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Tony Blair and Jeremy Paxman
Tony Blair talks to Newsnight - Part 3

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Prime Minister, do you accept that many people think you have no core political beliefs?

TONY BLAIR:
I accept that people say that, yes, for a very obvious reason, which is that they can't often handle the concept of new Labour as opposed to traditional Labour Party views, or old-style socialism.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
But when you have someone who is as elevated in your party as the deputy leader, Roy Hattersley, talking about "a vacuum" at the top of the party, that is a serious and pretty damning criticism, isn't it?

TONY BLAIR:
But I totally disagree with it. If you look at what we are doing, strong economy, jobs for people, investment in our public services, education the number one priority, tackling poverty, third world aid and debt, a 45% increase in real terms in the levels of aid and development money for the third world, why is minimum wage, trade union rights for representation, why aren't these things that Labour leaders have strove for years, where I simply don't agree with Roy and others, is that you need new means of tackling these things in today's world. It is not that I don't believe in the values of social justice, community, opportunity for all, I believe in them passionately, but I simply believe that you can't deliver them in the way we do, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Roy Hattersley says that you keep nibbling at new ideas, stake-holding, communitarinism, the third way, the feeling is that there is only space where his beliefs ought to be.

TONY BLAIR:
But again I totally disagree with that. All those things and the whole concept of the third way is really derived from the same set of beliefs; that the Labour Party stands for certain values, community, opportunity, to all responsibility, from all, a belief in social justice, but, that these beliefs should be translated into the world in a different way for today. I have never changed my beliefs on these things. I have always believed that. I have always been someone in the Labour Party who has believed that the Labour Party's values are fantastic, but we lost our way and we lost our way and became a party enslaved by an old fashioned set of ideological concepts that were simply ludicrously out of date for the world in which we were living. I make no apology for saying I'm a moderniser for the Labour Party. I stood on that basis. It is no great surprise to anyone.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You famously rewrote Clause 4.

TONY BLAIR:
Quite.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
The arc of the covenant for the party for many, many years.

TONY BLAIR:
And which no-one dared refer to.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Can you just remind us what the wording is for the new Clause 4?

TONY BLAIR:
If you want me to recite it, I will tell you what it starts with.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You can recite it?

TONY BLAIR:
I can't recite it.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Exactly.

TONY BLAIR:
I can start with what it says, which is that the Labour Party is a democratic social party and it believes in power, wealth and community in the hands of the many and not the few and we should live in a society where there is tolerance and respect for people and... I'm in the going to give you the exact quotes but that's essentially what it says. That is what the Labour Party stands for. And by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more together than we do alone. I can quote those words today and so can any member of the Labour Party, with pride. We never used to be ail to mention the old Clause 4 in case someone accused us of being Trotskyist.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Why was it then, when you were asked in Prime Minister's questions to, give a brief characterisation of the political philosophy that you espouse you said, "The best example I can give you is the rebuilding of the NHS, the appointment of Magdi Yacoub."

TONY BLAIR:
I tell you exactly why. You haven't done Prime Minister's questions.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
No I haven't.

TONY BLAIR:
I have. Prime Minister's Question Time is a place for many things. For discussing the philosophy of the Labour Party or any other political party it most certainly isn't. The idea that people should say,"Oh, because the response in Prime Minister's questions means you don't have a political philosophy." I have always had exactly the same set of beliefs. You can track it through every speech I made in the run-up to becoming leader of the Labour Party and every speech since then.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Those are all written out. The suggestion is that without the whole thing being committed to paper and memorised or half memorised, you are unsure what you stand for.

