political commentator * author * publisher * bookseller * radio presenter * blogger * Conservative candidate * former lobbyist * Jack Russell owner * West Ham United fanatic * Email iain AT iaindale DOT com
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The TOTAL POLITICS David Cameron Interview: A Taster
My extended interview with David Cameron is published in this month's TOTAL POLITICS, which should be in newsagents from tomorrow. I realised when I decided to do the interview that I was on a loser - either I would be accused of asking soft ball questions, or being disloyal by asking difficult ones. Anyway, the whole point of these conversational type interviews is to draw people out, rather than harangue them, as I hope I have shown with previous interviews with Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage, Hazel Blears and Tony Benn. Anyway, here are some extracts.
Do you worry that the move back in the polls towards the Conservatives is more of an anti government vote than a pro Conservative vote?
I always worry about that. My big thing is that we don't have to show that the Labour Party has failed. People know that. We have to show how we are going to succeed. You can never quite tell if it's Labour doing badly or the Tories doing well, you just get on with it.
You made frontbenchers declare all their interests and if they have family members who work for them. Are you going to expand all that to all MPs?
Yes. I am proud of the fact that a reform pioneered by the Conservatives is now being adopted by the rest of Parliament. It's right that people can see what their MP is spending money on and who they are employing. I designed the Right to Know form myself. I took a piece of paper and wrote down what should be on it. The front bench had to fill it in, and in the event only four of our MPs refused to do it. Parliament then came along and decided to produce the same form for all MPs. That's great. If for any reason this gets delayed we will still publish ours and it will be a condition of being a Conservative MP.
Some people think that with David Davis out of the Shadow Cabinet and Chris Grayling being appointed to be Shadow Home Secretary, that the Party's approach to civil liberties is going to change, and the Party will revert to its more traditional authoritarianism. What do you say to that?
I don't think so. There's a strong strain of conservatism that is about civil liberties. We believe in limits to state power, we believe in the importance of individual liberty. When you've got people like Dominic Grieve and Oliver Letwin sitting round the table you will always have strong voices standing up for civil liberties. I don't think it's fair to say that Chris Grayling isn't interested in those things either. Look at the response of the whole Conservative Party and the instinctive response I had to the arrest of Damian Green. A lot of stuff gets written about who really argued for what on 42 days and other things, but look at the number of times I challenged Blair and Brown on issues like this across the Despatch Box - that shows a pretty strong personal commitment.
Without using a four letter word, what was your reaction when David Davis told you that he was going to resign his seat?
Confusion - no, confusion is the wrong word. [long pause]. When someone brings me a very bad bit of news I don't throw my toys out of the pram. What is the right word? I'm trying to think. It was incomprehension. Because I am quite a logical person, I couldn't get the logical connection between the loss of a vote in the Commons and a decision on something the whole Conservative Party was united about and the decision to resign and fight a by-election. I am very fond of David. We worked extremely well together - perhaps better than many people predicted. He is an extremely talented politician. It did demonstrate, and perhaps surprised some people, that the Conservative Party cared so much about civil liberties, but we do. I tried to persuade him out of it because I didn't think it was the right thing to do, so I didn't think it was something the Conservative Party could say, well that's our policy - when we disagree with something we'll all fight byelections. You can't do that, so that's why I had to say quite rapidly that I was going to have to get a new Shadow Home Secretary.
Having decided to move Dominic Grieve in the reshuffle, why didn't you reappoint David Davis as Shadow Home Secretary?
Any leader has to be able to shuffle their team and put round pegs in round holes. I've got a great team. I wanted to get everyone in the right place. I think Dominic Grieve is best suited to the Justice role, with his great knowledge of the law and legal processes, and I think Chris Grayling will be very good at making sure we have very strong and tough approaches to the crimes that really matter to people like burglary and knife crime and the guns on our streets.
I guess the point is that in government you've got a choice to make. You either have a cabinet of the biggest beasts and best talents like Ken Clarke and David Davis or have a cabinet made up of lesser known people who've done the legwork in opposition. Maybe it was too early to bring David Davis back, but the electorate would have seen it as a good thing.
