BuzzFeed News: Good evening and welcome to the first ever BuzzFeed Brews in the UK. I’m Jim Waterson, the deputy editor of BuzzFeed UK, and I’m delighted to announce that in association with Facebook we’ve got the prime minister, David Cameron, here tonight.
David Cameron: Glad to be here.
So what we’re going to do is to talk about the 50 days to go until the campaign. We just want to know what’s going on, and in particular today we’ve got a story about the fact that Grant Shapps, who is running the campaign, has admitted that while he was an MP he was selling titles such as Stinking Rich 3. What do you make when you are talking to Grant about that? Don’t you think it’s a bit weird?
DC: Well, what’s happened here is that Grant did have another job when he first became an MP, and he declared that on the Register of Members’ Interests, which is what you’re meant to do, but he obviously made a mistake by saying in some interviews that the work had stopped earlier than it had, but he put that right and I think we can put that behind me. He does a very good job, it’s a very good campaign, we’re getting a lot of people involved in this campaign, and it is an absolutely vital election for our country. It’s a fork in the road and we’re going to spend the next 50 days really talking about the issues.
When you are standing there at PMQs and talking across to Ed Miliband, who is a guy who’s a similar age to you, he’s got a similar sort of background, you say things like “the despicable Ed Miliband”. Do you really think that is the sort of campaign that you want to be fighting?
DC: Well, Prime Minister’s Questions is, I have to admit, a high-octane occasion. It can be pretty robust stuff on both sides, and he’s thrown some, there are some pretty rough things at me. The point I was making is I think in not ruling out a deal or pact or support from the Scottish National party means the Labour party is effectively saying, “We’re trying to ride to power on the back of a party that wants to break up our country,” and I don’t think that is acceptable. The SNP isn’t just any old party, they are a party that thinks our country, the United Kingdom, shouldn’t exist, and so I think it is despicable frankly not to say “There is no dealing with them that we’re going to do”, and he’s not saying that and that’s what I talked about in the House of Commons when we had that lively exchange.
Last time you ran a positive campaign and were talking about change. This time round you are going negative.
DC: No, I don’t accept that at all. I think we are having the most positive possible campaign. We’re saying that what we’ve done in Britain in the last five years has completely turned our economy round. We had the biggest budget deficit in Europe, we had really high unemployment, an economy that wasn’t growing, and because of the positive things we’ve done we’ve now got the fastest-growing economy of the major economies in the Western world, we have created a thousand jobs every day we were in office, we’ve got the deficit down by half as a share of our economy, and our election message is: “Keep us on track and we will deliver really positive things for this country.” It is a totally positive campaign about delivering security for individuals, for families, for our country; that’s what it’s about.
We’ve got the political speech.
DC: Well, you’re going to hear it a lot more times in the next 50 days!
So why are you afraid to do that speech and talk to people in the debate format?
DC: I think we should have debates.
OK, what the current offer is, if it is held within the next 10 days with the six party leaders invited then you’ll do it?
Well, we’ve got a fantastic venue here, you could come back in a week’s time, we could invite the six other party leaders – how about it?
DC: Good, it sounds like a great idea. I’ve said we should have a multi-party debate before the campaign gets underway, and I’ll tell you why I think that’s important, I’ll be very frank about it. I think debates are good, I think the broadcasters have wasted a lot of time not organising them because I said three years ago, “Let’s have them before the campaign starts.” Why? I’ll tell you why. The last election we spent all the time in TV studios preparing for debates, analysing debates, conducting debates. We barely got round the country, we barely discussed the issues that people…
So if we came back here in a week’s time with the other party leaders you’d be up for it?
DC: Yes, I’m up for a debate, I’m up for a multi-party debate. Whether it’s you, whether it’s another digital debate or it’s the TV broadcasters, that matters less to me than having a multi-party debate before the campaign gets underway. Everyone has got to agree to it, but I have said very clearly, “A multi-party debate before the campaign, where do I sign?”
