ON THE RECORD
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION BBC-1 DATE: 22.9.96
HUMPHRYS: Menzies Campbell, don't you wish that
you had never started cuddling up to Labour whether you were doing a Tango with
them or not?
MENZIES CAMPBELL MP Well, I don't think it's a question of
cuddling up. I noticed in the film most of the participants of which I'd have
guessed in advance that one of the people who was speaking said: well, we
should never have abandoned equidistance. But, the fact, of course, is that
equidistance was abandoned by an overwhelming majority of the Party voting for
that. And, equidistance was always something of a fiction. In 1983, and again
in 1987 - indeed, to some extent in 1992, we were arguing about equidistance.
But, the truth is no one ever expected us to allow Mrs Thatcher to go back into
Number Ten Downing Street or to shore up the fractured aspirations of Mr Major
in 1992. So abandoning equidistance was simply an acceptance of reality.
HUMPHRYS: But, it meant getting closer to Labour.
Whether you like the phrase 'cuddling up' or not, and some of your colleagues
do like it - at least, they use it. They dislike what it means but they use
it. It meant getting closer to Labour.
CAMPBELL: You must drawn a distinction between
saying: we will not allow Conservative government to be returned to Downing
Street, if it's within our power to bring that about and saying: we are
inevitably bound to make some sort of arrangement with the Labour Party. These
are two quite entirely separate and distinct positions and I see no
illogicality in saying we will not assist the return of Conservative
government, at the same time saying whether we have an arrangement with the
Labour Party depends upon the view which the British people take and not just
the accident of arithmetic which, I think, Malcolm Bruce referred to but the
expression of will by the British people that they do not want any one Party to
have an overall majority in the House of Commons.
HUMPHRYS: But, whatever the reality, the
perception in your Party, on the part of many members - many senior members -
is that you are 'cuddling up' to Labour and that is the danger for you, isn't
CAMPBELL: Well, I challenge the perception-
HUMPHRYS: But, we heard it there!
HUMPHRYS: On the film.
CAMPBELL: Well, yes, for half a dozen/eight/ten -
HUMPHRYS: They're very senior figures and there
are many more out there. We can't talk to everybody in the Party for one film.
CAMPBELL: No. But, if for the purposes of this-of
the discussion you're asking me to accept that there are a number of people in
the Party who are concerned about any question of to use your own rather
pejorative language 'cuddling up' to Labour, then, I certainly accept that for
the purpose of the discussions.
HUMPHRYS: Because it did, after all, include
people like your Treasury Spokesman - very, very senior figure in the Party.
CAMPBELL: But, the question which they - indeed,
we have to consider, is this: if after the next Election, it's clear that the
people of this country have not given any one Party an overall majority, are
they willing to run the risk of the return of the Tory Government by default.
I'm not willing to take that risk because my judgment is this: that if we want
to try and create the conditions for liberal democracy, such as Malcolm Bruce
and Alex Carlile and others want, then, the best way to do that is to ensure
that we put the Conservatives out of Number Ten Downing Street.
HUMPHRYS: Sounds like 'cuddling up' to me.
CAMPBELL: No. It sounds like being absolutely
rigorous about the need to rid this country after seventeen years of a
Conservative government, which has failed the country and which certainly
deserves to be sent packing.
HUMPHRYS: It has gone further than you suggest,
though, hasn't it? It's gone beyond that. Alex Carlile said there is a
consensus between the Blair and the Ashdown offices and a willingness to
develop that. Now, that's more than just saying: we don't want to see the
Tories back in power. It's saying we can get much closer to the Labour Party.
CAMPBELL: Well, remember this? Tony Blair said -
I think, last week - that he described himself as a Social Democrat and then,
he said he couldn't remember what Social Democrat policies had been. Rather
unusual because, of course, the Labour Party is spending quite a lot of time
adopting the policies of the old SDP. The more Labour has moved the more it
has come towards our ground. But, it is by no means a non doctrinaire Party of
the Centre Left which, after all, has been the objective of the Liberals and of
the SDP from Joe Grimmond (phon) to Roy Jenkins. A realignment of British
politics to establish a non-doctrinaire, a non-Socialist Party of the Centre
Left has been our principle objective. The more Tony Blair comes on to our
ground, the more he recognises the validity of our position.
HUMPHRYS: Many in your Party would say that hasn't
been the objective at all. The objective is, and always has been, to prove
that the Liberal Democrats are their own creature. They're nobody else's
creature. We are an independent Party. We're seeking power. But, what you
seem to be saying now - you said it on that film last year, I think it was -
you're saying it again now is: we can do business with the enemy, the Labour
CAMPBELL: Well, come to Brighton this week and you
will see the extent to which we are an independent Party, come to Brighton this
week and see the extent of which we are critical about the timidity and the
lack of courage and the lack of boldness of the Labour Party, about its
unwillingness to discuss with the people of the United Kingdom the relationship
between Taxation and good public services. You will find no let up on Labour.
