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Highlights of Andrew Marr's interview with Tony Blair

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By Jonathan Isaby

BBC2 has just aired Andrew Marr's full one-hour interview with Tony Blair to coincide with the publication of his memoirs.

Here are the highlights of the interview, as excised from a BBC transcription of the programme:

On the alleged deal with Brown in 1994 over the Labour leadership
BLAIR: Ah, well, it was more really a, a, an understanding. One, one of, one of us could go forward. Um, in the end, I think we both felt probably I had the better claim. That I could reach parts of -- particularly middle England. Ah (coughs), possibly Gordon couldn't. Um, and, you know, I always anticipated that Gordon would be my successor... It [the deal] was explicit in the sense that I was always, you know, saying, ''Look, I, I don't...'' -- and I, I meant this incidentally -- ''I don't want to, to do this forever. You know, you 'are' the obvious person to succeed me. I mean, who can tell what the future holds. But let's work together in the meantime.

Could he not have done more as Prime Minister, given his huge majorities?
BLAIR: I think we 'did' do an immense amount. And I think, in time, people will, will, will see that a little more clearly. What we were trying to do, was to modernise the concept of the Public Service as (in) the welfare state, which in a, in a way, the Attlee Government introduced, but in a very monolithic and, you know, in today's terms, now, an old fashioned way. And in respect of Mrs Thatcher, we were trying to keep that liberalism and dynamism, that I think was an important part of, of Britain's economic progress. But add to it a greater sense of us as a country, where we were investing in the public realm, where we were treating people equadly [sic] -- equally -- where we were trying to enhance opportunity for those that, that, that didn't have it. And so, you know, I think i-, -- I mean each Government lives in its own time, and, and, and has to deal with its own challenges. But I think, when we were running Britain, when I, I was Prime Minister, I think the country was strong, um (background noise), and felt a fairer and better place than it had been.
But that's my -- you know, that's, that's what I think. Many may disagree.

On his handling of the economy
BLAIR: First of all I most certainly did not um subcontract economic policy [to Brown]. The-the macro-economic policy was very much on, um, the lines that I...not merely was...was-was happy with but-but, um, was-was insisting upon. Um, and no, I think what happened with the UK is what happened with a lot of other countries. Um, we actually ended up with a...a-a cycle that was not as benign as we thought. However, it was still a strong economy and we had ten years of pretty much uninterrupted pr-- er...prosperity. Now we were affected...look, everybody was affected when the global financial crisis occurred. I think what I would say is, and I say this in the book, is that I think, and this is where I began this conversation about the fundamental savings review which I wanted to implement after 2005, I think that was the time we sh-- we should probably have...have taken a tougher fiscal position than we did.

Would he have left office earlier than he did?
BLAIR: I was very happy to go after two terms provided that the programme I thought that was intrinsic and essential to New Labour success and to carrying on for the Labour Party being a party of government, capable of governing on a significantly continual basis, provided that programme was kept to.
MARR: So you told him specifically that you would hand over before a third election if he backed you?
BLAIR:  Yeah, if it was clear that we were working on the same agenda together, and - and the problem was, in the end, we - we weren't really.
MARR: And when did that become clear to you?
BLAIR: It was - it was really pretty much mid 2004, er when we were working on new stages of public service reform, the academy programme, foundation hospitals taken to the next level, new changes in the Health Service, identity cards, um new law and order programme.  Then we had the welfare proposals, the pension proposals...but I'm afraid, from my point of view, it was never who occupied the position, but what we did with it and if we were going to continue that reform programme I was absolutely er up for his succeeding me and taking over... In the end, if I had thought I literally couldn't get the reform programme through I would have gone rather than stayed. 

On dealing with donors and the unions
BLAIR: I had far more trouble, if I may say...say this to you, with union leaders demanding something back than I ever did with high value donors.

Could Brown have won the 2010 election?
BLAIR: I always took the view that if we departed a millimetre from new Labour, ah, we were going to be in trouble. And I actually think, although Gordon -- obviously in some ways, his, his personality's less attuned to the kind of 21st century politics and campaigning. On the other hand, I think you can exaggerate all this.
Um, I actually think, as a political leader today, if the public thinks your heart's in the right place, and you're committed and determined, and he was all of those things, then, then I think he, he -- yes, he 'could' have won.

What went wrong for Labour under Brown?
BLAIR:I, I think what went wrong was we departed from, from the new Labour program. in my view, what we needed to do in 2007, was we needed to renew n-new Labour with vigour, take it to the next stage, be the Party that reformed welfare, public services, carried on deepening those reforms. Um, and, you know, I think we, we, we somewhat backed away on them. And that was, that was the, the, the reason frankly.

On how Brown handled the economic crisis as Prime Minister
BLAIR: The problem, um, after then [stabilising the banks], not just in our country but in others, is that people kind of bought this idea that what we required was a traditional Keynesian stimulus package, that the State was back in fashion. Um, and actually I think it's a lot more complicated than that.
MARR: So we were actually spending too much at that point in your view.
BLAIR: Well I think...I mean I would, um, I think I've taken a somewhat different way out of the economic crisis and I think that in the end, you-you-your...um the br-- the right way to deal with this is to recognise that though the State has to come in to stabilise the economy, it's not the State or government that is going to bring us back to high levels of growth. And even with the financial sector I am a big advocate of global supervision, tracking these new financial instruments. I'm not a fan of regulation that is too heavy, that's gonna flatten our financial system. I think that would be a big mistake, and we'll...we'll end up in a situation where the banks having been as it were too adventurous, then become too risk adverse.

On the 45-minute claim and the Iraq invasion
BLAIR: And I’ve always apologised for the fact that the intelligence was wrong.  What I can't apologise for however, is the decision we took which we took, incidentally based on intelligence, at the time... This has been gone over many, many times.  The intelligence picture was clear, we acted on it.  And all I’m saying to you about the Iraq Survey Group report is it isn’t correct to say that, that report finds, well maybe he might of at one point. No what they actually find is that he retained the tech-, technical know how, he retained the scientists able to develop this... the laboratories that he concealed from the UN inspectors that were there ready for use.  In other words I don't accept, even today that there isn't a strong case that he was in breach of the United Nations resolutions, he was.

On Iran
BLAIR: I am saying that I think it is wholly unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons capability.
MARR: But what can we do about it?
BLAIR: And, um, and um I think we've got to be prepared to confront them, er
MARR: Militarily?
BLAIR: If necessarily militarily
MARR: Militarily?
BLAIR: If necessary militarily.  I - I think there is no alternative to that um if they continue to develop nuclear weapons and they need to get that message loud and clear.