THE HOUSE: Cuts to child benefit are kicking in, and stay at home mums complain that they won't get much out of plans to help out with childcare payments. So they naturally start asking about marriage couple tax allowances ...
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you need to stand back from all the issues and sort of work out what is the, you know, coalition government trying to do here? First of all we have to deal with the deficit. We have to get the deficit down. We've made good progress. We're on the right track. But you can't ask.. you can't deal with the deficit, only by dealing with, you know, welfare issues at the bottom or high taxes at the top. You have to ask everyone to make a contribution. And that is why I think it is right to say to better off couples that, you know, if you’ve got someone earning over £60000 you don’t get your child benefit. I think it's a perfectly, you know, I thought it was proved again in the House of Commons yesterday, it’s a perfectly fair and reasonable argument. So that is why we're taking that step. I don’t want to take child benefit away from anybody but if you're trying to have a set of policies which is fair you need to do that. That obviously affects all people earning over £50000, particularly people earning over £60000, they won't have any child benefit. I accept that is a sacrifice. But we have to try and do this in a way which is fair. I think it is fair.
There's a separate question, what can we do for people who work hard, who want to do the right thing, who want to provide for their families and one of the biggest costs for people who work hard and do the right thing is the cost of childcare. Now obviously we help people with childcare through the working tax credits and we help people through the subsidised places for those two, three and four olds, but, you know, it would be good, wouldn’t it, for people who work hard, who need childcare, who see there's a very big cost, to give them some assistance, and not just those on tax credits, and that’s exactly what we're trying to do and that’s what we'll be announcing in the weeks to come, but to me the two issues are separate.
THE HOUSE: What about people who don’t qualify for childcare? What about the marriage tax breaks?
PM: We're also committed... [I] reaffirm that we are committed to recognising marriage in the tax system and we'll complete that during this parliament, but, you know, to me though it's quite a pressing issue, well there all pressing issues, but I think helping people with the cost of childcare…
THE HOUSE: Someone at No 10 suggested it would be sooner rather than later.... It won't be last minute?
PM: You'll have to wait and see. This is not an interview to give you policy exclusives…
THE HOUSE: Boris has said child benefit helped pay for a handful of half decent skiing holidays – was that fair?
PM: Look. I'm not saying that taking away child benefit from people is easy. There are many people...I don’t think people who earn £50000, £60000 are rich. You live in an expensive part of the country, you’ve got big costs to contend with, and you're paying for the mortgage, you're paying for the season ticket to get to work, you're meeting all the costs of bringing up children, you know, life is very expensive. I don’t say people on £50000, £60000 are rich but they are clearly better off than people on £20000 or £30000. So as I say I don’t relish taking money from anyone and you know child benefit is a popular and successful benefit. It goes to the mum, you know, it’s a good slug of money, £20 for the first child, so I don’t relish taking it away from anyone and people I'm sure put it to good use, but you know to govern is to choose we have to make difficult choices about the deficit and I think this was the right choice.
THE HOUSE: What about cuts to elderly benefits. How much of an issue will that be in the Tory manifesto?
PM: We haven’t got round to writing the Conservative manifesto, it will be written in due course. I can promise you two things. It will be manifesto and it will be Conservative. You know, I’ve made a promise I’m keeping my promise and that’s all there is to it and I think that is important. I think you need to stand back from all these things and ask the bigger question. As the Parliamentary sort of season starts all over again what I think is so clear is the coalition parties and I would argue particularly my party have got a very clear view about what needs to happen this year. We’re going to go on rebalancing the economy – we’ve got a proper agenda to do that. We’ve got to go on dealing with the deficit – we’ve got a proper agenda to do that. Far from sort of running out of steam you can see from the Coalition on childcare, on road building, on paying for long term care, you know, proper crunchy policies that make a real difference to people in this country, a packed agenda, and what do you see, it struck me yesterday, what do you see on the other side of politics? What is there on offer? Absolutely nothing, not a word to do with what to do with the deficit, how to grow the economy, how to increase the scale of the private sector, how to encourage business, what to do about education or healthcare, you know, it is extraordinary half way through a parliament, when I think of where we got to half way through the last parliament, now you might not have agreed with all our policies but we had huge policy commissions which reported, we were setting the agenda on a whole series of issues, whether it was education reform, or health reform, or welfare. Nothing. So I feel very fired up with a full agenda and a very clear mission of what the government is all about. Winning for Britain in the global race is… I think that if politics is about having a clear agenda, a clear passion, things that need to be done, and difficult decisions that need to be taken, then we’ve got a very, very strong start to the year.
