On the Politics Show, Sunday 28 January 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Speaking on the BBC One Politics Show on 28 January, Tony Blair said: "I want to finish what I've started...
"And at the present time, there are things that I'm right in the middle of doing, whether it's health service reform or the City Academy programme, or the changes that we're making in the Home Office, or this issue to do with energy policy or the international issues you've just been discussing - I'm getting on with the job."
He pointed in particular to the Northern Ireland peace process as an area on which he hopes to make progress before he leaves office:
"The next few weeks," he said, "will be as important as the negotiation of the original Good Friday Agreement, and the end of power sharing that happened back in 2002, because we will determine whether we have a basis for the future in Northern Ireland, that allows us both to have power sharing between Unionists and Republicans and Nationalists, really on a solid basis for the first time ever."
The Prime Minister dismissed claims that his party has lost determination and drive: "¿the one thing you can't say is¿ it's not that the government is not driving forward.
"I think in many ways actually, the last eighteen months has been our most radical, most bold on the domestic agenda."
He confirmed that he would definitely be leading his party into the elections in May, although he would not be drawn any further on the timing of his departure.
Tony Blair interview transcript...
Politics Show, 27 January 2007
JON SOPEL: Prime Minister, so here we are in Davos, the big issues under discussion: climate change, Africa, debt, world trade. Is it frustrating in your last few months in office there's only so much you're going to be able to do.
TONY BLAIR: Actually, what's quite interesting is that the next few months will probably be pretty important for all of those issues. I mean the World Trade deal gets done or not, erm, in the next few months, Spring time is probably the key to that - if we can't get agreement then we probably won't get agreement at all. Climate change is really to do with the G8 and whether we can get an agreement there.
Africa of course, I mean people will be dealing with Africa long after I've gone on and in the decades to come, but no, I think what's interesting actually is the degree to which, the type of agenda that we have articulated at international level is really the type of agenda that is now more or less dominating international discussion, and also, I think even more interesting in a way, the solutions that we're putting forward on climate change, on world trade, on Africa are the solutions most people are gravitating towards; so I think, you know for our country, it's erm, you know, we should take a certain amount of pride and enthusiasm from that.
JON SOPEL: And if you were to hazard a guess, do you think there will be deal on World Trade. Do you think there will be any substantive progress on climate change.
TONY BLAIR: I think it's more likely than not that you will get a deal on World Trade now. I mean this is of vital importance for the poorest countries, cos this is their real way of getting themselves out of poverty. The benefits for African countries of a good deal on trade, is more than any of the aid that we can put in to Africa. For our own country and other similar countries, it's going to be a huge boost to services and industry, trade right round the world.
Now just literally within the past few days, I've talked about this with President Bush, with Chancellor Merkel, with the President of Brazil yesterday and President of South Africa, and I think there's a, there's a chance of getting this done and I know world trade seems to people a kind of slightly techie issue, and not many people are interested in it, but it's the practical importance of it is enormous for countries like ours, which are a trading nation.
JON SOPEL: So it could still happen while you're in office.
TONY BLAIR: Well yeah, because I mean it's gotta happen in the next few months.
JON SOPEL: Okay. You talk about how much that there is still to do on so many issues and I listened to your speech carefully. I suppose some would say, well why are you going.
TONY BLAIR: (laughs) Well. You know, I decided before the last election that I wasn't going to fight a fourth election and then at some point, you know, it, it comes to an end. Now erm...
JON SOPEL: You said absolutely adamantly you were going to serve a full term.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah but you know, I think most people would accept that at least you know, there's got to be some process of transition, if you're saying, cos the whole context in which I was saying that was...
JON SOPEL: (interjection) We're not yet two years in, why did you decide to go so soon.
TONY BLAIR: Well I've set out all that last year. I mean it's not worth going back over. I mean I think the most important thing is to make sure that for the time that remains as it were, you know, we've got a strong and energetic agenda that we're pushing forward and as you rightly have just implied internationally, the agenda is there.
But the interesting thing is domestically, it is as well. I mean you've got major health service reform that's going on. You've reorganisation of the Home Office, big pensions legislation, the energy white paper coming out, welfare reform. I mean the one thing you can't say is it's not, you know, that the government is not driving forward. I think in many ways actually, the last eighteen months has been our most radical, most bold on the domestic agenda.
