for the leadership. Like Supermario in the video game, John Majorio was never able to escape the attacks from the anti-European wing of his party. HUMPHRYS: Let's pick up the Single Currency because that's where they want you to be much more specific and much more sceptical. They want you to rule it out for the next Parliament. Now you said yesterday you wouldn't do that. MAJOR: Look, I'll tell you why I decided firstly not to rule it in. I think, firstly, there are many economic uncertainties about it, there are political uncertainties about it and there are constitutional uncertainties about it. For that reason, I was unprepared for us to accept in the Maastricht Treaty that we - like the others - should be Treaty-bound to go into a Single Currency. HUMPHRYS: Indeed. They know why you can't rule it in but they don't know why you won't rule it out. MAJOR: The background is important, if you wish to see why I take the position I do. So I have decided that we will maintain that option to decide, at a later stage. Would it be wise to decide now? We don't know the circumstances now. What is my primary aim? My primary aim is to have a Europe reflecting what the British think is right for Europe and for us. To achieve that, I need influence in the argument. WILENIUS: But the rebels never gave up trying to force Major to rule out joining a single currency once and for all. It tore his party apart. He was left pleading not to have his hands tied on Europe, and with an election looming, made a direct appeal to his own MPs. MAJOR: Now colleagues are going to have to trust me. If they don't, well, they must make that decision, but I am clear in my mind what is the right course to take in our European policy. I have set it out often enough in the past. When I have set it out, it has quelled these savage disputes for a while, and then they have blown up in a different part of the forest. But my position hasn't changed on these issues, and it's not going to change in the last few months before the General Election. WILENIUS: He didn't change, but his attempts to steer a middle course on Europe failed. The battles over Maastricht and a single currency inflicted such damage on the Tories, it was one of the reasons Major was swept from Government in 1997. HUMPHRYS: Paul Wilenius there. When On The Record started there was a woman Prime Minister, you may remember. But there were precious few women MPs, let alone women in Government. What a long time ago that seems. Now we have a man in Number Ten, a lot more women on the green benches behind him than there were behind Mrs Thatcher. And there are six of them in the Cabinet. How did that happen? Terry Dignan again. TERRY DIGNAN: When women were a tiny minority in parliament the future Labour MP for Stevenage told us politics was male dominated and sleezy. UNNAMED WOMAN: Them voters of this country, particularly the women voters of this country are very disillusioned by politics and politicians. They feel that they're generally corrupt and that they don't have the answers for today's problems. DIGNAN: Despite the smiles, Labour women MPs fell out over modernising the party's appeal to female voters after the election defeat of 1992. MO MOWLAM: There is no point in having policies that relate to government of the '80s. We have got to have policies that either in content or in monitoring are the policies of the '90s and the next decade. So I'm not going to wed myself to something of the past 'cos I'm looking to the future. CLARE SHORT: You see, there's an awful lot of people in my view - they call themselves modernisers in the Labour Party who keep looking for things that turn people off Labour instead of looking for things that Labour ought to be saying clearly and powerfully that would communicate with a large enough alliance of people that takes us into power: "they irritate me intensely these people". DIGNAN: But thanks to all women shortlists more than a hundred female Labour candidates were elected in 1997. And Tony Blair's minister for women came in to the On The Record studio to announce a change in the law to allow political parties to use all women shortlists again. BARONESS JAY: Well I can announce today, confirm today because there has been speculation about it, that we will make a manifesto commitment to change the law if we win the next election, to allow political parties to make a change which will enable them to be positive in their selection of women. DIGNAN: That could have helped the Conservatives to make more of these candidates women in winnable seats. But the Tory Party rejects positive discrimination, despite the encouragement of some male Conservatives to tackle its lack of