How much has the way of campaigning changed in the time that you’ve been leader? Right now there will be people on Twitter analysing every single thing you’re saying, what you’re wearing – they’ll be poking fun of it in some cases.
DC: Surely not! I think it has changed massively, but what still matters is actually the substance of what’s the right team to run the country, who’s got the right ideas. There are lots of ways of communicating and we have got to make sure we use all of those, but the fundamentals of an election campaign, which is it’s a choice between competing teams with competing ideas for the country, that’s still the same.
So, no one apart from seemingly the Labour or Tory leaderships thinks there’s going to be a majority government after May 7?
DC: I don’t necessarily agree with that. There are some forecasters, there are some experts who say there could be majorities either way. I think one thing that hasn’t changed in election campaigns is that journalists – even those on new media outlets –would rather talk about the process and what happens after the outcome than actually the choice and the policies.
So is there anyone on your team currently planning for the possibilities that come with a hung parliament?
DC: No, because for the next 50 days…
But that’s completely preposterous! You’ve got 50 days to go and you aren’t even considering what might happen after the event?
DC: Look, I’ve run a coalition government for the last five years. I think it’s been a good and effective government, we have sorted out some of the most fundamental problems this country faces. People know that I will take the steps that are in the national interest but I think I am perfectly entitled as the leader of a political party to say that I will spend the next 50 days fighting for a majority government. We are only 23 seats short of a majority government. Look, if I fall short, if I don’t make it, I’ll come back on BuzzFeed, I promise, and I’ll tell you what I’m going to do next, but for the next 50 days I’m not going to talk about the what-ifs and the wherefores and the what might happen, I’m going to fight really hard for a majority government.
But isn’t that essentially deceiving the public by pretending that something is going to happen when there is almost no chance of it happening?
DC: I don’t accept that. I’ve got to win 23 more seats to get a majority. I have a very effective team of MPs campaigning very hard, asking to be re-elected on the basis of the work they’ve done, and I’ve got to win 23 more seats to get a majority. Now I think I am perfectly entitled to spend 50 days arguing why that’s good, why a Conservative majority government would be better than coalition, and I think actually if we are talking about people getting a fair choice, my argument is that if you elect a majority government you have got a manifesto, you can hold us to our promises. If we get another coalition, deals have to get done inevitably behind closed doors and people don’t get exactly what they voted for, and I think people are ready for a majority government: They like the decisiveness, they like the accountability, and I’m going to fight for that pretty hard.
So we asked our readers on Facebook, they are people mainly aged 18 to 34, and one of the issues that comes back again and again was housing, and that they don’t feel they will either ever be able to afford rents that are going up or ever be able to afford anything to buy. Do you recognise there is a housing crisis going on in this country?
DC: Yes, there is, we’re not building enough houses. Basically, every decade since the 1960s we’ve built less houses and we need to do better. Now we’re making some quite big steps. We have totally reformed the planning system and we got rid of thousands of pages. There is now a 50-page planning framework. We are building more houses this year than last year and the year before. The Help to Buy programme, which has helped many young people, 88,000 young people into…
That is dealing with boosting demand for housing.
DC: It’s not, with respect I really think that’s wrong. I talk to the housebuilders, I go out and look at the sites where they are building these houses, and they tell me Help to Buy is actually making them build out faster. They’re building more flats, they’re building more houses for the very simple reason that the builders won’t build the houses if the buyers can’t buy them, and lots of people watching this either here or at home will be very familiar with the problem. They’ve got a decent job, they’ve got a decent salary, with their partner, husband, or wife, they could probably afford the mortgage payments but they couldn’t get the deposit together, so what Help to Buy does is to loan them the 5 or 10% deposit rather than the 30% deposit that the banks were saying they need.
Aren’t there winners and losers in this? When you see those headlines on the front pages, that house prices are going up and up and up, do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing?
DC: I don’t want house prices to accelerate out of control. What I want to see is responsible levels of house prices and to make sure they are under control. What the Bank of England have said, and they are as it were the arbiter of this, they’ve said that Help to Buy has not caused irresponsible house price inflation. They’ve been very clear about that because Help to Buy is leading to more housebuilding taking place. Now the next thing we’re going to do is build starter homes for sale…
But starter homes can be worth up to £450,000 in London, I mean that is an enormous amount.
