David Cameron interview
Call him Dave, call him the new Tony Blair, call him what you want - David Cameron could well be our prime minister after May 6 2010. But what would that mean for Londoners? Time Out takes a tough line with the Tory leader.
David Cameron is slightly out of breath. He's just been for a jog along the Embankment and, in the sunlight streaming into his spacious office suite in Portcullis House, the Conservative leader has the pink and shiny hue of a schoolboy just off the playing fields. We sit down to talk, surrounded by photos of him and Sam, the kids lolling about in the garden and Cameron posed with world leaders: Obama, Sarkozy and, of course, Margaret Thatcher.
He's affable yet businesslike. But where's the spark? I've interviewed both Tony Blair and Boris Johnson, and whatever you might think of their politics, both radiated an irresistible, larger-than-life, charisma. I don't feel that with Cameron. And there's something else. Although he is at pains to portray himself and his party as the voice of the 'common man', it's hard to ignore the whiff of entitlement that still clings to him. This is most obvious when he speaks about inheritance-tax policy. He uses the term 'aspirational' often, but his outlook seems the opposite. Does he really, as his detractors imply, inhabit a Jane Austen-style world, where money's not gained from hard work, but through the great fortune of having sat tight on a lump of bricks and mortar?
Whether voters will agree that he does, and whether this will affect their decision, remains to be seen.
How is it fair that, in theory, John Terry would be eligible for a marriage tax-break, while my partner and I, who are parents in a stable relationship but aren't married, wouldn't be?
'We haven't yet set out how to carry through the proposals of the marriage tax-break, but we will. I think marriage is a good institution and it's a good idea to recognise it in the tax system. We also need to change the benefit system. Why is it that there are millions of Londoners currently in stable relationships who currently, under the tax credit system, would be better off if they split up? What's the logic in that?'
You can make changes to benefits, but you don't have to actively reward marriage.
'I'm in favour of all forms of commitment. We should be saying commitment is a good thing.'
The marriage tax-breaks were shaped to a large extent by the work of the evangelical Christian-influenced Centre for Social Justice. How important is evangelical Christian thought to formulating Conservative Party policy?
'I invented [and] committed myself to this policy before the CSJ even reported on it.'
In Iain Duncan Smith's report for the CSJ he said the Conservative Party would do well to look to the American religious right.
'I don't agree with that. But I think faith-based organisations are part of a rich, varied society.'
How will Tory cuts affect Londoners?
'First let's get rid of inefficiency. Cut out the waste of bureaucracy. Cut 10 per cent of waste with Parliament, cut ministers' pay, cut Whitehall bureaucracy. Then get rid of things we don't want the Government to do [such as] ID cards and the National Identity Database. We have taken some difficult decisions. There will have to be a public-sector pay freeze for one year from 2011, excluding the million lowest paid public-sector workers. From 2016 people will have to retire a year later.'
But you're not being honest with people. How can you make the enormous savings needed to fill a £167 billion black hole without touching frontline services?
'The more [wasteful bureaucracy] you cut, the less necessary it will be to touch frontline services. I have children at a London primary school, I do not want cuts in frontline services.'
You can only pare back bureaucracy so far. Someone has to make the appointment when you call your doctor.
'Talk to anyone in the Health Service and they will give you a list of frustrations. They know where the waste is. When you talk to teachers they will tell you about the waste from the QCDA (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency), and the TDA (Training and Development Agency) and the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families), and all the other sets of initials - they want to see that money go to the frontline.'
In London, we face the prospect of losing one in three A&E services. For example my local A&E at the Whittington Hospital in Archway is under threat. Can you guarantee that it will not close under a Conservative government?
'Yes. But the future is going to depend on the choices that patients make. We will have a moratorium on these closures because they have been driven by top-down bureaucracy. You can't say that there will never be any changes, but if people want to go on using the Whittington Hospital they should be able to.'
How will you stand up to bankers?
'Banks will be regulated by the Bank of England. In terms of the bonus tax [the 50 per cent tax on bonuses of more than £25,000], we support that.'
Your party gets big donations from the City. Can we trust you to be tough with them?
'Which donors are you referring to?'
Hedge fund boss Michael Farmer, members of the Fleming banking dynasty, your party's co-treasurers Michael Spencer and Stanley Fink have all given more than £7 million recently…
'They all support our policy. Nobody likes the top rate of tax [the new higher 50 pence tax rate on incomes of more than £150,000] but they understand we must try and get rid of the NI before we move on to other taxes.'
Your party wants to raise the inheritance-tax threshold from the current £325,000 for a single person to £1 million, and from £650,000 for couples to £2 million. How will Londoners benefit?
'The current threshold is £325,000. How many houses in London are worth over that? Hundreds and hundreds.'
But only six per cent of people will pay that tax this year.
'How many people pay that tax this year depends tragically on how many people die. If the Conservatives get in there will still be many Londoners who will pay inheritance tax but they won't be people on middle incomes.'
How is this helping people at the bottom?
'It's helping everyone who wants to be part of an aspirational society.'
It's not helping someone whose salary is around £25,000, who doesn't have wealthy parents and who has no chance of getting on the housing ladder to start with.
'We should encourage a society where people want to get on, own their own home and pay down the mortgage.'
In the European Parliament your party has been criticised [by Hillary Clinton, among others] for allying itself with far-right elements - such as the group led by Polish eurosceptic Michal Kaminski, who has questioned Poland's need to apologise for an anti-Jewish massacre in World War II and who has called homosexuals 'fags'. How do you justify this?
'The question is so full of misapprehensions that I don't know where to start. The Conservative Party is allied with parties that share its view about Europe. It's not about backing someone's social policies, it's because we think Europe will be more open, more dynamic. We are allied with other parties that want that. The Conservative Party is a tolerant multiracial party. '
That's like saying we'll ally ourselves with the BNP because they've got a good housing policy.
'No, we would never ally ourselves with any parties that have unacceptable views.'
Is it true that your prospective candidates are being trained by the Young Britons Foundation [a controversial right-wing group that trains activists]?
'No. I don't think so. I don't know anything about the Young Britons Foundation.'
On their website they say they are training your members at party conferences.
'I've no idea about this.'
You do know about them. Dan Hannan - a Tory MEP - appeared on Fox TV last year saying that the NHS was a mistake. He is one of the leaders of the YBF, which is calling for the liberalisation of gun laws, says that climate change is a scam…
'Dan Hannan's views about the NHS are nothing to do with the Conservative Party.'
So you will put an end to these people training your party?
'I don't even know if they are. Let me find out.'
Following the interview, I asked Cameron's press officer to clarify. She told me that his position on this matter remains unchanged.