diversity. FRANCIS MAUDE: We selected entirely straight, white, middle-class males. Now that made a more or less accurate statement about what kind of party we'd become. And that is very damaging because it not only discourages people from thinking of us as a broad national Party but it also discourages really good non-typical Conservative candidates whether they're from ethnic minorities or women or from different kinds of backgrounds, people who are born and brought up on the wrong side of the tracks. DIGNAN: On Derby Day in 1913 the Suffragette Emily Davidson threw herself under George V's horse. Women have made huge strides in politics since then. But for some Conservative women being taken seriously at selection meetings is still a bit of an uphill struggle. JILL ANDREW: And somebody said he'd lain awake all night thinking about me and another instance, there was apparently a lot of discussion about my legs which didn't really have a lot of bearing on what I had to say during the course of my speech. DIGNAN: So male domination may have ended but the fight for equal representation continues. HUMPHRYS: A serious business politics and heaven knows we've been serious over the years. Too serious for some. But we've had our lighter moments too and some of the humour's been at our own expense. Paul Wilenius has selected a few of those moments. PAUL WILENIUS: They say anything can happen in politics. But after election defeat in '97 Michael Heseltine was not expecting another call to arms. MICHAEL HESELTINE: People will be casting around to try and put me into a position. I mean I've done quite a lot of this work and it's difficult to see what job would be meaningful for me there. HUMPHRYS: So you wouldn't accept any job now that were offered to you by any of the potential leaders? HESELTINE: Well I've assumed...(phone rings)...just let me kill that. Perhaps one of them was on the phone... HUMPHRYS: Somebody offering you a job. HESELTINE: Someone offering me a job. .don't be so. .well you've got a scoop. You've got your story! WILENIUS: It was a scoop of a different kind when cult hero Ali G dropped in to lock horns with John Humphrys , the result ended up on the big screen. CLIP FROM "ALI G INA HOUSE": JOHN HUMPHRYS: This country has a special relationship with the United States. What do you think of Bush? ALI G: Me love Bush. I mean we love anything that gives foliage to the punani area. CLIP FROM "FRIDAY NIGHT ARMISTICE" Meanwhile, there's fresh scrutiny of our interviewers who have been accused of being too aggressive with politicians. Proof positive came in a recent interview between Gordon Brown and that constantly interrupting animal - John Humphrys. HUMPHRYS: Do you want to cut the starting rate of tax from twenty pence in the pound to ten pence in the pound? GORDON BROWN: Yes I would like to, that's a long-term objective of the Labour Party. HUMPHRYS: There are some people, perhaps many people, who don't work at the moment because it doesn't pay them to work. BROWN: What I said yesterday was... HUMPHRYS: ...and you are assuming that if you change that, then many of those people who aren't now working, will work... BROWN: ...well, look... HUMPHRYS: You say you would like to cut the starting rate to ten pence, how would that work? BROWN: Well, I think inevitably... HUMPHRYS: Is any of it achievable now... BROWN: You can't ask me therefore to make a judgement... HUMPHRYS: Ah, but I can you see. What you are saying quite clearly, from everything you've said this morning, is that you would oppose that. BROWN: Well I'd prefer... HUMPHRYS: No, what you are saying is that your proposals are based on principles.. BROWN: Exactly. HUMPHRYS: But you are not saying that. BROWN: ..... HUMPHRYS: You want to be able to say this is our principle, this is where we stand, we are not actually going to oppose that. BROWN: Look John... HUMPHRYS: So, we want this but we are going to oppose that. BROWN: Look John, the principle is... HUMPHRYS: Well you seem saying that.... BROWN: Well, I don't... HUMPHRYS: Gordon Brown, thank you very much indeed. WILENIUS: John Prescott never had any trouble getting his point across and in his most recent interview John Humphrys was keen to let him do so - uninterrupted. HUMPHRYS: John Prescott, many thanks. And since it's probably the last time you'll be on this programme, many thanks for having been on so often. JOHN PRESCOTT: Why, am I getting called... HUMPHRYS: You're getting called up. You've being sacked. No, the programme comes to an end very soon, many thanks. PRESCOTT: Well, I'm sad about that. And it's wrong quite frankly, 'cause it's a damn good programme. HUMPHRYS: Thanks for being with us. HUMPHRYS: The