THE HOUSE: Do you have enough time to do that long-term, big, forward planning?
PM: Life is a mixture. It’s a permanent battle in this job to focus. You have to deal with short term issues you know, at any one time. You’ve got everything from what happens at the Downing Street gates to what’s happening on the other side of the world to what appeared on the news headlines. There’s always things that come up and the challenge of this job is to deal with the day to day but at the same time spend enough time on the long term strategic issues that the country faces. I think there have some sort of machinery successes. I think the National Security Council is a very good way of focusing government, politicians on long term challenges for Britain and I think it’s been effective in prioritising, you know, trade in foreign policy, a good shift for Britain. It’s good for the long term. I think on the economy we have very clear long term plan for dealing with the deficit and growing the private sector but it’s a permanent battle in Government, there’s no doubt about it, and I think we are far and away better than the last government which was absolutely short term...long term for it was about a week - but there’s always more than you can do.
THE HOUSE: What do you make of the break down of relations in the Lords?
PM: Look, I think the coalition parties have obviously got to support coalition policy and that should be the same in the Commons as in the Lords. Look, I didn’t recognise a lot of the stuff that’s been written frankly. You know, [ex Lords Leader] Tom Strathclyde did a fantastic job for 25 years on the front bench. I mean, I know when someone resigns and you’re not told in advance you think it’s somehow unfair so you have to invent some reason as to why they resigned.
THE HOUSE: That’s what Craig Oliver said…
PM: It was! I gather the Lobby were very upset they weren’t told first, like they've got a constitutional right to know. I mean, please! It may be unorthodox: cabinet minister rings Prime Minister and says I’ve served for 25 years consecutively, I’d quite like to resign and pursue another career. Prime Minister says yes, let’s announce it at the first available opportunity, oh what’s that, Monday? Let’s do it at the cabinet. How nice. You know...it’s not like he[OLIVER] sneaked on you? He did a great job. Look of course it’s difficult when you lose votes in the lords. But frankly, I mean was an adviser to a Conservative Government and we used to lose votes in the Lords. That’s what happens in the Lords. It’s a difficult environment.
THE HOUSE: So you will be rebalancing it?
PM: Yes, I will be appointing…. I will be making some further recommendations. I think it’s important to keep refreshing the talent in the House of Lords and obviously it’s important that we do so in line with what we said in the Coalition Agreement.
THE HOUSE: This year?
PM: Yes, yes, yes.
THE HOUSE: In the summer?
PM: Sooner. As I say, there’s a Coalition Agreement pledge about the House of Lords. I’m very conscious that this should be done in a reasonable and proper way… that you should have good candidates that will bring something to the House of Lords. I would say that if you look at the people that.. the nominations for Conservative peerages over the last two and half years I think we’ve got some very talented people who are now.
THE HOUSE: Like Helen Newlove?
PM: Yes, I’m delighted she’s going to be the Victims Commissioner. I think you’ve got Helen Newlove, you’ve got Tina Stowell...you’ve got a lot people who are now in the whips office or become junior ministers, you know, so you’ve got to always ask what will they bring to the House of Lords, what will they contribute, but I think we can be proud of the people we’ve got there.
THE HOUSE: And you think that that outside experience is a reason why the Lords is a great asset?
PM: I think it’s a great asset. Clearly at some stage there does need to be reform in terms of the size and you know, we need, to, at some stage... Obviously our proposals for reform did not find favour, we had to step back from that, but at some stage we have to work out, I don’t know, issues around.. to sort of normalise its size… but that’s not an agenda item right now.
THE HOUSE: You just gave your polling presentation to your MPs…
PM: Polling presentation!? It wasn’t, it was a proper discussion with MPs about, you know, what our plans are for this year, the Mid Term Review, what our campaign plans are for the next election, what our targeting strategy is, and yes, of course, very good to share a bit of polling information with them, but it was a proper discussion a political party ought to have.
THE HOUSE: It showed that Eds Balls and Miliband are still not popular. Are they your best chance of winning in 2015?
