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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Tony Blair on Newsnight: Were you impressed?
Tony Blair and Jeremy Paxman
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:

  • how he hopes to deliver improvement in the public services;
  • how he sees Britain's role in the world;
  • and the relationship between the individual and the state in Britain under his government.
Many of Tony Blair's comments have already made the news.

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!
Maurice, England

Sorry I was not convinced

John W, UK/NZ
I like Jeremy Paxman as an interviewer but felt that his respect for the office of PM hampered his ability to ask questions. Blair on the hand basically assured us he really is an OK guy but didn't seem to have any answers other than just being nice. Sorry I was not convinced.
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.
Henry, UK

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.
Simon, UK

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.
Rhobat Bryn Jones, Wales

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.
Daniel, England

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.
Charles Moore, Scotland

It seems to me that Tony Blair's refusal to be drawn into making specific commitments on television was entirely correct

Helier P-D, Cambridge, UK
I thought the Prime Minister responded very well to the questions put to him, insofar as he was at liberty to do so. The criticism most commonly levelled at him both generally and more specifically in respect of his performance in this interview, is that he evades questions. Yet, when the questions are designed to elicit responses upon issues where a clear statement from the Prime Minister would, rightly or wrongly, be seen as conclusive (Euro timetable, action against Iraq, reform of the House of Lords). It seems to me that Tony Blair's refusal to be drawn into making specific commitments on television was entirely correct.
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.
Gary, London, UK

I think the Labour government has been a big disappointment.
Jeanette Goman, Scotland

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.
Yung, UK

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.
Rick Makin, UK

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 that is disappointing!
Paul Steven, Scotland

Thatcher and Major were never tackled in this fashion; no doubt they both would have foundered at Paxman's grilling

James P C, UK
I was very impressed by Blair's performance. Thatcher and Major were never tackled in this fashion; no doubt they both would have foundered at Paxmanżs grilling. Blair was honest and answered most questions thoroughly. Most of the criticism I have read so far on this discussion is clearly from disgruntled Tories who still after 5 years cannot cope with the reality that Blair premiership has done more good for the country than Maggie and Johnny's combined 18 year rule. Blair was clearly nervous, yet if he had been 100% confident, all the Tories would be claiming he was arrogant.
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.
Randy, UK

Perhaps he can now be compared with his Orwellian namesake (Eric)... he is transforming the state into a nanny (Big Brother) state.
David, England

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!
Mark Shanks, Scotland

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.
Andrew, England

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.
Gordon Sinclair, England

I am curious about exactly which parts of the lengthy total interview some of the viewers above thought Tony was on the ropes?

Jon Whittle, UK
I am curious about exactly which parts of the lengthy total interview some of the viewers above thought Tony was on the ropes? I felt that Paxman's questioning was at times very disappointing; has he got complacent or was he simply outgunned? Tony presented himself very well and when he wasn't having the same weak counter questions laboured repeatedly in a manner which was more desperate than devious some interesting points came out. Overall very enjoyable.
Jon Whittle, UK

Marx was wrong. It's politics which is the opiate of the masses
Paolo Sammut, UK

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.
Alistair, Sweden/UK

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
George Partington, United Kingdom

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?
Jon Cooper, UK

Blair has once again proved that he is a champion politician and Paxman a true journalist.
John Edgard, UK

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.
John Manoochehri, UK/Switzerland

Tony did go through the grilling inquisition, by the grand inquisitor Jeremy Paxman

Mekibib Dawit, UK
Tony did go through the grilling inquisition, by the grand inquisitor Jeremy Paxman. He was very defensive of the record of his government of the last five years but he also acknowledged that much more should have been done and along the way his party had made mistakes. It was a good performance by the PM, but he looked tired and, by God one can easily see how politics is a demanding work by just looking at how Tony has aged since 1997.
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!
Gary, London, UK

People say that Tony Blair is all talk and no action, but that's simply not true. He can't talk coherently either.
Guy Hammond, England

