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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Tony Blair on Newsnight: Were you impressed?
At the fifth anniversary of Labour's election victory, the BBC's Jeremy Paxman presented a series of interviews with the Prime Minister.
The questions focused on the record of Blair's government in three distinct areas:
The Prime Minister defended his beleaguered Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, and said a referendum on Britain's entry into the single European currency could be "getting close".
Did the Prime Minister's comments sound convincing to you? How would you rate his performance as Prime Minister?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Can I suggest that the interviews may have been more informative and generated a more realistic interview had Mr Paxman worn a funny hat or something to reflect the value of such a rehearsed interview! Or maybe go all the way and have Rory Bremner in the chair. Two jokes for the price of one!
John W, UK/NZ
In the wake of the Government's awful performance in the last few weeks, I have decided that I will switch my allegiance from Labour to Conservative. Tony Blair's performance on Newsnight did nothing to change my mind. He was allusive and smarmy.
On the whole, no real surprises on either side. However, Tony's response of "I'm not telling you that" when probed about the economic tests really shocked me. It's as if Blair considers the future of the country's currency none of our business.
While Tony Blair has a very polished and sincere style, there were too many occasions when his response to questions was simply to refuse to answer. The implication was that he had not foreseen that such questions would arise and therefore had not rehearsed the appropriate answer.
I found Blair frustrating to listen to as he was defensive, did not have any evidence to back up his points and showed himself as the man he is - the man who has abandoned the working class people of this country. One final point, I have never heard a posher Geordie - he is so false.
I particularly liked the stonewalling about taking a donation from the owner of the Express when Jezza pressed him on taking cash from a pornographer. A bit like having nothing to do with Al Capone but insisting that anyone who finances soup kitchens must be OK.
Helier P-D, Cambridge, UK
Tony Blair seemed to me a very pragmatic, genuine man, two virtues that he is not normally associated as being nor gain any credit for. Jeremy Paxman did his utmost to manipulate the Prime Minister's words, (or rather speechwriter's words) as well as quite regrettably trying to associate the PM's moral and religious beliefs with his understandably more pragmatic approach to leading a 21 Century European Nation State. Yet it was through this rather ridiculous attempt to relate religious and political beliefs and the rather fumbled juvenile line of questioning that I felt made the PM shine.
I think the Labour government has been a big disappointment.
Although he tried to come across open and transparent, he actually came across like an ill-informed fence-sitter. He avoided questions such as the possibility of a third term, creationism, and Richard Desmond's donations. If he cannot handle fairly straightforward questions like these, I'd hate to see him come up against harder ones! All I saw was posturing.
Tony Blair came across as an intellectual lightweight who just trotted out the same tired old sound bites we are used to, and Jeremy Paxman let him, possibly to stop the interview disintegrating into rancour. It seems sadly that the most important politician in the country finds it impossible to move away from the schoolboy points scoring that comprises a House Of Commons debate/Prime Minister's question time and he certainly does not come over as an eminent statesman who you expect to be the PM of the UK or as a natural leader.
The responses on here are so telling!
People complaining that Blair was boring because he delivered straight answers, was shifty because he never answered any answers, was unimpressive because he rambled during answers, was crafty because all his answers were spun.
I took away the impression that he was a decent man trying to do a decent job in a not very decent world. Americans seem to have few problems getting behind old "dubble-u" yet all we can do is carp about a man who has reformed his party and the country, without losing sight of his core social values...now that is disappointing!
James P C, UK
Both Paxman and Blair are extremely intelligent men. Neither were there, surely, to score points over the other. It should have been Paxman's job to stimulate (or goad?) the PM into some interesting details of his beliefs, and some explanation of his government's policies. In that, he was successful. The questions were heavily loaded and Paxman's follow-ups were pointlessly pedantic. It doesn't take a genius to realise that no PM was going to condemn USA on a TV programme, just to titillate the audience. Foreign policy is conducted through diplomacy and diplomatic language. One never says what one really means.
Perhaps he can now be compared with his Orwellian namesake (Eric)... he is transforming the state into a nanny (Big Brother) state.
