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Rebecca Flair Newsnight interview, 29/01/18


Kirsty Walk: Welcome to Newsnight with me, Kirsty Wark. 

Just a few days ago, a shock result was announced in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest. Rebecca Flair, the party’s European Spokesperson, eked out a victory over Simon Hughes. Tonight, in her first interview since her election, we are going to be asking her about the issues the British public care about, and see if the new leader of the third largest party is up to the job. Rebecca Flair, welcome to the show.

Rebecca Flair: Thank you Kirsty

KW: Mrs Flair, your predecessor but one was a former Royal Marine and diplomat who had served in Northern Ireland; your predecessor had been a Member of Parliament for 16 years before being elected. You have been in Parliament for just three and are relatively unexperienced. Were you elected before your time?

RF: I wouldn't say that Kirsty no. My predecessors were both very experienced men at the top of their respective fields when they were elected as our party's leader and between them and their predecessor they have turned a loose alliance of two parties into one strong and unified party with a single, clear vision. I have trememndous respect for everything Paddy and Charles accomplished and continue to accomplish to this day. What qualifies me for the job of leading the Liberal Democrats? I'm a graduate of Cambridge University with five years experience in the professional World of banking, I stood for membership of Parliament and won at my first attempt and within the year was appointed by Charles to be our party's European Affairs spokeswoman. Europe is the big issue facing us today, be it our membership of the organisation as a whole or our membership of the Euro. I made an impassioned case to the party membership over the course of the last month and I have shown them and the country the vision that I intend to lead the party with. The idea that just because I am a thirty year old woman from the border of Wales I am in any way less capable than the older men is frankly wrong, my party recognised that, my predecessors recognised that and the public recognise that too.

KW: I'm sure that nobody would claim you are less capable, but less experienced? Maybe. Was it your lack of experience that resulted is such a narrow margin of victory with the Liberal Democrat members?

RF: The contest to succeed Charles was a hard fought and positive campaign, Simon put up an excellent fight and I would like to pay tribute to him and his campaign team. Unlike the Tories and Labour we managed to stay out of the gutters and managed to avoid throwing copious amounts of mud at each other which I think strikes at the core of the difference between our party and their's. You claim that my narrow margin of victory was a failure on my part? On the contrary I think it speaks to my team, our campaign and our vision that we managed to come from being the rank outsider to the woman sitting before you here today as the Liberal Democrat leader

KW: I could make a comment about how the small nature of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party means it is harder to leak anonymously, but I won't. Does the closeness of your victory – less than 200 votes – mean that a significant proportion of the Liberal Democrat members don’t think you are yet up to the job? And how will you win them around?

RF: Obviously the first few months of any leader's tenure is all about unifying the party around them and presenting that clear vision that I have spoken about here today. Some in the party may well have thought, and may well continue to think that Simon would do a better job than myself at leading the party, the first part of my job is to win them over. Now unlike the alleged actions of the Tory and Labour hopefuls I will not do this by engageing in blatant bribery I shall do this by leading the party into action. Section 28 repeal is languishing in the House of Lords, I will make it my mission to get the House of Lords out of the way nd get Section 28 repealed as soon as possible. I shall move up and down the country selling my vision of a more liberal, more open and more tolerant Britain to the people and then any naysayers that you claim are sitting around will see that I very much mean business and am fully capable of driving the party forwards

KW: Ok, Mrs Flair, let's have a look at that vision. Obviously as a former European Affairs Spokesperson, you have placed the EU at the core of your campaign, and that includes the Euro. So why do you hate the pound so much?

RF: Advocating for the UK's membership of the Euro is nothing to do with hating the pound or hating Britain as the Tories will inevitably spin it. Joining the Euro is all about doing what is best for Britain. It's about doing what is best for our economy and about doing what is best for our influence and standing in the World. Britain should be a leading light in the EU at the heart of every discussion, crafting the rules so that they suit us as best as they possibly can. We cannot do that whilst if we are isolated on the periphery, nor can we do that if we leave the EU entirely as some Tories clearly want us to. The best way to guarantee British leadership in the EU is to engage with the entire project, not simply sit there and complain all the time like some want us to.

KW: The Government claims it has, since 1997, adopted the Social Chapter, assisted with the adoption of the Amsterdam Treaty, and contributed to a whole manner of things in order to be a 'leading light in the EU' as you put it. Why is joining the Euro, and abandoning the pound necessary?

