Tony Blair speaks to GMTV’s Fiona Phillips
Comment at end
19th August, 2008
[According to GMTV’s website, this interview with Mr Blair took place on 5th June, 2008. You’re in good company with your first remarks, Ms Phillips. It’ll take many of us longer than a year to accept that he is no longer prime minister. Interesting that he didn’t actually reply in a direct and definitive way to this:
“And Roger says, ‘Tony, is there any chance you can come back to power?’ Well?”
TB: Well those are the nice ones, there are probably a few others too, but yeah, well that is sweet of them.]
Fiona Phillips: Are you having many feel-good moments since you’ve left Number 10, Mr Blair? I nearly called you Prime Minister then.
Tony Blair: I’m probably having a few more than I had when I was there.
FP: Welcome, by the way.
TB: Thank you.
FP: We shall be speaking to you further later on…
– Break –
FP: Hello again, 11 minutes past eight – very special guest in the studio this morning, looking 10 years younger than you did a year ago.
TB: Thank you.
FP: You do. I know you’re not more rested, but perhaps a little less stress in your life?
TB: Well certainly it’s less stressful when you choose the things you want to do nowadays, which is different.
FP: Talking of which, we are going to speak about that now because the former Prime Minister has been spending a lot of time in the Middle East. Let’s just see what he’s been up to, in part, for the last year in his job as a peace envoy for the Middle East. Gloria De Piero travelled with him to Israel.
– VT –
FP: …And everyone wants to see him, well a lot of people do. We’ve had a lot of nice emails in this morning. Anne says, ‘Dear Tony, my daughter Sally and Lizzy and myself, Anne, simply want to say that in our opinion you were the best Prime Minister this country has ever known.’ Janet says, ‘I’ve missed Tony Blair, I felt that he was always led by his convictions – a strong person who could not be coerced into thinking he was wrong.’ And Roger says, ‘Tony, is there any chance you can come back to power?’ Well?
TB: Well those are the nice ones, there are probably a few others too, but yeah, well that is sweet of them.
FP: As you said – they were the nice ones. There’s more to come after the break, some nice, some not so nice, but whatever, Tony Blair is staying here for the next 10 minutes at least, we’ll see you soon.
– Break –
FP: Hello again, lovely to see you, 17 minutes past eight, Thursday morning, and can you believe it’s a year ago now that Tony Blair left Downing Street after a decade in office. He’s here with us now for his first live television interview on British television since standing down. Is it nice to be back?
TB: Yes, it’s great to be back here.
FP: At GMTV…that’s what I meant… on the old the old sofa…
TB: No, it’s good, yeah, and thank you for having me in.
FP: No, it’s a pleasure and as I said, we’ve had so much reaction. I’ve read you some of the good ones before the break. So inevitably, with the good, comes the bad. And the question that a lot of people are asking, put very articulately by Jane from Newbury – morning Jane – she says, ‘Tony Blair, I can’t believe you have dumped us with Gordon Brown. Explain yourself.’
TB: I think that’s a little harsh.
FP: Well I know…she said it in those words and a lot of people are not happy with what they’re seeing now.
TB: Yeah but, you know, one of the things I decided to do when I left the job and I…10 years as Prime Minster – it’s a tremendous job to do, but 10 years is a long time to do it. And I said when I left I was going to be 100 per cent supportive of Gordon and the Government and that’s what I continue to be, totally and completely. Because I know it’s a difficult job. I mean the one thing, you know, I would just say is that…
FP: But you didn’t make it look quite as difficult as it’s looking now. That’s the thing.
TB: Well, it’s tough for all leaders at the moment right around the Western world because they’ve got things that are happening that, to be fair, to them is not really their individual fault. I mean, you know, if you take the financial crisis or fuel prices, these are things that are being driven by world events. So it is tough at the moment, but, you know, I continue to give them my full support and I hope they succeed and do well and I want them to.
FP: But do you think he realised how tough it was while he was hanging the keys over your head waiting for you to go?
TB: He’d been Chancellor for 10 years and a very successful Chancellor, so I’m sure he knew it was going to be tough and it is tough. The great difference with what I do now and I what I did then is that now I can choose what I want to do. So, you know, I’m doing…out in the Middle East obviously, I’m doing a project on climate change, something on Africa, I’ve got my foundations about bringing people of different religious faiths to work together and live together better. And I choose those things. But when you’re Prime Minister, you sit there and literally there’s half a dozen things happened that you don’t expect every day and you’ve got to take a decision on them. And when you take a decision some people get disappointed by it. It’s, you know, it is a tough job and I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who take it on.