DC: Well, the average house price in London is £500,000, so around the rest of the country these house prices… These will be built for 80% of the market value, so they are reserved for people under the age of 40. They can’t be bought by buy-to-let landlords, they can’t be bought by property investors, they can only be bought by people under the age of 40 who want a home of their own, and so being able to build flats for £100,000 or more, houses for under £200,000 that young people can buy is a really good policy.
What is an affordable home then?
DC: Well, an affordable home to me, it sounds like a tautology, an affordable home is someone who works hard, has got a reasonable job, a reasonable income – it’s a home that they can afford to buy.
DC: Well, it depends where you live, it depends what your salary is. I think of my constituency in West Oxfordshire – I know what people have to earn to be able to get say a flat for £150–160,000 and the truth of the matter is you won’t get more affordable housing unless you build more homes, we need to build more homes and that’s what starter homes, that’s what Help to Buy, that’s what the planning reform is all about. I don’t want to be a country where the age of the typical homeowner is getting older and older, which has been happening in recent years, and where home ownership has been in decline. I want the reverse of that.
There is an issue, there is the theory that during the last five years, wages for young people have gone down in real terms, pensioner benefits such as pensions, TV licences, bus passes keep going up and up and are protected. Whose side are you on in this debate?
DC: I’m on the side of all of the British people young and old.
So why is it always the pensioners that keep benefiting?
DC: I don’t think that’s right at all. First of all I would argue that most young people want to make sure that their grandparents have a comfortable retirement. When you are a pensioner you can’t change your circumstances, you can’t suddenly dart back to work and adjust your life, so there are people in our country who have the dignity and security of retirement in old age, so we have the triple lock on the pension. It always goes up by earnings, prices, or 2.5%, and the pension will be £145, £146 a week. I think that’s what our pensioners deserve and I think young people watching this would say “That’s what I want for my grandfather or grandmother” and that’s why we have protected pensioner benefits. Now for young people the most important thing is a job, and we have created a thousand jobs every day we’ve been in office and it is simply not true to say they are all part-time jobs or low-paid jobs or zero-hours contracts, that is not true. Zero-hours contracts are 2% of jobs in our country and that is 1 in 50, and so you’ve got many people who are now able to get a decent, well-paid job, and of course we have cut people’s taxes because you don’t pay tax until you start earning over £10,000 in Britain.
Earlier this year you talked about how you didn’t want to have any encrypted messaging service that the security services couldn’t access.
DC: I didn’t actually say that. Should I actually explain what I said…
Those were the words you used.
DC: They were not the words I used, I’ll tell you exactly what I said, and I’m going to take a bit of time over this if you’ll forgive me because when you are prime minister your first responsibility is the nation’s security and trying to combat the terrorism that we face.
Now in this country as in many other countries there has always been the ability, if the home secretary signs a legal warrant, to intercept your communications. So that used to be steaming open a letter between terrorists and reading it, it used to be being able to listen to a fixed-line phone call or a mobile phone call. The point I was making is we shouldn’t sit back and just say it’s OK for there to be certain unregulated spaces on the internet where terrorists can talk to each other, we should be working with the companies – hang on, hang on – to try and make sure that we can, in extremis with the signature of the home secretary on the warrant, try to find out what those communications are. Now I think that is sensible, I think it is reasonable, I think the overwhelming majority of the British people will say, “Yes of course, I don’t want them routinely reading my emails or listening to my calls, but if there is a suspicion of terrorist activity I want the government to be able to keep this country safe.”
So you’re not a WhatsApp or Snapchat user yourself?
DC: I am not a Snapchat user myself, no. The thing about any of these technologies is that you should be having a conversation with them to try and make sure there is not a safe space for terrorists to communicate with each other, because if there is then we are going to be at greater risk.
You once said, forgive my language, “Too many tweets make a twat.” Is that still your view?