PM: No, our best chance of winning an overall majority is demonstrating the Conservatives in government have consistently delivered for people who work hard and want to get on and do the right thing. And you know we’ll be saying at the next election: It’s been tough, its s a very difficult time for our country, but you know we’ve got the deficit down, we’ve created private sector jobs, we helped you by freezing the council tax, cutting petrol duty, taking 2m people out of tax, we started to sort out the mess of Labour's education system, it’s now sharper, better, better prospects for schools, we’ve sorted out the mess of welfare, we're very sleeves rolled up, we were the people that have got Britain on the right track, don’t turn back, trust us to keep delivering, to keep providing, that’s what the message will be. I’m a great believer in the end parties make their own fortunes. You can’t sit back and rely on your opponents to make your arguments for you. Look I think it’s a real weakness Labour have that they simply refuse to accept that their over spending and over borrowing was part of the problem and until they do that I don’t think anyone will listen to them, but I’m not sitting back thinking they will never realise that. I want a positive case for a Conservative majority government and I think we’re on the way to building it.
THE HOUSE: But it helps, that people can’t see Ed Miliband as a future PM?
PM: I think the point is that... the test that Labour failed is everybody knows that the country faces difficult choices at a difficult time and people see that Labour just aren’t facing up to those choices and in the end that I think is what it’s all about. You know, the public, I always say this but it’s totally true, I sense it as I go round the country and bump into people and have all sorts of snatched conversations in all sorts of places, the British public are intensely reasonable, they know that it’s a difficult situation, they know tough choices have to be made, they’re not going to support everything you do, there will be some things you do that they don’t like, but there’s a general sense that if you are getting on with it, if you’re making the decisions, if you’re trying to get the country on the right track, you know, we’ll let you do that and we’ll judge you at the end of five years, but if they a see a party that is not making those choices , that is not making those decisions, that won’t take any responsibility for what happened in the past, I don’t think the British public will in the end trust that.
THE HOUSE: A question on Europe. Should Ukip take part in the TV debates?
PM: I think that the TV debates… Obviously we have to decide on this nearer the time, but the TV debates should be about, you know, the parties that are going to form the Government, in my view.
THE HOUSE: Will you look at the rules on whether to restrict benefits to EU migrants?
PM: Look, it’s worth looking at the current rules and regulations, what other countries do, what could we do. You know, we should just be generally impatient and enthusiastic for getting the relationship right, and there may be some things you can under existing rules that that other countries do that we could have a proper good look at. The same applies with this issue of deport first and appeal later - other countries do operate systems like this. I’m very keen that we should be really kicking the tyres to see what more we can do.
THE HOUSE: Have you renewed your drive to attract black and ethnic minority candidates?
PM: It’s never ending drive, I think, look we’ve made some good progress at the last election and some very talented MPs and can see you know people like Sam Gymiah, Priti Patel and Sajid Javid, they’re not there because they’re ethnic minorities they’re there because they are extremely talented people, but the Conservative Party needed to reach out as I’ve put it in the past people were opening a door and seeing all white faces and didn’t find that very welcoming, we need to go out and attract very talented people from ethnic minority communities to join the Conservatives, stands as a Conservatives, stand for local government, stand for Parliament, so there’s no let up in that, we’ll go on encouraging that.
THE HOUSE: Does the way the Republican Party suffered a demographic squeeze in the US worry you?
PM: I think that… look, does the Conservative Party need to do better amongst black and ethnic minority communities? Yes. Do we need to do better in urban areas and in our cities? Yes. Do we need to go even further in improving our position in the north which was transformed at the last election? Yes. Are we still not nearly as strong as I’d like us to be in Scotland and Wales? Yes. But, you know, all of these things, I would say if you go back over the seven years that I’ve been doing this job we have made some… you know, the Welsh situation is transformed from when I became party leader. Obviously we’re a lot stronger in the North West and West Yorkshire, we’ve still got quite a lot of extra work to do in the North East, and Scotland is a work in progress….
THE HOUSE: In the reshuffle you promoted a lot of women, some rising stars. Will that make it easier whenever the next reshuffle is to get people into the Cabinet?