Blair was seen as usual as a bumbling school kid who had just been caught stealing from the tuck shop. And what is it with Blair and that annoying grin on his face! On the other hand the BBC did wonders airbrushing out the strings attached to Blair being pulled by George W. Bush!
As a Prime Minister Tony Blair is not a strong leader, he lacks character and neglects very important issues. On the other hand he has taken a much more paternalistic view to public services something that Labour were left to do after 18 years of neglect by the conservatives. I am 18 and I voted for labour in order to keep the conservatives out. Tony Blair states we live in a democracy. I would not classify one vote every few years as a democracy. I think that us the public should be listened to.
Full praise to Jeremy Paxman. He made Tony Blair look, for want of a better word, silly. His questions were to the point, unfortunately Mr Blair's answers were not.
Jon Whittle, UK
Marx was wrong. It's politics which is the opiate of the masses
If anyone is to blame for the 'lack of politely substance', as one commentator put it, it is the general public who are so easily led by media hysteria instead of reasoned debate and active participation in a democratic process. We observe here intelligent adversaries doing well at giving the public what they appear to be asking for. It is up to the public to demand more and play a more active role rather than behaving like tennis spectators. At least we don't have Bush and CNN.
This government through my website access points are manipulating the people by refusing access to many who want to 'have their say'. Citizenspaceonline' is just one of their ways of controlling the information input. The 'Little Box' society has increased since this Party took power. Some of the others are various government departments i.e. the Benefits Agency. If they do not allow 'Citizens' to have their say, no wonder their statistics always come out in their favour
Blair showed himself to be what we always knew - a man interested in being Prime Minster and in power, and er, that's it. No real convictions or beliefs, just endless news management and trying to be more popular and 'in touch' than the Tories. He's actually quite good at being popular, but don't confuse that with being any good. What will we remember Tony Blair for in 50 years? Not a fat lot. I suspect. The biggest let down ever as PM?
Blair has once again proved that he is a champion politician and Paxman a true journalist.
I think Tony Blair is too unwilling to develop and stick to a stance politically, which is evidence of 'opposition mentality'. It's like trying to stand on a football: very difficult to keep balance and ultimately pointless.
But at the same time, unless there's a culture of citizenship - treating politics and politicians seriously, and taking on one's own responsibility - we cannot expect a culture of statesmanship.
Without responsible citizens, we'll have scared schoolboys trying to stand on footballs, to keep everyone happy.
Mekibib Dawit, UK
For all you Blair bashers out there, particularly those who felt the Prime Minister was rather inarticulate and fumbling in the interviews with JP, just consider that it could be worse. Just look at George Bush, the leader of the 'free world' and the most unintelligent US president in history. As I said Tony could be a lot worse!
People say that Tony Blair is all talk and no action, but that's simply not true. He can't talk coherently either.
Make your mind up Tory voters, which is it! Blair's interview has raised much criticism from you. He is supposedly a poodle to Bush and Europe; two minutes later you describe him as a dictator. He labelled Tory Blair, when it suits you, in the same breath he's called a socialist ideologist . He's ridiculed for being too Presidential, but his leadership is then derided for being too legislative and Parliamentary centred. I've never heard of a control freak, with no control; have you?
I think we have to understand that the world in which we live is now very different to what it has been in ages gone. I am a keen Blair supporter on most political items and always think he delivers responses to what eventually will be. But where Mr Blair does fall a little short is remaining faithful to those who are likely to do himself more damage in the long run. Standards in public life means exemplary performances and we shouldn't lose sight of this.
His performance as Prime Minister over the duration of 5 years has stabilised the economy, kept inflation and prices as low as they have ever been and unemployment at rates any government would be proud of. He has under-gone radical change and thinking in reforming socialist attitude into the 21st century. This to me is clear empirical evidence that he has started something very big - and it will not be without his critics - but he is rising to the challenges of how Britain relates to the world and our own role within it. I rank his centre-left performance very highly.
More like a bloke from DROWNING Street on telly than the Prime Minister of the once Empire of the World
Tony Blair came over splendidly, but as an actor, not as a great leader.
