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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 September 2006, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Labour focus
On Sunday 24 September 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Prime Minister Blair, on the eve of the Labour Party Conference in Manchester

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Prime Minister Blair
Prime Minister Blair

ANDREW MARR: Now this is Tony Blair's 10th, and he's told us, his last Labour conference as Prime Minister.

Back in 1997 he was riding a tide of optimism following the party's landslide election victory.

The new Labour government promised then to be one of high ideals, radical reforms.

So this conference is an occasion for a certain amount of nostalgia perhaps, certainly for taking stock.

Has Mr. Blair's time in office lived up to the expectations of those heady days after the '97 election?

Well Tony Blair is with me now. Prime Minister welcome, thanks for joining us. It's going to be a very, very strange week isn't it? TONY BLAIR: Well, it's strange being the last conference but, you know, I always like to look ahead in fact, I don't just mean for myself, but for the Labour Party.

I think we've done an immense amount to be proud of, very strong economy, low unemployment, huge investment in our schools and hospitals, delivering results. Even crime, despite all the publicity, actually down.

But, there's a tremendous amount of challenges now to take on and what I want to do obviously this week is to say to the Labour Party, look, we've had a difficult time recently, go back, focus on the public, the public's concerns, the things that really worry people, set out the big ideas on the Health Service, on education, on immigration law and order, how we keep a strong economy in the new global world.

And, you know, if we do that then all of the stuff of the last few weeks will be forgotten. We can concentrate on the future.

ANDREW MARR: I'd like to come on and talk about all of that actually, but...

TONY BLAIR: Good, that would be nice...

ANDREW MARR: But...

TONY BLAIR: I'm not sure about that Andy...

ANDREW MARR: But. But. I'm must, I mean I'm intrigued. I think an awful lot of people watching will be intrigued about how you feel. Because it is going to be extraordinary.

Are you going, is there going to be a lump in your throat when you do that last speech? Do you feel emotional about it, or are you quite pleased to see the back of all this?

TONY BLAIR: Look, for me it's being a huge privilege and honour to lead the Labour Party. We've had three election victories for the first time in our history. That's something to celebrate. But more to celebrate is what we've done.

And I think the interesting thing is you come to this city of Manchester, ten years ago the IRA bomb destroyed the city centre here, you look at the place, even the place we're in here. You know, brand new offices, levels of unemployment that haven't been seen for 30-40 years, and a city that's on its way up as one of the best cities in Europe. You know I think, for me, it's not, look, nostalgia. It's getting on... AND

REW MARR: As I say, I want to get on, we want to get on to the politics. But I'm just wondering about you as, you know, you personally. I mean you must, just tell us how you feel?

TONY BLAIR: I feel I've got my conference speech on Tuesday, and the thing is funnily enough I was talking to Mary Wilson, you know we unveiled the statue of Harold Wilson, and I said how was it like with Harold, the party conference.

And she said, well, until his speech was over nothing else occupied his mind. And he used to be surrounded by all these advisors, giving him this bit of advice and that bit of advice. And I used to say to him, Harold, you just go into the room, wrap a cold towel round your head and you get it done. And some things never change.

ANDREW MARR: Some things never change.

TONY BLAIR: So that's really ....

ANDREW MARR: Well we've been describing this all the way through the morning as your last Labour Party conference, but presumably, are you going to come to the next Labour Party conference, this time next year?

TONY BLAIR: Yeah, I'll be there as a delegate, accusing the leadership of selling out, saying why we need more radical socialism.

ANDREW MARR: (laughter) and you're not, just to make this clear, you're not going to leave Parliament once you've left the current job, there's not going to be a by-election in Sedgefield?

TONY BLAIR: No, I'm you know, one of the other things that's been a real privilege is to represent a place like Sedgefield. And I've had again a fantastic time, and amazing support from people.

Because part of the trouble when you are the Prime Minister, and even as party leader, is you don't get the time to spend with your own constituency that you'd like. But again I look round Sedgefield and I feel very proud of what we've done.

ANDREW MARR: So, what's it going... Tony I mean, with respect, Tony Blair humble back bencher, doesn't kind of figure, doesn't sound entirely convincing. What are you going to do?

