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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
'Soft-porn' donation defended by Blair
Tony Blair
Blair backs the principle of withdrawing benefits
Tony Blair has defended Labour's decision to take money from pornography publisher Richard Desmond but admits he would love to stop having to raise party funds.

In an interview for the BBC's Newsnight, the prime minister said if Mr Desmond was fit to own Express Newspapers, there was no reason why Labour should not accept his donation.

Look, if I could get shot of ever raising a single penny for the Labour Party ever again, would I not do it?

Tony Blair
Some Labour MPs have complained their party should not be linked to a man whose company owns publications like Asian Babes, Horny Housewives and Mega Boobs.

The row has added to the debate on whether political parties should get state funding but Mr Blair said that would need cross party consensus and public support.

The interview, broadcast on BBC 2 on Thursday, also saw further backing from Mr Blair for the idea of taking away benefits from parents of truants and nuisance neighbours.

'Fit person'

Labour's decision to take 100,000 from Richard Desmond has caused disquiet in the party, as well as sparking Conservative attacks over donors' influence.

In the interview, Mr Blair said he is not personally familiar with the content of the magazines owned by Mr Desmond's Northern and Shell company.

"But I do know that if someone is fit and proper to own one of the major newspaper groups in the country, there's no reason why we shouldn't accept donations from them," he said.

Richard Desmond
Richard Desmond publishes magazines like Horny Housewives
Mr Blair underlined the measures Labour has taken to make party donations more transparent.

That move had failed to stop media and opposition attacks in a series of donations rows and Home Secretary David Blunkett has suggested state funding for parties is inevitable.

The prime ministers said: "Look, if I could get shot of ever raising a single penny for the Labour Party ever again, would I not do it? Absolutely, of course I would."

No public support

But moving to state funding would need the consensus among the political parties.

"You can't have a situation where we as a government use our majority to push it through.

"And I'm not sure the public would accept it either. So, I honestly don't know what to do about this."

Jeremy Paxman fronts BBC 2's Newsnight
It is the third of Tony Blair's interviews with Jeremy Paxman

Proposals to take child benefit away from the parents of persistent truants have also faced opposition from among Labour backbenchers.

Downing Street says the proposal is still being considered and no decisions made.

But Mr Blair gave the strongest signal so far that he supported the idea, as well as proposals to withdraw housing benefit from nuisance neighbours.

'Left wing values'

With government putting massive amounts into education schemes, Mr Blair said it is justified in demanding "some minimum responsibility" from parents over truants.

When tenants were making life hell for their neighbours "then why should the state carry on paying out benefit to those people, subsidising their housing, when they are using their housing to inflict misery on people?"

Mr Blair said he has returned to an "old-fashioned left-wing" value of responsibility in which people must put something back into society, "for it not to be all take".

The prime minister accepted that people think he has no political beliefs.

Faith schools

He argued this is because they "can't handle the concept of new Labour as opposed to traditional Labour Party values, or old-style socialism".

Mr Blair said he believes in the values of social justice, community and opportunity for all but just believes they cannot be delivered in the same way as they were 30, 40 or 50 years ago.

The interview also saw Mr Blair give strong backing for the idea of having more faith schools.

Parents were entitled to choose such education and it would be wrong to "tell the Muslim community that they are the one community that can't have schools".

See also:

16 May 02 | UK Politics
Blair 'should set euro timetable'
15 May 02 | UK Politics
Blair's euro enthusiasm
15 May 02 | UK Politics
Prime Minister's Questions
16 May 02 | UK Politics
Blair says euro poll 'getting close'
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