Interview with Tony Blair
Edited transcript of interview with Tony Blair
Edited transcript of CBC News Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge’s interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on August 31, 2010 in Washington, DC.
PETER MANSBRIDGE (PM): PRIME MINISTER, I THINK IT WAS WINSTON CHURCHILL WHO IN TALKING ABOUT HIS LEGACY OR IN DISCUSSIONS ABOUT HIS LEGACY SAID SOMETHING TO THE EFFECT THAT "I’LL LEAVE JUDGEMENTS ON THAT MATTER TO HISTORY, YET I’LL BE ONE OF THE HISTORIANS."
TONY BLAIR (TB): That’s very Churchill.
PM: IS THAT WHAT HAPPENED HERE, WITH JOURNEY?
TB: I suppose that always a little bit, you know, you want to at least let people hear you in your own words about things that they will have read about and thought about and looked at over a ten-year period. I mean it’s a long time to be prime minister. And so yeah, I guess in some ways. But also I wanted, you know, I wanted this very much to be a personal account, what it’s like to be an ordinary human being put in a position of leadership during extraordinary events. Since I think one of the hardest things about politics today is for people to understand that their politicians, believe it or not, are human.
PM: SOME MAY WONDER WHETHER YOU’RE CONCERNED ABOUT HOW HISTORY WILL JUDGE YOU, AND I SAY THAT YOU KNOW, BY READING THE BOOK YOU’RE REMINDED OF THE MANY THINGS THAT HAPPENED OVER YOUR TEN YEARS. YOU KNOW, VERY POSITIVE THINGS IN YOU FAVOUR. THE RESHAPING OF YOUR PARTY, THE THREE MAJORITY GOVERNMENTS, NORTHERN IRELAND, KOSOVO. THE LIST GOES ON, BUT THE BUTS BECOME THOSE THAT ONE ASSUMES PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE WORRIED ABOUT, NAMELY THE IRAQ. I MEAN DO YOU HURRY THAT, OR WORRY THAT HISTORY’S GOING TO JUDGE YOU BASED ON ONE ACTION AS OPPOSED TO THE BROADER SCOPE OF THINGS?
TB: I don’t really, but I do think it’s a very important part of the judgement about my time. And you know, I think that is a judgement that undoubtedly will be made over time, since one of the things I try to explain in the book is that there are really two views of this whole business that’s going on in the world today, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in many other places. One is that it is a group of isolated extremists. You should basically manage the situation. The other is really the view that I took after September 11th, which is that you have to remake the world in some way. Now those are two very different approaches. I think time will tell quite honestly which is right and which is not.
PM: WELL LET’S DEAL WITH EACH OF THEM. AFGHANISTAN AND WHAT FOLLOWED WITH IRAQ. AND STARTING WITH AFGHANISTAN, YOU KNOW, I GOT TO SAY WHEN I WAS FLYING HERE FROM TORONTO TODAY TO MEET YOU IN WASHINGTON, I WAS READING THE PAPER AND THERE, YOU KNOW, TODAY’S NEWS, ANOTHER HALF DOZEN OR MORE COALITION SOLDIERS KILLED. THE PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN, HAMID KARZAI BEING QUOTED AS SAYING LOOK, YOU KNOW, THE COALITION’S BEEN AT IT NINE YEARS, THEY’VE GOT THE WRONG STRATEGY. THIS ISN’T WORKING. NINE YEARS, IT’S NOT WORKING? OR IS IT WORKING?
TB: Well, supposing you’d just left it alone, which of course we did, and people forget this. Prior to September 11th 2001, we left Afghanistan alone. And, and then on one single day in New York, 3,000 people were killed in the worst act of terrorism the world’s ever known. And as I say in the book, what changed my whole way of thinking after that was that this is quite different to any other act of terrorism we’d ever come across because if those people could have killed 30,000 or indeed 300,000, they would have, and that’s what for me changed from that moment on. The calculation of risk changed completely. Now it’s true, we then spent almost a decade in Afghanistan and we’re still fighting and still tragically losing soldiers.
PM: BUT WHY IS THAT? WHY, YOU KNOW, IS THIS WAR WINNABLE?
