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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 October 2006, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Ne regrette rien?
On Sunday 15 October, Huw Edwards interviewed David Blunkett MP, former Home Secretary.

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

David Blunkett MP, former Home Secretary
David Blunkett MP, former Home Secretary

DAVID BLUNKETT: If I have upset people I'm genuinely sorry.

But I don't think there's anything in here that is in the least bit damaging to the long term of the party or the government.

And there isn't anything that is just tittle tattle.

HUW EDWARDS: And yet you talk vividly about personalities, in some cases, about very important policy discussions.

You reveal tensions at the heart of government. Can that not be seen as damaging?

DAVID BLUNKETT: No. I think it's open. I think people will see it as logical when they actually read the balance. And if anybody thinks that we didn't have real up and downers about spending reviews or the major issues, in a completely different world.

Seven day a week, twenty-four hour, global pressures with from Iraq to ID cards, to issues around how do you deal with the new Europe? Those are, those are massive issues on which I think the book sheds some light in terms of how we deal with them. And people come out with enormous credit.

HUW EDWARDS: One of your colleagues said to me during the course of the week "Ask him whether he was under financial pressure to write this book. That may be an explanation why he published it so quickly". What would you say to him?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well I certainly could do with the cash. So let's be absolutely honest about it. Although the figures I've been reading this weekend are completely exaggerated.

I pay my agent. I pay the, for the book to be prepared for publication. And I make no apology for doing what my predecessors have done which is to reach the best deal but the best deal that cut out the kiss and tell. The best deal for me would have been one that had all there, all the b..., bodies dug up, all my private life splashed across this book. None of that is in this volume.

HUW EDWARDS: Let's focus on one of the biggest areas of dispute over the past few years and of course one that Mr Blair is still grappling with now which is Iraq. You mentioned the build up and the debate around the cabinet table. How many people around that cabinet table were openly voicing concern or even disagreement?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Two people in terms of whether we should be taking action - Robin and Clare Short.

Some of us in terms of what happened in winning the peace so that we could bring pressure to bear on the United States which Tony did everything he could to achieve, to actually work through, that you don't dismantle the police, the administration, the local government, the lower echelons of the armed services if you want to keep a functioning state. And this is not clever, clever hindsight.

I was saying at the time and regrettably it's been proved true since.

HUW EDWARDS: Was there not more discussion around that table about what happened afterwards? That's, that's the biggest question being asked now of Mr Blair isn't it? Why did you not prepare more?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well he did. And there was. But the point I make very heavily in the Diary is that we're a sixty million nation off the geographic coast of Europe influencing the only super power in the world who were going into Iraq anyway and we did our utmost.

But we weren't in the White House or the Pentagon. We weren't influencing directly Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. And they were the ones who were taking the detailed decisions on dismantling all the apparatus that they found under the heading of de-baathertisation.

HUW EDWARDS: I mean put it another way, you failed to influence them?

DAVID BLUNKETT: We failed to fully influence them. We'd exercised enormous influence in getting very close to a second UN Resolution.

HUW EDWARDS: You use a very intriguing phrase about the Chancellor Gordon Brown when you say, before that crucial moment, for the invasion, Gordon is now going to come on board. What exactly did you mean by that?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well I was only reflecting the fact that Gordon had chosen his moment. I'm reflecting history. And people ... know it. I mean there's nothing in my diary that can't be in one way or another verified by people simply looking at what happened at the time.

HUW EDWARDS: So Gordon Brown's support for it was not clear until the very, very late moment?

DAVID BLUNKETT: No. I've discussed this with Gordon. Gordon's support, and I have every reason to believe him, was unequivocal, behind the scenes. When he came public it was a decisive and important factor and very welcome.

HUW EDWARDS: I do want to ask you specifically, at least you recognised the impression you give in that section of your book, is that somehow Gordon Brown had not been fully convinced of the case for invasion and at the last minute decided for whatever reason that he was going to say that he supported it. That's the impression you give.