RF: The Social Chapter was a part of the Maastricht Treaty which was signed in the early 90s, adopting it five or so years after the fact doesn't sound like leadership so much as it sounds like deferrence to me. As the adage goes, at the moment it is the Germans and the French that drive discussion in the European Union forward, any British politician who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something, probably their record. The cutting edge of the EU is the Eurozone project, it is with the Eurozone's interests, a clear majority of the EU being in that grouping, that future decisions will be aligned. Joining the Eurozone will represent a tremendous opportunity to our financial sector for even cheaper, even easier and even more efficient banking with the continent, increasing our economic interdependency and propelling us closer towards the centre of Europe. We could become the stock brokers and bankers for the entire continent, the growth that would generate alone sounds to me like it would be worth us entering the Euro.

KW: Mrs Flair, 'being stockbrokers and bankers for an entire continent' sounds like you favour the City of London over ordinary people who may want to keep the Queen's head on our currency. What do you say to those people who believe you want to sell out Britain's identity?

RF: Joining the Euro is not about losing our British identity, we will still keep Her Majesty on the throne, the Houses of Parliament will be our legislature, fish and chips won't be going anywhere anytime soon and everything else that makes Britain Britain will continue to function and thrive very nicely. The Euro gives Britain the opportunity to lead from the front in Europe which will in turn give us the chance to put our hand on the wheel and steer the ship away from issues that we do not wish to take up as a nation. The Euro will make travel to the continent cheaper and easier, it will make trade with the continent for small businesses cheaper and easier, in short it is a great deal for the people of this nation, not just the financiers in the City. The Euro is a fantastic opportunity, one that we do not want to squander as a nation.

KW: Do you think the Government is correct to judge Britain’s potential entry into the Euro through the so-called ‘five tests’ or should Britain just join as soon as possible?

RF: Obviously we cannot rush into joining the Euro, John Major and the Tories will tell you what happens when a Government rushes ahead and makes a mistake. The five tests are quite adequate guides to whether or not Britain is ready for the Euro. Where I differ from the Labour Party and from Gordon Brown is that rather than just measuring whether or not we are ready, I would actively push to make Britain ready. Joining the Euro will bring about stronger growth, more stability and higher employment through increases in trade alone. It is very important that we emphasise these facts whilst working to ensure that our economic cycles are in sync to provide for a painless transition phase.

KW: As you know Mrs Flair, one of the requirements for joining the Euro is keeping your budget deficit in check and below a certain amount. Your platform seems to clash with that. You have a lot of expensive promises in your leadership platform – free childcare, healthcare increases, abolition of tuition fees, tax cuts for all including the richest – but you haven’t explained how to pay for them. If it’s tax cuts for all and spending rises for all, are you just prepared to borrow?

RF: Kirsty that is simply not true, my platform explicitly stated that we must fully fund our public services, that means that we must take the painful choice not to rush for the tax cutting scissors if we are in a budget deficit. I also draw issue with your assertion that any tax cuts for the rich are anything special for I fear that your question runs the risk of misleading the public. My position is very much that the richest will not receive a tax cut unless everyone receives a tax cut. The Liberal Democrats would ensure as a top priority that the public services that the people of this country rely on are fully funded, and we will never worship at the Tory alter to the rich and powerful at the expense of the working and the middle classes.

KW: Do you not see there is a contradiction between increasing public investment, cutting taxes, and for meeting the EU requirements on the budget?

Of course there would be a contradiction if that were what I had pledged to do. My pledge was to increase investment, ensure that the public sector is fully funded and move towards meeting the budgetary targets for joining the Euro. As I have said repeatedly both in my campaign and on your programme I will not cut taxes until I have the fiscal base to be able to do it without costing us billions in interest payments.

KW: So lifting the poorest out of tax comes after fully funded public services?

RF: Protecting people from starvation if they are unemployed, preventing the sick from dying in overstuffed hospital wards because there are not enough doctors to see to them and educating the next generation of our country are my policy aims Kirsty. A good education is the single best way to lift people out of poverty for good, being alive and fit to work is the best way to avoid being rendered unemployed and unemployable and being actually being able to afford a roof over your head and the ability to feed yourself is the best way to ensure that we don't see a mass homelessness epidemic rise up like the 1920s. We will cut taxes whenever we are able to with particular emphasis on cutting VAT and lifting the lowest incomes out of income tax altogether but if we just cut taxes like the Tories would have us do we would have to cut public services. We would have to close schools, close hospitals and cut housing benefit leaving the poorest in our society uneducated, unable to get adequate care if they are sick and homeless.

