Election '97: Blair is a man I can totally believe in, like Gaitskell

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The Independent Online
How will you vote?

Labour. What I have seen of the campaign so far has impressed me, though I didn't need further convincing that I passionately want a Labour government, both because of the vision of Tony Blair and his colleagues, and also because I long for a competent government.

When we interviewed you in 1992, you were one of the few people who praised Mr Blair specifically.

Mr Blair himself is a man I feel I can totally believe in, rather as I used to believe in Gaitskell. I think he has a marvellous team. It looks very good to me.

Are you at all uneasy about Gordon Brown's pledge to stick to Conservative expenditure levels?

I think Gordon Brown is right to start with very careful policies. He will obviously have to find some additional taxes, even if not income taxes, in order to bring off the promised education committments. But I think that can be bound within present public expenditure figures.

In these areas I hope to see considerable changes in policy very quickly, certainly demanding more public expenditure. I think that there are possible savings in social services and defence, and that's what I'd be looking for: the brave changes in policy.

How have you viewed Conservative education policy over the last five years?

There's no doubt that education has become more of a priority, even for the current government; that's good news. I look to a Labour government to keep it as a top priority together with health. Mr Blair has promised that.

I want to end teacher-bashing, which has continued, even under the present Government, with regrettable backing from the inspectorate. This partly explains the appalling morale of the teaching profession.

When I was a boy in Berlin, my father said to me once: "If you're clever and able enough, you might get into schoolteaching". I long for the day when that can be said in Britain. Above all, we have an education system, after all these years which is for the top 10 to 20 per cent of children, perhaps the best in the world; and for the bottom 20 to 30 per cent, totally unacceptable.

The single overriding priority for Mr Blunkett and Mr Blair must be to improve the lot of under-achieving pupils and schools. That would cost quite a bit of money, so that's my big priority. Of course there are other priorities in my mind. Not least, I hope that Labour will give culture - as it should be callled - a deserved high priority.

Third is Europe: a government which is of one voice, moving us into Europe. I am a mid-European in origin, so I would say this. But I think we should stop being parochial and just be truly European. I would also like us to take more care of the Third World, with the appalling misery of millions of people there.

You said in 1992 that you were taking the opinion polls with a very large pinch of salt. Are you doing the same this time?

I had great doubts about the polls last time. I don't any more. They are very, very sophisticated now. I haven't the slightest doubt that Labour will win. I think it will be quite a big majority. Nor do I share the view of the sophisticated chattering class who say: "Oh, we hope it won't be too big a majority". I hope that it will be absolutely massive.

I long for a day when we don't have to think of Michael Howard, Mr Lilley, Mr Portillo, and Mr Redwood as our leaders. I just think they're not for our time.

There are some Conservatives who have more liberal and more sensible views; I greatly respect Kenneth Clark, Gillian Shepherd, and in some respects the Prime Minister, but some of these people I never want to see again. Unless they are in opposition - I think that will do them good.

You have no doubts about looking forward to 2 May?

No, I'm longing for it. The bigger the majority the better.