TONY BLAIR:
Oh rubbish. Come on Jeremy, look what do I stand for? I stand for a Labour Party that believes in opportunity for all. That's why we have the New Deal for people, that's why we have the investment in education. Why do I think that education is the number one priority? Because it is opportunity for people. I know there are children in this country who could be doing wonderful things and have a fantastic and fulfilling life but they have a lousy education and therefore they don't get it, that's believe education. Why do I believe in rebuilding the National Health Service? Why have we taken the decision to raise taxes to put money into the health care system? Because I think that people should have a decent health care system, irrespective of how wealthy they are. Why do I believe in issues, tackling crime and issues like that? Because I actually think, and this is where I maybe do differ from people in the Labour Party in the past, I think these issues are Labour Party issues. I think the anti-social behaviour, the vandalism, the graffiti, the lack of respect for people, I think that's all part of a society that has lost its way and I want to create a society where we have opportunity for people, why we demand responsibility from them. Now you can go back through all the speeches I made. Those off the cuff, written down, not written down, half remembered, fully remembered and I have said exactly the same. There may be many criticisms that people may make and some of them I may feel a lack of confidence on, but I feel no lack of confidence on this one at all.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Let's go back to one of your speeches, your maiden speech in the House of Commons. "I am a socialist it stands for equality not because it wants people to be the same, but because only through equality in our economic circumstances can our individuality develop properly. British democracy rests ultimately on the shared perception by all the people that they participate in the benefits of the common wheel."

TONY BLAIR:
Exactly so.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You endorse every word of that?

TONY BLAIR:
Of course. It is exactly what we are trying to do.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Equality in our economic circumstances?

TONY BLAIR:
Of course. Now, and as I went to say, equality doesn't mean that people are the same. Does equality mean equality of outcome? Or does it mean equal status, which includes equal opportunity? In my view it means equal opportunity.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
That's not what you say. You say "Equality in our economic circumstances."

TONY BLAIR:
Exactly. How do you get equality in our economic circumstances? Through things like education, access to technology and skills. What I have never believed, however, is that you should have a Labour Party which doesn't work with business or doesn't care for enterprise or doesn't believe that you need successful entrepreneurs.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Well equality in our economic circumstances seems pretty unambiguous, but you believe, do you not, in a meritocracy?

TONY BLAIR:
I do believe in that, although I don't believe that that is sufficient.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
The two things can't be squared.

TONY BLAIR:
No, I don't agree with that at all.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
By definition, a meritocracy is not the same as equality in our economic circumstances.

TONY BLAIR:
It depends how you define "equality." If you want to define "equality" as equality of outcome then I agree. If you don't define "equality" as a quality of an outcome, if you define it, well I call it equal worth actually, because I think it is more than just equality of opportunity, but certainly it includes equality of opportunity, then that's exactly what a meritocracy is.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
But meritocracy is not the same as equality in our economic circumstances?

TONY BLAIR:
Well, as I say it depends how you define "equality." I think you will find that I actually said at the time that equality should not mean that we are all the same, didn't I? I think I said that.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
I don't have that here in your speech but perhaps you did.

TONY BLAIR:
I think you did, you read it out.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
No, I don't think so.

TONY BLAIR:
Equality not in the sense of us all being the same.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
"Only through equality in our economic circumstances can our individuality develop properly."

TONY BLAIR:
Yes, but didn't you ...

JEREMY PAXMAN:
"British democracy rests ultimately on the shared perception by all the people."

TONY BLAIR:
I think you will find that in the course of the speech I made it clear that's not simply everyone has to be the same.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You made another speech at a university in which you said the sole key to modern politics was how to manage change, the sole key.

TONY BLAIR:
Yep, I think in terms of the political process that's right actually, yeah.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
How is that reconciled with what you have just been telling us?

TONY BLAIR:
I'm not saying that the values you believe in are of managing change. What I was saying was that if you look at the challenges facing society today, economic insecurity, insecurity within society, they are all about managing change. I think one of the great tasks of modern social democracy, and that's what today's Labour Party is about. It is a modern social Democratic Party, I think the great task is how do we help people through the changes that technology is bringing, globalisation is bringing, and the changes in family life, culture, society that people see around them? I think the role of Government today is enabling. It is not the old controlling role of the state and it is not laissez faire, , free market economics. That again is whey mean when I talk about the third way. It is a role for the state. This is about enabling people, equipping them to survive this process of change.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
In the spirit of commitment to equality of opportunity, and democracy and meritocracy, the only reasonable House of Lords to have would be a fully elected one, wouldn't it?

TONY BLAIR:
No, I don't accept that. I think you have to ask what you want the House of Lords for. Is it another chamber like the House of Commons, or is it a revising chamber. If it is a revising chamber, I think there is a case, certainly, for saying that you don't want simply to replicate the House of Commons and the House of Lords and after all in the House of Commons, it is where people elect their Government.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
I can see why you are not keen on it. One of the other functions might be to put a check on Government.