biggest responsibility on the shoulders of any political leader is when and whether to take the nation into war. We've had a lot of them in the past fourteen years - in the Gulf, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, the war on terrorism - and now we're on the brink of another. As Terry Dignan reports, whatever the cause of any particular conflict, the prospect of war seems to raise the same political questions and create the same political tensions. TERRY DIGNAN: There was huge public interest in our programme one Sunday in January 1991. A ground war against Iraq involving British forces was imminent following Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. The exchanges between Jonathan Dimbleby and Conservative Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd bore a striking resemblance to the dilemmas faced by today's policymakers over Iraq. JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Do you believe you have the mandate, if necessary, to go right the way into Iraq and said you yes, you might have to cross into Iraq, go all the way into Baghdad, if necessary, is there a mandate for that? DOUGLAS HURD MP: The mandate is to free Kuwait, and to restore the legitimate Government. DIMBLEBY: But you could conceive of a situation in which after he has been expelled from Kuwait, he would still be in control of what armed forces Iraq has as head of State. HURD: Well, of course one can conceive of that, it's not an objective, it's never been an objective of the UN or the coalition or the United States or the United Kingdom, to decide who should govern Iraq. We couldn't possibly impose big standing American or British armies to govern Iraq. We must really not get into the business of picking and choosing who rules in Iraq. He's not going to back to Baghdad with a million men, all his tanks, aircraft, chemical, nuclear weapons. DIGNAN: Labour MPs like Clare Short then, as now, face their own dilemmas over Iraq. She resigned from Party leader Neil Kinnock's front bench. CLARE SHORT: If I'd been in charge we wouldn't be at war and I believe we could have stopped the Americans and defeated Saddam Hussein with sanctions and the question for Neil is whether he'll see that answer, or go along because of his strength of emotion about the need to remove from this monstrous dictator these weapons end up being sucked into a war aim that means bombarding and flattening Iraq. I think if he did that he would do it because his feelings about Saddam Hussein - it think it would be a serious error. DIGNAN: In 1999, our forces were in action against another dictator - Slobodan Milosevic, the leader of Serbia. The break up of the former Yugoslavia led to bloodshed and misery throughout the Balkans - and Milosevic bore much of the blame. NATO bombed Serbia to force Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo. but, as On the Record discovered, some of those Left wing MPs who were expected to oppose military action were very much in favour. KEN LIVINGSTONE MP: We are in this position now because we weren't firm and we didn't bomb when he invaded Slovenia back in '91. If we back off now, he will see that as weakness. He will increase his territorial ambitions. DIGNAN: On the Record became the war report last year following the events of September 11 and the build up to the battle for Afghanistan. JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. The war on the ground in Afghanistan has begun. JOHN SNOW: Now the declared goal of this so called coalition against terrorism is, of course, defined as Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice, but he could be anywhere in this vast country, anywhere at all. This is a country that's seven hundred miles from one corner to the other. He's probably constantly on the move and American officials admitted on Friday that it's like looking for one rabbit in the entire state of West Virginia. GEOFF HOON MP: He's not able to move around very freely any longer and the more space we deny him, the greater the chance either that we will get some specific information that leads us to his whereabouts, or frankly that someone will give him away. DIGNAN: And we carried some chilling warnings about the kind of terrorism we might now face. RICHARD BUTLER MP: It is inevitable, and this is dangerous right, it's a prediction but I'm here to make it with you on the BBC. It is inevitable that one day a terrorist group will get hold of nuclear weapons or weapon and use it, and I think that's the greatest danger we face. DIGNAN: But we've kept our eye on Saddam Hussein. British forces look certain to take part in a US led war against Iraq if he doesn't give up weapons of mass