PM: Absolutely. Why the reshuffle was so important - and why it was important to let go a number of colleagues who had done an extremely good job - was because the party had changed so much from having only 10 years ago 170 MPs to suddenly having 305 new MPs, a vast new intake at the last election we needed to promote some of the new talent. You can’t just catapult people into the Cabinet. You need to give people the chance to shine in junior ministerial jobs so that’s what I’ve done. There’s a lot of new talent on the frontbench and I think it’s performing very well. If you look at Sajid Javid [in the uprating bill debate], I think he did a fantastic job. We have got a Planning Minister [Nick Boles] who’s really leading the debate on getting more homes built in our country, we have an Apprenticeship Minister who’s getting behind the idea of pre-apprenticeship training and making sure that apprenticeships are of quality. You’ve just seen this week we’ve got a team of justice ministers [Jeremy Wright, Helen Grant], junior ministers who do a brilliant job in terms of revolutionising the way we deliver probation and rehabilitation of prisoners. I’ve put Liz Truss at the Department of Education doing childcare, something she has a passion for. I feel not only have I promoted new talent, I’ve put round pegs into round holes. I think people can see it was a very talented intake in 2010. It’s definitely making its presence felt in Parliament, it’s making its presence felt in Government. These reshuffles are important because you can’t just fix it in one go. You need to get the talent moving through the ranks.
THE HOUSE: Will you have another reshuffle this year?
PM: You asked me last year and I gave you a very elliptical answer….There’s nothing planned.
THE HOUSE: Will you stick to your pledge in Opposition [to get a third of ministers as women]?
PM: Obviously I can’t apply my pledge to the Lib Dems and obviously they need to improve their diversity and I’ll be having a word with the Deputy Prime Minister about that. I remain committed to what I said. I want to deliver a more diverse party and I want to encourage more women and more ethnic minorities, more people from different parts of the country, from different backgrounds, into the party at all levels. And the good thing about the Parliamentary party in 2013 is that the talent is in there, the spread of people is there but it needs to be promoted.
THE HOUSE: Nancy has her 9th birthday [coming up]…
PM: The list of the transitional demands is building up…
THE HOUSE: Are you happy that London schools are now good enough for you to send her to a state secondary?
PM: In London there’s a real improvement taking place. There‘s a revolution taking place in all schools actually. And it’s very exciting. So a small example of it is, I took all the secondary heads of West Oxfordshire and brought them here, sat them round the Cabinet table with the head teacher from Burlington Danes. And pointed out that at Burlington Danes, 50% ethnic minority, I think 30% free school meals, many children with multiple disadvantages, but you know incredibly good results at GCSE, better than some of the schools in my own constituency in leafy West Oxfordshire. And they then all went for a tour round Burlington Danes and we had a lively debate. Since then actually a number of them have said to me ‘You know, I wasn’t dead keen on the idea but we’ve picked up some fascinating ideas about how to raise aspiration, how to raise attainment and I think when you look across the education system, whether it is action to deal with failing primary schools, whether it is the academy movement, whether it’s free schools, I think the whole debate now is about quality, about rigour, about not dumbing down, I feel the great supertanker was heading in one direction and the wrong direction and it really is turning. There’s a big culture change in our schools and that’s taking place in London. So I remain committed to what I’ve said in the past. I’m very pleased with St Mary Abbott’s. I did Nancy’s spelling test on the way to school, I was very proud of the fact that she got neighbourhood and library right. You probably have to sub people on words like that..”
THE HOUSE: What did you make of the proposal in London to close police stations and set up in post offices, supermarkets?
PM: First of all I would praise the police for coping with quite steep spending reductions while a) cutting crime and b) increasing the proportion of officers on the front line. I don’t think it’s for politicians to say you’ve got to have this police station or that police station. What matters is are the police visible, are they on the beat are they out in our communities? Is it easier to report a crime, what is the response time like? Policing is not about bricks and mortar, it’s about boots on the ground. Of course there are parts of the estate, ‘where are the prison cells?’ ‘how quickly can you arrest someone and process them?’ that are important, but it shouldn’t be politicians that say ‘you’ve got to have this exact laydown’. What matters is are you there, are you responding, are you cutting crime and can you process prisoners? And they need to make sure they can do that.
THE HOUSE: On Leveson, Oliver Letwin has come up with the solution of a Royal Charter. But editors say it could create extra problems with statutory involvement and is so complex they need more time. What do you think of the Charter idea?