DC: When I said that, and it was not particularly advisable at the time I said that, the point I was making is that politicians, we are judged by what we say and we should always try and think carefully before we say something, and the danger with Twitter is that you just loose off your opinion, often late at night.
Do you tweet yourself?
DC: I have a Twitter account and I tweet but I don’t actually…
Have you seen the sort of things that people say about you on it?
DC: I have a little bit, yes.
What do you think about that?
DC: Well, you have got to take the rough with the smooth with this job! But the point I was making about “Too many tweets…” is you have got to think before you speak in politics, and there is a danger with Twitter, and I think it has been borne out by events, I mean some people have got themselves into the most unbelievable trouble by tweeting a picture or some words without thinking first what they’re doing.
So do you have a personal email address that you use outside of work?
Do you ever worry about the security risks of it?
DC: Yes, yes I do. I think you have to be very alert to all these things but if you refer back to the earlier conversation, I use Gmail and things like that, I have used email accounts for friends and stuff, but I have a government… I have an iPhone which is mostly for family and friends, and I have a BlackBerry which I use for work. A BlackBerry is very good for email.
You must be the last person using a BlackBerry!
DC: Well, the government has a sort of BlackBerry service, and they are very good for emails actually, good for emails and documents.
And one of the filter things that you brought in while prime minister is this requirement that when you sign up for a new internet service nowadays you have to opt in for certain corners on the internet involving certain material…
DC: Yes, that’s good.
Have you opted in at Downing Street?
DC: Now when you set up your account the filter is automatically on and we confirm they should be automatically on. I’ve got three children of primary-school age and they find out the code on your iPad pretty quickly, and it is reassuring to know… I think the government has done some very good things on this. I think actually having filters switched on is good, and going back to the other conversation, what we’ve managed to achieve with the internet companies and stopping child abuse online has been genuinely groundbreaking. They said to us originally, “You cannot do anything about this, you can’t have search terms that don’t return results,” and we said, “You have got to be able to do that, how can you have people searching on the internet for disgusting illegal acts and return searches?” To start with they said, “That’s free speech,” and we said, “No, you can’t…” Now, to be fair to them, Google and others have banned 40,000 search terms, not just in Britain but around the world and that is restricting child pornography and child abuse online, and that is a really good thing.
So, one issue some of the parents in the office brought up: Do you let your children have mobile phones with unfettered access to the internet?
DC: No, I don’t. My daughter has got an iTouch but everything is quite strictly controlled in terms of screen time. We have filters on and I think for things like my iPad that I’ve got in Downing Street, but this is a conversation that every parent in the country is having with their children, what age should they be when they can have a Facebook account or when they can have unfettered access to a mobile phone. We have got an 11-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a 4-year-old, so we’re not at that stage yet.
Talking of families, in east London three girls go off from Bethnal Green, go off to join apparently ISIS in Syria. Do you think they are criminals or victims?
DC: I think they are deeply misguided and are potentially going to join a criminal organisation which could make them part of a criminal or terrorist conspiracy.
Should we welcome them back then?
DC: Well, we want to get them back and try to get this radical nonsense out of their heads. It is unbelievably depressing that in our country, which is a brilliant free country with a free press, the rule of law, democracy, great opportunity, that people from an outstanding school in Greenwich can opt to go and join a death cult in Syria that believes in throwing gay people off buildings and cutting people’s heads off in the desert is deeply depressing and we should be pretty worried about this as a country and do everything we can, not just stopping people from going but also to stand up for the values that we build in our country, where actually our system is so much better than this appalling death cult in Syria and Iraq.
The boys who went out there and were stopped that was on the news today, should we welcome them back? I mean, they’ve been arrested and put on bail whereas we’re telling the three girls who went out there, they’d be welcomed back.
DC: Look, when people have been trying to travel to this country to take part in ISIS which is reportedly, allegedly what these boys were doing, they were effectively taking part in a criminal terrorist conspiracy, so when they come back it is right that they are arrested and questioned and all the rest of it, but if you are asking me is the only response a criminal justice one, of course not. You have got to have deradicalisation programmes, you have got to have programmes to try and turn people away from this stuff, but at the tougher end you have got to say yes, we’ve got to be able if necessary to try people, convict them, and send them to prison.