FP: Judith from Swansea says, ‘How long before you resigned and handed your responsibilities over to Gordon Brown, did you know that you would be handing him the problems of the credit crunch – with your legacy of liberalism to banks?’ She says, ‘That has caused it’.
TB: Yeah… I think…you see, I think this, in a way, explains what the difficulties are because there may be many things that have caused the credit crunch, but to be absolutely frank, it originated out in the – what we now call the ‘sub-prime mortgage’ crisis in the United States of America – and it spreads then around the world and that’s the world we live in today. And I think the thing that’s fascinating…
FP: There is a report out this morning though that criticises Mr Brown’s loose handling of the economy whilst he was Chancellor.
TB: Yeah, but I’m sure he’ll get a lot of reports criticising him. He’s actually probably the most successful Finance Minister in the world for a decade – which is not a bad record. And, you know, again, what you notice when… I spend quite a lot of time out of the country rather than in it now, and I see different parts of the world and what you just realise is how integrated the world economy is. In other words, if something happens in one part of the world, it affects what happens in another. And the other things that you’ve got, which I think people here and in America actually don’t quite understand at the moment, is the rise of China. And remember the population of China grows every year by roughly the population of the whole of the UK, right? I mean China will build more power stations in the next decade than probably roughly the whole of Europe built since the war. You’re talking about a massive expansion of the economy out in the East – India too becoming a very powerful country. These are…you know, got populations of over a billion people.
Andrew Castle: So are we to forget human rights though? I mean, is that no longer an issue?
TB: No, we’re not to forget Human Rights at all – they’re very, very important. But we are to understand that a lot of the pressures that are operating on countries like Britain today – and you kind of see this when you’re on the outside…
FP: But, when you’re struggling to pay your mortgage, fill your car up, go down the supermarket – those matters, frankly, don’t even enter people’s minds. They’re not thinking about China and power stations, they’re thinking I can’t pay my mortgage…
TB: No, absolutely, they’re not. They’re thinking I used to…it used to cost 30 quid to fill up my car and now it’s 60 or 70.
FP: Yeah… ‘And when that nice Mr Blair was in, it was all so different’…
TB: That’s not quite what people used to say when I was there.
FP: Yeah, I know, and still some of them aren’t this morning.
TB: And that’s the thing too… so…
FP: Here’s a question from John, good morning to you John. He says, ‘Who would you rather be at the moment? Gordon Brown or David Cameron? Please be totally honest Mr Blair,’ says John.
TB: Well actually I’m very…John – I’m very happy being Tony Blair, if you don’t mind me saying so. I don’t think I’ve got to choose to be somebody else.
FP: You think Cameron puts on a good show, don’t you? I mean he is a master performer, he’s ‘Tory Blair’ as a lot of people call him.
TB: Yeah, but you know, opposition is opposition, and it’s a lot easier than Government, let me just put it like that and I’ve been through both experiences. So, you know, as I say, I don’t get myself involved in the domestic political scene now, I think that’s…I’m best to leave those that know more about it and are involved in it day to day. And as I said, I probably spend more time out in the politics of the Middle East than I ever thought I would, but it’s fascinating and very difficult.
FP: Let’s talk about the Middle East. Jilly from Amersham has said, ‘Please Fiona ask Mr Blair how he sleeps at night? Our boys are still at war. Our country is rapidly going down the pan. It should be called “Hard Labour”, not “New Labour”’ That’s Jilly’s point, what about it? Well you brought up the Middle East now, you’re a peace envoy for the Middle East, which in a lot of people’s eyes, seems a rather ironic juxtaposition bearing in mind the war.
TB: I spend, you know, a lot of time out in the Middle East now. A lot of it’s with the Palestinians, but I’m very conscious of the fact we’ve still got conflict in Iraq, in Lebanon and actually right around the region there’s a massive battle going on between people who are descent people, and there’s the majority incidentally who want peace and who want peaceful coexistence, and then the people that use terrorism and extremism. And actually it’s important, wherever that battle is being waged, that we stand up for the descent people, and that’s what our soldiers and doing – very bravely and very well – in Iraq, in Afghanistan. It’s what actually we should be doing in Palestine to help the Palestinians get a state. We should be doing it in Lebanon to help them save their democracy. You know, there’s a lot going on there and it’s all part of the same picture to me. And so…you know, I think it’s important we’re engaged in these things.
