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tv   Political Thinking with Nick...  BBC News  January 31, 2022 2:30am-3:01am GMT

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russia's foreign minister has said moscow wants equal, mutually respectful relations with the united states and its allies, as tensions continue over ukraine. sergei lavrov accused russia's rivals of infringing its security on a daily basis. russia denies planning to invade ukraine. spotify says it's working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about covid, after a row about misinformation. the musiciansjoni mitchell and neil young asked for their songs to be removed from the platform, in protest at its work withjoe rogan who has interviewed vaccine—sceptics. north korean state media has released photographs it says were taken from its biggest missile launch since 2017. the pictures show parts of the korean peninsula and surrounding areas seen from space from a camera on the missile�*s nose.
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now on bbc news, it's time for political thinking with nick robinson. hello, and welcome to political thinking. will he stay or will he go? that question has hung over westminster, hung over the country pretty much all of this extraordinary week. and one man has been willing to appear before the microphones and the cameras to make the case for boris johnson. he is my guest on political thinking this week, jacob rees—mogg, the leader of the house of commons. the last time he had anything like this sort of profile was when he was arguing to remove theresa may. back then, he was the leader of the backbench brexiteers. some suggested, though, that he had been sent to the wilderness after he entered borisjohnson�*s cabinet. i am delighted to say he doesn'tjoin us from the wilderness but somewhere
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altogether more comfortable. from his somerset constituency. jacob rees—mogg, welcome back to political thinking. oh, thank you very much, it's very kind of you to invite me back. is it all so nice to be back in the fray, back in an argument about the future direction of your party, back in the argument about the party leadership? well, i don't think we need a discussion about the party leadership, i think we've got a great leader, and as you know, i've supported him from before he became leader and find it extremely easy to continue to support him. but talking to you is always great fun so it's a pleasure to be here. well, it is often said that borisjohnson is the luckiest man in politics. do you believe that this intervention by the police proves that point that the sword of damocles has been lifted again? hanging famously by a horse hair. i think we are waiting for sue gray's report, and we will see what that says. but the latest reporting on what the police are saying has certainly muddied
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the picture and may or may not be causing the delay. obviously, it is very important that nothing be done that hampers an investigation. but, equally, it is fundamentally important that sue gray's report is issued as soon practical. you want it out as soon practical, do you want it to be as full as possible? my general rule of political life is that the more that people are told as early as possible, the better off you are. and the prime minister's position, the government's position is that what is given to him by sue gray is what will be published. and i think that is absolutely right and sensible. has it come as a surprise to you, perhaps surprise or frustration for the prime minister that having originally said they had no interest in this at all, the police at the very last minute, just as this report is about to be published say, hold onjust a second, you can't publish everything you want to?
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i wouldn't dream of criticising the police going about their duties. i think one of the great principles of british constitutional life is that nobody is above the law. and that creates a very good constitutional setup, a good polity where corruption doesn't exist in this country as it does in some other countries because of this proper relationship between the various different parts of our system. and, therefore, i don't think, as a member of the cabinet, i would be at all right to question what the police has done. but you will be aware that there are people who do question the police, and they think there is something funny about this, there is something rather convenient for the prime minister, there must be, some say, some sort of establishment cover—up or conspiracy. look, people outside government are of course entitled to raise questions about the police, and that is part of a vibrant democracy, it is part of freedom of speech. i would say it would be a very eccentric conspiracy theorist
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who thought that the prime minister being investigated by the police was beneficial to the prime minister, and that that is a sort of parallel universe stuff, i fear. really? because the argument is it wins him a delay, it gives him time, it gives him a breathing space. i don't think any prime minister would suddenly think it was a great idea to be interviewed by the police. i know people get excited by a dead cat strategies but this is a sort of trophy hunted dead lion being slammed on the table, which i think it's hard to say is helpful. there a danger, though, isn't there, that even if sue gray publishes as much as she can, as much as the police allow her, even if the prime minister publishes every word that he is given by this senior civil servant, people will think, well, that is a partial account, they may even think it is a whitewash? the relationship between the police investigation and sue gray's inquiry is obviously important, and as you know, the cabinet office has been cooperating
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with the police, liaising with the police since the beginning of the inquiry. that is part of its terms of reference. and quite rightly, the police have been kept informed. there are guidelines, rules about what can be published when there is a live investigation. and that inevitably complicates things but that, essentially, is a matter for sue gray and for the police. it is not a matter for the prime minister who will deal with the report and publish the report that comes to him from sue gray. just dealing with what you can talk about, then, not what the police are doing, not what sue gray is doing, but your own attitude, do you accept now that this is a serious matter? there were times you seemed to kind ofjoke about parties, you made jokes on camera about parties and whether you had been reported to the police. you made jokes about cake and frippery, as you called it, and trivia.