KW: You said in a leadership speech “I care about raising people out of poverty” and you've referenced similar themes tonight, are you not worried that your Carbon Tax will push more people into poverty as a result of higher energy bills?

RF: Do you think that people losing their homes to rising sea levels wouldn't push people into poverty Kirsty? The main thrust of my Carbon Tax plan is to reinvest every penny earned from that tax into the Environment Budget in areas such as RnD to create more efficient, cleaner and cheaper forms of energy generation. Money would be made available to invest in grants for the poorest in our society to improve insulation to ensure that they need to use less energy and cut their energy bills. We can use the money to invest in flood defences to protect people from losing their homes to the waves. These are just three of the uses out of the many other potential uses that this money will have. We will lift people out of poverty, out of fuel poverty and protect the environment, these things are not mutually exclusive, no matter what some people would have you believe.

KW: Will energy prices go up because of your Carbon Tax?

RF: Part of my platform is to empower the Competition Commission to engage with the privatised industries and work to increase competition in these markets. We are beginning to see the rise of some large corporations that run the risk of creating near monopolies. Competition is the key to lower prices and more efficiency and I intend to make the energy sector a part of the economy where the public and private sector can work hand in hand to produce the best result for consumers

KW: Will energy prices go up because of your Carbon Tax? Yes or no? Regardless of your new policies you are bringing in.

RF: I am not the energy market and I have no stake in the energy sector. My party's policies will work to reduce energy usage, our carbon footprint and wherever possible the price of power. Every action I would take in the energy market would be with the consumer being put first rather than the interests of big business.

KW: If you apply a carbon tax, you very much have a stake in the energy sector. So will a carbon tax increase prices or not?

RF: Kirsty you know as well as I do that prices are set by the market in response to a whole host of stimuli, not just one policy. It is simply not the case that the price of energy will be increased by one policy when there will be other policies introduced to introduce price cutting pressure. It is too early to say whether prices will go up or down as a result of my party's energy policy as a whole, examining one small part of it and asking what would happen if that bit happened on its own is misrepresentative and poor journalism

KW: You may have been in Parliament a short time Mrs Flair, but I see you have picked up the habits of every MP very quickly, congratulations.

Moving on

During your campaign you frequently referenced Section 28 and the House of Lords together, arguing that the House of Lords needs to go because it is blocking the repeal of the said section. Are you not just using the idea of homosexual equality to further your own minority constitutional reform?

RF: Frankly that is preposterous Kirsty. I have been a strong supporter of equal rights for the homosexual community for longer than I have even been affiliated with the party I now lead. Replacing the House of Lords would help us pass Section 28 repeal it is true and I have often said as much, but my policies for equal rights extend far beyond a simple repeal of a hate-motivated piece of discriminatory legislation that is no more fit for purpose than a chocolate fireguard. If I had the power to make such moves happen right now I would incorporate homophobia into existing anti-discrimination laws putting it on a par with racism and sexism in society and the workplace. I believe we should move towards equal rights for homosexual relationships by introducing civil partnerships for them which would enshrine equal rights for them on issues such as inheritance. To decry my passion for every citizen in this country to be treated equally by the law as political opportunism is disingenous in the extreme and something I would expect from a Tory rather than from a BBC journalist.

KW: Mrs Flair, my role is to get to the bottom of your arguments. The British public can reasonably assume that you want to rip up the constitution - another part of our identity - in order to pass the repeal of Section 28. Shouldn't your arguments stand for themselves and not be used as excuses for constitutional reform?

RF: My arguments do stand on their own merits Kirsty, where they happen to compliment each other as well I shall of course bring them together. The idea that the privacy of one's bedroom and one's choice in partner is any business of the State is to me laughable, the idea that one should have to hide one's true self from other people by law is frankly discriminatory in my eyes and the idea that someone should have fewer rights because of their sexuality is similarly so. Likewise, the idea that the will of the people, as expressed by the democratically elected representatives of the people can be blocked by unelected political stooges, people who gained their position by an accident of birth or people who happen to have been appointed because they were of the "correct" religion is frankly abhorrent to me. There is nothing hypocritical in my views, nor in my party's policies. They stand perfectly well on their own thank you very much

KW: Mrs Flair, thank you very much.