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?
James P C, UK

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.
Mark Dowe, Scotland, UK

Tony Blair demonstrated throughout the interviews that he brings no depth of experience, expertise or leadership to the office of Prime Minister

Jeremy, UK
Tony Blair demonstrated throughout the interviews that he brings no depth of experience, expertise or leadership to the office of Prime Minister. That is unfortunate for the country because our centralised system of government is more dependent than most in the world on the top office holder's capability.
Jeremy, UK

More like a bloke from DROWNING Street on telly than the Prime Minister of the once Empire of the World
Ian Gardiner, Chelsea, England

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.
Brian W, U K

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.
Chris, UK

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.
Mr Harry Wentworth, Torquay, Devonshire, England

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.
James, Birmingham UK

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.
Jonathan, UK

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.
Patrick Mewton, London

He at least gave the feeling of someone trying on the whole to deal with Paxman's points seriously and honestly

Antony Rawlinson, UK
Something of a mixed impression. On the one hand, Blair's periodic floundering and stammering did not put across the expected image of a world leader. On the other hand he seemed more human than usual in response to a sometimes aggressive and loaded line of questioning from Paxman! I found myself feeling sorry for Tony before the end - he at least gave the feeling of someone trying on the whole to deal with Paxman's points seriously and honestly, when many politicians, I think, might have stonewalled or responded with aggression of their own.
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.
Chris L, UK

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.
Peter, England

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.
Daniel Wright, UK

At least Tony managed to say whole sentences without having to stop every 3 or so words as he usually does in speeches.
Ian, UK

I felt Blair was very dismissive of any criticism

Richard Greaves, UK
At a time when the relationship between Government and Democracy is resulting in a rise in right wing extremism I felt Blair was very dismissive of any criticism. You can't claim to be listening to the voice of the people yet only accept criticism if it comes with all the trappings of an advanced legal argument. I think he'll regret not addressing this criticism given that Paxman would likely give him credit for being so forthcoming.
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?"
Jonathan Payne, 18, Cardiff, Wales

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.
Mula, UK

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. Disappointing Jeremy.
Peter Kendall, UK

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?
J. Lawrence, UK

This interview sums up the main reason for political apathy

Robert Smyth, England
This interview sums up the main reason for political apathy. His inability to give straight answers or specific time frames leaves people feeling that the government doesn't know what it wants to do or when it wants to do it
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.
Kathy, UK

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.
John, Bristol, UK

He looked less like a prime minister and more like his caricature

Paul R, UK
To be honest I thought that Tony Blair looked less like a prime minister and more like his caricature. Some of Tony's statements, and the way he said them, made me cringe. Had Paxman been on top form then we might have had a decent set of interviews. But as a showcase to mark 5 years of Labour government, it was very disappointing.
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.
Joanna Meyer, UK

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.
Carl, London, UK

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.
Simon, UK

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.
Chris B, England

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
Brian Myrie, UK

Politics simply has no substance any more.

Jude, UK/Canada
What a waste of time. Politics simply has no substance any more. Paxman tried to trap Blair by picking contradicting statements in old speeches that were almost certainly not even written by him. And good old Tony successfully gave nothing away and said nothing new, constantly restating the good statistics and deflecting the bad. - Mission accomplished!
Jude, UK/Canada

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.
Peter Howse, UK

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?
Terry Goldspink, UK

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!
Phil, UK

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.
Mazz, UK

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.
Helen Hancock, UK

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.
Vernon Moyse, UK

I thought he came off rather well on the whole

Rahul, UK
Being a long time critic of Blair and his right-wing agenda I was surprised to see that I agreed with many of his policies and his reasons behind them. I thought he came off rather well on the whole. But Paxman was a big disappointment. Where was the ruthlessness that we have all come to expect and love?
Rahul, UK

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.
Bryan, UK

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.
James Cane, UK

Ask the experts about Tony Blair's performance in the Newsnight interviews
Blair faces Paxman

Were you impressed with Blair?



38 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

14 May 02 | Newsnight
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