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this is about something much more central, isn't it, with the prime minister? whether ministers, whether civil servants abide by the law, the regulations that they set for everybody else? i think i'm afraid we have lost proportion on this matter completely. and we are discussing whether or not there was a cake. we are asking, practically, what the cake looked like, what type of icing sugar was used on a cake that may or may not have been given to the first and second laws of the treasury when they were working in number 10 downing street. we are dealing with a crisis in relation to russia, we have a cost of living crisis, we have a prime minister who led us through the pandemic and got all the big decisions right. we are not talking about cake, mr rees—mogg, neither are people in the public. what they are talking about is whether government sticks to the laws it sets, whether there is one rule for you and the prime minister and another rule for everybody else. that doesn't mention cake and it doesn't mention icing sugar. with respect, you mentioned cake, and therefore brought the subject into our discussion.
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i think when it was first under discussion, there was a real sense of shock and upset from people who had obeyed the laws very carefully, and i think that was completely understandable and the prime minister apologised for that. so, i am not saying that the initial discussion was wrong or disproportionate, but i am saying that spending weeks and weeks on it is disproportionate, has become disproportionate. i think that we need to be focusing and dealing with what is going on with russia and ukraine. i can't help noticing that you like talking about cake, mr rees—mogg, when nobody else is. it isn't "cake—gate", it's "lie—gate." it is about whether the prime minister lied. now, obviously, you don't think he did or you couldn't serve in his cabinet. have you worked out why you think so many people in the public the he is a liar? well, first of all, one of my interlocutors in the house of commons yesterday did call it "cake—gate", so this is a term
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that is being bandied about by opposition parties who are revelling in this as a way to bring down or attempt to bring down a politician who they can't defeat at the ballot box. and that underpins a lot of this. it is very interesting, michael hesletine said, and i think lord adonis said much the same, let's get rid of the prime minister and then we can get rid of brexit. but, david davis led those people saying that he should now quit, it's quite hard to present the former brexit secretary, the man who argued to get britain out of the eu, and many of the people who agree with him, it is quite hard to say that this is all a conspiracy against borisjohnson, isn't it? david davis and i have always got on, i have spoken in his constituency, he has spoken in mine, but can you tell me a leader of the conservative party that david davis hasn't tried to get rid of? since margaret thatcher? it is quite difficult. david has quite a tendency to say that he has had enough
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of whoever happens to be the leader of the conservative party, it is one of his endearing qualities. well, that is where you come in. that's what is so interesting about seeing and hearing so much of you. let's talk about, you were such a contrast with when we last spoke on political thinking, a programme that is about a conversation, not a news—style interrogation, after all. we couldn't escape the mogg, there were the moggsters. there was a group called moggmentum. like momentum forjeremy corbyn. what on earth happened to you? were you banished ? well, my role as leader of the house is that i do business questions every week, which covers the whole range of government policy. but, in reality, there wasn't a great deal for me to say on covid, that i wasn't a minister with responsibility for it. but i wonder if it wasn't also because you weren't as a freedom—loving conservative, i have put it in inverted commas, i imagine that is the sort of description
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you would use of yourself, you weren't very comfortable with the nanny state telling people who they could meet and where they could go and what they should wear on theirface. you looked pretty uncomfortable during this period. is that fair? i fully supported the decisions the government took. i was bound by collective responsibility. but i certainly had the opportunity to raise any questions from inside government in the normal way that ministers do. i wouldn't want to disassociate myself from any of the decisions that were taken. but you said the other day in the house of commons, you said, the inquiry, when it comes into covid, should look at whether regulations were, you said, disproportionate or too hard. i think that must happen. i was particularly unhappy with, for example, the closure of the churches. but when you look back at it, how many people didn't get covid because we wouldn't allow people to go to funerals? and this has to be looked at, it must be right to look at how the restrictions were in place
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and which ones had a major benefit and which ones were peripheral or even unnecessary. and we must look at whether it was right to close schools. i speak as a father of six children. and home education for some months was not exactly ideal, it was very difficult, and difficult forfamilies across the country. this must be looked at to see what was got right and what wasn't got right. that is not to say that at the time, the decisions weren't the best decisions that could be made on the information that was available. did you make those arguments in cabinet? did you, looking back, use your position to say either to fellow cabinet ministers or indeed to some of the scientific advisers making the case, hold on, and if not, why not? was there not a forum in which you could really do it? look, i may be the only person left in the cabinet
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who believes that cabinet discussions should remain confidential so i'm not going to be drawn on what may or may not have been set in cabinet, and what discussion that one has with other ministers. but it is fair to assume that a variety of approaches were inevitably considered. i think what the government got most right was constantly going with the grain of public opinion. i actually think the first lockdown happened before the government introduced any regulations because people decided it was important. i think the last non—lockdown over christmas almost happened because people decided to limit their social engagements, they decided that they wanted to see their family over christmas rather than their colleagues at a work party. and i think that's really interesting, i think we do learn from that that the wisdom of the british people is a very important part of how we are governed and that you don't need all the time to give people detailed regulations.