TONY BLAIR: Well, anyway, at the moment I'm concentrating on getting the job...

ANDREW MARR: Well anyway...

TONY BLAIR: ...sounds like. You know, it's one of these things, how do you describe it. Of course it's strange in one way since it's your last conference and all the rest of it.

But I am, you know, the thing about this job is, the one thing it isn't, is sort of part time.

And so at the moment I am absolutely into all the things that I still need to get done before I go. Because there's no point in just being in the job, you've got to get things done.

ANDREW MARR: I think you were going, you were going to give us the date I think weren't you just now?

TONY BLAIR: No I wasn't, no.

ANDREW MARR: You weren't. Oh, sorry, I was wrong about that.

TONY BLAIR: No, I'm sorry about that.

ANDREW MARR: You're sorry about that. But you're going to stay as an MP for the lifetime of this parliament?

TONY BLAIR: I mean, I, well as I say, I'm very privileged to represent my constituency and I'd like to carry on doing it.

ANDREW MARR: You'd like to carry on doing it, very good. Let's turn to the politics. You've talked about New Labour having to have a debate about the direction of the party. I wonder what you mean by that? Do you think there is some kind of fundamental division or argument to be had inside New Labour?

TONY BLAIR: No, I don't. I think actually what is interesting is that for the first time in Labour's history there is very little fundamental ideological division. I mean, look, there are some people who think New Labour's been a terrible aberration, let's go back to the past.

But I don't think they're very large in number. I think the issue for us is completely different, and it's, in fact, if we approach it the right way, a very exciting time for us. The truth is in 1997 we ushered in a different approach to running Britain. We managed a strong economy with measures of public investment and social justice. And that was the first time the British people have been offered this choice.

What we've now got to do is recognise that ten years on the world's different again, so we've got to go back into all those fundamental challenges the country faces, like these issues to do with immigration, terrorism, law and order, how you, you know, maintain a health and education system with funding that isn't going to be able to receive the huge boosts of early years. How you keep your economy competitive in the modern world. Now these challenges I don't think are going to divide the Labour Party, but I do think we need to go out with strong policy answers.

And the reason for that, just let me explain, is this - you see, at the moment what's happening is, the Tories are able to say well look, you know, we're something new. And my point to the Labour Party is, look, when you're three terms in government and you're going for your fourth term, you're not the new kids on the block anymore, there's no point in pretending you are. The way you win is to say, here are these big challenges and so immense are they and so difficult for our country, that we need these strong answers properly worked out, properly thought through.

And in contrast to the Tory Party who I don't think really have worked out those answers, we can say look, here is, it's an immensely difficult situation this country faces, but we have the answers to it and so we'll guide you through this period of change. And if you do that you win. If you don't do that, and you end up not having that fundamental policy debate, not fundamental division, but fundamental policy debate, then you're going to be in trouble.

ANDREW MARR: And, just to put some flesh on that, the kind of ideas that have been, seem to have been briefed from No. 10, but also the Chancellor's been talking about, putting the National Health Service under some kind of new constitution, in effect hiving the management off. But is that the kind of thing that you're thinking about?

TONY BLAIR: Well all of these things should be debated. Yes.

ANDREW MARR: Do you like that idea?

TONY BLAIR: Well I think the most important thing is to keep the NHS true to its values. So I think there's you know, there's a lot of point in being very specific about what we mean by that. But I also do think you need to drive forward this reform process in the NHS.

ANDREW MARR: And some kind of new management or constitutional structure could help gain that?

TONY BLAIR: You can debate it. I mean, we should debate it. But I think the most important thing in my own view for the Health Service is keep the reform programme going.

Because even though it is difficult and the staff are performing, you know NHS staff as I've seen myself visiting hospitals in the last couple of weeks, they're performing heroics in very difficult circumstances. But believe me, at the next election we have got to be the party that says, we've put this money in and you now have a personal, high quality service that puts you, the patient, first.

ANDREW MARR: And do you think there should be any limit to marketisation or the use of private money and management inside the NHS?