Now it's also been the most difficult incidentally, but I think in time to come, for setting ourselves up as a political party for the next election, but also as a platform of change for the country it's in many ways been the most productive period of internal domestic reform.
JON SOPEL: I'll return to those domestic issues in a moment. Just staying with the whole thing of Africa. I mean you've talked about the need for good governance, anti corruption as being vital in the fight against poverty is almost central to all of that.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah, it is, absolutely and you know, there are good signs. I mean we have the President of Liberia here; that's a war torn country, totally corrupted by successive Presidents, now with the first woman President in Africa, leading it.
Next door of course is Sierra Leone, which we helped stabilize as a country, about to have another set of democratic elections. You know you've got to a process of change that was really quite exciting.
You've got 1.6 million people getting HIV aids treatment that weren't getting it before. Millions of kids getting in to primary school education, but then you've still got problems like Sudan.
JON SOPEL: So, in the context of that, what sort of example did it set when you're sort of extolling all these things, but you halt a serious fraud office enquiry in to alleged arms sales in Saudi Arabia.
TONY BLAIR: We can go in to that in detail if you want, but basically that was a completely different situation because what we were saying was that our strategic interest in co-operating with, with Saudi Arabia as it was going to be severely diminished and our ability to fight terrorism, secure peace in the Middle East, we wouldn't be able to do it.
Now, in the end, I mean I've got to give advice as to where our national interest lies. Now I think that's a totally different thing than for example, what we have also been pushing, which is the extractive industries ¿ at issue in Africa, that is actually putting an end to a lot of corruption.
JON SOPEL: But you get then the Paris based organisation, the organisation for economic co-operation and development, who are the watch dogs in these sort of things, talking about this might have been a breach of the anti bribery convention, that Britain, supposedly leading this.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah. I don't think the - it wasn't quite like that. Look, in the end you've got to have a... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: I mean there was a serious point they made. They said it was, it could have been in breach of the anti bribery convention.
TONY BLAIR: Well I don't accept that for a moment, but I also would say to you that if you look at these types of issues, not just from the perspective of Britain, but any country. Where you're in a situation where you genuinely believe your own country's interests, I mean leave aside incidentally, there are tens of thousands of jobs we could have lost, where our country's interests are erm, you know fundamentally engaged and where there is no, this was all to do with historical events in the past.
JON SOPEL: (interjection)... the South African President, Thabo Mbeki said here in Davos, that he was rather puzzled by it all, what happened.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah, well I mean, you can get the explanation because I've just given it and that is the explanation.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Well let's talk about one police investigation that I don't think you will be able to stop, the cash for peerages enquiry. I know you won't talk about the detailed investigation, but what did it feel like to be the first Prime Minister to be questioned as part of a criminal enquiry.
TONY BLAIR: It's not just that I won't talk about the investigation. I just won't talk about it full stop, cos anyway, in the weeks to come it will finish as an enquiry and why don't we just wait for that time.
JON SOPEL: We have spoken of bits and pieces about it. I mean you said about Ruth Turner, after she was arrested, that Ruth's a person of the highest integrity, Downing Street have denied various bits of the story. I mean surely, there are some questions about all this that you... (overlaps)
TONY BLAIR: Yeah but you know, in, in the end with this, look, as you know and I know, this whole - there will be lots of stuff that will ricochet around the media.
The thing is to let the thing take its course and then wait for the outcome. Let's do that.
JON SOPEL: Okay, so what about - who's right then, and I'm sure you can answer this question between your Attorney General and the Lord Chancellor over who will take a decision, whether a prosecution takes place.
TONY BLAIR: These are, these are all matters for er, the proper authorities and, and I'm not going to comment on it. I'm just not going to comment on it. I can't comment on it.
JON SOPEL: Well what does it look like then to have two of your closest colleagues and Minister, out there arguing and debating it.
TONY BLAIR: (interjects) Well I've - so you say, but I think...
JON SOPEL: Do you want the quotes.
TONY BLAIR: I think we should just let the thing take its course cos what can I say and in any event we'll know the answer to all these questions when you...