Maybe he should go back to his true vocation, trading the boards of a stage rather than the corridors of power.
Pompous Paxman versus Boring Blair. Wish I'd watched it. I had trouble sleeping that night. Those two insincere self-righteous windbags would have sent me off a treat. Only Mo 'I was a teenage criminal' Mowlam could have had me snoring quicker.
I personally found Tony Blair's performance convincing, inspiring and reassuring. It has certainly convinced me that we need a Conservative government. It has inspired me to go and vote for Mr Duncan Smith's Conservatives at the next General Election. It has also had the effect of me being reassured that to do so would not be a mistake.
To Mr Harry Wentworth, Torquay, Devonshire, England. You, I'm afraid, have always been a Tory voter, so why claim that the "Interview" has convinced you otherwise? Just another disgruntled Tory pinning for Margaret; looking for excuses to deride a PM who has performed significantly better than any Conservative administration. Get over it! Tony is here for at least another 4 years.
Tony Blair promised us "joined up government" - from what we saw I doubt he can use joined up writing. With his grasp on reality it would be insulting to say he came from Essex - even the worst Essex girl has more common sense.
I thought Blair looked terrible. A tired man. Stripped of the spin, Tony showed himself to be weak and ineffectual. He really should consider his options.
Antony Rawlinson, UK
I'm not at all surprised that Blair agreed to go on the program because he did with Paxman the same as he has always done in PM's Question Time. Namely that is any time he comes up against a question that he doesn't think he'll be able to answer in a good way he either answers a question he thought should have been asked or refuses to answer it by adopting a vague manner. Paxman showed us some of his interrogative manner, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to have seen. This was probably his only chance to question the Prime Minister and he should have used it to tear Blair to shreds as he has done with so many other politicians.
I feel that it is a great shame that the leader of our country feels so uncomfortable expressing his own political ideologies. Surely the electorate needs to know what the leading politicians in the country stand for.
Overall, all I learnt from this is how evasive Blair is. Would it not have been better for Blair to conduct the interview to himself! After all, he seemed to answer not the questions Paxman asked him, but rather the questions Blair wanted to be asked. Time after time the same old statistics get rolled off and regurgitated, with little substance. I came away from watching it even less clear about the policies and ideology of this government than when I started watching it.
At least Tony managed to say whole sentences without having to stop every 3 or so words as he usually does in speeches.
Richard Greaves, UK
Tony Blair successfully avoided every question posed to him. If Paxman were in a more 'University Challenge' mood perhaps it could've been interesting with Paxman yelling "Come on Tony! Do you have the answer or not?"
There are always people like Jonathan Payne, who are happy to discuss histories, but would let the 'democratically' elected president undemocratically decide our present affairs. Isn't that called a passive follower, and don't people feel that they have no say there? I would like to see our PM or the president himself in 5 hours weekly on air live discussion; where public will have their questions answered! (o hidden microphones in their ears) Maybe I would believe in democracy a little bit more.
I only saw a part of the third interview.
The PM was less than impressive because Jeremy Paxman was less than effective. I admire Jeremy as an interviewer of steely determination and terrier like persistence but on this occasion he seemed unwilling to engage beyond his set pieces.
I was reminded of the dreadful interview Callaghan gave an over friendly Robin Day.
Tony came across as an honest man with a well-defined vision for the future. Education is the best chance the individual has for fulfilling his or her potential. People should ensure their kids attend school or face sanction. People have a right to expect equality of opportunity,- health care and security but they have an obligation to behave in a socially responsible fashion. Unemployment is way down, inflation way down, interest rates down. It is not important weather people like him as a person or not -it's nice to be popular but it's not a prerequisite for the job. Judge the man on his record and on what he says. What on earth has anybody got to complain about?
Robert Smyth, England
Personally I found Blair embarrassing. He was so bad...
But I think there is real value in this sort of interview and I would be interested to see if Iain Duncan-Smith and Charles Kennedy fair any better.
I am a fan of Jeremy Paxman, but I'm afraid he couldn't tie Mr Blair down to any real answers. Like so many people I was really optimistic when Labour were voted in - sadly that has changed. Here we saw our PM avoiding any difficult questions, and blandly giving generalistic answers. What a disappointment.
