Cameron and Miliband: The Battle for Number 10 - interview with David Cameron


JEREMY PAXMAN: Welcome to Cameron and Miliband Live: The Battle for Number Ten.  Good evening, tonight sees the first big election test for two men, one of whom will be the UK’s next Prime Minister.  David Cameron and Ed Miliband are the only people with a genuine chance of forming the next government, tonight we’ll see what they’re made of.

KAY BURLEY: Over the next 90 minutes both men will face Jeremy head to head and they’ll also answer the questions of our studio audience.  Running quickly through the order of play, David Cameron will be interviewed by Jeremy then join me to take questions from our audience.  After that Ed Miliband will face questions from the studio and we finish with his head to head with Jeremy.  So let’s get to it, the election starts here and now.  First up, the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, David Cameron.  

JEREMY PAXMAN: David Cameron, do you know how many food banks there were in this country when you came to power?

DAVID CAMERON: I don’t have the exact figures but I know that usage of food banks has gone up and there are many amazing volunteers who man those food banks and provide an important service.

JP: There were 66 when you came to power, there are now 421.  900,000 took food parcels last year, free food parcels.  You talked about broken Britain and fixing it, you haven’t, it’s more broken now than it was.

DAVID CAMERON: Well I don’t accept that because if you look at what’s happened with our economy there are 1.89 million more people in work than when I became Prime Minister, we’ve got 900,000 fewer people on out of work benefits.

JP: Is the increase in food banks a mark of success?

DAVID CAMERON: Look, obviously there has been an increase in food bank use, that’s partly because of the difficulties we faced as a country.  It’s also, Jeremy, because we changed the rules. The previous government didn’t allow Job Centres to advertise the existence of food banks, they thought it would be bad PR. I thought that was a wrong decision, I thought that was a poor decision so we allowed them to point people towards food banks if they needed them but look the big picture is here we want to get more people back to work, we’ve turned the economy round and it’s jobs that are the best route out of poverty.

JP: Is it acceptable in a rich country like ours that there are that number of people depending on free food aid?

DAVID CAMERON: Obviously I want fewer people to be using food banks and I want more people to have the security of a job but we have created a thousand jobs for every day this government has been in office.  Now that’s a statistic but behind that statistic are people who are able to provide for their families, who are earning a wage, who are able to build a better life.  

JP: How many of those jobs are zero hours contracts?

DAVID CAMERON: About one in fifty jobs is zero hours contracts. This is an important point and …

JP: Could you live on a zero hours contract?

DAVID CAMERON: What many … some people choose a zero hours contract, for instance students, because they want the flexibility but what we did is … hold on a second, we outlawed, we were the first government to do this, the idea of exclusive zero hours contracts where you can only work for one business so we passed a law saying that shouldn’t happen but it is a myth.  Some people want to say that the jobs that have been created are all low paid jobs, that’s not true.

JP: No one is saying that, I’m not saying that.

DAVID CAMERON: Well the hint you are trying to give is …

JP: I am saying there are 700,000 people on zero hours contracts, could you live on one?

DAVID CAMERON: Look, as I say, some people …

JP: Could you live on one?

DAVID CAMERON: I want to create a country where more people have the opportunity of the full time work that they want and …

JP: Could you live on a zero hours contract?

DAVID CAMERON: Look, that’s not the question, the question is …

JP: Well it’s the question I’m asking.

DAVID CAMERON: But the point is, some people choose a zero hours contract.  If you are a student for instance and you want to do some part time work, a zero hours contract can work for you, that’s why we haven’t outlawed them altogether.  What we’ve outlawed is exclusive zero hours contracts.  No, I couldn’t live on one of those and that’s why we outlawed them.

JP: For example a colleague of mine this morning spoke to a man in the north-east, Patrick.  He walks four hours to and from work, when he gets there he doesn’t know if he is on for one hour, two hours or if he’s lucky, longer and then he has to walk home again.  He gets £6.75 an hour, he works between eight and twelve hours a week on average, is that any way to live?