JON SOPEL: Do you think it is the ultimately - if a prosecution is to come, it is the decision of the Attorney General, or it is a... (interjection)
TONY BLAIR: It should be done according to what the proper legal procedures are.
JON SOPEL: ...or the Crown Prosecution Service. There you are, it's just a straight forward question.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah but it ¿
JON SOPEL: The Attorney General says it's his job. Charlie Falconer says it actually should be the Crown Prosecution Service.
TONY BLAIR: No I, I don't - I think what you're doing is aligning two quite separate things which is the role of the Attorney and the role of the Crown Prosecution Service, but I'm not going to say any more. Let the thing run its course and then we'll see.
JON SOPEL: Do you think though that it's not...
TONY BLAIR: (laughs)
JON SOPEL: ...okay, it's not great for your authority (interjection)
TONY BLAIR: (laughs) Let's try - not great for my authority.
JON SOPEL: This is a serious political point.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah.
JON SOPEL: And you've got Ministers arguing. I mean we can talk about, I don't know, let's talk about Iraq. Peter Hain coming out, you've stood absolutely shoulder to shoulder with George W Bush over the policy in Iraq and you get Peter Hain coming out saying the problem for us as a government, is actually to maintain a working relationship with what is the most right wing American administration, if not ever, then in living memory.
TONY BLAIR: (laughs) Well, I mean look. He's, you know, he's, he's going to erm, he's, he's going to be stating his views isn't he. I mean...
JON SOPEL: What does that mean.
TONY BLAIR: Well what it means is, I don't think it's very surprising that people in the Labour Party aren't Neo-Cons.
JON SOPEL: What about collective responsibility.
TONY BLAIR: But that's not - the collective responsibility is in relation to the conduct erm, of the war and the - ensuring that we, we make sure that we prosecute successfully what we've begun in Iraq and I think you'll find Peter absolutely on the line. I don't think it's a great surprise, especially with you know, other things in the offing...
JON SOPEL: (unintelligible - both together)
TONY BLAIR: No, I'm not saying that, but I mean you know, it's hardly surprising isn't it, it's not... shock horror headline, someone in the Labour Party doesn't agree with Neo-Cons.
JON SOPEL: Okay. But then on... (interjection)
TONY BLAIR: You'll probably find a few people in the Republican Party that don't agree with Neo-Cons.
JON SOPEL: But isn't part of that is that because there's a frustration that you never seem to criticise President Bush, you know, that you get the Iraq Study Group Report coming out, which says that there ought to be a sort of gradual withdrawal of troops and there ought to be an engagement of Syria and Iran, George Bush goes in seemingly the opposite direction with this surge of additional troops, and it seems that Britain stands right by that.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah. But I think that - I mean look, first of all, when people say we never disagree with the administration, climate change is a disagreement. Of course we do. But we're fighting as allies in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I happen to support what we're doing there.
And in relation to the Baker Hamilton Study Group, actually, if you look at it, what it's saying is you have to build up the, the Iraqi capability and whether you increase the numbers or troops or not, is actually left as an open question.
Now I think for President Bush, cos the situation for example in Basra is completely different from the situation in Baghdad. I think the issue is for them, how do they make sure that when they erm revitalise the Baghdad security plan this time it works.
JON SOPEL: Did you imagine that when you promised that there would be a thriving stable open democracy in Iraq, that by the time you left office it would be in chaos, near civil war, and just a million miles from that.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah. But I don't, I suppose, I, I don't think anyone erm, really predicted accurately what would happen in Iraq. But I want to just make one thing very clear to you because you know, this is a, this is one of the biggest decisions I took. I still believe that the world is better off without Saddam.
I believe that the Iraqi people themselves want democracy, they don't want Civil War. This is an attempt to visit this upon them from external extremist linking up with internal extremists. And the reason I don't share the same... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: You don't worry that judgement will be made, Prime Minister Blair made things worse.
TONY BLAIR: Well, you know, these judgements will be made in time but I refuse to believe and I always have that countries like Iraq or Afghanistan where exactly the same arguments could be mounted, that these countries face a choice between either a secular dictator or a religious fanatic or a group of religious fanatics running them. Why shouldn't the people have the same rights to democracy that we have.