It's a very good question. You've got to get the right people in the right jobs and forge a strong team. Those things shouldn't be in contradiction but that's the way I approach it.
Do you think you take advice from a wide enough circle of opinion? Some people think you don't.
[becomes very animated]. Yes I do! And I'd really like to get this across. You are right that some people think I don't, but you're wrong to think they're right! [laughs]. I think people haven't seen enough of this from me. If I think about how I make decisions and who I listen to, I would say that first of all I have a wide range of advice from the wise heads in our party.
But a lot of people, especially backbench MPs, feel they can't penetrate the inner circle if they have ideas to feed in.
Any backbench MP can come and see me, and they do. Look, every leader in history has been accused of not having an open enough door, not listening to enough people. I have strong opinions and convictions, but I think I do listen. I run the Shadow Cabinet with quite a team approach, so I don't think the accusation is particularly
fair. Maybe I haven't demonstrated, or shown enough about these things.
Last year I had a civil partnership. I have little doubt that a previous Tory government would not have passed the legislation enabling me to do that. How can you assure the gay voters that a Cameron government won't just not discriminate against them, but will deal with whatever policy concerns they have?
I stood up in front of a Conservative conference, my first one as leader, and said that marriage was important, and as far as I was concerned it didn't matter whether it was between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman. No other Conservative leader has ever done that. I don't think any Labour leader has done that. Even since then. The good thing was that they applauded. On civil partnerships, Oliver and I talked about it a lot ... not that we were going to have a civil partnership, I hasten to add [roars with laughter]...
There, I've got my headline from this interview!
... We talked a lot about it because there was a real problem which needed to be overcome. There was a series of ways in which gay people were being discriminated against because they couldn't get married, so there was a strong, logical argument for civil partnerships. I think most Conservatives voted for it. The argument was getting stronger and stronger because the only other alternative was to try to deal with all these instances of discrimination - inheriting property, visiting rights etc - individually, and I think civil partnerships were the right way through it. If you believe in commitment, as I do, then the argument is even stronger. I totally agree that on some of these issues the Conservative Party had some work to do. Individually, some of us had some work to do and we needed to do it. I am not saying it is done but big progress has been made.
How will you defend the right to offend?
This goes back to the 'do you listen' question because on the one hand you don't want someone inciting hatred of gays but on the other hand you want to live in a society where people don't feel their free speech is restricted if it is about humour. So there is a balance. We all rage against political correctness and there's lots of political correctness which is ridiculous- silly health and safety worries that stop children grazing a knee on an outward bounds adventure. We have got to get rid of that. But there's one bit of political correctness which is terribly important and that's about politeness. I have a disabled son and I don't want people to call him a spastic. You are a gay man, you don't want someone to call you a poof. If you have a black friend, you don't want someone to call them something offensive. It's about manners and I think what we've got to do is frame this debate in a sense of what is good manners and politeness and what is common sense.
You're accused of being a bit of a focus group politician, of being an opportunist...
[almost leaps off the sofa]. Bullshit! There are lots of misconceptions in politics and you shouldn't worry too much about them, but I would argue that this Conservative Party which I am leading is one of the least focus group, opinion poll-led parties for a long time. Did I ask a focus group before saying I am a marriage nut? Did I ask a focus group about gay marriage? Of course not! I just don't! I have never pre-tested a speech, which I know other politicians do. I think our Prime Minister does. Of course, we hold focus groups to try to fi nd out what the mood of the nation is and understand it. Of course, we have regular reports and opinion polls. It would be crazy not to. But I really don't think this party, this leader, my team are obsessed by focus groups, and it's a great misconception that we are. It's frustrating.
How can people be confident you are not just another Blair? I think the 'heir to Blair' comment has haunted you.
Yes. You shouldn't worry about these things too much. I've been doing this job for three years. People have seen I have some very strong views about things that not always everyone agrees with - marriage, or reforming the police. The line we took on the VAT cut. I mean, since when did the Conservatives not support a tax cut? We did not sit around and ask a focus group whether it was right to cut VAT. We thought it was wrong and said so.
So you'd describe yourself as a conviction politician?