DAVID BLUNKETT: Yeah it was, it was my impression to my diary at a moment in time. And as I'm reflecting ..

HUW EDWARDS: Why did you get that impression?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well I mean read the, people must read what I say before and after to get the full measure of my acknowledgment of Gordon's support, both for Tony personally in those circumstances and for the war.

Well to answer your question straight there was absolutely no way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, particularly this Chancellor of the Exchequer with the strength and breadth of his political clout, could possibly do anything other than back the Prime Minister on that occasion ..

HUW EDWARDS: Or else as you say ..

DAVID BLUNKETT: .. without there, without there being a consequence.

HUW EDWARDS: Of course. Of course.

DAVID BLUNKETT: I mean it's a blindingly obvious ..

HUW EDWARDS: Of course it is.

DAVID BLUNKETT: .. political observation ..

HUW EDWARDS: Of course and you used an even better phrase David didn't you?

DAVID BLUNKETT: At, at, at the time ..

HUW EDWARDS: The phrase you say, the phrase you use is that you know Tony will take him out, ...

DAVID BLUNKETT: Yeah, yeah. I wouldn't, I wouldn't use it now but I did then, and the, and the, the great strength of these diaries is not only that they're honest but that in italics I put my further thinking. So I haven't mixed as some diaries and most autobiographies do, fact with revisionist thinking later.

HUW EDWARDS: We now have the head of the army, the Chief of General Staff, Sir Richard Dannet saying that we should get out of Iraq soon and that we're causing more problems frankly in security terms by being there. What was your response to that?

DAVID BLUNKETT: I thought please don't try and introduce a new constitutional element, namely that the armed services in our democracy will interfere with the correct role of the government in making the decisions and the armed services, who are not normal employees, they're not civil servants or managers in a business, will carry it out. I think we're in danger of blowing this up beyond all belief.

I think that he's been in the job a very short period of time. And those of us who've been in jobs for a very long period of time and still make errors when we're talking to the press are beholden on being a little more gentle about it.

HUW EDWARDS: But you think it's fine that he stays in the job and it doesn't make that any more difficult?

DAVID BLUNKETT: I think it's fine that the decisions taken by the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary has supported. I think lessons as I say we're learning all the time. Lessons will have been learnt. Cos we don't have the intervention of the military into our decision making in Britain and nor should we.

HUW EDWARDS: There's such a strong sense of frustration at times with the Civil Service in your book, that a very real sense that some of the more radical things you want to tackle are frankly being blocked. Either because of incompetence or because of a lack of structure or organisation. But it's the Civil Service getting in the way of things that you want to do. Is that entirely fair or is it the fact that ministers including yourself are sometimes just not very good at managing big departments and getting the change through that they want?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well it's not entirely fair if we don't know what we want, if we don't provide the leadership of policy, we're clear about the objectives and the way in which we wish to approach it. If I have a criticism about this for myself it was, for, firstly I was too tetchy. But the truth is that on the whole they want to do the job. And the people that I valued most were those who went the extra mile to do so.

But they've never been equipped on the whole for the delivery on the ground and the connection between legislating which they're good at, crisis management which certainly in the Home Office they'd become used to, and long term thinking and preparation which involves re-training the service.

HUW EDWARDS: Do you think the department is still dysfunctional?

DAVID BLUNKETT: I think that what John Reid described in, in slightly different terms than I would have used, was correct. But it's part of the Home Office, not the Home Office. You, one thing I learnt was firstly I was unfair to my predecessor Jack Straw because I learnt very quickly that you're building bricks like creating a wall. And you, you think you've built it high enough to stop the storm hitting you.

And then you discover it's changed direction. And with immigration, with terrorism, with organised crime and drugs and everything that the Home - prisons - the Home Office has to deal with. It's the most frustrating, Tony said the most difficult job outside being Prime Minister and he was right. But it's the most frustrating job that anyone could ever have. And actually coming up to four years of it was probably enough for anybody.