DAVID CAMERON: I want more people to have part time, not have part time work but have full time work and that is what’s happening in our economy.  Look, it has been difficult, we’ve had a very difficult few years following the longest and deepest recession virtually in our country’s history.  Now we are coming out of that, we created 1.89 million new jobs, that’s a thousand a day, the majority of those have been full time jobs, not part time jobs.  Most of them have been in relatively well paid occupations, only one in fifty jobs is a zero hours contract and some people choose those contracts but if you ask me do I want more people to have the dignity and security of work and a regular wage?  Yes.  Do I want a higher minimum wage?  Yes and we’ve seen the minimum wage increase now above inflation for the first time in many years and I want to see that minimum wage go through £7 on to £8 and crucially Jeremy, in terms of what the government can do, we have cut taxes so we have taken the three million lowest paid people in our country out of income tax altogether so you can earn now £10,600 before you start paying income tax at all.  I think that is vitally important and that has been the priority for the government.

JP: You couldn’t live on a zero hours contract, this is one of the things that people really find problematic about you and I’m going to be personal if I may for a second.  


JP: It is that you would choose for example to appoint a man who oversaw tax avoidance as a Minister in your government, another rich person, that you would choose to appoint to the heart of government a rich newspaper editor whose newspaper hacked people’s phones, that you choose to defend a rich television presenter who thumps a colleague.  Now what do you have in common with all these very rich people?

DAVID CAMERON: Well let’s take these in turn because I think that’s completely unjustified. Let’s take Stephen Green who was head of HSBC, he had been appointed by my predecessor Gordon Brown to run his Business Advisory Council, I appointed him as a Trade Minister in a move that was welcomed across the political spectrum, across British industry, as someone who had run a bank responsibly.  Now I don't know whether there was wrong doing subsequently at HSBC, we’ll have to see but nobody criticised that appointment at the time.

JP: Did you ask him about it?

DAVID CAMERON: I didn’t ask him about that specific question but we went through all the normal processes and procedures that you would with appointing a Minister, proper checks including checks by the Inland Revenue into someone’s tax affairs so it was properly dealt with.  If you want to raise the issue of Jeremy Clarkson, I said very clearly I didn’t know what had happened and so I wasn’t going to comment extensively, I simply answered a question I was asked explaining he was a friend of mine, he’s a talent and I hoped it could be resolved.  But I am absolutely clear that treating the people you work with badly is not acceptable, the BBC have made their decision and that is absolutely right for them.  So I think the aspersion you are trying to cast I think is completely ridiculous, what I have done for the last five years is lead a government that has got the economy growing, has got people back to work, has cut the taxes of the poorest people in our country.  I’m not saying we’ve achieved everything we’ve set out to do but the country is immeasurably stronger …

JP: Let’s come to the question of the economy then, apart from broken Britain, one of your slogans last time, was that the country was overwhelmed in debt, overwhelmed was the word you used.  How much money have you borrowed?

DAVID CAMERON: Well we have cut the budget deficit in half as a share of GDP.

JP: How much money have you borrowed?

DAVID CAMERON: Well look, the key thing is the amount of money you borrow every year, the deficit, that is down by half …

JP: Do you know what it is?

DAVID CAMERON: I know that we have borrowed a lot of money because the deficit adds to your debt every year.  

JP: Do you know what the figure is?

DAVID CAMERON: Well you’re going to tell me, Jeremy, presumably.

JP: I am, it’s a mere £500 billion.

DAVID CAMERON: That is a lot less than the previous government was borrowing and …

JP: No, it isn’t, it’s more than the previous government borrowed.

DAVID CAMERON: Look, the annual overdraft, the deficit, has come down by one half as a share of GDP and debt, the total debt as a share of our national income is now falling.  Now we haven’t finished the job, we have been working to a plan and the British people have been working incredibly hard to that plan of turning the economy around, getting the deficit down, having public services that we can afford and creating jobs and livelihoods for all our people, that is what we have been doing.  Now if you’re saying that we haven’t gone fast enough to cut the deficit, I would agree, we need to complete the job but all my political opponents have been saying we should borrow more, we should spend more, we should tax more, that’s the alternative that you face with Ed Miliband and his approach.

JP: My point is merely the chasm between what was said and what was actually done.  Let’s take another one, let’s take immigration.  You promised at the last election that you would reduce immigration to the level it was at in the early 1990s, tens of thousands a year.  Do you know how many people you actually let in?

DAVID CAMERON: Immigration has not been cut to the tens of thousands.

JP: No it hasn’t, you failed.  