Yes I would. Because my conviction was that the Conservative Party needed to reconnect with its compassionate conservative roots and have more to say about social policy and be a one nation party, some people took that to mean that it must be poll-driven. It wasn't. It is a misconception that people have but it's not the most worrying thing in the world.
Do you think the BNP should be ignored or actively taken on?
I think the first thing to do is recognise that it is an excrescence rather than a party. Don't ever run towards it, but the way to defeat it is to campaign actively on the ground. Pavement politics. People turn to extreme parties if they think they have been forgotten by the mainstream parties. That doesn't mean running towards issues they are campaigning on, it means running towards the people that they are talking to and showing you are listening to their concerns, taking up their issues and working for them. You have to show that no part of the country, no part of your constituency, no ward, that no housing estate is forgotten. That's the key thing. Eric Pickles is an expert on this and has helped teach me this lesson.
Do you think it is time to show UKIP a bit of love and attract some of their voters at the European elections?
I don't believe in showing any love to the party itself, about which I have said some things that turned out to be fantastically true. If people want a referendum on the European Constitution then it is self evident that the right things to do is vote Conservative. That's the way to maximise pressure on the government to do what they promised.
Do you think Nick Clegg is in the wrong party?
[pauses] I don't really know him or his views well enough. I think it is very exciting what they are saying about education because our policies are very close together. That's a good thing. I'm a liberal Conservative so I think there is always going to be lots of common ground between liberal Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. If you look at what we are saying about decentralising power, passing power down to the lowest level, if you look at what we are saying about the environment, opposing identity cards, the priority given to education, I think there are a lot of people in the Liberal Democrat party who would agree with that, so that's encouraging. Is he in the wrong party? I don't know enough about his views on other things.
Describe Gordon Brown in one word.
[long pause]. Wrong.
Describe Simon Heffer in one word.
[sighs]. God, I don't know. The same applies! The last time I described him in a few words it set off this great tirade, so maybe I won't. Oh, alright then. Misunderstood! [roars with laughter].
Do you think that your questions at PMQs have become far too long. Gordon Brown seems to be flummoxed when an MP asks him a five-word question.
It's not about the question being long. I like answering the charges and engaging in a debate rather than having a series of short pithy questions. He often asks me a question and although I don't want to turn it into Leader of the Opposition's questions, if he makes a point it's important to rebut it. Luckily, most of them, like the 'do nothing' charge, are so ridiculous that I don't think anyone believes them. I don't think anyone really believes the Conservative Party would do nothing. He has this habit of saying things which are self evidently not true but he doesn't realise that it does enormous damage to him rather than the person he is saying it about. The most important thing is to get your point across and sometimes it takes a few more words. But perhaps I should vary it a bit more.
How will you make sure you don't outstay your welcome, because most politicians do?
Yes, they all do, even if they say they're not going to. What you have got to do is to keep a perspective on life. This job requires an enormous amount of application and hard work. I love it. If I am fortunate enough to be elected Prime Minister I will thrive on the hard work and throw everything into it. I very much believe that, in politics, what matters most of all is your judgment, your character and your ability to listen and then make a decision. You lose that if you lose what makes you who you are. How do you know when it's time to go? Hopefully you just have a perspective and you try to avoid that seemingly inevitable process of losing touch.
Your current job has an effect on your work-life balance and family life. Do you worry about how things would change if you were Prime Minister?
Yes, of course, you worry about it. But I would not have put myself in this position if I didn't think there was a way of handling it. It must be possible to be a good Prime Minister and a good father and husband.
When my niece sees me on TV she rushes up to the screen and kisses it. What does your daughter do? Does she comprehend what your job is?
She does. She doesn't kiss the TV, but she refers to it as 'politicianer'. It's a bit like doctor, lawyer, you're a politicianer. She has come to the conclusion that what politicianers do is talk a lot. She said to me the other day, 'oh, you're always fixing a speech'. [giggles]. My children are very young but they have an idea of what's going on.
This is an extract of about one third of the interview. You can read the whole interview online HERE.
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Fascinating , every time I hear , or in this case read David , Cameron I am impressed . How I envy you Iain.
"I realised when I decided to do the interview that I was on a loser"
OMG... did you just almost fully realise how your role as Tory blogging hack might just impact on your role as editor of an 'impartial' political magazine?