HUMPHRYS: According to Peter Moore, you haven't
been anything like critical enough. He doesn't hear you attacking the Labour
Party - he said so.
CAMPBELL: Well, I don't think he's reading the
right papers and he's certainly not listening to the right people because our
attacks on Labour have been justified and persistent, where we regard it as
being appropriate to do so. And, we will continue to do so. Labour declines
to deal with this important issue of the relationship between taxation and
public services. Labour, so far as the Scottish Constitutional Convention is
concerned - and, indeed, so far as Home Rule for Scotland is concerned -
running so scared of any question of Taxation, that it's introduced this rather
curious notion of having a second question - First of all, having a referendum
at all and, then, second, having an additional question on the issue of
That is an indication of the timidity of
Labour and it is that timidity which we will continue to expose.
HUMPHRYS: But, look, if an important and
experienced Liberal Democrat like Peter Moore isn't hearing that message
himself, doesn't believe that that is what is going on, how on Earth can you
expect the voters to believe that? And, the voters, having not heard it
themselves, or having been thoroughly confused by it, are perfectly entitled to
say: well, no point in voting Liberal Democrat. They're not being attacked
by-The Labour Party isn't being attacked by them, let's vote Labour - go the
CAMPBELL: Well, people will vote for Liberal
Democrats because of our independence.
HUMPHRYS: But they will not see it will they. Some
of your own people aren't seeing it, how could they?
CAMPBELL: They certainly will see it, and I think
people who have their political life in Sheffield perhaps have a particular
view on this because the enemy they deal with on a daily basis is the Labour
Party. But I think we have to take a wider view, it's the responsibility of
Members of Parliament to take a wider view and if the issue is "what do we
stand for", then I think, for example, on the issue of health, the issue of
education, the issue of this relationship between the public service and
taxation, our position is clear beyond any question. If it wasn't so clear,
why is it that the Tory Party has now turned its attack on us? The Tory Party
is now attacking us, it's attacking us for our distinctiveness.
HUMPHRYS: Well, if it's so clear, how come Malcolm
Bruce thinks he nearly lost his seat, lost eight thousand votes, because
the Conservatives were able to say "ain't no difference between Labour and
Liberal Democrats; that's what he believes happened to him, he nearly lost his
CAMPBELL: You could point to other seats, my own
is not all that different from Malcolm Bruce's. My majority went up. Often
local circumstances dictate the way in which a particular seat turns out, and
so far as the overall question is concerned, there's no doubt whatsoever that
if the people of the United Kingdom decide they don't want one Party to have an
overall majority in the House of Commons, they will not look very kindly on the
politicians of this country if they find themselves catapulted into a second
General Election within a matter of a few months becauses parties who may have
some common objectives are unable to find a way of running with each other.
HUMPHRYS: Well, OK, well let's try and clear up
this then, because it seems to me you are taking it beyond the next election...
CAMPBELL: Well, there's no question of any kind
of arrangement, any coalition, any pact, anything of that nature before the
election, and the reason why is this, because the circumstances in which an
arrangement might be necessary in order to keep the Tories out of government
will be dictated by the British people after the election.
HUMPHRYS: After the election. Well, OK., well
let's try and clear up then for these people who may still be just a little bit
confused, including members of your own Party about what equidistance means
and the development of equidistance means after the election. If you were
offered seats in a Labour Government, whether or not it has a large majority or
a tiny majority, or whatever it is, would you accept it in a Labour Cabinet?
CAMPBELL: The issue is not the question of Cabinet
seats or seats elsewhere in a Labour Government...
HUMPHRYS: ...it might be...
CAMPBELL: ...well it might be, but I mean, I'd
rather like to win the Lottery, but I think the chances are probably just about
HUMPHRYS: Do you well Peter Mandelson said on this
programme only a few months ago, that it was possible that they consider
offering you seats?
CAMPBELL: I've learnt a long time ago to take
anything that Peter Mandelson says with a very substantial pinch of salt. The
question is not personalities, the question is not seats in the Cabinet, the
question is policies, and if there is a Labour administration which is as
committed to Europe as the Liberal Democrats are, which is as committed to the
National Health Service as we are, which is as committed to education as we
are, then I certainly think it would be very foolish if we did not find a way
of making common cause with such an administration, and the issue of whether or
not we're inside the Cabinet or not, in my judgment, is entirely irrelevant.
HUMPHRYS: Well, Alex Carlile thinks it's entirely
relevant, he would expect Paddy Ashdown to be interested, (to quote his words
from that film)
CAMPBELL: What he'd certainly expect Paddy Ashdown
to be interested in questions of policy.