DAVID CAMERON: What we did is we cut immigration from outside the European Union, that is down by 13%, we closed down about 800 bogus education colleges which were really visa factories but inside the European Union immigration has increased not least because we’ve actually created more jobs in Britain than the rest of the European Union put together.  The European Union’s economy has been so stagnant that people have come here to work so what we  need to do now is keep the economy working but fix the broken welfare system.  Can I just make this point if you’ll let me, there are some key changes I am going to make which is if you come from Europe to Britain you cannot claim unemployment benefit, if you don’t have a job in six months you’ll have to return to the country you came from, you have to work here for four years paying into the system before you get Tax Credits or benefits out of the system and while you are here you can’t send child benefit home to the family if they are living in another country.  Now those changes taken together, key welfare changes, will reduce immigration quite markedly inside the EU.

JP: It’s not what you said last time, it’s not what you said last time. You said, quote, ‘No ifs, no buts, we make a promise to the British people that we will reduce immigration to the level that it was at in the early 1990s’.  You’ve not done it.

DAVID CAMERON: I believe that is still the right ambition and we achieved a cut from outside the EU but inside the EU …

JP: It was a no if’s, no buts, promise.

DAVID CAMERON: Inside the EU we haven’t achieved it but we need to make these welfare changes in order to do it.  

JP: But you accept you haven’t met the promise there.

DAVID CAMERON: I have not met the commitment that I made, I fully accept that.  

JP: Right, there is a whole credibility problem here isn’t there because one of the other things you said, and you repeated it again this week, yesterday I think, you said we are not going to raise VAT.  You said exactly the same thing before the last election, we have no plans to raise VAT.  You said it to my face twice at the time of the last election then the moment you got into government you did raise VAT.

DAVID CAMERON: Well there is a crucial difference on this occasion.  We are the government, we’ve been able to look very carefully at the books, we know what’s necessary in the next parliament and our plans do not involve a tax increase on VAT or National Insurance or income tax, we are very clear about that, we know what needs to be done and let me explain because I think people watching at home will want to know what is the scale of what needs to be done.  We need to save for the next two years one out of every £100 that the government spends.  Now I think it is the right approach to try and find £1 of waste in £100 of government spending rather than to put up everybody’s taxes which is what my political opponents want to do so you have got a choice, bear down on waste and get public spending under control or put up taxes with my opponents, that’s the choice.

JP: But again you said one thing and you did another.

DAVID CAMERON: We said that the most important task for the government was to get the economy going, get jobs growing …

JP: You said you had no plans to raise VAT.

DAVID CAMERON: … and to get the deficit down and I would say on any analysis, and we had an appalling inheritance.  We had an inheritance situation where Britain’s budget deficit was forecast to be bigger than Greece’s and we had to take difficult decisions.  I will defend all of those decisions, difficult ones, the ones that were hard to take but the right thing for the country and the result, there is a connection between the difficult decisions we had to take and the fact that we now have the fastest growing economy of any major Western economy, we’ve created two million private sector jobs, we’ve got 750,000 more businesses – the British economy is working and now we need to make sure that people can… what I want an economy that doesn’t just look good on the page, I want people to feel they can get a job, they can have a livelihood, they can buy a home, they can get a good school place for their children and enjoy their retirement, those are the things … That’s what this plan, Jeremy, is all about.

JP: In the spirit of transparency, can you tell us where this £12 billion in welfare cuts is going to come from?

DAVID CAMERON: Well let me explain.  We’ve said there is a £30 billion adjustment that needs to be made and the other political parties have voted for this too and we’ve said that breaks down to 13 billion that needs to be saved in government departments, 12 billion in welfare and five billion from cracking down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.  Now when it comes to the welfare we have identified for instance freezing in work benefits like unemployment benefit for two years to raise some of that money but the 12 billion …

JP: Ten billion of which you have yet to explain.

DAVID CAMERON: That compares with 20 billion that was saved in the last parliament, in this current parliament by this government on welfare, so this is well within the range of what we can do if we continue with the sort of plan we have put in place.

JP: Do you know where these cuts will fall?

DAVID CAMERON: Well we know that it is possible to make the savings in welfare like we made, we made 20 billion in welfare …

JP: I don’t want be rude but do you know and you are not telling us or do you not know?