FP: What can you do…feasibly do at the moment though to move that process along the way when George Bush is a bit of lame duck President now isn’t he, with only a year to go? Do you think someone like Barack Obama would be a good tool to have in that process?
TB: Well I think the interesting thing about the American President is that he’s got the power right up until the day he leaves. And if you remember the Northern Ireland peace process really finally came into being…
FP: Which, by the way, we’ve had a lot of thank you texts and emails…
TB: Oh, thank you, yeah. But, you know, that was the month before I left. And so you can make this work at any point in time, provided we put enough energy and commitment into it. And I just tell you – I know it’s a long way away from this country and it seems such a strange dispute to be sitting here talking about – between the Israelis and the Palestinians – but if we were able to resolve that dispute, and resolve it the way we did Northern Ireland, it would make probably, the single biggest difference to peace in the Middle East and peace between the world of Islam and the world of the West than anything else could do.
FP: And you’re the man to do it?
TB: Well, I’m going to try.
FP: Now, let’s talk about family life. Do you get more time for family life now?
TB: It is a bit of a sore point actually because I’m spending a lot of time out of the country.
FP: That poor Cherie – she has to hold the fort together while you’re doing these activities.
TB: I know, I know. So its…No I should…I’m going to have to try and rebalance actually, in the next year. But in a way I wanted…you know, when I left, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d feel about leaving. You know, I’d prepared to leave it obviously. And so in a way, it’s been quite a good thing for me to spend most of my time out of the country – most of my time not thinking about domestic politics. I mean, you and I have been talking about this now – it’s been the first time I’ve really talked about that since I left. But I think in the next year I’ve got to do a bit of rebalancing – the work, the family.
FP: Did you read Cherie’s book?
TB: Yeah of course, yeah.
FP: What did you think?
TB: No, I think it’s a really good read and it tells the story of a remarkable woman who I love and adore, so…I’m a bit biased on it.
FP: Yeah, did you not think she was a bit indiscrete in places.
TB: You know…I mean, it’s a bit of fun and it’s lively and it’s well meant and actually if you read the whole thing, I think it sets it in context nicely.
FB: It’s very funny because I often wondered, because, you know, Cherie’s honest – she’s very direct, she says it as it is. And I often wondered if, when she got home, you said, ‘Why don’t you keep your mouth shut? And why have you been saying that’, and I know that….
TB: Certainly not, what an extraordinary suggestion…
FB: Now I’ve read the book I know in fact you did.
TB: Well, it’s a …but I prefer living with someone like that, if you see what I mean…you would know from time to time…yeah…
FB: Yeah, you like the challenge don’t you.
TB: Well it’s not…you know I….look, when your….the trouble with being a politician is that you end up getting so programmed to be careful – but if you’re not careful, you actually end up being programmed to be inhuman, you know. So that you’re always thinking, ‘How do I avoid answering the question because if I answer it, someone’s going to trip me up and put me on a headline.’
FP: Yeah… ‘If I answer it honestly someone’s going to twist it the other way.’ I know you do answer honestly but….
AC: Do you ever feel that you missed out, family wise, because you gave those 10 years as Prime Minister. I mean you actually had a child while you were at Downing Street for goodness sake. I mean it’s an amazing commitment isn’t it?
TB: Yes, now I feel for the older children, funnily enough, more than with Leo in a way. I feel that I should have and would have wanted to have devoted more time to them, so that’s…but they seem OK with it.
AC: They’re OK?
TB: They are, they’re doing well and they’re very generous to me about it. But I feel that myself sometimes, that I…that it would have been better to have spent more time with them. And I think…the thing is about…also one of the things you learn as your children get older, is that you kind of think, you know, once they get into their late teens and early twenties, you don’t have to bother about it anymore and the problem just changes. And so you’re always worried about them and I think there’s nothing more difficult than being a parent, I really do. Even being Prime Minister actually.
FP: And it’s hard holding it down when you’ve both got huge jobs and all the stuff that that brings with it. The book – is that in the pipeline?
TB: It’s in my head – it’s got to be written.
FP: You don’t like computers though do you?
TB: I am now on the computer.
FP: Oh I say…
TB: Yeah, I’ve got…I’m on the computer, I’ve got a Blackberry – I’m completely hopeless with it still though. I mean if it goes wrong for single moment I have to go and start shrieking for help. But no, I’m learning – I do texts and emails and yeah….it’s quite interesting.
FP: Good. Alright, well it’s been lovely to see you this morning. Nice to hear that you’re enjoying life and it is a bit less stressful, and thanks so much for coming in.
TB: Thank you for having me.
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