TB: Well this is the key point. It is winnable, but we’ve got to understand what we’re fighting. We’re not fighting a conventional war. You know, the type of war that my father fought in, probably your father fought in, was a war where countries were at war with each other. You had a war, they fought, someone won. You then tried to establish some basis for peace. What’s going on in Afghanistan and the same happened in Iraq, but actually the same today you could see happening in Yemen or Lebanon, in parts of Palestine, in Somalia. Down in the Philippines, in the Mindanao dispute, 150,000 people have died in the last ten years. In Algeria, tens of thousands have died. This virus of extremism, which is based on a perversion of Islam, is a global ideological movement. And I’m afraid one of the things that it counts on is precisely that whatever strength we have in conventional warfare, they can carry on through terror and intimidation and these wretched explosive devices and car bombs and so on, they can weaken our will. And the issue for us, and it’s a really tough issue for Western countries at the moment, is what do you do? Because if you leave it alone, the danger is this movement grows. If you try and confront it, they will fight back, and they are fighting back. And what they do is they basically, as we can see down in the south of Afghanistan now, what they do is they basically kill the people who want a better future. And it’s so brutal, and yet it’s so simple. And we’ve got a big, big decision to take as the West. And I’m afraid it really is a decision that means that we have to recognize this could be a generation long struggle. Now, do we want to do it or not? That’s the question.
PM: I’VE CIRCLED A NUMBER OF THINGS IN YOUR BOOK THAT I WANT TO THROW BACK AT YOU, THAT YOU’VE WRITTEN. AND THE FIRST ONE IS ON AFGHANISTAN, AND THIS WAS AS YOU WERE GOING IN. ‘THE ANALYSIS WE HAD WAS THAT AFGHANISTAN HAD BEEN A FAILED STATE. THE TALIBAN HAD TAKEN OVER AND AS A CONSEQUENCE, EXTREMISM UNDER THEIR PROTECTION WAS ALLOWED TO GROW. AN ADDITIONAL DESTABILIZING FACTOR WAS THE DRUG TRADE. AFGHANISTAN HAD BECOME THE SOURCE OF 90% OF THE HEROIN THAT FOUND ITS WAY ONTO THE STREETS OF EUROPE.’ SO THAT’S NINE YEARS AGO. YOU KNOW, YOU HAVE A GOVERNMENT THAT WAS YOU KNOW CORRUPT IN THE SENSE OF ITS IDEOLOGY AND YOU HAD A DRUG TRADE THAT WAS FLOURISHING. NOW NINE YEARS LATER, AFTER BILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF HELP FROM COALITION COUNTRIES AND HUNDREDS OF LIVES, YOU HAVE A GOVERNMENT THAT MOST PEOPLE REGARD AS CORRUPT ON A WIDESPREAD BASIS. YOU HAVE THE DRUG TRADE FLOURISHING, AS IT WAS THEN. AND YOU HAVE THE TALIBAN, YOU KNOW, IN MUCH BIGGER NUMBERS THAN IT HAD BEEN IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE FALL. THEY’RE BACK AND IN CONTROL OF A NUMBER OF AREAS. AND WHAT’S BEEN ACCOMPLISHED?
TB: Well first of all, what’s been accomplished is that the Taliban actually have been prevented from continuing to run Afghanistan. You’re quite right in making criticisms of the Afghan government, but I don’t think we should confuse any government led by Hamid Karzai with the Taliban. And just a few weeks back, in one of the areas the Taliban controls, they stoned to death a couple for being in love with each other. I mean this is barbarism that personally I find absolutely repulsive. And the question is, what do we do? Now our strategy will have to evolve and change as the nature of the struggle we’re facing evolves and changes. But you can see over the border in Pakistan what these people will do if they’re not checked. And so the issue to me –
PM: THAT’S BEEN AN ISSUE ALMOST SINCE THE BEGINNING, THE WHOLE ISSUE OF THE BORDER AREAS IN PAKISTAN.
TB: The question really I think is this. Supposing after September 11th, we just said well look, this was an act by some crazy people, but they may have been trained in Afghanistan but we’re just not, we’re not going to do anything about it. What would have happened? Would that movement then just have disappeared and gone away? I think not.