A ray of light! Hope dawns!
PS - Your using an irrelevant video to have a 'mental health' crack at a primary contributor to a rival (and leftish) publication? Class, mate. Class all the way.
"I have a disabled son and I don't want people to call him a spastic. You are a gay man, you don't want someone to call you a poof. If you have a black friend, you don't want someone to call them something offensive. It's about manners and I think what we've got to do is frame this debate in a sense of what is good manners and politeness and what is common sense."
So is he saying we will all have to have good manners by law? I.e. he's of a mind to make being 'offensive' a crime which will no doubt work along similar lines to accusations of racism. It only takes one person to be offended and that is justification for prosecution.
He's certainly not advocating free speech is he?
Re Gollywogg etc. Do you mind being called a poof Iain? These days I'm not sure what is acceptable or not, perhaps Dave can persuade the Government to issue a dictionary of correct language for us proles not washed in Political Correctness and who don't appear on the Islington/Notting Hill dinner party circuits.
"There's a strong strain of conservatism that is about civil liberties."
Said: Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead and a shadow health minister on ConservativeHome.
"I was a keen supporter of the smoking ban"
Can anyone in the Conservative Party tell me why my freedom of association to consume a legal substance on private property is
It was a good interview.
You are used to saying you are not a journalist. I think you have certainly demonstrated you are a natural. You are a journalist. You have learned your trade the hard way, and you are now a good one.
You would, IMHO, be a brilliant QT host.
An interesting interview!
He sounds human, not like a politician but someone you might have a beer or a coffee with! Much more rounded as an individual than Brown in my opinion.
Having interviewing skills does not make you a journalist, WW.
Not that it has happened here, but Iain is a skilled interviewer, capable of driving a conversation the way he wants it to go. This is not something that a journalist should do.
"Luckily, most of them, like the 'do nothing' charge, are so ridiculous that I don't think anyone believes them."
No-one with half a brain, certainly. But 28% of people are apparently still willing to vote Labour.
Tim, whoever you are, I earned a living as a journalist for some time, both in broadcast media and Fleet Street. I interviewed the great, the good and the wankers, hundreds of them, for some years, including the politicals. Sometimes I was a staffer and sometimes I was freelance, where you are only as good as your last piece. I wrote hard stories that got me into trouble and that made the six o'clock news.
You are talking out of your arse.
This 'love' has bombed actually.
WW, you know who I am, as we have intersected on a number of threads here. This makes your 'Tim who?' tactic positively cringeworthy. Next time, do what the pros do, and adopt a new identity before trying to undermine an opponent by pretending not to know who they are.
A journalist gathers information and shares the results; ideally in an objective fashion. An interviewer guides a conversation (some honestly/earnestly, some otherwise), thereby choosing what information to share with people who are observing the conversation. A skilled interviewer can have an audience make up their mind on impression alone; not a single fact is needed.
Being a skilled interviewer does not make you a good journalist.
Just been listening to David Cameron being interviewed on Simon Mayo's BBC FIVE LIVE show. Bit worried when he said his passion was reforming education. Is that not NEW LABOUR Blair rhetoric? Education, education, education. He ought to be careful he doesn't fall into trap of being classed the heir to Blair....
Tim, you don't understand.
What you see published is a distillation of what actually happened.
A while back, I emailed Iain about a TP interview, about what looked like the obvious omission of a pertinent question and he emailed me back to tell me that, not only had he asked it, he asked it at the point where I said he should have, only the interviewee did not reply in any meaningful way.
Please don't get out of your depth.
The art of the interview is to get information. How you do this depends upon who the participants are. You also have to have some idea about what you wish to achieve, in this case, you are not expecting Cameron to reveal he is in love with David Davis, are you?
What you are expecting, in this kind of interview, is an insight into the personality of the man who will be the next Prime Minister.
I say again, Iain did a good job. I hope you are not trying to make out this was a specious puff from start to finish, because if you are, then say so, and we can have it out round the bike shed.
I still have no idea who you are, unless you are that Tim Ireland, who is a tiresome wannabee. Oh, I have just checked, you are that Time Ireland who is a tiresome wannabee. Sorry, I should have known.