TONY BLAIR: But you know, I just think it's kind of, I mean people keep having this argument...

ANDREW MARR: Yeah.

TONY BLAIR: But...

ANDREW MARR: ...I mean it's you, you're in charge of it..

TONY BLAIR: ...it's kind of a redundant argument in a way, and actually I read what both Gordon and Patricia Hewitt said recently, that people were trying to say there were differences. There aren't. Look, I was visiting the burns unit of the Whiston Hospital in Knowsley yesterday.

The idea that market forces can deal with someone who's got 40%-50% burns and needs emergency treatment, no of course not. On the other hand, when you're talking about the NHS procuring equipment, logistics for example, which is one of the hottest news this week because we're wanting to contract that out.

Then, of course, what works best for the patient and the NHS is what we should do. So, you know, of course there are always going to be limits to the market in the National Health Service. There's lots of things in the National Health Service you never would dream of doing by the market. On the other hand, the idea of having an NHS that isn't monolithic, where you've got power to innovate and create at the front line.

And where you've got the most efficient system possible to get the best value out of the money you're putting in, that's absolutely essential. And if you look around the world today, what's happening are two things in virtually every major industrial country. One, the barriers between public, private and independent voluntary sectors...

ANDREW MARR: Coming down.

TONY BLAIR: ...are coming down.

ANDREW MARR: Yes.

TONY BLAIR: So that is going to carry on. And the other thing quite specifically is the voluntary sector, the third sector, is playing a far greater role in delivery. Not traditional, central or local government. Now we've got to be at the forefront of that argument, in my view.

Because as I say, the issue at the next election will be very, very simple for the British people. Yes, it will be who will continue the investment, that's important. But it's also going to be, who are the people that are going to deliver the service for you the parent, you the patient? And we've got to be on top of that argument.

ANDREW MARR: So, clearly, here you are full of ideas and energy and all the rest of it. And yet you're in this very strange position, where you're not going to be around to see it through as leader.

You've got a Queen's speech. But most of the things in that Queen's speech, the compromises, the deals, the votes, etc. are going to happen after you've left. So how do you, you can't, as it were, nail the rudder, or tie the steering wheel, and then expect the party to go on in exactly the same direction, can you?

TONY BLAIR: No, of course not.

ANDREW MARR: You have to let go to a certain extent.

TONY BLAIR: Of course, and the one thing's for sure, you know, once you stop being leader you stop being leader. And, I mean, incidentally I was joking about the delegate next year, at the party conference. But I mean, the fact is that's your status once you...

ANDREW MARR: But you will be coming next year?

TONY BLAIR: I, er...

ANDREW MARR: Ah, you might not be coming next year?

TONY BLAIR: I haven't the faintest idea - I was only...

ANDREW MARR: You might not be coming to party conference next year. This is very sad.

TONY BLAIR: Look, anyone who's been to party conference would obviously love to come back year on year. But we'll just have to see.

ANDREW MARR: I think you're digging yourself deeper.

TONY BLAIR: I probably am. But, the key thing is this. How do we make sure that what New Labour has achieved in these three terms of government, then continues for the future? And what I'm saying is, I don't think there is a dispute, that basically the direction will carry on being New Labour.

What we have to do though, not in a sense of division, is work out the answers to these issues and of course it's important that before I go I can play a role in that. But after you go it's up to people to decide what to do, and that's for the new people to take on.

ANDREW MARR: So, if there isn't an ideological division inside the New Labour project, does that mean that you think there shouldn't be a sort of substantive contest for your job?

TONY BLAIR: Well, I knew you'd ask me all about contests and so on. And I decided really at the Cabinet this week and you know I think everyone agrees this is sensible.

This week let's go back to talking about the public. There'll be plenty of time at a later time when you know, things change for us to go and talk about the leadership, but the absolute essence of the moment, believe me, after the last few weeks, is go back to the public...

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. Sure, absolutely.

TONY BLAIR: ...and talk to the public about the issues that worry them. I mean we will have a debate, for example, on immigration and law and order, this week. I think probably for the people out there these issues to do with migration, terrorism, law and order, are probably the single source of insecurity out there they worry about most. They will be the centrepiece of the Queen's speech later in the year. It's essential we go back and talk about these things.