destruction. Clare Short was back warning she might resign again. JOHN HUMPHRYS: If it were to happen - I know this is hypothetical - if it were to happen and Tony Blair were to say we are with you all the way, could you see it yourself, Clare Short, as a resigning issue? You have resigned on a matter of principle once before. SHORT: Twice actually, I'm that kind of person. HUMPHRYS: Twice, twice before. SHORT: I think it was because I was brought up as a Catholic. I mean, I think like that about everything, and I think everybody should and it's not that I think my Government is going to do the wrong thing, but we have all got to have our bottom lines, that's about being a member of a Government. HUMPHRYS: What you are saying is it is the same old Clare Short? SHORT: Yes, I am the same old Clare Short and I'm proud to be a member of the Government, but I've got lots of bottom lines but I don't expect the Government to breach them but, if they did, I would, you know, that's what you should be like in politics I think. HUMPHRYS: Neil Kinnock was leading the Labour Party when On The Record came on the air, he was never destined to become Prime Minister but it was he who laid the foundations for the modernisation of the Labour Party. He took on the hard left and made it all possible. Paul Wilenius followed the struggle, whose culmination was to be New Labour. PAUL WILENIUS: It was Neil Kinnock who had to develop and defend the blueprints for modernisation. JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Good afternoon and welcome to On The Record. This document which was launched three days ago is the final report after an exhaustive two year review of Labour's entire range of policies. This document of yours is not a matter of high socialist principle but an opportunist who is desperate to get the votes to get in there. Guilty, innocent? NEIL KINNOCK: It's of deep socialist principle, so deep indeed that we actually want to put the ideas that we have got as socialists into effect. People who call themselves socialists and don't want to do that, really are entertaining themselves with a brilliant and wonderful set of ideas which will never be put to the test because they won't have the power to do it. WILENIUS: Kinnock lost the '92 election and passed the torch on to two forceful young modernisers. In 1993 they visited America together and forged an enduring political friendship. That was under John Smith's leadership. His accomplishment was to introduce one member one vote. JOHN SMITH: It is my task as leader of the Labour Party to help the party reach a situation which we have modernised our constitution upon the clear principle for the selection of our candidates particularly of one member one vote.... WILENIUS: After Smith's sudden tragic death in 1994, Labour was briefly led by a woman. She contested the resulting leadership election as an unashamed believer in old Labour values. JOHN HUMPHRYS: As it stands you could live with the policies of CND can you, and you could if you were in Downing Street? MARGARET BECKETT: As it stands I continue to be a member of CND for two reasons, three if you like. One is because I don't join organisations lightly and I don't leave them lightly. HUMPHRYS: You are serious about social justice, that means therefore that there has to be a good deal of wealth redistribution doesn't it? JOHN PRESCOTT: I think there is very unfairly distributed wealth in this country, it's generally agreed and we've made the case and Gordon Brown was effectively deploying it when he said that the tax levels in this country are being particularly put onto the low earning people. HUMPHRYS: So you would increase the level of tax on the highest paid? PRESCOTT: I think this is a good example here, yes I think there is certainly an argument for that. WILENIUS: But Prescott and Beckett lost out to the new kid on the block . Tony Blair committed Labour to fundamental modernisation. TONY BLAIR: The purpose of what I am trying to do here is to define the character and identity of the Labour Party. I've a very, very strong belief that what has held Labour back over these past ten or fifteen years, has been a confusion in the public mind as to what the Labour Party is really about. What are we there for, what are out purposes, and there are two views of, if you like, the strands of democratic socialism over a period of time. One has been to say that Labour represents certain values and I say that the origin of socialism is indeed in that. The other has been to say that it represents certain specific policies like nationalisation, or whatever. Now I'm trying to get the Labour Party back to what its true purposes are WILENIUS: