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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 10:33 GMT
An audience with Tony Blair
Tony Blair and the BBC's Robin Lustig
Mr Blair talked passionately about his beliefs

There's a rather fine staircase just inside 10 Downing Street's modest front door.

On the walls as you walk up are pictures of every British Prime Minister who has ever lived there.


He had no idea what to expect - and, to be honest, I thought he was just slightly hesitant as we started

The last time I was there was 23 years ago, just after Margaret Thatcher was first elected, and as I walked up that staircase again this afternoon, I noticed three photos that weren't there in 1979.

Jim Callaghan, the Labour Prime Minister whom Mrs Thatcher had just defeated, Mrs Thatcher herself, and John Major, defeated five years ago by Tony Blair, the man I'd come to see.

When, I wondered, would Mr Blair's picture go up?

They wait till the prime minister leaves office, and there's not much sign of him calling in the removal men just yet.

'Twin threats'

But how would he manage, fielding phone calls and emails from around the world, on every subject from Iraq to Zimbabwe?

He had no idea what to expect - and, to be honest, I thought he was just slightly hesitant as we started this unique tri-media (radio, TV, online) interactive programme.

But it didn't take him long to get into his stride, and within minutes he was talking passionately about the twin threats posed by Iraq and global terrorism.

Again and again, listeners asked: Why not deal with the terrorists first, and leave Iraq for later?

Again and again, Mr Blair insisted he could not take the risk. There were two risks, he said, and both must be dealt with.

But why was he always backing President Bush? Because Mr Bush is right, came the reply.

Doesn't he mind being called the US president's poodle? I don't mind what people call me, said the prime minister, I do what I believe to be right.

'Missionary'

Did he surprise me?

Yes, when he was asked about Africa.

There was real passion as he spoke of that continent's troubles. He sounded almost like a missionary, determined to find some way to help the people of Africa live better lives.

Brisk, utterly focused, steadfast in his determination to confront what he perceives to be evil, wherever it is.

And as for being anti-Muslim, well, the biggest military engagement he had authorised, he said, was in Kosovo, where British and other Nato troops intervened in 1999 to save ethnic Albanian Muslims from the forces of the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who just happened to be a Christian.

See also:

03 Dec 02 | Politics
21 Nov 02 | Politics
02 Sep 02 | Africa
04 Sep 02 | Politics
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