ANDREW MARR: Worry not, we will. But it's just, I was thinking back in '94 when all this thing got going. One of the things that you and Gordon Brown achieved was that you didn't, New Labour or modernisers, didn't fight modernisers. There was a united front. And that allowed the change and the transition to happen.

What I am wondering is whether you think there is a danger if modernisers fight modernisers. If you regard Gordon Brown as a moderniser just alongside people like Alan Millburn or Alan Johnson or John Reid or whoever it might be. If modernisers fight modernisers surely that is going to be exactly what you were warning against, that is going to be the Labour Party turning in on itself and turning its back on the public.

TONY BLAIR: Yes, which is why absolutely we've got to have a policy process as it were allows everyone to come together, so that you can then move forward in a unified way, in the New Labour direction, but with the new agenda for the new problems. And that's the way to get the country back on side...

ANDREW MARR: Which would lead you to go to some of these people and say, actually, if you want my advice we shouldn't have a contest.

TONY BLAIR: Well, I'm not getting into all the contest...

ANDREW MARR: ...just leadership..

TONY BLAIR: You can draw whatever conclusions you want to draw from it. My point however where I completely agree with you, is yes it is sensible that we have a process over the coming months that brings us together on policy, so that you have a unified direction going forward. Because the danger for us is very, very simple. And this is the problem of the last few weeks. For the first time certainly since I became leader, the Labour Party went sort of AWOL from the British public.

You know, it looked in on itself, it started all the in-fighting and all the rest of it. Now, the public out there are angry about that. They don't want to see their government do that. They want us to govern. Actually, we have the capacity to govern, we have the programme that is the right programme for government. If you take pensions or energy, two of the trickiest issues in the world today, we have come up with answers capable of unifying both party and country.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm.

TONY BLAIR: Concentrate on that. The leadership issue will look after itself in due course.

ANDREW MARR: Do you agree with David Blunett, that the Labour Party is staring into an abyss?

TONY BLAIR: Well I haven't actually read what David said but I certainly agree with him that the important thing is to get back to the public again. And, you know, in the end...

ANDREW MARR: Big crisis for your party. I mean, looking at the opinion polls, they're really bad.

TONY BLAIR: You say that. But I remember in the 1980s, the Tory Party would sometimes be 10-15 points behind in the opinion polls, and would then come back and whack us at the next election.

This is so important for people to understand this. In a third term you're not, you don't have the wave of euphoria, that you get in 1997 after 18 years of Tory government. You get all the wear and tear of government. What you can do, however, if you have the big answers to the big questions, is say to the public, in the end when you come to the fourth election, look, this is what you're worried about, here are the answers to it.

We can see you through this period of change and the other lot don't have the answers. And they don't. Because when you look at the Tories and you see their policy making, I mean, you know, you take foreign policy, he wants to distance himself from the White House, and from Europe. Now, let me just tell you, in today's world the idea you can run a foreign policy where you're distant from America and distant from Europe.

ANDREW MARR: You said he was not a Neo Con which is you know, slightly different?

TONY BLAIR: But even you know, it's all playing around in order to say I'd like to shift a little bit of weight from America.

ANDREW MARR: Well listen...

TONY BLAIR: And at the same time you're going to be eurosceptic. Now, all I'm saying about that, that's just one example, is if you go, and I could give you another from energy or from their tax and spending policy, or whatever.

ANDREW MARR: That was fine.

TONY BLAIR: Right, OK. But the point I'm making is this. When you come to the next election it will be decided on ideas, on vision for the future, on policy. If we're strong there, and unified, and it's a thoroughly new Labour direction that we're putting forward, the changed times.

Then I tell you, we will be fine. We'll come back. If on the other hand what we do is we end up obviously squabbling amongst ourselves, we'll, you know...

ANDREW MARR: OK. I'm not going to go on endlessly about dates and all that kind of stuff. But let's get, if we can, at least one thing absolutely clear. Do you still want Gordon Brown to take over from you?