The decisive move to shed the image of old Labour came with the dumping of Clause Four which called for the renationalisation of key industries. Tony Blair used the issue to signal the final shift to new Labour. BLAIR: What are the things that direct you as a political party, now it's not Clause Four in its present form that directs us. No-body I know joins the Labour Party because they believe in nationalising the means of production, distribution and exchange. WILENIUS: Blair's position was unassailable, as even his reputed rival had to admit. HUMPHRYS: Did Mr Blair ever tell you, just to clear up this contentious matter, did Mr Blair ever tell you that he would stand aside and give you a chance to become leader? GORDON BROWN:. No. This is all gossip and... HUMPHRYS: He didn't? BROWN: No. HUMPHRYS: The rise to power of the Labour Party. Who'd be the leader of the Tory Party, these days. Well, there was a time when Margaret Thatcher looked as if she had the job for life. Remember that line of hers about how she saw no reason why she shouldn't go on and on... and on? Well, she didn't. She WAS, it's true, the longest serving Tory leader of the century, and at one stage she looked invincible. Who could dare challenge the Iron Lady? But, of course, someone did and then - cruel fate - she proved all too vulnerable. And as for her successors...well, most of them have never looked anything BUT vulnerable. Tory leaders have had a tough time of it in the post-Thatcher era which was ushered in, as Martin Popplewell reports, with an unknown backbencher having the temerity to raise doubts. MARTIN POPPLEWELL: Anthony Meyer was the first to challenge Mrs Thatcher, but On The Record has covered five Conservative leadership contests. ANTHONY MEYER MP: I thought that there ought to be some attempt made to force the Party to face up to the fact that there are issues which it is not reflecting, and in particular there are doubts about the leadership of Margaret Thatcher even. You have only got to go and knock on a few doors to find out that. POPPLEWELL: Dubbed a stalking donkey rather than a stalking horse, Meyer didn't unseat Margaret Thatcher, but it was the beginning of the end and within months the first Thatcherite MP called for a leadership change. BARRY PORTER MP: I would like to say to the Prime Minister thank you and goodbye and enjoy yourself, and I have little doubt that the country in due course will come to realise precisely what she has done. POPPLEWELL: By November, Michael Heseltine had toppled Margaret Thatcher. John Major was his main challenger for the leadership. JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: Michael Heseltine, a week ago, events were running in your favour. You've now got a much more difficult fight on your hands. MICHAEL HESELTINE MP: Well, I'm glad of that. I was apprehensive that I could have won the contest against Mrs Thatcher, but people would have always said that it was a negative way of winning. Now we're going to elect a leader because people make a positive choice for him and that saves me what was already worrying me: what would have happened if I had won that way? DIMBLEBY: John Major, they say that Michael Heseltine has charisma, Douglas Hurd has a safe pair of hands. What would you like them to say about you? MAJOR: That he won, and I hope at some stage next week I will be able to say that. It's perfectly true that Michael has charisma, I think that's right, he's a very glamorous, very attractive politician. POPPLEWELL: John Major might have won, but the challenges weren't over. After endless criticism from his backbenchers, Major called on his critics to put up or shut up. HUMPHRYS: If you fail to score a truly convincing victory in the first round - however you define that - your authority will be weakened, won't it? You'll have to resign. MAJOR: I don't accept your premise. Let us wait for the result of this election. What is intolerable is to have the continued speculation that we've had over recent weeks. POPPLEWELL: After Labour's 1992 victory, John Major resigned again. This time it was goodbye. MAJOR: When the curtain falls, it's time to get off the stage and that is what I propose to do. HUMPHRYS: One of the charges against you and this may or may not have arisen with or without Miss Widdecombe, is that you have made too many decisions in the past that have been based on furthering your own political ambition rather than in the interests of the nation. Let me give you an example. HOWARD: That is absolute nonsense. Every decision that I've taken has been taken in the national interest. Some of them have been controversial. People can agree or disagree about what I've done. KENNETH