DAVID CAMERON: Look, we know there will be difficult decisions and we will have to go through every part of the welfare budget but we just as we’ve saved 20 billion in welfare in this parliament, we will be able to find a further 10 billion of welfare savings in the next parliament.  Let me give you some more examples, we’re going to cut the welfare cap we put in place saying no family should get more than £26,000 a year in welfare, we are going to reduce that to £23,000, we think that’s the right thing to do …

JP: That’s not really going to raise ten million is it?

DAVID CAMERON: We’re going to say when it comes to young people, young people when they leave school they should be either earning or learning, they should be doing an apprenticeship, looking at higher education, they shouldn’t be able to go straight on to unemployment benefit and housing benefit.  All of these things, changing welfare, Jeremy, isn’t just about saving money, it’s about trying to help people’s lives …

JP: You talk about transparency and you don’t tell us what you are going to do.  Let me ask you a very simple question about something else, about foreign policy because we are going to be out of time shortly.  What do you think has been your biggest foreign policy disaster?

DAVID CAMERON: Other people I’m sure will highlight difficult things that we’ve had to deal with.

JP: What did you find the greatest reverse?

DAVID CAMERON: Well I would argue that some good things we’ve done is cutting the European budget, first government to achieve that, getting out of the euro bail out scheme so British taxpayers aren’t giving money to Greece, those I’d say are successes.  I think we’ve got a very challenging situation today in Libya, I think it was right to …

JP: Do you regret going to Libya and promising, you promised, you used the word promise, the people of Britain and France will stand by you as you build your country and your democracy, those were your words.  Do you regret saying that?  You haven’t even got an embassy in Libya at present.

DAVID CAMERON: No, I don’t regret saying that.  First of all I think it was right with France and America to stop Colonel Gaddafi when he was going to butcher his own people in Benghazi, if had not stepped in, if I hadn’t ordered those aeroplanes into the sky, that we would have seen a massive catastrophe in Benghazi of people butchered, it was the right thing to do.  Now I don’t accept that we left the Libyan people after that, we put in aid, we put in military training, we put in political assistance, it just hasn’t been possible to date to get the different Libyan …

JP: Christians are being beheaded on the beach.

DAVID CAMERON: Well it hasn’t been possible to get the different Libyan parts of government together to get the warlords to put down their weapons but we are still trying even now with people out there, trying to bring that about but it has been, I accept, a very difficult situation.

JP: Can I ask you one quick question about Europe?  What would it take for you to vote no in a referendum on our continued participation in the European Union?

DAVID CAMERON: If I didn’t think it was in Britain’s interests to stay in the European Union I wouldn’t argue for our membership. I think the situation today is what we need is a reform of the European Union and then a referendum where the British people, not me but the British people watching at home, they have the choice in an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.

JP: By implication then, surely, our current membership is intolerable.

DAVID CAMERON: No, what I think is we need to improve on our current membership.  This organisation works to an extent for us, we get the trade, we get important co-operation but Europe isn’t working properly, that’s why we need the renegotiation.  Those that say just have a referendum straight away I think will be giving the British people a false choice, I want to give a proper choice – stay in a reformed organisation or leave but it will be the British people’s choice and I will just make this point, Jeremy, there is only one way to get a referendum and that is to make sure I am Prime Minister after the next election because none of my principle opponents will promise a referendum.  

JP: One final point, you’ve said you are not going to stand for a third term, that means that a vote for Cameron is a vote, if you are successful, for Cameron as leader of his party and Prime Minister perhaps for two, three, four years, after which it’s Boris Johnson or George Osborne or Theresa May or Sajid Javid or Uncle Tom Cobbley.  

DAVID CAMERON: If you vote Conservative I’ve said I will serve every day of a full second term. What I was doing in that interview was just giving an honest answer to an honest question because I think people need to know that sort of thing.  Are you one of those leaders who like Chairman Mao thinks he can go on and on and on or actually do you think look, I’m really passionate about what I’m doing, I think we are turning this country round, I’m passionate about having another term, completing this vital work but after that, ten years, two terms?  I think politicians do have a date by which they need to say well I think it’s time for someone else to take over.  I’m not some person who thinks that you’re indispensable, we’re not indispensable and it’s important to remember that.

JP: David Cameron, thank you.