Now the reason it's difficult in Iraq or Afghanistan, it's not cos British soldiers or American soldiers are killing innocent people, this is terrorism, insurgent groups trying to stop the will of the democratic majority being put in to effect. What should our role be? This is why I find it so difficult when people say, the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan is really challenging and difficult, therefore we should remove ourselves. Surely, the first question to ask is, do the people in those countries want democracy and freedom, answer yes they do.
They show it every time they're given the chance to vote and secondly, why is it difficult and challenging. It's difficult and challenging because you have these extremist groups, who see the strategic importance to them, the world over of disabling those states from reaching that, that democracy. So, my point is, what should our response be.
Our response should be when they are making this situation difficult and challenging by trying to deny the will of the majority, we should be standing up for the majority of people who want freedom and democracy in those countries, who want non sectarian, non fanatical, non extremist futures.
JON SOPEL: Okay, let's go back go to some of the domestic policies that you've sketched out at the top. Again, this whole question of your authority becomes central. I mean the row that there has been over the past week, over gay adoption where it seemed that you've wanted to find a compromise between the catholic church and gay rights groups, and you have... (interjection)
TONY BLAIR: I still do.
JON SOPEL: ...when you have Alan Johnson going on the TV and saying, well it's frankly impossible. You know, the anti discrimination legislation is anti discrimination legislation.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah, but you know, people go on as if this sort of thing never happened in my ten years as Prime Minister. When we had the ban on smoking I seem to remember the same happened. I remember having debates about fox hunting (laughs) you know which were pretty difficult in getting everyone to come in to the same place.
The whole point is that these issues, which are not issues of, of you know, they're not issues to do with great party ideology in some way, they're issues that involved matters of conscience and where you've got two principles, both of which are very important, that are colliding with each other and not in a sort of, you know, it's not part of the defined ... (interjection) ... no, hang on a minute. It's not part of a, in a sense, you know the defining issues of political ideology. It's not surprising that you have that. But my job as Prime Minister is to sort it out.
JON SOPEL: Sure.
TONY BLAIR: And that's what I'm going to have to do in the next few days.
JON SOPEL: I know you talked about Peter Hain at the moment, implying that, well look, he's running for the Deputy Leadership, what do you expect. Everybody seems to be running for the Deputy - a lot of people are running for the Deputy Leadership.
TONY BLAIR: Well ¿ busy and interesting field then.
JON SOPEL: You're not going to be conducting the next major cabinet reshuffle. It will be your successor. I just wondered whether that does lead to a diminution in authority.
TONY BLAIR: You know, one of the problems is that we just, we, we've not got fixed terms in our country. Lots of countries do. And when they do, it isn't an issue and we're just going to have to get to the political maturity where we don't regard it as a huge issue either. I mean Bill Clinton ... (interjection) ... well hang on a minute, let me just...
JON SOPEL: But there is a bit of a diminution...
TONY BLAIR: No, no I'm not. I'm about to say precisely the opposite. If you take for example Bill Clinton, erm, in his last days of office, almost pulling off the Middle East peace deal. You know, you take what the government has done in the last few months.
Let's just go through it for a moment. The most radical pensions reform, right, incredibly difficult to get consensus on, we got it. Energy, right, both climate change and energy security, including the re-launch of nuclear power, including erm, the Climate Change Bill that's going to be published in a few weeks time. The doubling of the City Academy Programme. This National Health Service Reform, that is really really tough, in a few weeks time (interjection) ...hang on.
JON SOPEL: ¿ have ministers campaigning against your...
TONY BLAIR: No, hang on. Hang on. Let me come to that in a minute, come to that in a minute. Welfare reform, within the next few weeks, where we'll be publishing again, very radical proposals on terrorism as well and the reorganisation of the Home Office.
Look, you measure authority by getting things done and I know what - of course there's parts of the media that want to say look, you know, the government stalled, nothing is moving forward and the very reason we got a lot of these issues at the moment on our plate, like this big health service business, is precisely because we are pushing it forward.