CLARKE MP: What the Party is having to choose is the most powerful and effective leader who can present a challenge to Tony Blair, prepare us for winning in five years' time, and unite the Party behind him in doing so. POPPLEWELL: William Hague won, but leading the party didn't get easier. HUMPHRYS: Good morning, Mr Hague. WILLIAM HAGUE MP: Good Morning. HUMPHRYS: No credibility, that's your problem. HAGUE: Er no, I don't think that is the problem we actually had an extremely good year last year in terms of winning elections. POPPLEWELL: The favourite to take over is Michael Portillo. Thinking it over, Ann Widdecombe. A strong contender would be Iain Duncan Smith. IAIN DUNCAN SMITH MP: I think the problem may have been at the last election was (a) partly the rhetoric and (b) also that we needed to expand that message to have something positive, much more positive to say. POPPLEWELL: And the next leadership contest? NIGEL WATERSON MP: Well, I don't think in this day and age that any leader can expect necessarily to stay in that role for the whole of a Parliament if progress is not being made. I think it's far too early to be talking about any of this, but halfway through this Parliament, which coincides to some extent with the May elections, local and other elections, would be a good time to review things. POPPLEWELL: So, during the last fourteen years "On The Record" has had two presenters - the Conservative party five leadership contests and four leaders. HUMPHRYS: And back to the Labour leader Tony Blair. We've had him live on the programme only once since he became Prime Minister and that was at a time when he was in deep trouble. Hardly five minutes after he had promised that his Government would be whiter than white, he found himself mired in accusations of sleaze. At the end of a torrid week for Mr Blair, he invited us to Chequers for an exclusive interview. This was to be his attempt to persuade the nation that they could trust him. IAIN WATSON: The Prime Minister had come on the programme to express regret, well, up to a point TONY BLAIR MP: It hasn't been handled well and for that I take full responsibility and I apologise for that. I suppose what I would say to you is that perhaps I didn't focus on this and the seriousness of it in the way that I should, as I was focusing on other issues. WATSON: As you can tell from his fresh-faced looks, he wasn't here to talk about Cherie's apparently less than candid conversations with the Downing Street Press Office. In 1997, it was all about his relationship with the man in the middle: short on stature but with big pockets, this is Formula One Chief Bernie Ecclestone. In a change of policy, motor racing was to be exempted from a tobacco advertising ban, but then it emerged he'd donated a million pounds to the Labour Party and had met the Prime Minister before the policy change had been announced. Tony Blair insisted there was no conflict of interest. HUMPHRYS: You wrote a note to your Health Secretary the day after that meeting with Ecclestone and you said: Let's look for a compromise in this matter. BLAIR: Well, what I said was: We've got to protect the position of sport in general and Formula One in particular... HUMPHRYS: That's right. BLAIR: ...because what I don't want to do is wake up one day and find that Britain, the home of Formula One and the Grand Prix has chucked the damned lot out. HUMPHRYS: So, in other words, you had done something that Ecclestone would have been very pleased about. Now I'm not suggesting to you what your motives for doing that... BLAIR: Yes, but the whole of sport in those circumstances... HUMPHRYS: Yes, but I'm talking about the timing here again Prime Minister. BLAIR: Okay. WATSON: As well as the timing of the meeting with Bernie Ecclestone, Tony Blair was challenged on why no proper minutes of their encounter had been taken. BLAIR: You know, it was a meeting of less than, as I say, twenty minutes or just under twenty minutes, in the midst of a whole series of other things and this suggestion that I somehow, which is the implicit suggestion, said well don't, you know, this is a sort dodgy meeting, don't take a note or a minute of it, is rubbish and people can see them. I'm not setting a precedent for that incidentally, because otherwise people will be asking me to publish every little thing. HUMPHRYS: It would be quite nice to have all the minutes of all the meetings. But why didn't you do it earlier, publish those notes? Bearing in mind... BLAIR: Because we'd done nothing wrong. HUMPHRYS: ....because loads...well, but we're talking about appearances aren't we? The point Martin Bell made in the House of Commons. BLAIR: As long as we are talking