TONY BLAIR:
Of course it puts a check on Government. The question is how it does that most effectively? And I don't necessarily agree with you that it does it most effectively by simply having the same types of people in the House of Lords as you have until the House of Commons. With this issue, Jeremy, with the best will in the world, once you go through the processes of change, the amount of time I personally as a Prime Minister will live with a fully reformed House of Lords will be reasonably small. This is something, however, we need to get right for future generations. I don't accept the premise that the only viable House of Lords is one in which you get exactly the same people in the House of Lords as you got in the House of Commons.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Well, they wouldn't of course be exactly the same people, they would be different people.

TONY BLAIR:
Types of people, though. What I mean about that.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
But at least a large part of it should be properly elected.

TONY BLAIR:
Well let's wait and see what the joint committee...

JEREMY PAXMAN:
What is your own feeling about it?

TONY BLAIR:
My own feeling is that the House of Lords should be different from the House of Commons, and that we should not lose the one advantage of the House of Lords, which is that you get people in from different walks of life, who have not spent all their life in politics and who can contribute a genuine expertise to debates. Having said that, you might possibly be able to achieve that through the elected mechanism. I have an open mind. We'll see what the joint committee says.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
But not appointed by you, these people from different walks of life.

TONY BLAIR:
No, but first of all let's get one thing straight about this, I'm the first Prime Minister who has given up the power of patronage in the House of Lords. You would think from the things that are written that up until I became Prime Minister, all previous Prime Ministers used to have some great democratic system. The previous Prime Minister's appointed every single life peer in the House of Lords. I have been giving up the patronage. Remember, in the House of Lords, the Conservatives still have more peers than we do.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Let's talk about something which people do clearly understand about you and it is your sense of a moral, religious conviction. I take it that that really underpins more or less every judgment you make?

TONY BLAIR:
I don't know. Look, I am a Christian, I believe in it, but I don't think it is very sensible to start trying to view every decision you take as if it were a religious, rather than a political decision. Yes, of course it has an influence on my life and the values that I believe in, but I don't wear it on my sleeve.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
It must be central to your life, isn't it?

TONY BLAIR:
Of course it is, but I don't like it to be honest when politicians make a big thing of their religious beliefs, so I don't make a big thing of it.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
I'm just trying to explore the sort of chap you are, really, Prime Minister, with respect, and the question of your religious conviction is very important. I mean, ...

TONY BLAIR:
Of course it is, yes. But it doesn't inform every political decision I make in a very narrow way.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
It doesn't?

TONY BLAIR:
Look, I'm a person, an individual with a character and part of my character is about what I believe in and part of my beliefs obviously is a religious conviction. I simply hesitate whenever I get drawn into this territory because I have found, over time, that it either leads to people misunderstanding the basis upon which you are taking decisions or it leads to people trying to colonise God or religion for one particular political position. I make no claims to that at all.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Is it your religious conviction that makes you tolerant of the idea of faith schools?

TONY BLAIR:
No, I think there is a strong case for faith schools because I think parents often like to have their children brought up with the certain ethos that they believe in, and I think what people should remember about faith schools, is that we have had faith schools for years in this country, the issue is simply whether we say to the Muslim community, you can have Christian faith schools, you can have Jewish faith schools but you can't have Muslim faith schools, I don't know how I would explain that to them.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You don't accept the force of Peter Hain's point the other day, that that would be likely to encourage what he calls "isolationism" in the Muslim community?

TONY BLAIR:
No, I think it is actually better to have communities feeling that they can have faith schools which obviously then abide by the National Curriculum, than having sometimes people on more of an ad hoc basis with particular majorities in particular schools.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You would be happy for your child to be taught that was it was literally true that the world was made in six days?

TONY BLAIR:
I don't think my children are taught that. I'm not sure that any children are.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You would be happy for your child to go to a school in which that was imparted as fact?

TONY BLAIR:
Well, I don't know that it is imparted as fact. Who imparts that as fact?

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Creationists impart that as fact.

TONY BLAIR:
If this is to do with the school up in the north-east, I wouldn't believe everything that's said. I think you will find the school abides by the National Curriculum and teaches children perfectly well. I know there is a lot of criticism of that school, but look at the results. They are pretty good. Most parents want their children to have results as good as that.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Is it appropriate to teach Creationism in a state school?