PM: BUT I’M NOT ARGUING THAT NOTHING SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE. I’M RAISING THE ISSUE OF WHY HAS WHAT’S BEEN DONE NOT WORKED AND HOW DOES IT HAVE TO CHANGE TO WORK?
TB: Right. And what I’m saying to you is the reason it’s tough is because the enemy’s fighting us, and this is a global ideological movement. And as I say in the book, if there’s one mistake we made, it’s not understanding just how deep the roots of this were. As to how we defeat it, we defeat it with a combination of political, diplomatic and military. Now this will evolve. I meant the American strategy in Afghanistan has evolved in this last couple of years. The civilian strategy may evolve still further. The work America’s doing with Pakistan is one of the reasons why these people are now fighting back, because their own government in Pakistan is actually taking measures against the terrorists. So the point that I’m making is this. It’s not necessarily that we failed, it may just be that this battle is long and tough and different from any one that we’ve encountered before. And the answer to it then, I’m afraid, is to keep going, evolving and changing our strategy as we you know, as we run into the obstacles. But to recognize that if we just go away and leave it alone, it’s not going to leave us alone. It didn’t. It came to us.
PM: WELL LET ME PICK UP ON THAT POINT BECAUSE YOU’VE RAISED IT A FEW MOMENTS AGO WHEN YOU TALKED ABOUT THE WILL OF THOSE COUNTRIES WHO HAVE BEEN THERE. AND YOU MENTIONED THIS A NUMBER OF TIMES THROUGHOUT BOTH YOUR DISCUSSION ON AFGHANISTAN AND ON IRAQ. ‘OUR ENEMY BEGAN TO SENSE THE BOUNDARIES OF OUR ENDURANCE AND THE STRENGTH OR OTHERWISE OF OUR STOMACH FOR THE LONG FIGHT.’ AND ‘WE WANT OUR BATTLE SHORT AND SUCCESSFUL. IF THEY TURN OUT TO BE BLOODY, PROTRACTED AND UNCERTAIN, OUR WILL WEAKENS.’ HAVE YOU SEE A LOT OF COUNTRIES THROWING IN THE TOWEL ON THIS?
TB: Well I don’t think it’s so much throwing in the towel, but it’s tough for our public opinion, it’s tough for all of us, and it’s particularly tough for the soldiers and their families at the front line. I mean these are – you know, each of our countries, your country, my country, well, we had Northern Ireland terrorism to deal with. The Falklands where actually we lost more troops in the Falklands than in Iraq in fact. But the Falklands was short and it was successful and it was conventional in a way. If someone takes your territory, you take it back from them. It’s very hard to sustain this over a long period of time. But I come back to a simple point, which is what is the nature of this threat that we face and it may be in the nature of it that it is going to be long and protracted and bloody and difficult. But the alternative, leaving it, is not necessarily an alternative that is going to be any less bloody or protracted or shorter.
PM: HOW DO YOU SEE CANADA IN THIS? BECAUSE THEY’VE MADE THE DECISION NOW, AFTER BEING A SENIOR PLAYER IN AFGHANISTAN, WITH THE BRITISH AND THE AMERICANS, AND OTHERS, BUT A SENIOR ROLE, TO END COMBAT OPERATIONS END OF NEXT YEAR, END OF 2011. IT’S UNCLEAR WHAT, IF ANYTHING, CANADA WILL BE DOING. IT APPEARS THEY’LL BE DOING SOMETHING BUT IT WON’T BE IN COMBAT. IS THAT A LACK OF WILL?
TB: No, I wouldn’t say that.
PM: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE DIPLOMATIC NOW.
TB: I don’t. But one thing I should be incidentally is incredibly admiring of the Canadian troops and their sacrifice and their commitment to their dedication. These are fantastic young men and women.
PM: BUT IS THIS A SIGNAL THAT’S SENT? WHEN A COUNTRY PULLS OUT OF THE FIGHT?