about appearances. I mean that's.... HUMPHRYS: That's what some people are talking about, other people are raising suspicions which... BLAIR: .....well let them just spit them out. And if there are any suspicions people have got, they can put it to me, you know, bluntly rather than sort of, you know, in this sort of covert way. But let me just say to you, okay, you can argue for appearances sake we should have done lots of different things, but I was and this is where you know I said to you right at the very beginning of this, I apologised for the way that we handled this. WATSON: But on one aspect of the Ecclestone affair, it's just as well Tony Blair wasn't on oath. He said the Labour Party had sought the advice of Sir Patrick Neill, the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life - on whether the donation of a million pounds should be handed back. BLAIR: The question then arose which was the question which was the question uppermost in my mind, what about the original donation? We decided to seek the advice of Sir Patrick Neill. We did so on the Friday. HUMPHRYS: He's the chairman of the Standards Committee? BLAIR: He's the chairman of the Watchdog Committee. We got his advice back on the Monday. We published that advice and we followed it to the letter. WATSON: In fact, Labour had asked only whether it would be appropriate to accept FUTURE donations from Bernie Ecclestone. Sir Patrick Neill - of his own volition - advised them to pay back the original million pound gift, which they did. WATSON: Last week, when Tony Blair's wife, Cherie, delivered her dramatic statement on her links with a convicted conman, her line of defence was strikingly similar to her husband's back in 1997 when he was challenged over Bernie Ecclestone: "I've made mistakes, but trust me, I've done nothing wrong". HUMPHRYS: You've had a quite extraordinary period in office, I mean you have been the most popular Prime Minister since ever. Now, the papers are saying that the issue surrounding you is one of trust. Do you believe that, as a result of what has happened in this past week or so, you have lost the trust of the British people? BLAIR: No, I don't believe that and I hope that people know me well enough and realise the type of person I am to realise that I would never do anything either to harm the country or anything improper, I never have. I think most people who have dealt with me, think I'm a pretty straight sort of guy and I am. And I think that, what I would say to you about that and I do find it...these things difficult and upsetting, is I think there's been a desire to say - right from the word go - this can't be as good as it looks. You know, they're all the same. The Tories were sleazy, Labour's no different. I don't believe we're like that at all. Now I'm sorry about this issue. I should have realised it was going to blow up into this type of importance before, but I have honestly done what I thought was best for the country all the way through. I'll carry on doing that and in the end I have to stand at the bar of British public opinion at the next Election. And I will do so, not just with a clean conscience, but I will do so if I've got anything to do with it at all, having delivered and kept every single promise I made. Because I said I would deliver something different and I can do it, I can do it. HUMPHRYS: But you've been tarnished. BLAIR: I don't believe I've been tarnished, no. I think that mistakes have been made, but I think in the end the country's got to look at me, it's got in a sense got to decide whether the person that they believed in is the same person they've got now, and it is. HUMPHRYS: Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed. BLAIR: Thank you. And that's it for the last time. Fourteen years of On The Record - ten years for me as presenter. I was going to say it's been hugely enjoyable and of course it has but it's been more than that, it's been a great privilege too. I've no doubt the democratic process could survive perfectly well without the sort of long political interviews we've been doing on this programme. It's a great mistake to take yourself too seriously. But, I hope you agree that they do make a bit of a difference. We've often got it wrong, sometimes we've got it right, but what we've tried to do is take politics and politicians seriously. So my thanks to all of those who have sat opposite me in this studio to do battle over the years. My thanks too to a brilliant team: they are the ones who make it happen. But above all, thanks to you for being such a loyal audience. From On The Record - for the last time - good afternoon. . 26 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.