RF: Thank you Kirsty
Head Admin.
Admin Responsible for the Houses of Parliament. (Also Cabinet&PM stuff).
Conservative Party advisor.

“In politics, guts is all.” - Barbara Castle.

Thanks given by:

Experience: 4/5
The first question you were bound to be asked was about your leadership credentials – and while whether you do have the experience or not is up for question (many people are unsure if being a Cambridge graduate who worked for a bank is enough to qualify you alone), you did give off a sense of vision and enthusiasm, so perhaps experience isn’t what needs to be brought to the table anyway.
The tougher question was related to the closeness of your leadership race, but it was one I would say you answered more effectively. You may have had a tighter race than the leaders of the big two, but you’ve had a much less divisive one with a more unified front afterwards (although, that’s arguably much, much, much more easy) – it makes LD swing voters pay attention and see you as a viable option.
The Euro: 5/5
This was easily the question you performed strongest on. It’s always going to be hard to get people outside your core voting demographic to see why the euro would be a good thing, but you very effectively convey the perceived benefits of joining the euro, deflect any relevant criticisms and make it clear you know what you’re talking about – even your critics are a little impressed. If you continue with advocacy that strong, you may just start to change public perception.
Fiscal Responsibility: 3.5/5
The general sentiment is one that can gain popular traction amongst the British public: there’s a real thirst for public services to be improved and funded after 18 years of Tory government, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want it done sustainably. While nodding their heads along to what you had to say, they still wonder if there’s a sense that you’re promising it all – funding public services may require more than halting tax cuts, and the British public want to know if (or what) tax rises or borrowing is the route the Liberal Democrats will take.

What I will say is your party likes what they hear. Those on the left who worry you'd be a little too ideologically free market liberal understand you're ready to represent the broad party after this segment, so will be happy to trumpet you as their leader. 
Carbon Tax: 2/5
This was definitely the question you showed the greatest weakness in – your defence did start off strong (other than the rising sea levels comment which would’ve provoked some laughs in the media), but the more Kirsty grilled you the more you seemed to crack under pressure. Outright refusing to answer is energy prices would rise probably hurts more than any frank admission ever could, because it either makes you look clueless, disingenuous or both and none of those are good looks.
Constitutional Reform: 3.5/5
Short, but sweet, and you do pick up after the shaky carbon tax blunder. You make it clear you do have a track record when it comes to equality and that accusing you of being disingenuous appears… well, disingenuous. Arguably you could’ve made that point without appearing to lose your cool the way you did, but you are passionate – the British public can’t and won’t fault you for that.
General Performance:  4/5
Generally, you gave a solid performance. Flair seems to have a balance of passion and rationality that the British public can appreciate. Sometimes, it does appear as if your passion can overtake you, and when you haven’t done your homework it is a little too obvious (so learn to wing it! Or make sure you have all bases covered). That said, a lot of people watching liked what Flair had to say – and even found where they disagreed with Flair she made her points reasonably enough.
Head Admin.
Admin Responsible for the Houses of Parliament. (Also Cabinet&PM stuff).
Conservative Party advisor.

“In politics, guts is all.” - Barbara Castle.

Thanks given by:
Harold Saxon Newsnight Interview, 11/02/18.


Martha Kearney: Good evening and welcome to Newsnight with me, Martha Kearney. 

Harold Saxon comfortably won the race to succeed Michael Portillo as the Conservatives’ next leader. Since then he’s made quite the splash, with rumours circulating around his leadership and a unique approach to the fuel protests that have rocked the country. Today I’ll be asking the man who wants to be Prime Minister about the pressing issues around his leadership, and more importantly the issues viewers at home – you – care about. 

Harold Saxon, welcome to Newsnight.

Harold SaxonThank you Martha, a pleasure to be here

MK: You won 65% of the vote to be the leader of Britain’s oldest political party. Feeling confident?
HSA bit of a direct question Martha, of course I am. I think you'll find the Conservatives are also ahead in the polls of the Government.

MK: I would be confident too. But I’m sure you’re aware of the rumours circulating about your leadership. The Express recently lambasted the eurosceptic and socially conservative Cornerstone group for throwing their support behind you. Your rival, Andrew Summer, now head of the Home Affairs Select Committee was known for his eurosceptic and socially conservative views. Views you allegedly do not hold. What did you say or offer to the Cornerstone group to get their support and to win that impressive victory?