TONY BLAIR:
I don't believe that it does in the way you are suggesting. I think it is important... I don't have all the facts at my fingertips in relation to this school, but I know that some of the allegations made were disputed.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Is it appropriate, as a matter of principle, that Creationism be taught in schools?

TONY BLAIR:
But I am not sure that it is and therefore I don't know that it's a relevant question.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
With respect, that's not the question.

TONY BLAIR:
Well, it is, in the sense that there is no point in asking me a completely hypothetical question.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
I'm not.

TONY BLAIR:
I don't think they are very sensible questions to answer. I think that the issue of faith schools is... To my mind, you have to answer it in two ways - is it right to have any faith schools at all? I personally believe that it is. That it is a right for people if they want to have their children brought up in a certain way, and Catholic or Church of England schools, they have a certain ethos in those schools. That's the first question. But some people say there shouldn't be any faith schools allowed at all. The second question is - if you should have faith schools or you allow or permit faith schools, is it right to tell the Muslim community that they are the one community that can't have schools?

JEREMY PAXMAN:
If there is a moral element to your philosophy and to your actions in Government, how is it justifiable to make poor people poorer by, as in the case of parents with misbehaving children, taking away child benefit?

TONY BLAIR:
First of all, this isn't directed at poor people. It would be directed at those who were falling down in their duty of responsibility for their children. Secondly, you might as well say that a family that is of low income should never be fined, should never have any form of its benefits withdrawn. We don't say that.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Are you going to do it?

TONY BLAIR:
We are looking at it and examining it very seriously because I believe that with a Government that is putting a massive amount of money into helping young people off benefit and into work, huge amounts of money into programmes like Sure Start and better nursery education, making a big investment in our education system, we are entitled to demand from parents some minimum responsibility back for society. And to say that if your child is engaged in persistent truanting, refusing to co-operate, and the police and the education welfare officers and the school and everyone is at their wits' end, well, I'm sorry, but we shouldn't carry on paying out benefit to you in circumstances where you are not prepared to give anything back to society.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
That sounds as if you are going to do it?

TONY BLAIR:
Well, we are examining it. We have to examine it to make sure it is practical. But as a matter of principle, I think it is right that with benefits come responsibility.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
What about the idea that is contained in Frank Field's bill of removing housing benefit?

TONY BLAIR:
I support that. I support the idea that if you get people who are convicted of anti-social behaviour, and who again have every chance, in most of these cases, of behaving properly, and they refuse to do so. They are making life hell for all their neighbours, then why should the state carry on paying out benefit to those people, subsidising their housing, when they are using their housing to inflict misery on other people? It is difficult probably for people like us to understand what it is like to live on an estate where you get one family in an area... The vast majority of people in these areas are law-abiding, decent people, but you get one family or two or three families who make life absolute and total hell for people. It's not right.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
How is making them homeless going to make them behave better?

TONY BLAIR:
I'm afraid in the end you might as well say, why is it right that you punish anyone for anything? In the end, if people are given every chance to behave responsibly, you have to protect other people who suffer the consequences.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Even if that means a family becoming homeless?

TONY BLAIR:
Well, if it means evicting them from the place that they are in... As you know some families have been evicted with the anti-social behaviour orders. But in the end what happens is in those areas the other families can live in a bit of piece and quiet. You asked me about my beliefs earlier. What I think and I hope I have done, is in one sense returned to an old- fashioned left-wing idea and value, value of responsibility - responsibility to other people, which is why it is so important that society takes measures to help people in poverty and lift them out of poverty, but also responsibility to society, to put something back, for it not to be all take. There has to be some give as well. I find, you know... Just to give you an example... When you see gangs of young people, and again the vast majority of young people behave well, and young people are the victims of a lot of this crime, so we are not stigmatising all young people, But you see gangs of young people out of control, making life hell for local people, often elderly vulnerable people. It is not right. I don't know how I justify that? Therefore, it is not harshness or being right wing or Tory or any of the rest of it. It is simply saying to people, society, community - that basic thing that I do believe in strongly, community - it is a deal, it is not a one-way street. It goes both ways. The opportunity and the responsibility.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
When you go back to those old-fashioned values, how are they consonant with your party taking money from a pornographer?