TONY BLAIR: I've just said to you, I'm not getting into the leadership and contests and all the rest of it. But let me just make one thing clear, Gordon has been a fantastic Chancellor. He's been a great servant of the country and the party - I don't resile from anything I've said before, including...

ANDREW MARR: Including, because you're not...

TONY BLAIR: Hang on, I don't resile from anything I've said before but this week I'm talking to the public about the public's concerns. And that's the agreement we made at Cabinet and that's what we're going to do. And both of us realise and actually we were talking about this yesterday together - that the most important thing is this week we set up an agenda for the future.

And it's been a partnership that has, as you just pointed out, been remarkably successful for the party and the country. And it's important the two of us work together with the rest of the Cabinet in setting out the agenda for the future.

ANDREW MARR: OK. Among the things you don't resile from then, is your statement that he would be a brilliant Prime Minister.

TONY BLAIR: I've said I don't resile from anything I've said before.

ANDREW MARR: Including that?

TONY BLAIR: I've just said, from nothing, I've said before. But I'm saying this week I'm not getting into the leadership, contests, anything else. I know you guys will and it's perfectly understandable, and that is one stream of speculation that will run all week.

ANDREW MARR: Well, I mean it's not unimportant. And I'm not the Prime Minister so it's not an unimportant issue.

TONY BLAIR: And I'm not in the least complaining about it. I'm simply saying for the Labour Party, looking at it from our perspective, this week should be about the policy agenda insofar as that is possible.

ANDREW MARR: The biggest selling Sunday newspaper, the News of the World, says to its readers today, "Blair won't back Brown".

TONY BLAIR: Mmm.

ANDREW MARR: So.

TONY BLAIR: Look, if I worried about everything the newspapers said on a day-to-day basis I would...

ANDREW MARR: But you can clear that up, you can clear that up in five seconds.

TONY BLAIR: Yeah, of course, and then that gets you off.

ANDREW MARR: So why not?

TONY BLAIR: I've said all I'm going to say on it. And the reason for that is very, very simple, because this week we should reconnect with the public. Now, the best thing for anybody...

ANDREW MARR: Can I just...

TONY BLAIR: ...the best thing for anybody, right, who has the interests of the Labour Party at heart, this week, is to concentrate on that forward agenda.

But I've just said what I've always said about Gordon, and as I say, I'm not resigning from that in a single way, I'm just saying to you, I know, you've got a programme later this evening that you're doing on Gordon, and I'm afraid you're going to have to do your own promo for it, because I want to concentrate on the issues.

ANDREW MARR: There are lots of very interesting stories, thank you very much indeed.

TONY BLAIR: Well I'm going to have a boost now, so there you go.

ANDREW MARR: I'm sure we'll all be watching that. But it's just that you know, because you know your party and we all know politics, if you are standing back in any way from saying that you think Gordon Brown should be the next Prime Minister, the frenzy out there is going to on...

TONY BLAIR: You're actually stoking, Andy...

ANDREW MARR: ... by not saying...

TONY BLAIR: No, no, hang on a minute. I'm sorry, I'm not playing this game with you.

ANDREW MARR: I'm not playing a game.

TONY BLAIR: ...of course it is a game. They want to push you this way or that way and I'm saying I'm going back to the issues concerning the country at the moment. That's what I'm going to do.

ANDREW MARR: So after all this time you will not say that you would like Gordon Brown to be the next Prime Minister?

TONY BLAIR: Excuse me. I've just said, I've not resiled from anything I've said before. But what I want to do this week is concentrate on the issues for the public, because that is what matters. And I also am still doing the job myself. Now there will come a later time when I will answer all these questions and answer them fully and in details. The important think at the moment is for me to get on with my job.

And you can understand, and I hope you can, that just right at this moment it is important for me as the leader of the Labour Party, and Prime Minister, to carry on doing the job of setting out the agenda for the country. Now all these issues, there will come a point when the leadership is live, when we go back into all that, and then I'll be very happy to ...

ANDREW MARR: Fair dos.

TONY BLAIR: And don't read anything into what I'm saying that is disrespectful or contrary to the interests of anybody, including Gordon.