HUW EDWARDS: You've obviously still got a very strong appetite for discussing policy and all the rest of it. You're a politician down to your fingertips and always will be. What is David Blunkett going to do in the future in terms of his politics?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well contrary to what impression may have been gained over the last seven days, I'm going to throw heart and soul into us winning the next general election. And I'm going to ask Tony now and the new leader in future what contribution I can make.

HUW EDWARDS: How would you view the prospect of working for Prime Minister Gordon Brown if that's what happens?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well I think all, all of us should bat in on the next Prime Minister. And I've made it clear time and time again that I don't think very much has changed over the, the last turbulent six weeks. And I believe that we will work together. If it's Gordon we'll be working under Gordon vigorously to see off David Cameron and to win the next general election.

HUW EDWARDS: Will you be backing him specifically?

DAVID BLUNKETT: I am dec..., well we haven't got a d..., declaration list yet. Because we haven't actually got the timetable from Tony and we won't have until next year. But when we do I'll be very happy to make my position clear. And let, let me make it clear as I do in the book. Gordon Brown happens to be a friend of mine. He and Sarah have shared their home with me. The idea that I'm letting colleagues down is just frankly risible.

HUW EDWARDS: What's stopping you declaring for Brown now? Because we know there'll be, you know there's going to be a change?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Bec..., be ..

HUW EDWARDS: What stops you saying that?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, well because I haven't had the discussions with him about this. And I haven't, I mean let's be honest about it. I haven't seen the field for Deputy and I haven't got the clout at the moment to make a difference. And perhaps by next year who knows, my street cred in the parliamentary Labour Party might be slightly higher than it has been over the last seven days.

HUW EDWARDS: Well I think you know full well, or do I need to say this that there'd be lots of people very interested to know which way the Blunkett vote would go.

DAVID BLUNKETT: I know they will, I know they will. And at the appropriate time I will very happily declare.

HUW EDWARDS: Would Gordon Brown make a good Prime Minister?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Oh yes. Absolutely.

HUW EDWARDS: And people shouldn't discount Mr Blunkett returning to a future cabinet?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Oh, oh ...

HUW EDWARDS: One of the press headlines this week said that you'd said goodbye to a cabinet career.

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well, well I haven't said one thing or the other because you see what happened to me in December two thousand and four was very salutary. I tried to come back too soon. I set my stall out and Tony was generous enough to give me a chance. I fell into terrible pitfalls and I say in the book that you know I should have foreseen them.

HUW EDWARDS: How hurt were you that people were saying here we have national security, some of the most important duties in the land, in the hand of someone who's quote "going mad"?

DAVID BLUNKETT: I was describing in December two thousand and four lies that I knew to be untrue, pressures that were absolutely enormous. And I looked at the ceiling and said to my diary in between a number of other phrases "I must be going mad". And to be absolutely - I also said by the way I'm starting not to believe myself any more.

It got to the point where I wasn't entirely sure whether I was, I was seeing the facts as I understood them. Thank God in retrospect, two years on, the facts were as I said they were, just as they were last year. But my goodness David Blunkett has quite a lot to answer for in terms of the collateral damage to family, to friends, to non-friends who didn't and haven't and still don't deserve the opprobrium, the flak that they're currently giving.

HUW EDWARDS: And you talked today about rebuilding your life. How is that process going?

DAVID BLUNKETT: Well it's going well because as all back benchers know looking after your constituency is a joy. Done my advice surgery this weekend with all sorts of cases.

It's, it's joyous to be able to walk at the weekend, to actually have a Sunday afternoon off, to be able to cook in the evening and just to have the pleasure of being with your family and your old friends again who were very tolerant but who I often lost touch with. It's a wonderful experience to start being a human being again.

HUW EDWARDS: David Blunkett, as always it's a pleasure to talk to you.

DAVID BLUNKETT: Thank you Huw.

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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