PM: It is a simple idea. We are trying to solve an age old problem which is ‘who appoints the guardians?’ In Leveson, you have the press producing a self regulatory body consistent with a set of Leveson principles , that needs to happen. And then the Government needs to find a way to create a body that adjudicates whether the press regulator is doing its job properly. And that’s the tricky bit. Because if you straight legislate for it, my concern is you cross the Rubicon of writing press legislation into law. But you need to do it in a way which is authoritative and yet doesn’t have direct appointments by politicians and it seems to me the Royal Charter does that. Of course any system requires some legislation because you want to set up the damages exemption which is at the heart of Leveson, which the press support. I think we have come up with a good answer. I’m very keen for this to be agreed on an all party basis which is what we are working on, so there’s a series of talks. This can’t be allowed to go on for ever because we’ve got to get on and deal with this. But I’m absolutely committed to implementing Leveson, implementing it by the self-regulatory body and implementing it without the direct legislative statutory underpinning but in this way it seems to me a very clever way of providing an adjudicating body which would be absolutely consistent with what Leveson was recommending.”
THE HOUSE: Will you give the industry a few more months. Isn’t it better to get it right than rush it?
PM: I don’t want to rush it, but of course this will all take time. Even when you’ve worked out how to establish the adjudicating body, the adjudicating body then has to be established and it then has to adjudicate whether the self-regulating body is doing the job properly, so there’s time built in. Even if we could agree this among the political parties tomorrow, there’s still quite a lot of time built in for the adjudicating body to be set up and for the self-regulatory system to be put in place. But I’m confident this all can be done. Leveson has opened a really worthwhile and interesting door which we can all walk through. The press can walk through with a much improved regulatory system that the country can be proud of, politicians have got a route down which to go to deliver a regulatory system that we can be proud of and say to the victims we’ve done the work that’s necessary and I’m very keen that we can all walk through the door.”
THE HOUSE: The Chilcot report is due out this year. Are you geared up, within Whitehall, for responding quickly to that or is it going to take a long time?
PM: That is a very good question. It’s taken such a long time that it’s a very good question. I need to, we need to go away and think about what we expect to come out of it and how we respond, I don’t have a straight simple answer to that. It’s obviously a very important report. We spent a lot of time in Opposition saying this must be set up, it must be set up properly, we must learn the lessons, and so I suspect it’s going to be a very big and serious piece of work and it will take some time to digest. We don’t have a day yet do we? It mustn’t slip too far.
THE HOUSE: Was Sam delighted by suggestion could be here in this building [in No10] to 2020 - or did she throw a handbag at you?
PM: She’s fully supportive of my work. She is doing amazing job, she’s supporting lots of charities, she’s still working two days a week. She’s fantastically supportive of me, she’s brilliant with the children, I’m full of admiration for her.
THE HOUSE: Have you had a Date Night lately?
PM: Last night, we went out for supper, dinner, quite early actually, I was tucked up in bed nice and early last night. But we try and get out of the cage on a regular basis. It’s lovely living here, it’s a wonderful flat that she’s created, the children are very happy. And she’s very happy and family life is good. Christmas was lovely because we got away, we spent a decent amount of time in our home in the constituency, which does feel like home. Of course, there’s the police officers wandering round the garden, but you really do have yourself to yourself. But no she’s on good form.”
THE HOUSE: Last year you told us you were reading a history of the Tory party. Which book are you reading now?
PM: I’m reading Simon Jenkins’ history of England. I did that thing when you go Christmas shopping and I bought one or two things that I just thought I’d be interested in reading. I’m on Vikings at the moment. I’m reading about Vikings while watching the Killing. The Killing and Vikings, Jutland has been looming large.
THE HOUSE: Are you into Borgen?
PM: No! God, no. It’s just whether Morgen Shmorgen is Health Minister or is Education Minister..it’s too much like work.
THE HOUSE: You call this a Ronseal Government. When did you last attempt DIY?
PM: Very good question. Last Christmas I assembled some IKEA furniture in Dean [the village where his constituency home is] which was very successful. I’m sure I did do some important DIY…yes I did… I partially reconstructed a shed, it was mostly destruction than reconstruction…”
THE HOUSE: What was your favourite Christmas present from Sam?
PM: She did give me the Killing III, that was our luxury at Christmas. So that’s it, we’ve done it. We had a decent time at home. We did a bit of back-to-back [viewing of episodes]. We cheated, she gave it to me before Christmas, so we opened it early.
THE HOUSE: And Elwen?
PM: He’s obsessed by Lego. They construct then demand more and more. That’s the other DIY I did, I constructed a Lego police station! I took Elwen to see Chelsea too.” [When they beat Aston Villa 8-0 at Christmas] “I said ‘you’ll never see another game like this’. The home fans chanted ‘Cameron, Cameron, give us a song’.