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how much was your life disrupted during this time? was there much disruption or in reality because as a minister you had permission to work in an office rather than working from home, in reality was your life much less disrupted than other people? i think you raise a very important point, and this was actually raised byjulia hartley—brewer during the course of the pandemic, that many people who were within the decision—making ambit, and i wouldn't claim to be an actual decision maker in relation to covid rules, were less affected than people, for example, living on the 20th storey of a tower block who had a long journey down to get to the park to go out for an hour. i can't begin to say that compared to that, being in somerset with my six children around me and my wife was in any way as hard a task. now, there are some people that
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think the prime minister's problems, politically, are not about parties at all, they are actually because he is not conservative enough. there has been too big a state, too bossy a state, too nanny—ish a state. we've talked about the covid rules. is that also true about tax and spending — that you need to get back to being conservatives again? this is one of the great conservative dilemmas, and it is not a new one. it is one that geoffrey howe obviously faced in the late — well, in the period of �*79 onwards when he was the chancellor. the conservatives believe in low taxation but we also believe in sound money. we understand ricardian equivalence. we believe that borrowing is merely delayed taxation. and, so, when you have a situation where government expenditure explodes because of a crisis, you know that that is simply delayed taxation. and how do you get back to sound money? and this is the challenge the chancellor has to face. and i think he is facing
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it with great honesty to the british people. well, he is facing it by saying taxes must rise in april. and when he announced that, you told a meeting at the party conference that the rise in national insurance was "at the upper reaches of reasonableness". what did you mean? what did i mean by that? what i meant by that is that if you look at the tax status of gdp, we are getting to the highest levels that this country has achieved in its post—war history. one of the interesting things about taxation is that whatever levels you set, you don't seem to be able to get much more than a certain percentage of gdp in your total tax take, so that's what i meant by the upper levels of reasonableness. that you can make things balance partly through taxation but you can't do it exclusively through taxation. given that you won't tell me that you did call for this to be postponed in the cabinet — though i believe you did!
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— if the chancellor said, "i'm going to postpone this rise in national insurance," would you say, "for goodness�* sake, no, chancellor! "i mean, you must believe in sound money"? or, "quite right, we tories don't want to put up taxes "again" ? you are absolutely right — you set out the dilemma very clearly. we need to raise the tax to pay for the expenditure we have, and no individual tax is ever of itself popular, so it is a difficult choice for the chancellor but we do need to raise funds to pay for the extra 9 million scans to get rid of the backlog in the nhs and all of those sorts of things. crosstalk. but you wouldn't weep if he postponed it? well, i think governments have to have a set purpose and a clear course and we can't be buffeted by every wind so, i think it is important to recognise the need to raise the money that we are determined to spend. now, i quoted to you three years ago —
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was it four now? — that you had admirers on the opposite side of politics, people that didn't agree with you on anything, you were very different in background and style, people like the labour mp jess phillips. and one of the reasons she said she did like you — and i'm sorry to be the bringer of bad news — is she thought you were authentic, she thought you were honest in your views, and we asked her again what she thought, and she thought you had become a bit less honest since you have gone into government. do you accept that criticism? look, i never demur from political criticism — that is what one gets involved in if one goes into politics. i will simply say that if you are in government, your political opponents have a greater reason to disagree with you because you are representing the whole of government policy, rather than talking about individual things. sure, but let me give you an example.
