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Page last updated at 12:54 GMT, Sunday, 13 November 2011

Transcript Tony Blair interview

PLEASE NOTE "THE ANDREW MARR SHOW" MUST BE CREDITED IF ANY PART OF THIS TRANSCRIPT IS USED

ANDREW MARR:

As we discussed in the paper review earlier, most economists now believe that the future of the Euro remains in the balance at last. The leaders of the two countries under most pressure - Greece and Italy - have now both been forced out; but whether the stronger economies will move fast enough and commit enough money to shore up the system remains uncertain. A few minutes ago, I asked Tony Blair how serious this current crisis is.

TONY BLAIR:

I think it's the biggest challenge for Europe since it began actually, since the European Union began. I think there's never been a tougher time to be a leader than right now. I think the decisions are immensely difficult, but they've got to be taken because failure to take the decisions is also a form of decision with consequence. So I think right now for the single currency, it's absolutely essential if it is to be preserved, that the whole weight of Europe, its institutions come behind it. And I think you've got to have a long-term framework of credibility behind any short-term decision, and that means I have to say in respect of monetary union you've got to have some measure of strong fiscal coordination alongside monetary union and you've got to have major reforms to the European social model and the European budget. Now if you put that long-term framework in place, there is at least a far better chance of stabilising the short-term situation.

ANDREW MARR:

This leads to a democratic question, of course. We've got two countries now with in effect bankers brought in to run the countries, or economists at least, and the criticism was always that you couldn't have a single currency without there being a single economy and certainly elements of the old super state - the phrase that was used - and that this was fundamentally undemocratic. This is what we're bumping up to now, isn't it?

TONY BLAIR:

Yeah, look the problem always was … I mean I used to say people the politics of the single currency and actually for Britain being part of it were absolutely clear. It was the economics that were the problem. Because if you put the economies together, they have to align …

ANDREW MARR:

Yuh.

TONY BLAIR:

… and really what's happened is that in a sense the myth that the Italian and German economies were the same …

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

TONY BLAIR:

… that ten year myth has now evaporated. So what you've got to do now - and I think really this is why people are bringing in these types of leaders - is they're saying look, I'm not interested in Left and Right and you know who's to blame and who's not to blame. I simply want it sorted. So this then leads to a question that is in a sense okay, what is the right answer to this? I mean leave aside whatever issues we have about how we got into this. How do we get out of it? And you know the fact is, I'm afraid, the choices are very, very difficult and very painful. They're painful if we take the measures necessary to stabilise the single currency. They're painful … Well if the single currency broke up, it would be catastrophic, I think.

ANDREW MARR:

Well you say … I was going to ask you about that because there are two possibilities, aren't there? The countries like Italy and Greece and others leave the single currency at some point, at least for a while, and that we get … I mean we read that Mr Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are talking about you know a hardcore inner single currency group as one option. That's worse, is it, than the measures being taken inside? You say catastrophic?

TONY BLAIR:

Well I mean you've just got to think about reconstituting your own currency, reconstituting circumstances where you've got a major problem with your own debt. Then having to try and do that with your own currency that you've got to try and stabilise in some way. I mean you only have to contemplate it to realise that it's an impossibly ugly situation to be in. On the other hand, you know to prevent that happening, you see you've got to have the whole system stand behind this and that the … And I say this with a lot of humility because one thing I've learnt since leaving office, by the way, is it's a lot easier to give the advice than take the decision, okay, so this is really, really difficult. But I think we've got to be careful of always being in a situation where you're just behind the curve of decision-making. You know so what we could have done to stabilise this situation a few months back, you now have to do even more if you're going to stabilise it today.

ANDREW MARR:

And when you say all Europe standing behind this, you're talking about a much greater intervention by the European Central Bank and you're talking about a kind of unbreakable sounding alliance between the major economies - everybody standing shoulder to shoulder - so that you don't get France being picked off, which is already starting to happen?

TONY BLAIR:

You've got to say it, mean it and do it. And you know, as I say, I'm not underestimating the difficulties of that or the huge problem, for example, that Germany's got in giving such a pledge. But, on the other hand, if the single currency breaks up, that is also a devastating blow for Germany. So …

ANDREW MARR:

So can it be done? I mean you know for the Greeks and the Italians, we're talking about destroying a large part of their sort of, albeit sort of dodgy, political culture that they've had …

TONY BLAIR:

Well I think …

ANDREW MARR:

… behaving completely differently.