It was good interview, but it really did come over as a conversational audio interview rather than a written one.
Is there any way that these could be downloaded as a podcast?
WW: Again you seek to undermine me instead of dealing with the substance of my comments... which you don't appear to have read in full.
"I hope you are not trying to make out this was a specious puff from start to finish"
I took care not to even suggest that, WW. I'll repeat myself in a jiffy, just to show you the bit you missed.
Having interviewing skills does not make you a journalist. Being a skilled photographer does not make you a journalist.
Open your mind and try to understand what I am saying here:
A skilled photographer could use his skills to convey a lie. That's not journalism, not matter how skilled the photographer may be or how 'real' the subject may be.
Not that it has happened here, but Iain is a skilled interviewer, capable of driving a conversation the way he wants it to go. This is not something that a journalist should do.
Perhaps if you had praised Iain's objectivity and said that *this* made him a natural journalist, you would have a point.
(PS - Tangential, so feel free to drop by my place and answer this question instead of having a go here, but I can't help but wondering what it is that you think i 'wannabe'...)
FWIW, I tend to agree with Tim that being a good journalist and being a good interviewer are not necessarily the same thing.
I think I am good at a certain type of interview, less good at another. So I stick to what I think I am good at. Which I guess is what most people in all walks of life try to do.
All interviewers steer interviews in certain directions. A conversational interview like this is less prone to that, though.
I like to see where a conversation takes me. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. It often takes 15 or 20 minutes for an interviewee to warm up, and therefore open up. I think that was certainly the case here, where DC's answers in the first part are certainly a little more closed than later on.
Some of what I do is, I suppose, a little journalistic, but I do not describe myself as a journalist, because I am not one.
I could never doorstep someone or make that 6pm phone call to tell someone they are being done over in my paper. I could make a good reporter, but never an investigative journalist. I know my limits - I'll stick to opinion and commentary.
I will add one more thing from my own experience.
You can do hard interviews, like Paxman, and you can do soft interviews, like Parkinson. Both are journalists.
Soft interviews work best on two kinds of people; the honest, and the utterly deluded. The Theroux guy makes a living out of the latter. GMTV can destroy careers just by sitting on the sofa and watching the car crash. Shifty people are best left to the Paxmans of this world. The only way to get shifty people is to repeatedly ask the same question until they start sweating or storm off.
here endeth the first lesson.
"I could never doorstep someone or make that 6pm phone call to tell someone they are being done over in my paper"
Good journalism is about forming respectful relationships. That's how you get another interview, and that is how you get information. If you "doorstep" people you won't get very far.
What you are describing is the use of interviewing skills to unearth hidden information. It is obvious where a journalist might find this skill useful.
But the skills can also be used to elicit a verdict from the audience based on impression, not information. The same skills can be used to avoid certain information coming to light (or being seen in a positive light) during that conversation. Being a skilled interviewer does not make you a journalist. If it did, then every presenter on the shopping channel would be a journalist.
"Tell me, Frank, why is the Lady Shaver so effective?"
"Well, let me tell you, Fred..."
FFS, it would make Robert Kilroy-Silk a journalist.
Just saw your comment, Iain. Thank you.
"I'll stick to opinion and commentary."
Because that's where your strengths lie, and - I hope you will agree - that's the way you are wired. Genuine objectivity is going to be a challenge for an ardent Tory/LibDem/whatever, no matter how much you try.
"I do not describe myself as a journalist, because I am not one. "
Gotta pull you up there, Iain, and ask if this text from your Guardian profile comes from your self-penned bio or if it is the result of some awful mistake:
"Iain is a widely respected journalist"
Tim, Having just checked, that does indeed appear in the biog which is sent out by me on request. It was not, however, written by me.
If I was being pedantic, I could point out that I was a financial journalist with Lloyds List in 1990, but I'll leave the pedantry to others!
I have taken that word out now, though, so victory is yours.
What worries me Iain, is that I think it is Cameron, not Clegg, who is in the wrong party.
Happy just to set the record straight, Iain. As happened with stat-porn, I lost my appetite for declaring victories over marginal items after watching other bloggers wayyyyy overdoing it.