Now, you raise the issue of individual ministers. Let's just lay this one to rest. They are campaigning on local consultations that haven't even resulted in local decisions yet, let alone a government decision that requires collective responsibility. And as I keep saying to people, it's a new doctrine of collective responsibility to me, that an MP, who happens to be a Minister, can't participate in a local consultation.
JON SOPEL: Well what about, okay then, the state of the Home Office...
TONY BLAIR: (laughs) Go to the next one...
JON SOPEL: (unintelligible)... a number...
TONY BLAIR: I know but it, but it's, it's - you know...
JON SOPEL: Hasn't the Home Office been a great advert for the way the government is run over the past two or three weeks.
TONY BLAIR: Well of course there's been huge problems in the Home Office, but what else has happened in the Home Office. Last Thursday, the publication of the recorded crime figures that yet again, showed a reduction in crime, this time a reduction, a big reduction actually in violent crime with injury, and we're down to what the lowest chance of becoming a victim of crime for, for almost twenty five years.
JON SOPEL: And prisons full to the bursting point with...
TONY BLAIR: Well, why are prisons full to the bursting point. Why, why is it that prisons...
JON SOPEL: Because you haven't built enough prison places...
TONY BLAIR: We've built twenty thousand extra and we've got another eight thousand coming. But you've also got a situation, where today, people are in prison for longer and you've got of course the new indeterminate sentences where people can be kept in for indeterminate period, if they remain a danger to the public. Now I'm not saying that there haven't been big problems in the Home Office, but let's be clear, some of these things like foreign prisoners, or these offences that have been committed abroad by British people who then return back home, the reason we're dealing with these now is that for the first time there is a system in place to deal with them. You take asylum, right, when we came to office, it - the backlog of asylum claims was over 50,000. It took eighteen months to process a claim.
We removed one in five of failed asylum seekers. Today, you've got the backlog down to a few thousand, it takes most claims are actually done within two months and for the first time we're actually removing more unfounded claims than we're taking in. So all I'm saying to you is, and it's the same with the Health Service. What wasn't...
TONY BLAIR: Yeah, I know, but hang on. What wasn't noticed was just recently, the publication of the lowest waiting lists since they began, over twenty years ago. Right. So, it's not as if I, you know I don't - look, we're in a mid-term, you know everyone throws everything at you in the mid terms, but actually, if you look at the underlying fundamentals, both in the economy, on public services, even in my view in relation to the issues to do with crime, there is real change happening, that - and if we hold our nerve will yield real benefit in the years to come.
JON SOPEL: So why not just let Gordon Brown get on with it now.
TONY BLAIR: Because, you know, you, you put this question to me as if the election hadn't happened. I mean would, would - I won an election in May 2005 and we've been through all this stuff about you know, fighting the full term or not the full term and so on, and I'm getting on with the job. You know, and I want to finish what I've started, if I can put it like that.
And at the present time, there are things that I'm right in the middle of doing, erm, whether it's health service reform or the City Academy programme, or the changes that we're making in the Home Office or erm, this issue to do with energy policy or the international issues you've just been discussing - I'm getting on with the job. Now, you know, I know there's a sort of desire, course, perhaps the Media want to get on to the new story, but I was elected to do a job and I'm doing it.
JON SOPEL: Okay. But we know it's time limited. Just by the way, when you talked about the threat of David Cameron, you talked about these great clunking fist, that was Gordon Brown you had in mind.
TONY BLAIR: You either - I'm not getting in to all this business...
JON SOPEL: What do you think... he meant.
TONY BLAIR: ¿ directly or - yeah, I know why you want to know what I meant.
JON SOPEL: Well, what did you mean.
TONY BLAIR: Well, I'll tell you at another time.
JON SOPEL: So you're not going to endorse Gordon Brown now.
TONY BLAIR: Now, what I'm not going to do is to talk about my successor until the moment of my departure cos that's the appropriate time and place and the reason for that is nothing, is no disrespect to anyone, is that I know and you know, that if I start talking about it, that will be the only interest that comes out of the programme, and I would prefer frankly, for us to concentrate on the issues whilst I'm actually engaged in them as Prime Minister.
JON SOPEL: Do you know when you're going to go.
TONY BLAIR: Erm, I'm just going to get on with the job in the mean time so there's no point in asking me for dates or whatever. There's just no point. Not at the moment.