Today we’ve seen Vladimir Putin pop back up. Do you think it would be better if he had just gone away in some form? Would you prefer to see a regime change in Russia, do you think that would be good?
DC: Look, you have to deal with what you’ve got. There is no contradiction in having a relationship with Putin where you can discuss these things but also taking a very tough approach to sanctions in the Ukraine as we’ve done. You don’t have to be a brilliant historian to know that in Europe, messing with countries’ borders, messing with their self-determination, their ability to choose their own futures, this is extremely dangerous and that’s why I think it is important to stand up to Putin. We have these tough sanctions because it’s Ukraine today, it could be one of the Baltic states tomorrow, and other countries in the future.
You are not putting boots on the ground. You are not willing to even threaten Putin with any military action.
DC: I don’t think there is a military solution but there is an economic one, which is broadly speaking the European Union and America together are economically hugely powerful. Russia needs us more than we need Russia and so we should make the power of our economic relationship play here and say, “Look, if Russia wants to be part of the 21st-century world where we respect other countries’ boundaries, fine, we can have a full on trading and diplomatic relationship.” If Russia is trying to opt out of part of the 21st century so that they destabilise Ukraine, then they shouldn’t expect the other benefits of being part of the 21st century in terms of free trade and exchange of information and ideas and all the rest of it.
You are coming to the end of a five-year term where you could end your time as prime minister in around 50 days’ time.
DC: Thank you for reminding me.
Do you think you have presided over the death of two-party politics in your time in power?
DC: I don’t think we had two-party politics at the start – we had a third party that was on a pretty sizable share of the vote. We have had a sort of two-and-a-half-party system for a while in Britain. We are about to see in this election whether these other parties, what these other parties amount to. I think there is a pretty clear choice as we get close to the election that there is one party and that party can deliver strong, competent, capable government, and I think when you look at the other parties there is a huge amount of risk there – what is the price that the SNP or UKIP or Liberals or Greens would extract from a Labour government – so I think there is a very clear choice and we’ll see on election night just how strong those two parties are and what else happens.
And is there one issue that you really feel that in that five-year term you wish you had dealt with more decisively than you have?
DC: There are lots of things I would like to have done even more, but I think this government came into being at a time of economic crisis and that was the task and the task was get the economy moving, get the deficit down, get the country back to work. That was the job and all the other things, things like reforming our schools, reforming our welfare system, I am proud of what we’ve done but the key task was fix the economy.
One thing that you did get through was same-sex marriage. Now, some of our readers have been in touch and they see the next banner ground being trans rights and doing more for people in that situation. What do you think the government can do to help? Do we need to take a bolder stance on trans rights?
DC: I think we need to look at what the issues are and the specific issues of discrimination and the problems that trans people have, I think that’s important. I think one of the most important things is what happens in our schools and combating bullying in our schools, particularly homophobic, biphobic, and other forms of bullying in our schools. That was one of the reasons I become so convinced about gay marriage. I think it is only when a society says that marriage is there for everybody whether you’re straight or gay, it’s a great institution, I’m a big believer in marriage, if we can make that point and ending this idea that it is fair to criticise people or do down people because of their sexuality.
You have always struggled to get more women on to your frontbench.
DC: We’re getting there.
Do you think it would be good to say that if the Conservatives win the next election that by 2020 you would have 50/50 female/male cabinet ministers?
DC: I think 50/50…
Ed Miliband has managed it, Nicola Sturgeon has managed it.
DC: What I said last time is I wanted a third of ministers in a Conservative government to be women, and in Conservative cabinet ministers we are now right up there at over 30%. We have the Liberal Democrats in government with us and they have fewer women ministers and MPs than we do, but I think 50% would be difficult to get to by 2020 but if you look at the candidates we’re selecting, including candidates in replacement seats, Conservative-held seats, I think over 33% are women candidates. When I became leader there were 17 women MPs, and I think there were about 50 last time. We are going to see another increase at the next election.