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you said recently that a change of leader — conservative party leader — requires an election. you said it with all the authority of being the lord president of the council, the fourth greatest office. yes. where on earth does it say that you have to have an election if you change leader? well, i'm very — i mean, this is one of my pet subjects. i think — you know how our constitution evolves. it doesn't say all sorts of things. it doesn't say how the queen must choose the prime minister but we have conventions that are built up around it and i think — and, obviously, with constitutional issues, this is a discussion and it is an evolution rather than saying, "this is the law" — i think our constitution has evolved so that a prime minister almost certainly has to have an election to get the mandate. and this isn't some new thing i have said to defend borisjohnson. i actually said this in the debate on the second reading of the fixed—term parliaments act in 2010. and i think the evolution...
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crosstalk. but the difference there — forgive me — because i read the speech, was you were a backbencher. you are now speaking with the authority of a man who sees her majesty the queen i think on a monthly basis, don't you, as lord president of the council? well, the privy council normally meets monthly, yes. i mean, is it right to give us your opinion? you are perfectly entitled to do that, it is an interesting opinion, but should you give the opinion that you have had for many years with all the authority of being the man who speaks to her majesty the queen and claim that this has any weight at all? it is simply not the case, constitutionally, legally, in reality, that a change of leader requires an election. it didn't for margaret thatcher, it didn't for tony blair, it doesn't, full stop. well, i don't accept that. i think that when you look at gordon brown not having an election, that did him a great deal of harm. and this is part of the point. our constitution —
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i think you are seeing our constitution too legalistically, almost in an american way, whereas our constitution has an evolution and is subject to political pressures. post the gordon brown experience, i think the political pressure on a new prime minister to get a new mandate would be even bigger because the opposition would be saying constantly, "where is your mandate? "by what right do you have to make these decisions, "to push this through parliament? "by what right have you advised her majesty on who should "be your ministers?" "look what happened to gordon brown". and so... crosstalk. that's politics, though, isn't it, mr ress—mogg? i mean it is fine, you are perfectly entitled to that view. but our constitution is a political constitution. it is not a legal constitution. otherwise, we would have a codified constitution, which we don't. i hear that you have thought this for some time before this particular leadership crisis, but i think the reason people make the broader point i was putting to you that perhaps you say what suits you, rather than always
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being as authentic as sometimes you were seen to be, is also raised with another of your responsibilities when you are leader of the house, which is maintaining parliamentary standards. you were basically willing to rig the rules for a mate. sorry to put it crudely but owen paterson had clearly broken the rules, the system said he had broken the rules, the house of commons committee in charge said he had broken the rules, and you said, "well, let's just rewrite the rules, then!" look, i absolutely recognise that i got that wrong and i misjudged the mood of the house and of the british electorate. i'm afraid myjudgement was made purely and simply because i thought a man whose wife had committed suicide had been punished harshly enough, and that was it. and i'm sorry that i made a mistake and that i made things worse for owen, rather than better. but it is hard to think of a worse punishment for anybody. and that made me think the suspension was disproportionate and that influenced all my decision—making on that. it wasn't political calculation, it was human sympathy.