TB: Well each country’s got to make its own contribution in the way that it thinks it can. And you know, the Americans and the U.K. indeed have set out a putative timetable for drawdown. The point that I’m making is very simple and it’s on the broader picture really. It’s that in the end, when I look at – you know, I spend most of my time now out in the Middle East. This thing’s not going away and it’s not – here’s the thing that it think most difficult for us to understand in the West. We’re not causing it, you know, it’s not our activities aren’t provoking this. It’s, it’s to do with a –
PM: YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT?
TB: I –
PM: I MEAN YOU WRITE IN THE BOOK ABOUT HOW FOR SOME, THE WESTERN STYLE OF LIVING IS JUST UNACCEPTABLE AND THEY FIND IT ENCROACHING ON THEIRS.
TB: Yeah, but then that’s up for them to resolve with their own people, not to attack us or to attack their governments because they want to be allies of ours. And this is the problem. The problem with these, with these extremists, I’m afraid is – and their narrative about Islam reaches into a far broader swathe of opinion than sometimes we want to recognize. That narrative that sees them as a victim of the West, it’s not true. And part of what I say in the book is that unless we’re prepared to confront this narrative and take it on, you know, we’re, we’re – we’re always going to be fighting with a large part of our own opinion saying well maybe it’s our fault this is happening, but it’s not. I mean the truth of the matter is you have probably more freedom to worship as a Muslim in Canada or the U.K. than you do in many Muslim countries.
PM: JUST BEFORE WE LEAVE AND MOVE TO IRAQ, ON THE CANADA ANGLE ONE MORE TIME, WOULD YOU PREFER THAT CANADIANS WERE IN THE FIELD, IN COMBAT?
TB: It’s really a decision that Canada’s got to take as a nation, and – you know, such has been their sacrifice and their commitment, I wouldn’t venture or want to criticize it at all. On the contrary, I think we should be immensely grateful for the contribution Canada’s made.
PM: BUT YOU DO SEEM TO BE TELEGRAPHING, NOT TO CANADA BUT JUST GENERALLY, THAT THE LONGER THIS HAS GONE ON, A LACK OF WILL HAS COME THROUGH. AND YOU’RE, YOU WONDER, ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT COUNTRIES LIKE CANADA?
TB: Well I’m telegraphing something very simple, which is that when I look at this problem and analyze it, it is continuing, then it does require us to be in for the long haul. Now there may be other ways of dealing with it. So for example, you know, because let’s not ignore this. The Taliban have also suffered enormous losses in Afghanistan, partly as a result of the endeavour of Canadian troops and others, and it may be that you could even bring some Taliban elements and prepare to moderate and you know, come into some form of alignment with the government. I don’t know. You know, so I’m not saying that your strategy shouldn’t and won’t evolve. What I am saying though is that if we believe that these people are going to give up and go away if we leave them alone, I’m afraid from what I see in the world, that’s not true. It is an ideological movement with a purpose. It is pretty well funded and it’s driven by a narrative based on a perversion of Islam that is extremely dangerous.
PM: LET’S MOVE TO IRAQ. YOU SPENT A LOT OF TIME EXPLAINING YOUR DECISION ON IRAQ, DEFENDING IT, CONCEDING WHERE THINGS DIDN’T GO AS PLANNED. YOU TALK EVEN OF HOW IN THE DAYS, LITERALLY DAYS IF NOT HOURS BEFORE THE WAR BEGAN, THAT IN YOUR OWN CABINET THINGS WERE SO SPLIT THAT ONE OF YOUR SENIOR MINISTERS CAME TO YOU AND KIND OF WARNED YOU THAT THE REGIME CHANGE THAT MIGHT HAPPEN MIGHT NOT BE THE ONE YOU THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE.
TB: Yeah, absolutely. Now I remember it very well. It was Jack Straw, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time and, and said you know, be careful of regime changes happening in Downing Street rather than in Baghdad. But you know, look, it’s the most difficult decision I ever had to take.
PM: AND DO YOU STILL OFTEN ASK YOURSELF WHETHER IT WAS THE RIGHT ONE?
TB: Yeah, sure. And so you should. But I – I always, as I try to say to people, if you’d taken the opposite decision, it would also have had consequences. I mean there were a million casualties in Saddam’s war in the 1980s, thousands more in Kuwait, hundreds of thousands in his own country. Now, you know, it could be that he would have reformed, but I doubt it. And his two sons, I think, were probably worse than him.