Paul R, UK
I thought the interview was excellent and a very informative discussion about the Labour Government's first five years. I do agree with Paul R that Blair and Paxman gave the impression of being caricatures of themselves.
I've never been impressed by Blair and after this showing never will be. He is by far the worst PM I have had to live under - even worse than Major but in his favour a shade less grey.
I think Blair did marvellously well at avoiding answering most of the questions. About the only time he gave a firm answer was to say "I'm not going to answer that". What did come across was that, particularly in the case of the euro and Saddam Hussain, he considers us incapable of making an informed decision and therefore will not give out the information. It has firmed my belief that he thinks the population of this country is ignorant, and that he must lead us by the hand, making all the decisions for us for our own good.
The worrying thing is that Jeremy Paxman has shown that he is intellectually head and shoulders above Tony Blair. Alarmingly, Blair who is our national leader, is simply not in Paxman's league. I would be entirely happy to see them exchange jobs.
I thought Tony Blair handled the three nights well and it seemed questions were not expected or rehearsed. Jeremy Paxman seemed to get very frustrated that he could not wear Tony Blair down but I did think some of the questions were juvenile
The whole thing was a waste of time
apart from the fact that the Prime
Minister has shown himself in his true colours.
He did not answer any question in
specific terms, therefore don't really
see the point of wasting BBC time on this
again. Would like to know why Paxman did
not ask him why Council Taxes are
rising by 3 times( on average) the
RPI? when the Prime Minister said
in his manifesto "no tax increases
under new Labour".
In my opinion Paxman had him on the ropes.
which does not give a positive view
of our man in charge.
Paxman was below par
Blair responses were unconvincing, especially on the Euro.
Like Harold Wilson he was a convert after being strongly against the Common Market/EEC/EU
Politicians do we need them?
So was this supposed to be about interviewing the PM or Paxman's ego?
Given the trailers you'd have thought it was "rumble in the jungle", more like "damp squib in Shepherd's Bush".
It's about time the BBC got some reporters who actually reported the news, instead of trying to BE the news!
To Phil UK: Paxman is one of the best and most hard-hitting reporters we have and is an exemplar of one of the few things our country can still be proud of, our public service TV. As soon as we allow the mediocrity that Phil expects to infiltrate into our news, it will become like our transport system. Third rate. I've never seen Paxman out of form and this was no exception. In the true spirit of poetic justice, he made the dishonest politician look defeat in the face.
On the whole, Tony Blair wasn't impressive. A lot of evasion, with little underlying principle. However, on the question of withdrawing benefit from those who behaved in an anti-social way, some of the old "socialism" that, Paxman reminded him, he once espoused, came through. Receiving help from other members of society means having obligations to society. From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs, as Blair might once have said. I thought Jeremy Paxman was fine. He wasn't in a position to be more ruthless. And he managed to convey the points he wanted to make and his reactions to what TB said quite strongly enough for most viewers to catch them, I would have thought.
I shudder to think what other world leaders will make of our mumbling, bumbling, stumbling, frightened schoolboy of a leader. It seemed he was totally incapable of making any decision, ON ANYTHING, either positive or negative. A vapid puppet if there ever was one.
Mr Blair came across as an affable, honest man with sincere convictions. No wonder Jeremy Paxman seemed ill at ease and apologetic. But in respect of Europe, what we all need is information: for example, what do each of the Footsie 100 companies think about the Euro? What do the "inward investors" think? Why is the USA so opposed to it? We need to exclude the vociferous "corner shop" brigade and investigate the views of exporters.
It deepened my faith in Tony Blair. Of course he isn't perfect (who is?) but overall he surely is the most well brought up human being to lead this country.
Never mind the Prime Minister, I thought Jeremy Paxman's interview technique was dreadful! Forgetting that he'd said something 30 seconds after he said it, was the worst point, but the whole interview seemed more like Paxman's attempt to win the juvenile word games world championship.
Blair faces Paxman
14 May 02 | Newsnight
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