JON SOPEL: We know, I mean when I interviewed you... (interjection)
TONY BLAIR: You're going to tell me, you're going to tell now the public is dying to know. Actually, my experience is they simply want to get the issues sorted.
JON SOPEL: I think the public is still bewildered why you're going actually. You said, you said, you swore to the British people you would serve a full term and you're not.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah, but you - it's erm, I think in the end you know, well I've said it to you before but in the end you're going to have a transition, some time this term, erm, and you know I said what I did last September, there it is we'll see. But in the meantime get on with the job and and you know, the fact is there's an immense amount to do and I'm doing it.
TONY BLAIR: You're not about to come and try from... (overlaps)... another direction are you.
JON SOPEL: No, the party would want to know this I'm sure. What role will you be playing in the local council elections, vital elections in Scotland and Wales, are you going to be leading the Party then.
TONY BLAIR: Well, I mean I'm - I've answered that on many occasions. I'm going to be working flat out to maximise the Labour Party vote. Of course I'm going to do that.
JON SOPEL: As Prime Minister and leader of the Party.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah, but I've - I mean I've said that all, many many times. But what is important is actually to make sure that we put forward good radical programmes in those elections.
In local government particularly for anti social behaviour in dealing with some of the quality of life issues and Scotland and Wales of course, erm, to keep the economy strong and in Scotland particularly, to ward off separatism and you know, have a good strong Scottish agenda, particularly on education.
JON SOPEL: Is it getting more difficult.
TONY BLAIR: What's getting more difficult.
JON SOPEL: Staying in your job.
TONY BLAIR: No. No. No, I mean it's not - why do you ask that.
JON SOPEL: Well because you've got lots of ministers that are campaigning against you. You've got people saying that this is...
TONY BLAIR: No I don't.
JON SOPEL: ¿ not doing anything.
TONY BLAIR: But that's just to go, go back to the same thing which is to say you know the government is not making any progress. In fact part of the reason we have these difficulties is precisely because we are. And you know... legislation we've got going through the House of Commons at the moment, this is the National Offenders Management Service Bill, huge change in the way we treat offenders. So I...
JON SOPEL: I just want to ask you...
TONY BLAIR: Yeah.
JON SOPEL: Very briefly, they've said that there's going to, I've read that there's already a web site, Blair Foundation.com. Is that the sort of thing you might be doing after, when you leave.
TONY BLAIR: It's, it's, I know you'll be getting fed up with me for saying that is another question I'm not going to answer. Because if I start talking about what I'm going to do afterwards, well it's, you know, just gets in to a further difficulty. I mean I, I think that - who knows in the time to come, I know I'm the first Prime Minister that's ever said look, you know, I'm not going to fight another election and I'm going to go at an age where I suppose, for many Prime Ministers, they actually enter the job, but I think you should just get used to that because I think over in the times to come - this is going to happen again and you might as well just, you know, let's er, let's accept that the most important thing is to keep doing the best for the country in the time that remains.
JON SOPEL: And Northern Ireland, because there's a... (unintelligible)
TONY BLAIR: Yeah, well I mean, actually when I was going through, thank you for reminding me, I was going through the list of issues, of course Northern Ireland is, is hugely important. I mean look, the really critical thing here and I know people say, well, you know, is this just another you know, another deadline, another day.
I would say that the next few weeks will be as important as the negotiation of the original Good Friday Agreement, and the end of power sharing that happened back in 2002 because we will determine whether we have a basis for the future in Northern Ireland, that allows us both to have power sharing between Unionists and Republicans and Nationalists, really on a solid basis for the first time ever.
And have a situation where everybody in Northern Ireland supports, and supports properly the police, the courts and the criminal justice system. And that would be, what a fantastic thing that would be instead of waking up as we used to years ago, erm, to, to, violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland, we have the prospect of peace.
JON SOPEL: Final question and I suspect I'm going to get a one word answer or a very short answer. Is there anything you're looking forward to about not being Prime Minister.
TONY BLAIR: Yeah, lots but that's for me to know and you to find out at a later time.
JON SOPEL: Prime Minister, thank you very much.
TONY BLAIR: Thanks.
END OF RECORDING
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