TONY BLAIR:

Yuh. I think in a curious way, it's the speed with which you have to do it that's the problem. I mean one of the things I believe is that actually what the single currency crisis has done in a way is exposed the need for reform and accelerated. It's not actually created it. If you look at the demographics within Europe and the ageing population, if you look at the state of welfare government, public services, we've all got to change. You know America's going to undergo significant changes as a result of this, so it's the speed with which you have to do it and the dislocation obviously socially and economically of doing that. So if you're going to take measures that are going to change the Italian labour market, privatise industries, you know you're going to be in a situation where there are a lot of people who are put out by that. Now in the end - and I think this is the other really interesting issue about this - I think this is almost so big, the politicians, they need in a sense to share that responsibility with the people in a way. I mean in other words, there needs to be a sense collectively in Europe - okay we know this is going to put us through a very, very difficult period, but we are prepared to make this change. And I think … I mean I was actually in Italy a couple of days ago. I think there is a sense in the society there that they have postponed changes that are necessary for a very long time and now they've got to do it. But you know it's one thing to say it in general, it's another thing to do it in particular.

ANDREW MARR:

So the Euro could go, and if it did go presumably the effect on this country outside the Euro would also be catastrophic because of what happens to the single market?

TONY BLAIR:

I mean, first of all, Andrew, let me say I hope and believe it won't, and I think it's important that it doesn't. But, yes, of course the … Look, the problem for Britain is always I mean we took the decision for the economic reasons we set out not to join, but you're always going to be affected by …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And you must be pleased by that because Gordon Brown pushed you quite hard not to go into the Euro, and you have to say on that he was absolutely right.

TONY BLAIR:

He was right. Although I would also say, by the way, I was never in favour of doing it unless the economics were right. For me, the politics were clear. It was the economics that were the problem. But we are affected by it, in or out. And of course the trouble when you are out is that you in a sense want to knock on the door of the club and say you guys have got to sort it out, and then they say but you're not in this club; we're in this club. So you know it's the perennial problem for Britain with Europe in the sense that we need it to adapt and to change and we've got to be part of that change. Now for us, by the way, and also for the Americans, they too need this resolved and sorted out, as do the Chinese and others.

ANDREW MARR:

And do you still think that ultimately it'll be in our interest to join the Euro and that we have a problem outside the Euro; we will always have a problem outside?

TONY BLAIR:

I think, you know if you're looking at the very long-term and assume the Euro stabilises, we should certainly always keep the option open of doing it, but right now we've got our own … we've got our own issues to look at too because you know we face the same delicate balance that everyone else does. So you want to get a credible deficit reduction plan in place. On the other hand, you can't do that in such a way that you destroy your growth prospects. And one of the most difficult things for countries in or out of the single currency right now is how do you get that judgement right between your deficit reduction - necessary to restore confidence - and to keep money going into the economy necessary to keep growth out?

ANDREW MARR:

Well let's talk about this economy, in particular, because this week we're likely to see a million young people unemployed (the official figures come out), downgraded growth and the possibility of a double dip recession. Do you think that it is time to change course for this country and to be actually spending a bit, possibly cutting taxes, doing whatever it takes to keep the economy moving ahead?

TONY BLAIR:

Well you've got to keep the economy moving. And, look, I'm not on the inside of the decisions being taken by the government at the moment and I don't want to complicate what is a complicated enough situation, but I'm sure they should and they will want to be judging this the whole time and adjusting strategy if you need to as it goes. Because, as I say, you want to reduce the deficit. If you reduce it in a way that chokes off growth, then your deficit becomes worse - which is the problem for example a country like Greece has now. So no, I think you've got to be prepared to use whatever measures are necessary to keep the economy moving and going and keep growth up. And I think you've got to understand … This is what I see actually all sides of politics at the moment - not just here but elsewhere. You've got to … I think there are two bad questions and one good question about the economy right now. The two bad questions are who's to blame - because in a sense everyone was and it doesn't really advance you much …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Get you much further.

TONY BLAIR:

And the other bad question is how do we stop the financial crisis ever happening again? Right now that is not the issue. There's one issue and we should subordinate everything else to it, which is how do you get the economy moving and get jobs and growth back?

ANDREW MARR:

And to do that, it may very well be the case of more infrastructure projects. There's talk about that in the papers today. What about the 50p tax rate because you never liked the 50p tax rate.

TONY BLAIR:

No.

ANDREW MARR:

Something that would give, you know would give confidence to …

TONY BLAIR:

Well again that's a choice they're going to have to make. I mean, look, it's … and it's difficult in circumstances where people say look, those on you know modest incomes facing all these problems, you don't want to cut taxes for those that are far better off. The problem always is, as I say, you've got a situation now in which … For example, you take the financial sector. I understand all the problems that people have …

ANDREW MARR:

Yes.

TONY BLAIR:

… with the financial sector and how these problems came about. Right now, you also need a vibrant financial sector. You know you need to make sure that your economy is … Because we have enormous reserves in the corporate sector at the moment in the UK. You've got something like two trillion dollars worth of reserves in the corporate sector in the US. You've got to produce the circumstances in which those people are going to be investing that money and putting it out there.