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and do you look back at the period you've had as leader and say mistakes were made? i mean, you were punished with ridicule, partly, but you might think worse than that, abuse, for being seen to loll on the green benches of the house of commons. do you regret that? well, that — unfortunately, that was very traditional. if you look at all that the splendid pictures of cabinet, historically, before the cameras came in, they were always there with their feet on the tables and so forth. i think there are some traditions that it is best not to attempt to revive. no more lolling! no more lolling. you've got plenty of admirers, it is partly myjob to remind you of people who are not your admirers, so robert harris... i've got plenty of non—admirers! forgive me quoting one then. some of them write to me! robert harris, the novelist, who is no supporter of yours
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or, indeed, of the conservative party — and he may well have been quoting someone else — but he said of you, "you are the barmaid's idea of a gentleman". i take that has a great compliment. why should i not be flattered if somebody working behind a bar thinks i'm a gentleman? but i love his books, i think they are absolutely terrific — particularly, his volumes on cicero. i think the one thing that he and others will wonder about when they write the history of this period is whether that phrase that is used by your opponents comes to define this government, and in some ways to define you, "one rule for them, another for anybody else". is that a serious worry? look, i could not be more strongly against that. i think that the rules apply equally to everybody and that is of fundamental constitutional importance. when you became leader
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of the house, it was reported that you asked your staff to avoid certain words and phrases. now, are there new words and phrases that are banned? i don't know if it is in your hearing or even documents you are given? there are some dreadfuljargon words that get reeled out. i particularly dislike people talking about doing things "at pace". why can't they just do them "quickly"? you must hear this when you are interviewing people but, every so often, some word or phrase starts being used by everybody and it gets very tiresome and one wants to drop those from both written and spoken language. what, meaningless phrases like "levelling up", then? do they get banned? "levelling up" is a brilliant phrase, one of my favourites. crosstalk. it is actually important because it underlines something that is happening across the country. it means redistributing wealth, does it, mr rees—mogg? no, it doesn't — it means giving people opportunity. it is nothing to do with redistributing wealth. we'll get you back for a third time on political thinking
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to explain. you're too kind. my least favourite is "going forwards" so we won't say that we look forward to you joining us "going fo rwa rd ". we'll just say "in the future". "going forward" is on my banned list as well. jacob rees—mogg, thank you very much indeed forjoining me on political thinking. thank you. it's a pleasure. well, there you have it. it is only if people buy jacob rees—mogg's argument that the row about parties has got all out of proportion, that many of the people pushing it are doing it because they are enemies of borisjohnson, the conservatives and, indeed, brexit, that he and johnson really believe that there isn't one rule for them and another for everyone else — if that argument wins, borisjohnson is secure. if not, he isn't. thanks forjoining me on political thinking.
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hello there. storm corrie continuing to bring some damaging gusts of winds during the overnight period and to start monday morning. met office warnings remain in force for strong winds across more eastern parts of the country and we'll also have an ice risk to start the day across northern scotland — some cold air digging in behind the storm as it moves out into the north sea. but you can see a real squeeze in the isobars still across eastern coastal parts of scotland, down towards the wash and norfolk, so the yellow warnings remain in force through this morning for further gusts of 50—60 mph. eventually, the strongest of the winds will pull away from the east coast, and then it'll leave a blustery day for all. after that icy start across northern scotland, temperatures will rise a little bit, but it's going to be one of sunshine and blustery showers. these showers again wintry over the hills of scotland, some of these showers also getting into parts of north west england, the midlands, wales
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and south west england. probably the best of any sunshine will be reserved for eastern england, but a fairly cool day to come and temperatures of 5—9 degrees — particularly when you factor in the strong north—west wind. as we move through monday night, we'll see a more substantial area of patchy rain pushing into western scotland, perhaps western wales, north west england, tending to stay drier across eastern areas, but it will turn a bit murkier because we're starting to import some milder airfrom the west. lows of 4—8 degrees. and you can see that here on the pressure and air mass chart. into tuesday, it's a lot milder. it's fairly strong winds again from the west but this air source coming in from the mid—atlantic. it will still be quite chilly and breezy across the far north of scotland, for the northern isles with showers here but elsewhere, some sunshine. more cloud for northern ireland, large parts of england and wales. could see a bit of murkiness, some drizzle over western hills, but it's the temperatures that'll be notable on tuesday — in the low teens celsius for many. wednesday's another mild day. rather murky again, rather cloudy, too. it'll be another breezy one. and those temperatures
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will range from around 11 to 13 degrees. then some changes as we move out of wednesday into thursday. this cold front spreads south—eastwards across the country and introduces much colder and fresher air, which will reach all areas by the end of friday. so temperatures will be coming down on thursday, particularly across the north. into friday, could see some wintry showers across northern areas, although we'll hold onto some dry weather in the south.
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welcome to bbc news. i'm david eades. our top stories. as the diplomatic stand—off continues, we report from the front—line in eastern ukraine, where government forces have been fighting russian backed separatists. and this is about more than the future of ukraine. it is about the future shape of nato, about the security of europe. battle lines are being drawn now in a new cold war. spotify responds to protests by some music stars and others by announcing it will act to combat covid disinformation. north korea is thought to have tested one of its most powerful ballistic missiles in years. the us urges pyongyang tojoin direct talks without preconditions. manchester united footballer mason greenwood has been
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arrested on suspicion of rape and assault


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