HSThat was quite a few months ago Martha and under my leadership the Conservatives are polling above the Labour Party. Any question of my leadership is absurd, Mr Summer has said in public he supports the leadership. To your question on what i offered the Cornerstone Group, I didn't offer them positions for support like our now Prime Minister allegedly did, i offered them a united vision for the Conservative Party which will be the next Government. I haven't read the Express article myself Martha, I am focusing instead on the real issues affecting this country such as the rise in violent crime and the state of our Education system.

I will remind you that the membership also backed me quite considerably, i hope you arent suggesting i offered over half of the Conservative membership shadow cabinet positions *laughs*

MK: That's lovely Mr. Saxon. But lots of viewers do read the Express and will want to know about your leadership. Namely they'll want to know if offering platitudes like a 'united vision' is enough - some members in your party want to see solidly eurosceptic, no nonsense, socially conservative vision. Sources from within your own party has briefed against you in the Daily Mail: what would you say to those sources and to those socially conservative members?

 Is there trouble in paradise?

HSI feel as do the Conservative Party membership and those who contributed to the polls that our united vision is working, that we are presenting the real alternative to the country. You talk a no nonsense vision, I talk about a country I want to see where we dont have to worry about being affected by crime. The speech i recently gave to the police federation outlines our vision for a no nonense two strike policy on violent crime. I haven't read the particular article in question Martha. I'm focusing on the real issues affecting our country Martha.

So to answer your question, No

MK: But whether the Conservative Party is united is a real issue, Mr. Saxon. The public won't want you to get into government and to squabble about Europe again. Are you eurosceptic, Mr. Saxon?

HS: Martha, I believe in a Europe that benefits the United Kingdom, whilst protecting our own interests at the same time. I dont believe we should enter the single currency due to the economic reasons i have previously outlined and I want to retain the UK's veto power. The Conservative Party is entirely united, Eurosceptics backed me for the leadership as did Pro-europe MPs. My policy platform on Europe was clear, a UK that benefits from Europe and a Europe that is in our best interests.

MK: That's lovely Mr. Saxon but is it enough? Andrew Summer appeared to offer Conservative members an in-out referendum. You did not. Eurosceptics did instead choose to back you but do you not understand why this looks strange to members of the public and your party. What did you offer Amelia Wilson and Francis Paris in exchange for their support?

HS: I dont find it strange at all, Andrew Summer campaigned on an Anti European Platform, that is true. I on the other hand campaigned on a Europe that can still benefit the United Kingdom, whilst protecting our powers and our interests. It was entirely up to Conservative MPs to decide whether to back me, Ms Grey or Mr Summer and the majority of MPs backed me as did the leadership. Let me say this categorically, I did not offer positions for support. If you want to ask someone about offering positions for support, ask Ms Tanner

MK: The allegations about offering positions for support are just rumours Mr. Saxon. You can't have due process for yourself but throw it aside for your political rivals. The British public have reasons to be suspicious of you both, you must understand that.

But moving on - you may have shown a distaste for the Express but the paper has recently resisted attempts by the Labour Party to repeal Section 28. It has been particularly critical of the Liberal Democrats' leader, Rebecca Flair. You may disagree with the Express on your leadership, but do you disagree with them on Section 28?

HS: Of course they are, i was just saying if you wanted to ask someone ask the Prime Minister who had allegations directly thrown at her in the papers, whereas during the Conservative Leadership nothing was suggested so i dont know what your source is. In terms of the express i agree with them on Section 28

MK: Is being homosexual wrong, Mr. Saxon?

HS: A ridiculous statement Martha. Are you suggesting the Salvation Army and the Muslim Council of Britain also think it's wrong? Section 28 has nothing to do with stating that homosexuality is wrong. Section 28 of course is controversial but i believe in an Education system that promotes family values, including marriage.

MK: I'm asking you what you think, is it wrong? Was your previous leader Michael Portillo wrong?

Or do you think homosexuality is entirely natural?

HS: Let me be fundamentally clear here martha, I am not homophoic in any way, shape or form, I just think it shouldn't be taught in our education system when we should be promoting marriage and real family values. This Labour Government are anti-family and want the promotion of homosexuality in schools, now Elizabeth Tanner is entitled to an opinion, but i disagree with her on this. Michael Portilo was a good leader and he resigned for his own reasons, I respect him for that.