HUMPHRYS: No, no, no no...particularly a Cabinet
seat or seats plural..
CAMPBELL: If I or Paddy Ashdown or any other of
our MPs had set our sights on having a Cabinet seat, it is extremely unlikely
we would have joined the Liberal Party or joined the Liberal Democrats.
We're in this business because we believe our ideas are the right ideas for the
United Kingdom and it's the prevailing of ideas in the political system which
is much more important to us than any question of individual advancement.
HUMPHRYS: I understand that, but we're not talking
about individual advancement here, are we, though it might be very nice to be
in a Cabinet, you might yourself have a seat....
CAMPBELL: ....it might be very nice to be the
Director General of the BBC...
HUMPHRYS: ...precisely, but nobody unfortunately
has offered that to me. People might offer YOU a seat in a Labour Government,
that is possible. Now, Malcolm Bruce is quite clear, he said in that film
"We've got to keep our distance, we should have no part of it". You are now
sitting there and saying "Well, I'm not sure, perhaps we should, perhaps we
CAMPBELL: .... no, no, I'm not saying that.
HUMPHRYS: ...or can you help me out a bit more...
CAMPBELL: Well, perhaps there's either a problem
of comprehension or a problem of expression. What I'm saying is this, that
the ideas for which the Liberal Democrats stand seems to me to be the right
ideas and the right policies, right for the United Kingdom. The best way of
achieving these ideas is the way which I will seek out at every opportunity,
and if by some form of arrangement I am able to ensure that Britain remains at
the heart of Europe, that we deal properly with the National Health Service,
that we deal properly with education, that we have the necessary constitutional
change in this country, then I will explore any way of bringing about these
HUMPHRYS: Right, so you would not rule out the
possibility of Liberal Democrats taking a seat in a Labour Cabinet?
CAMPBELL: I don't want to answer the question on
those terms, because I think you personally....
HUMPHRYS: You've answered it really haven't you?
CAMPBELL: No, let me answer the question in my own
terms, if I may. I do not rule out the prospect, and I never have of an
arrangement between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party to bring about
these objectives which I've already outlined to you. Europe, Education,
Health and Constitutional Change.
HUMPHRYS: The problem for you is this, isnt' it,
and perhaps this is why at the risk of putting words in your mouth, which I'd
hate to do, you're a little nervous about going all the way. If you do take
seats in a Labour Cabinet, you have to accept Labour's programme, lock stock
and barrel. You can't then say because of collective Cabinet responsibility,
we don't like this bit, we don't like that bit, we insist on this bit, we
don't.... you know... That's the difficulty for you, isn't it?
CAMPBELL: Well, if I may say so, you've answered
the question in the way in which you framed it. The issue is the issue of
policy. I go back to what I've said already. I'm not concerned, nor is I
think is Paddy Ashdown, the question of seats in Cabinet. He's concerned with
the triumph of Liberal Democrat ideas and the best way in which we can bring
that about is the way we will constantly seek.
HUMPHRYS: I can understand why people in your
Party are confused about this.
CAMPBELL: There's absolutely no need for them to
be confused. You see one of the problems, if I may say so, journalists in
programmes like this deal in absolutes. I understand that. That's the way in
which you have to present things. But, politics isn't like that.
HUMPHRYS: Well we deal in what people tell us -
that's the thing. And, we - Paddy Ashdown this morning saying what a united
Party we are - right across ..
CAMPBELL: Well, that's certainly true. Come to
Brighton this week. I mean-..
HUMPHRYS: Well, I don't need to because at the
moment - at least, of course, I can come to Brighton and see what happens there
- but we have just talked to some leading figures of the Party and we have seen
a clear division, splitting the Party right down the middle, between those who
say in a future Labour government we should take part and those who say:
absolutely no way, let us keep our distance. And you're now, if I may say so,
saying: Well, I'm uneasy about it. Not because I have a principled objection
but because it could cause us a few problems.
CAMPBELL: No, no.
HUMPHRYS: So where are they to stand?
CAMPBELL: No, no, I'm-I'm not uneasy a-a-about
anything, particularly where matters of principle are concerned. What I'm
anxious to do is to ensure that Liberal Democrat principles prevail. And, if
you're concerned about the issue of a united Party just ask yourself what sort
of summer Tony Blair's had, or indeed what kind of week has John Major had on
the issue of Europe. If you want to compare the Parties and the degree to
which they are consistent-
CAMPBELL: -coherent and together, then the Liberal
Democrats score very heavily against ..
CAMPBELL: -both of the other two.
HUMPHRYS: Well, let's try and be entirely
coherent, then, about this particular issue. You have said: we have our
policies. We don't want to be pushed into accepting anybody else's policies.