ANDREW MARR: All I'm saying is, that you know you could have said yes - no and the stories for five minutes.

TONY BLAIR: Exactly, and I could have given you a story today that is nothing about going back to the leadership again and I decided not to, but I'm probably being na´ve in that.

ANDREW MARR: All right, well we'll see. We'll see. Let's move on to some of the issues that you mentioned. Let's move on, to start with, to talk a little bit about terrorism. Now the National Security Council in the States, which as you know brings together all their security, says in a new report that they believe the threat of terrorism has been markedly increased, seriously increased, by what's happened in Iraq. Do you agree with them?

TONY BLAIR: I don't think that terrorism has increased as a result of Iraq, nor Afghanistan.

ANDREW MARR: But this is the CIA, they have all these guys, these clever guys.

TONY BLAIR: I don't know whether it's the view of the CIA or the FBI, but I can tell you my view, very, very strongly indeed, is that part of the biggest problem we have is in believing that we started this thing. Look, 9/11 which was the worst terrorist act in the world's history, happened before Iraq or Afghanistan.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm.

TONY BLAIR: And actually, if you go back to this movement, founded on a warped and perverted view of Islam. If you go back, the roots of it are deep, they go back decades. And it's going to take us a long time to root it out. But in Iraq and in Afghanistan we are there now with United Nations mandates, in both cases were there from the beginning in Afghanistan with the UN mandate.

With the full support of the democratic governments, the first time those countries have had democratic governments, with the majority of Muslims voting for those governments. So, the idea we're conducting some war on Islam is utterly absurd. The people who are killing innocent Muslims in Iraq and in Afghanistan, are the terrorists, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, those people who are backed, I'm afraid, by Iran, in the case of Iraq. And, you know, we've got to stand up to it. And if we don't stand up to it that is what will increase terrorism in the world as a whole.

ANDREW MARR: Latest figures are about 50,000 extra civilian deaths in Iraq since the war. Is there any part of you that takes any responsibility for what happened?

TONY BLAIR: Well of course I take responsibility for what's happened and is happening in Iraq.

ANDREW MARR: Because it's hellish isn't it?

TONY BLAIR: Yes, but Andrew, who is killing these people? It's not British soldiers who are going in and killing innocent people in Iraq. It's British soldiers that are there with the support of the democratic government, trying to get on its feet, trying to govern the country, in the face of terrorist outrages that are designed to plunge it into civil war.

Now, why do Al Qaeda and, I'm afraid some of the groups supported by Iran, why do they want to do this? Because they know that if we get the government in Iraq on its feet, a non-sectarian government, voted for by the Iraqi people, that is the death blow to this type of extremist.

ANDREW MARR: Gordon Brown, I can mention the words Gordon Brown, I hope.

TONY BLAIR: Well I've mentioned them myself so that's a wee bit unfair, but anyway, there we are.

ANDREW MARR: Gordon Brown said when I was talking to him a couple of weeks ago, that he thought that what had gone on immediately after the war hadn't been well handled, there presumably hadn't been enough money, there hadn't been enough attention to try and put Iraq back together again immediately after the war. Do you agree with him on that?

TONY BLAIR: Well, I've said the same myself, in the sense that I think there were real issues to do with de-Ba'athification and so on. However, I think that the root of the problem is very simple, and it's the same with Afghanistan - the fact is these people, this global movement based on, as I say, a perversion of the true faith of Islam which is a peaceful faith, these people round the world are part of a global movement and they know it is desperately important for them to stop us putting a different vision in place for those two countries.

That's why they're fighting us. And, the way that we have come to view this in the west, and this is why, I think this is so dangerous for us, is that when there are civilians being killed in Iraq, when tragically we're losing troops in Afghanistan, people then turn round and say, ah, well you shouldn't be there. Well, I'm afraid you should be there. If the people who are engaged in killing the innocent or killing our troops there with the UN mandate, are the people who we need to defeat worldwide in order to rid ourselves of this terrorism.

ANDREW MARR: Are you surprised by how tough it is for the British troops out in Afghanistan?

