Page last updated at 07:30 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 08:30 UK

Blair gets serious on comedy show

By Max Deveson
BBC News, Washington

For a man who has sat down for interviews with Jeremy Paxman - not to mention his 2005 grilling from Ant and Dec - Tony Blair seemed surprisingly ill at ease talking to Jon Stewart on US television's Daily Show.

Tony Blair on invading Iraq

But Mr Paxman rarely lulls his guests into a false sense of security – they know they are in for an inquisition.

On the Daily Show – liberal America's favourite TV programme – Jon Stewart uses charm to win confidences from his guests.

Stewart – a staunch opponent of the Iraq war and the Bush administration - appeared to be genuinely interested in finding out what Mr Blair thought about the war, and about the president.

He was not looking to score points or catch him out.

But, if anything, the relaxed line of questioning seemed to make Mr Blair more wary.

And, other than the admission that he “would have been shocked” if he had known in advance just how much bloodshed and disorder the Iraq war was going to unleash, he gave little away.

We learned that “it would have been complicated” for Mr Blair to convert to Catholicism while he was still in Number Ten.

He managed to win a few laughs when he offered to have a word with President Bush to persuade him to come on the show

But we knew that.

And Mr Blair divulged the basis of his close relationship with President Bush: “I like him”.

But we knew that too.

He managed to win a few laughs when he offered to have a word with President Bush to persuade him to come on the show.

Mostly, however, it was the host who provided the jokes.

At times, the conversation was pretty serious for a comedy show.

There was an in-depth discussion of whether radical Islamist movements like Hamas, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah should be lumped together as a single threat.

Mr Blair argued that they were all linked, while Mr Stewart maintained that the groups had different aims and motivations and should be dealt with separately.

'Pet' issues

One topic that was not touched on was the state of politics back in the UK.

Perhaps unsurprisingly on a show aimed at a US audience, Mr Stewart asked no questions about Gordon Brown's recent troubles.

Of course, no guest comes on a chat show these days without something to plug, and Mr Blair was no exception.

He is about to begin teaching a course at Yale University on "faith and globalisation".

Not that anyone watching was going to be able to sign up for the course on a whim (although Jon Stewart expressed an interest in doing so).

All in all, both men got what they wanted out of the encounter.

Mr Blair's wariness meant that he was able to talk about his pet issues – faith and security – without giving away any hostages to fortune.

Jon Stewart got a chance to quiz a man who had been at the centre of one of the most controversial policy decisions in recent US history.

And, as he himself pointed out, he is unlikely to be getting such privileged access to any members of the current administration in the near future – even if Mr Blair does put a good word in for him with his friend George.


SEE ALSO
Blair launches faith foundation
30 May 08 |  UK Politics
Blair in Japan for climate talks
14 Mar 08 |  UK Politics
Blair to teach in the US on faith
07 Mar 08 |  UK Politics

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