Therefore, can you say categorically on this programme because of that we would
not take seats in a future Labour government, even if offered?
CAMPBELL: What I say categorically on this
programme is that we will seek every opportunity for the success of Liberal
Democrat ideas and policies, and it is quite arid and unnecessary to speculate
about what may or may not happen after the next Election. What will happen
after the next election depends on the judgement which the British people make
when they come to the ballot box.
HUMPHRYS: Well, you'd better tell some of your
colleagues to stop it then, because there's a lot of it going on in the Party.
CAMPBELL: There's not a great deal of it going on
in Brighton from which I have just come. I can tell you that-
CAMPBELL: -the feeling of optimism and
determination and of unity is in my experience - and I 've been to the last
twenty-one Liberal or Liberal Democrat Conferences - is unique in my
HUMPHRYS: But let me offer you another reason why
you should. Some of your Party members say: end this nonsense of saying: we are
the-equi-distance thing has gone and we are a bit closer to - or whatever
expression you want to use; I won't use 'cosying up' if you don't like it - and
that is because you simply can't trust Labour. Look what they did to you in
Scotland over devolution. Eight years - you personally were involved in this -
eight years you sat with them hammering out a policy, and at the end of it they
ripped it up.
CAMPBELL: No one is more disappointed by the way
Labour has dealt with the issue of Home Rule in Scotland than I am. No one has
been more critical of Labour and no one will continue to be more critical of
Labour than I will be about that, because I believe they have mishandled the
issue, mismanaged it. And, not only have they mismanaged it, they have done so
in a way which has produced a proposal which I believe to be fundamentally
flawed. But one should never allow one's disappointment or anger as
demonstrated by some of the participants on that film that we saw a moment or
two a go to colour your judgement. Making decisions in the aftermath of
disappointment or anger is rarely very sensible. And, while I am deeply
critical of Labour, and I believe what they have done is wrong, I think it
would be very, very unwise for us to say as a result of this piece of
mismanagement we're simply going to abandon any prospect if circumstances
present themselves after the next Election, of using whatever the House of
Commons may be as a means of advancing Liberal Democrat principles.
HUMPHRYS: So that's all it was, a bit of
mismanagement and it doesn't say to you: we can't trust 'em in future on - I
don't know - PR in a Scottish Parliament, or whatever it happens to be. Aren't
you a bit nervous about it?
CAMPBELL: What I'm nervous about is that the
notion of Home Rule - for which I and many others have fought for a very, very
long time in Scotland - should in any way be damaged by Labour's
mismanagement. And, I'm determined to see that the Home Rule package, which
was agreed in the Constitutional Convention, prevails. And, that's why if
Labour proposes an amendment - if I'm a member of the House of Commons after
the next Election and later Labour proposes a referendum - then, I will
certainly vote against a referendum because, as John Smith said, it is the
settled will of the people of Scotland that they should have their own
Parliament dealing with their own domestic affairs in Edinburgh.
HUMPHRYS: But, it's not the detail here that
we-that you should be concerned about is it. It's the principle of the thing.
You had an agreement and it wasn't something you arrived at in a smoke filled
room in a few hours.
CAMPBELL: Anything but. That was one of its great
HUMPHRYS: Absolutely. Eight years of serious
discussion, and having arrived at a principled position they threw it out.
Now, you seem - if I may say so - a bit sanguine about that.
CAMPBELL: Well, I-
HUMPHRYS: You seem quite desperate to keep alive
CAMPBELL: Well, I don't think there's anything
wrong with being sanguine in politics. But can I make this point, that the
failure of Labour to understand precisely what sort of disappointment,
annoyance and outright anger their decisions would cause is, I think, a lesson
not only for us, but it's a lesson for them? I think they have been very badly
damaged. If you think there's a problem in the Liberal Democrats about what
the Labour Party may have done in relation to Home Rule, you ought to talk to
some of the most fervent advocates of Home Rule in the Labour Party in
CAMPBELL: Their anger and their disappointment is
very much greater than ours.
HUMPHRYS: So, you-you mentioned Brighton a number
of times. They're off to Brighton now, they're starting their conference. A
lot of them are still confused, they're puzzled, they're angry about the
policies. They're anything you can say, absolutely, categorically to sort it
out for them, to make them feel a bit happier, that you're not 'cozying up' and
all the rest of it?
CAMPBELL: Liberal Democrats are an independent
Party with a distinctive set of policies which we will put before the people of
the United Kingdom in the course of this week in our Conference. And, we will
take every opportunity in the future, however that is presented to us, to try
and ensure the triumph of these policies and of our principles.
HUMPHRYS: Menzies Campbell, thank you very much