TONY BLAIR: I think the particular mission was tougher than anyone expected, but I'm not surprised it was tough.

ANDREW MARR: Because it was originally sold, as it were, as a relatively low-risk.....

TONY BLAIR: I'd really like to correct this, because people keep utterly misquoting and taking out of context John Reid when he said, we now would be happy if not a shot was fired. He was saying...

ANDREW MARR: It was hope rather than prediction.

TONY BLAIR: No, no, it was more than that. He was actually predicting that it would be extremely dangerous, but going on to say but of course I hope we manage.

ANDREW MARR: All right.

TONY BLAIR: The fact is the British troops there incidentally are doing, I mean, just an incredible job. I mean just, these people are courageous and brave and committed beyond anything you can possibly imagine. And it is important that we're there. I mean the whole reason we've gone into that as part of the NATO force under the UN resolution is because it is essential for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, to come back into that southern part of Afghanistan, and it's essential for us to keep them out.

ANDREW MARR: Speaking of which. You get all these intelligence reports. Can you shed any light at all on the stories that Osama Bin Laden is in fact dead?

TONY BLAIR: I can't, I'm afraid.

ANDREW MARR: You haven't heard anything that indicates that might be the case?

TONY BLAIR: I haven't.

ANDREW MARR: OK. Let's come back to home again then. Three people have now been arrested in the so-called cash for peerages affair. Are you expecting to be interviewed by the police?

TONY BLAIR: I've got absolutely nothing to say on that, because you know, there are investigations going on.

ANDREW MARR: It's a simple question, do you expect them to come and talk to you?

TONY BLAIR: Well, I haven't the faintest idea. But all I do know is that this is an investigation that's got to be allowed to continue on its course.

ANDREW MARR: So at this stage you don't know that they're going to come and interview at any stage?

TONY BLAIR: I'm, I'm not going to comment on it. I don't know that. But it's important that they're allowed to carry out their investigation and I just, you know, want them to be able to do that.

ANDREW MARR: And you will presumably tell them everything you know if and when they arrive at No. 11.

TONY BLAIR: Yes, but you know, again don't start speculating about what may or may not happen, because we get enough of this on this issue day in, day out. The police are conducting their investigation and let them conduct it. That's my view.

ANDREW MARR: Are you regretful about the way that money was raised, this use of loans, I mean, has caused such a lot of problem for your party. Out there in the public people are really turned off this stuff.

TONY BLAIR: Yes. And I think what's very important is that when the police investigation is over then I'll have the chance to comment on it fully, which I will do.

ANDREW MARR: And do you think there has to be a different way of funding our political parties as a result?

TONY BLAIR: I do, but you know the public will have work out whether it wants to bear more of the burden itself as taxpayers. Political parties, you know, the concept of political parties sometimes isn't even very popular. But democracy does need political parties and for me, for the Labour Party, it was incredibly important. When I, you know, became leader of the Labour Party, we got, I don't know it was maybe 90% of our funding from trade unions.

ANDREW MARR: I do understand that, but...

TONY BLAIR: ...and I think it's important that we were able, it was an important part of getting ourselves elected that we were able to say, you know this is...

ANDREW MARR: You paid a heck of a price for this, because your party's polling on trust and honesty is now worse than John Major's at its very worst when everyone was talking about sleeze. Who's responsible for that, is it just the media?

TONY BLAIR: No, I mean, look, everyone bears responsibility. But, you know...

ANDREW MARR: Do you bear responsibility?

TONY BLAIR: Of course, absolutely and it's, you know, there have been many difficult issues that have given rise to this. But one of the advantages of being in the position I'm in now is that you can kind of be a bit reflective about these things. And I simply say to you because I know there's talk this morning about, you know, what changes would you make in order to bring in greater trust in politics, less cynicism and so on. And I'll just give you my take on this. Because we have introduced the first rules on party funding, freedom of information, the European convention on human rights.

ANDREW MARR: We've run out of time I'm afraid, but you're clearly going to have to go further, but anyway, thank you very, very much indeed for joining us. And I hope, if you're at the party conference next year you'll come back and talk to us.

TONY BLAIR: Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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