MK: So by saying you're not homophobic, you think homosexuality is natural? Why does homosexuality contradict traditional family values? And if homosexuality is anti-family do you not find it hypocritical that you served under a leader who had engaged in homosexual activities?

HS: I wasn't aware of Michael's personal life when i served under him at the time so it's unfair to call me hypocritical. Let's not go off on a tangent here Martha, Section 28 does not prevent the discussion of homosexuality, it doesn't say that homosexuals cannot be who they are or anything like that at all, it is about ensuring young children are learning about traditional family values between a hetrosexual couple. Everyone has a choice if they want to be heterosexual or homosexual, I just feel that we should be promoting traditional family values and marriage in our Education System.

MK: Mr. Saxon, many gay rights campaigners have claimed that Section 28 harms children by stigmatising homosexuality. They've even gone so far as to say that by restricting available information it leads to homosexual teenagers engaging in unsafe sex practices and that this policy physically and mentally harms children.

Can you look those campaigners and the British public in the eye and say you're comfortable with your position when they allege it hurts children? Do you think that promotes family values?

HS: I disagree that the policy physically and mentally harms children. Look, people have a choice to do what they want to do, to be who they want to be, Section 28 doesn't restrict anyone from being homosexual if they want to be, it's about promoting marriage and promoting traditional family values in schools. If someone wanted to choose to be homosexual later then of course they can, Section 28 doesnt stand in the way of that.

MK: I can see this question is uncomfortable for you so I'll move onto a question you may feel more comfortable with. What's the Conservative plan for the economy?

HS: I'm happy to talk about anything Martha, it's one of the reasons why i entered politics. 

I believe that to have well performing public services we need a strong economy. I believe that we need to ringfence frontline services like the NHS and our Education system and the Conservatives will look to find efficency savings in other areas. We will also look to reform welfare to ensure it is still current and is helping those who really need it. This Government is happy to spend,spend, and spend without having any thought about the impact this would have on the country, we need to reduce excess and wasteful spending whilst promoting investment into our economy through job creation and foreign investment and protect frontline services.

MK: The budget is currently in surplus. Do you think Labour are mismanaging the economy? What about the Labour Party's economic vision would you say you disagree with?

HS: Yes, the budget is currently in surplus when we've had protests around the country about how expensive fuel prices are yet the Chancellor or the Prime Minister won't cut fuel duty and yet criticise us for jepoardising the future of the country by pledging 3p off a litre of fuel, which would cost £1.5 billion. I think that's a bit hypocritical of the Prime Minister. 

I think Labour are in serious danger of sending us into spiralling debt if they continue with their excessive spending program. They pledge to throw money into the NHS which could cost billions yet refuse to say how they will fund it, well that would be through a VAT or income tax rise or national insurance, i think we will see taxes going up in this budget by the Chancellor. I think we need to think about saving money where we can through efficency savings, not spending us into oblivion.

MK: The issue on most voters minds right now is the NHS. People feel like public services are in desperate need of cash. Do you think your promise to 'ringfence' spending is enough when people obviously want more? Or are you going to get to grips with reality and realise that if people want a strong NHS they're going to have to accept a small tax rise?

HS: Well of course we would ringfence spending in the NHS and protect spending but we will of course invest in our NHS. We do need more NHS staff and more beds in our hospitals but we also need to place the trust in our experts, our doctors and nurses,  let them make the decisions for the NHS, they know what's best. The Government doesn’t trust our doctors and nurses to make the right decisions. Under the Conservatives we would undertake a full review of the NHS.  The Conservatives would launch an immediate Health Review into our NHS as the next Government. The review would look into why waiting times are so high, why there aren't enough beds, what can we do to improve the efficiency of the NHS. It is just unacceptable that the NHS is underperforming when people need that level of care. I dont believe increasing Income Tax or VAT is the right way forward, let's make savings in other areas to pay for the NHS

MK: If that review recommended raising taxes to give the NHS the funds it needs, would you follow that recommendation? 

What savings do you think you can make to pay for the NHS? How much do you think you can raise from them?

HSAs i said, i dont believe raising taxes is the answer. If our NHS review did recommend raising taxes we would look at all other possible avenues before that final option. 

Under the Conservatives we would give NHS Hosptials the authority to outsource our ambulance services, cleaning, building and security services, which of course will help. We wil also look to make savings by clamping down on tax avoidance and making effeicnecy savings through the Department of Trade & Industry and reducing growth in bureaucracy.