ANDREW MARR:

Yes. And the banks still not lending enough at the moment?

TONY BLAIR:

Yes, which is why I say the issue right now is not …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Exactly.

TONY BLAIR:

… how do you stop the financial crisis happening again. The issue is …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) It's how to get the money flowing.

TONY BLAIR:

Exactly.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me … You're going to be at the Cenotaph today. The two wars that happened on your watch, in both cases people would say we've actually … either we have lost long-term or we are in the process of losing. In Iran we have a power that is rising in the region - very, very dangerous, getting ever closer to nuclear weaponry, and heavily involved in Iraq now, in the south where we were. And in Afghanistan, the Taliban, far from being defeated or destroyed, are extremely deadly and there's a sense that as we pull out, they come back in again.

TONY BLAIR:

Right, and my point is supposing we hadn't done that and you'd left Afghanistan run by a mixture of the Taliban and al Quaeda and Iraq still run by Saddam. And you saw the other day with the apology the Americans gave for not supporting the Shia when they rose up in the early 90s and tens of thousands of them died. I think … You know I see this … I've just literally come back from my seventy-third visit to the Middle East since I left office. All over that region and beyond, there is one basic battle going on and that is how do we defeat this extremism that is sponsored in part by Iran in the Middle East, but is also the result of this perversion of religion out there? And I believe that what our troops did in Afghanistan and in Iraq is incredibly important in defeating that. And yes it's true, Iran is trying to get its influence into Iraq. You know there are many people trying to push it back as well. But that is a struggle right across the region and the answer to it is not that we support these appalling regimes. The answer to it is we actually support the movement for democracy and freedom and allow those people in that region the chance they want to live the type of life with the type of rights that we have.

ANDREW MARR:

Did you feel a little embarrassed when Colonel Gaddafi's regime fell and all the paperwork and the photographs and stuff about the closeness of your relationship and other people's relationship with him and his sons emerged; that it was perhaps, it was closer than it need have been?

TONY BLAIR:

Well, look, you know we were used to him being a threat, sponsoring terrorism. He was developing a nuclear and chemical programme. He gave it all up. And in a way, particularly after 9/11, you wanted to say look if you do that, we're going to welcome you back into the international community, and you know he was on state visits to France and Italy and so on as well as us changing our relationship with him. Look, in the end it would have been great if he'd followed up internally with what he did externally, but he didn't.

ANDREW MARR:

The current Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, has launched a pretty stinging attack on Labour under yourself and indeed Gordon Brown for not supporting the army properly when there was the money there to give them the kit that they needed, and he said basically Labour let the armed forces down.

TONY BLAIR:

I think he's just wrong to play politics with that because, look, whatever differences myself and Gordon had - either in office or since - I have to tell you every time we made an application in respect of those campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan for money for the armed forces, he signed the cheque. I mean so it just … it really is not correct, that. And yeah, there it is.

ANDREW MARR:

There's a story in the papers today saying that your charity is asking for a share of Britain's foreign aid and there's a concern that there might be a conflict of interest - you've got lots of business interests and so on out in the region there. What do you say to that?

TONY BLAIR:

What I say is it's just the usual stuff in the usual quarters. And my charity in Africa, this is about Africa, does the most fantastic work. I mean we do things like delivering healthcare programmes, supporting smallholders and agriculture, trying to get in the right type of investment to the country. I've got absolutely no commercial interest in anything I do with the charity.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So no conflict of interest?

TONY BLAIR:

No, there's no conflict. And by the way, we are as we expand - because the charity started in … well it started in one country, it then was in three, now we'll be in five - it's getting a great and justified reputation actually for the work these people are doing out there on the ground. I give my own time and actually my own money to it too. And they do a fantastic job and this is from I think the usual Mail/Telegraph quarters.

ANDREW MARR:

Finally, I can't let you go without asking you about your great colleague Philip Gould who died last week. And when people talk about New Labour, they'll talk quite quickly about his contribution, won't they?

TONY BLAIR:

Yes. And his contribution politically was immense and to what we did. But I think the thing that is really special, and I'm so pleased that he went and did that interview with you, is towards the end of his life, when he knew he was dying, he suddenly became this repository of extraordinarily intense spirituality. And he, you know, I used to say to him, Philip, after years of which you know I was leading you in the arena of politics, you have given me and all the people around him and saw him and who witnessed him the last weeks, such an incredible lesson in a mixture of courage and humility and love, actually. So, I can't tell you how proud I am to have known him and so especially proud of the way he faced those last few weeks and did so with such dignity.

ANDREW MARR:

Tony Blair, thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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