TONY BLAIR:
These funding stories, they come, they go! These are people who own the Express Newspapers.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Yes.

TONY BLAIR:
Well, in my view, it is perfectly acceptable for us to take a donation from them.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
They also own Horny Housewives, Mega Boobs, Posh Wives, Skinny & Wriggly. Do you know what these magazines are like?

TONY BLAIR:
No, I don't, but I do know that if someone is fit and proper to own one of the major newspaper groups in the country, there's no reason why we shouldn't accept donations from them. The only difference between us as a political party and what went before is that all the donations are made openly, so that every single thing about party funding is, for the first time, out in the open.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You wouldn't take money from a tobacco manufacturer, but you would take it from a pornographer?

TONY BLAIR:
I have said what I've said and I have nothing else to say. We dealt with it a short time ago and the original allegation, you might remember, is that we'd pushed the...

JEREMY PAXMAN:
There is no dispute about the money?

TONY BLAIR:
There is no dispute about the money, but the original allegation was that somehow the takeover of this group had been cleared as a favour for this money.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
No, I'm not suggesting it for a moment.

TONY BLAIR:
I know you are not but people were suggesting it, and once that original allegation was shown to be nonsense, that the decision was taken to someone else, then they move on to something else.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
I'm just curious to know how you reconcile taking money from a pornographer with your deeply held Christian values?

TONY BLAIR:
Well, I have said what I have said.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
When you look at this issue, doesn't the case for some sort of state funding of political parties become more or less unanswerable?

TONY BLAIR:
Look, if I could get shot of ever raising a single penny for the Labour Party ever again, would I not do it? Absolutely, of course, I would.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
David Blunkett says state funding is inevitable.

TONY BLAIR:
Yeah, but you can't do it, Jeremy, unless there is a consensus amongst the political parties. You can't have a situation where we as a Government use our majority to push it through. And I'm not sure the public would accept it either. So, I honestly don't know what to do about this. All I know is, when I became leader of the Labour Party, 90% of the funding and more was from trade unions. People shouted "foul". We changed it, so we took money from businesses and individuals. We then came into power, and for the first time ever, we have opened up the books so that everybody knows where we get our money from. The reason half these people are targeted is because the press has a list of the people who donate to us. We haven't the faintest idea, not merely what people, but from what country the Conservative Party got their money from in their 18 years of government. All we've had is grief from that as well. Can we move to a different system? Again, I honestly don't know. But it can only be done as part of a general debate in which people are prepared to have a mature look at how party's fund themselves. We need political parties. I have to employ people in the Labour Party. You know, every bit of the money we get doesn't go into my pocket or any other Labour politician's pocket, it goes to employ staff. Democracies need political parties and political parties can only run with money. I don't actually want to return to a situation where we take all our money off the unions. I don't think that's healthy either. So I agree, it's a very, very difficult issue.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
I wonder sometimes, when you sit here in Number Ten, one day it's donations from a pornographer, another day it's something else, all these events pressing in on you, do you ever think, "God, I've had enough of this!"?

TONY BLAIR:
Well, no I don't think that because I think, despite all the rubbish that comes in and out, there are worthwhile things to do.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
So you plan to carry on and on and on, do you?

TONY BLAIR:
No, I haven't said that. I have never said that. I had a feeling we were getting to the "when are you going to step down" question! And if we can again shortcut that, I'm not saying anything about it at all. But I think what you have to do is decide what it is you want to achieve in politics. That's what should determine your appetite for it.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
But you plan to lead the party into the next election?

TONY BLAIR:
I have said that I'll stand for a full term.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
And that would be a full term, a full third term?

TONY BLAIR:
Well, yes, but I'm honestly not getting into speculating about it. Please, I'm really not getting into the issue of whether I'm a "go on and on and on" person or whether I'm a "about to resign tomorrow" person. I'm not. I'm carrying on and doing the work I'm doing. I think we have huge challenges still ahead. I have every bit as much appetite for the job as I have ever had and, despite the slings and arrows, it is a privilege to do it. It is an absolute privilege, and I should never forget that.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Prime Minister, thank you.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

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