So I guess Draper has done some good after all...
I'll lay my cards down - I'm not a Tory voter. I'm not Labour or Lib Dem one instinctively either - but I most certainly lean to the left.
I'm not a "troll" - I just don't happen to agree with Tory politics.
However - I enjoy your blog as a place of rational thinking and debate.
What's your take on the view from a lot of us that:
- Don't hate the government
- Don't naturally vote Tory
on Dave's ability to bring his party with him? My take on him is the clear lack of substance is a natural consequence of his fear of his party shooting themselves in the foot. In other words - don't say anything to rock the boat...
Cuse, Thanks for your comments. I'm always a little surprised by people who don't think Cameron can take his party with him. Isn't that exactly what he has done for the last three years? He got a record mandate, and anyone who thinks that the Tory Party would move against him after had won an election victory is living on the wrong planet.
All parties are coaltions. I don't agree with everything DC does, as I have made abundantly clear here on many times, but I support his general approach and am sure I would do so in government. The authoritarian right are now on the fringes of the Tory party and carry very little weight or influence.
I don't expect detailed policy plans from him, partyl because the whole scenario has changed now. But why would he give his opponents something to knock down. Blair didn't do that in 1997 and Thatcher didn't in 1979. What we need to know from DC is what his and the party's instincts are and the general direction in which they will take the party. It's more than providing just mood music, but it stops short of providing a detailed policy on every conceivable thing.
The main thing is that they know what they are going to do on day 1 and have the courage to do it.
A Romanian journalist once said to me that you dont have to be an agressive buffoon to be a journalist. I think people respect journalists and writers more if they are upfront and respectful. As far as opinion and commentary go, it is just as damaging as reporting hard news facts. I would say that there are three types of journalism. Mainstream reporting.
Mainstream opinion and commentary, and then the fringe reporting and opinion/commentary that goes on citizen journalism and blogs. WE are all journalists in our own way.
Our David, who art a Tory,
Cameron be thy name - when
Thy Government come
Thy will be done
In media, as it is on television
Give us today our daily sound bite
And forgive us our scepticism
As we forgive those who ENDLESSLY ask Brown if he will apologise for the 'boom and bust' thing
Lead us not into Thatcherism
But deliver us from Capitalism
For thine is the charisma, the opportunism, and the credit crunch
For ever and ever
I hope not
... It's about manners and I think what we've got to do is frame this debate in a sense of what is good manners and politeness and what is common sense."
So is he saying we will all have to have good manners by law?
No he is not. He's saying that some manners wouldn't be out of place in public life. Of course after twelve years of Labour there's millions who've forgotten the meaning of the word, if they ever even knew it.
Crikey I am looking forward to the Question Time debates when Cameron goes on - I really wonder if Brown will be PM by the time of the next election as he will lose and it might even be painful TV to watch Brown fielding Questions from a hostile audience for all the hardship he and Labour have caused.
This is a sympathetic interview and I find it a refreshing change .I want to hear Cameron make his case not the interviewer show us how clever he thinks he is .
( Cannot imagne how you got away with being a financial a financial journalist with Lloyds List ....charm ? )
"I could never doorstep someone or make that 6pm phone call to tell someone they are being done over in my paper. I could make a good reporter, but never an investigative journalist. I know my limits - I'll stick to opinion and commentary."
Tch. How little you think of journalists Iain. And how much you think of columnists/opiners and commenttors...
Probably a safe bet to keep repeating you're not a journalist.
By the Weasel's reckoning about getting information out of people, I would agree - Terry Wogan was a good interviewer, as was Frost... but then so's Frank Skinner.
None were journalists.
Good journalism is not about forming respectful relationships... it's about knowing when to stop doing deference.
As for "here endeth the lesson", unless you happen to be an NCTJ examiner Weasel, I'll take my classes elsewhere. As a regional report I can assure you that most of my colleagues consider working in Fleet Street as the furthest thing from a glowing reference. These days, they give local reporters - where the nuts and bolts work is very often originated and done - a very bad name.
Sorry for the spelling errors - I should be concentrating on my other reporting before you leap in with complaints... ta
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