The cost of central Government is far too high under this Government, so we will look to reduce it

MK: I believe your Deputy Leader Cyril Kos pledged during your leadership campaign that cabinet would take a 5% pay cut to fund the NHS. An incredibly selfless act many would appreciate. Is that still Tory policy?

HS: Absolutely that is the case. If the country choose the Conservative Party as the next Government and I am Prime Minister, that policy will absolutely remain in place and I would look to reduce the Prime Minister's salary, I believe that the NHS and our public services do need funding, but as long as it is from the right places. Taking a pay cut to pay for more hospital beds or ensuring that people are getting the right level of care is a price worth paying.

MK: How many nurses could a 5% cabinet pay cut fund?

HS: Now of course, to be clear the cabinet taking a pay cut as well as finding savings in other areas we can recruit more nurses. I think what's important here is that this Conservative Party is finding savings in the right areas like the salary of the cabinet and finding savings in the Department of Trade and Industry to raise funding to invest in the NHS.

MK: If I'm being incredibly optimistic I'd say it'd pay for five nurses at most, Mr. Saxon. There are a lot of criticisms that the Tories will look to tinker in an area where our public services really need radical... I believe you put it as 'spend, spend spend' policies. If the NHS needed it, if a report of experts recommended it, would you do what many feel needs to be done for the NHS and raise taxes?

HS: As i said, i would look at all available options before committing to a tax rise. We can save in other areas where we spend an unnecessary amount of money. Through finding savings in the Deepartment of Trade and Industry we can save about £2 billion. We could invest that into the NHS and get 100,000 nurses. It's steps like those that prove we can invest into our NHS without having to borrow.

MK: Very interesting. Mr. Saxon, I'll move onto a topic that might excite you. The fuel protests. You've been incredibly critical of the government. Do you think the Tories need to admit to their part in the crisis? While you were Chief Secretary to the Treasury the fuel price escalator was in place. Was that wrong?

HS: Let me be clear, the Government have completely fouled this up from the very start. The Chancellor first suggested they shouldn't have the right to demonstrate which surprised me coming from a Labour MP. The Government then instead of talking to the protesters decided to end the right to free speech by closing them down. We called on the Government to call an emergency budget and the Chancellor and the Prime Minister said no, the Chancellor effectively said an emergency budget was pointless as the protests had been ended by the emergency powers. I think it's despicable. 

The Government felt the fuel price escalator was the right decision at the time, to paint a comparison between then and now, the country had just come out of a tricky economic situation , today we are in a surplus so this Government can afford to cut fuel duty but they wont.

MK: How has the government ended the right to free speech?

HSThe Government had refused to listen to the protesters and instead of talking to them decided to invoke emergency powers to effectively end the protests.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves Martha, this Government can reduce fuel duty but they won't in an emergency budget when we need to address the situation now.

MK: The emergency powers ensure fuel gets around the country. Are the government really ending free speech by ensuring hospitals are heated?

We can be critical of the government, and one glance at the polls show many people are, but surely saying they're ending free speech is a little hysterical?

HS: This Government simply refused to listen to the protesters or even speak to them, the Chancellor claims to listen to all but how can he when he won't listen to those who are crying out for the price of fuel to come down? He is saying one thing and doing another. People have an absolute right to be angry

My point is this Government could have ended this crisis sooner through constructive dialogue with the protesters, the Chancellor himself has had calls from his own party to do that and he completely ignored that. The Government didn't have to invoke emergency powers if they had dealt with the problem sooner and they didn't. Of course it is right for fuel to be flowing round the country but the Government shouldn't be taking such radical action  when they could have resolved this situation sooner.

MK: That's an understandable position, but lets not pretend the right to free speech has been ended. Mr. Saxon, what would the Tories do if faced with these protests? How much would you cut fuel duty by?

HS: Well to start we wouldnt have that a crisis like this drag on. We would have listened to those who were protesting and heard their views, before taking an informed decision. This Labour Government didn't even speak to anyone who was calling for a reduction in fuel prices. Once we had listened we would have taken the decision to cut fuel duty in an emergency budget. We would cut it initally by 3p as per my announcement during the first round of protests and we would look to take further steps moving forward after assessing the situation.

MK: How would you manage to balance the finances with such a cut? The kind of revenue that'd be needed would require more than a cabinet pay cut.