One of the women who was promoted was Nicky Morgan, and you essentially had to sack Michael Gove, who has been one of your longest allies. What is it like when you have to do that?
DC: I didn’t sack Michael Gove, what I did is… I don’t think people understand but if you are a party leader or prime minister, one of the most important people in your life, let alone your job, is your chief whip and I asked Michael to do a job that I knew he’d do really well, which was to be chief whip, and that’s the job he is doing extremely well. Look, the education reforms that Michael Gove put in place, the Academy schools, the free schools, the high standards of discipline, setting really high standards of exams and GCSEs, all of those continue. There has been no watering down of the agenda that Michael Gove and I worked on during the years of opposition.
So what sort of campaign is this going to be? How on earth are you going to stop this becoming you just repeating the words “long-term economic plan” endlessly at a series of events?
DC: I’m not sure I’ve said it? Have I said “long-term economic plan”? There we are, I’ve said it now. Look, this plan is not some dry and dusty words on a page…
But that is what some of your frontbench spokesmen have been saying to the press – they are bored of this rigid message discipline.
DC: The point is that what it’s about is securing someone a job, saying you can keep more of your money to spend as you choose, to be able to own the house that you dream of, have a good school place for your child, having dignity in retirement. It is basically being able to live a good life in this country, make a success of your life in this country. That’s why I go back to the economy because if you don’t have a strong economy you don’t have a strong health service, you don’t have good schools, you don’t have a strong society; it’s the core to all the other things we want to achieve as a country, and if that’s boring, I plead guilty.
So I think just towards the end we can go through a few quickfire things just to get your instant reaction. So the big political question at the moment: In your family home, how many kitchens do you have?
DC: In our home we actually had to extend into the basement and we put in an extra kitchen, but that was because I had a very disabled son, Ivan, and his carers were there and they looked after him a lot and so we did that for them as well as for him. But the point is not whether you’ve got two kitchens, but whether you have a photo call in one of them and pretend it’s your kitchen – that’s the issue, isn’t it?
And you’re a Game of Thrones fan. Which character do you feel you are most like?
DC: That is an impossible question to answer. Ned Stark, I love Sean Bean, I was a big fan of Sharpe and if you have – switch off now if you haven’t finished series one – but I couldn’t believe they would get a star as big as that and… Let’s put it this way, he doesn’t make it all the way through.
Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband?
DC: Nick Clegg.
OK, Ed Miliband or David Miliband?
DC: I don’t really know either of them that well. I’m hoping to form a government without either of them.
Do you ever sneak out of Downing Street in the evening and try and lose your security detail and for once try and feel a little bit free?
DC: No, because they are trained killers and they’ll catch up with me pretty fast.
Your favourite current Aston Villa player?
DC: I’ll go for Benteke because he’s been so valuable the last few years.
When did you last have dinner with a Conservative party donor?
DC: Probably about a week ago. I do a lot of fundraising and I’m not ashamed of that because we don’t have a system of taking taxpayers’ money and spending it on party campaigns. We have to go out and raise the money, and I don’t have the trade unions who give Labour about £40 million a year, we have to raise every penny, so yes, I do go out and raise money from people who feel the country will be better off with the Conservatives.
And what would you be doing if you were not prime minister? What is the one thing you would move on and do?
DC: I’m not going to think about that because I’ve got 50 days to fight a vital election, I want to win the election. I think this government is doing some good things for this country, and I want to keep on doing that. If the country’s choice is to turf me out and go for the other guy I’ll have to think of something else, but I hope I’ll still be a member of parliament. I love serving my constituents, I love politics, I love public service, I think it’s what I care about, it’s a vocation for me, and so in the unhappy event I’m not prime minister on May 8, the people of West Oxfordshire I hope will stick with me and I’ll stick with them.
Thank you very much, prime minister.
DC: Thank you. Was that half an hour? It whizzed by.