HS: Well yes of course but we would look to make savings across other areas. What is important here is that we lower the price of fuel. I believe we can look to raise a significant amount of money through measures like reforming social security and making efficency savings elsewhere.

MK: You promised to pay for the NHS by finding savings in the T&I budget. What savings specifically can cut fuel duty by 3p?


Mr. Saxon?

HS: Well the full measures you will see in the Shadow Budget, we are looking at a variety of measures but I can tell you we would look to free universities from state funding which we would then provide endowments paid for by asset sales in the future, We would expect a significant amount to be raised from this but we would also look to fund this from the sale of Channel 4 to private ownership. What's important Martha is that we spend far too much in areas where it isn needed so we can make the savings and redirect that money into reducing fuel duty and our NHS.

MK: Interesting. Finally, your put down the pumps campaign has attracted much attention - some bad, some good. But crucially it doesn't really achieve any of its stated aims: even people who participate in it just stock up the day before the protest. Are you going to continue with the campaign?

HS: I think it's important Martha to highlight what the Government is actually doing here. They are failing to talk to the British people, the people who elected them, they are failing to listen to them and they are failing to take action. The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness that fuel prices are too high and this Government is doing absolutely nothing about it. They react with emergency powers to keep the country moving but in actual fact this hasn't solved anything; low and behold we are back to square one with more protests by the People's Fuel Lobby.  What i will say to people is if they are unhappy about the price of fuel and if they are unhappy with this Government, then vote for the Conservatives at the next election so we can get fuel prices down and get this reckless Government out of power.

MK: Sir Harold Saxon, thank you very much.

HS: Thank you.

MK: Moving on, Britain is expected to be blighted by arctic weather conditions. With the NHS strained and with more fuel protests planned, we talk to Director General of the Met Office Peter Ewins about how this could pan out...
Head Admin.
Admin Responsible for the Houses of Parliament. (Also Cabinet&PM stuff).
Conservative Party advisor.

“In politics, guts is all.” - Barbara Castle.

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Leadership: 4.5/6

Just like any leader, the first question the press are going to know is: are you up to the job and do you have your party's backing? This would have been a slightly easier question for you had there not been some embarrassing leaks and rumours at present.

But you handled this question well. This was Saxon in his comfort zone (because yeah, it does go a little downhill from here), you downplay the rumours, substantiate your claims, do well to portray yourself as a leader with the party behind you and importantly show you are willing to compromise and make concessions with the right of the part. So it went pretty comfortably. 

Section 28: 2.5/6

I will say one thing you did right here, you didn't critique Portillo and you distanced yourself in a way that didn't make you seem disloyal or put a target on you, so there are props there. 

On the debate itself though it was clear Saxon was uncomfortable and the public would be able to see that. Defending section 28 while trying to make out that you're all for the gays is... perhaps a balance that could be pulled off, but you did so very clumsily. People who are supportive towards gay rights will be put off by Saxon supporting an undoubtedly socially conservative law, and social conservatives will not be incensed but will probably be confused by what Saxon had to say. 

On the bright side - Saxon might be playing a good medium term game. Short term it didn't work very well, and long term it definitely won't because chances are history won't be on your side, but you do calcify your support amongst your grassroots and core base. 

The Economy: 1.5/6

Yeah. This was definitely Saxon's most clumsy bit. If the Conservatives want to win the election what they need is a clear plan on the economy - now more than ever, as the economy at current isn't the strength it usually is for them. It did appear like Saxon was making some stuff up on the fly, wasn't totally at grips with his own policy and he said some things that would alienate a lot of key voters (cutting University funding and privatising ambulance services comes to mind).

Fuel Crisis: 3/6

This was still a bit shaky - Saxon's hysteria over the fuel crisis he had faced a lot of criticism and mockery did show, but to balance it out his overall message was reasonable and could be bought by a lot of British voters: that the government could have easily de-escalated the crisis and chose not to. For that, the mark is comfortably average, but you are lucky you didn't trip up further. 

Overall Performance: 3/6

Okay - so when it comes to content Saxon doesn't impress. But his demeanour was fine. He wasn't aggressive but didn't roll over, seemed polite and used a lot of politician talk - the non sleazy, tactical kind that can get voters on board. This score is bogged down by Saxon's policy clumsiness, but I would say the overall performance wasn't bad. 

TOTAL MARKS: 14.5/30
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