PM: NOW THE STATED REASON WAS WMD, AND YOU CAN SEE THE, YOU KNOW, OBVIOUSLY YOU DIDN’T FIND ANY. BUT YOU GO ON TO MAKE THE ARGUMENTS AS TO WHY IT WAS STILL, AS TIME HAS SHOWN, FOR YOU, THAT IT WAS THE RIGHT DECISION. ON THE WMD, DOES IT STILL SURPRISE YOU THAT SO MANY OF THE INTELLIGENCE COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD BELIEVED THAT THERE WAS WMD THERE, AND THIS IS NOT, YOU KNOW MONTHS AFTER THE FACT, IT’S YEARS AFTER THE FACT, THAT THERE WAS NONE. HOW COULD A MISTAKE LIKE THAT HAVE BEEN MADE BY SO MANY?
TB: It’s a very good point. But I think I try to explain this in the book. The reason why people thought it was true, incidentally, was perfectly simple. Saddam had used them. I mean he killed thousands, tens of thousands of his own people and many, many Iranians with these weapons.
PM: BUT THAT HAD BEEN A DOZEN YEARS PREVIOUS. APPRECIATE THAT IT DID HAPPEN.
PM: BUT THERE WAS NO EVIDENCE THAT HE STILL HAD THEM.
TB: Well there was a lot of evidence that he was seeking to develop them. However, it is true, and this is what the Iraq survey group, which is I think the single most important document that’s often put to one side, which came after the Iraq war and where the leaders of that survey group who were charged with looking at all the intelligence finally managed to conduct interviews with the leading people of Saddam’s regime, and then with Saddam himself. And their conclusion was that what he’d decided to do is, in order to get sanctions lifted, to make a tactical decision to put his program into abeyance. But he’d retained the sciences and the know-how and the laboratories, and they actually find, and this is found also by the Butler Report in the U.K., that his every intention was when sanctions were removed to restart the program. So in a way, what was unclear or inexplicable is then explained because he – it was still very much part of his regime. Now, as I fully accept in the book, that’s not the same as the intelligence that we had. But much of that intelligence around the intentions of the regime and his desire as to what he was going to do once sanctions were dropped remained valid.
PM: WELL LET ME ARGUE IT FROM THE OTHER SIDE THEN, ACCEPTING YOUR POINTS THAT YOU MAKE IN THE BOOK AS TO WHY, IN THE END, THIS WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. IF IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO, TO REMOVE A BRUTAL DICTATOR WHO HAD USED WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION ON HIS OWN PEOPLE, WHO EITHER HAD THEM OR WAS CLOSE TO HAVING THEM AGAIN, IF THOSE WERE LEGITIMATE REASONS, THEN WHY AREN’T THE COALITION FORCES INVADING NORTH KOREA, IRAN, SYRIA, COULDN’T YOU MAKE THE SAME ARGUMENTS ON ALL OF THOSE?
TB: Well in respect of North Korea and Iran, you can make those arguments and there’s a big challenge we’ve got in respect to both those countries. And –
PM: BUT SHOULD THEY BE?
TB: Well, they should certainly be made to change course. Now they may be different, I think North Korea’s a different case from –
PM: SANCTIONS ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE THEM CHANGE COURSE, WILL THEY?
TB: Iran, well I mean, let’s just come on to that in a minute because I think in respect of Iran particularly, this is a very, very live and relevant question. I mean just to explain, the reason why it was so important to go after Saddam, I felt, was that his was the country and his was the regime in breach of the United Nations resolutions, going back over ten years. And because he had used them, if you like, it was not, as I said at the time, it wasn’t that we suddenly thought that Saddam was about to go and attack the U.K. or attack America. But unless post-September 11th, you sent a clear signal to the world that you were not going to tolerate the development of these weapons anymore, then we would be in a situation where we risked these terrorists who I say killed 3,000, would have killed 300,000 if they could have, acquiring them. So that was the logic behind it. Now when you come to Iran today, I mean the same logic’s there, I’m afraid, which is why it’s a very, very difficult decision. Personally, I think it would be, you know, vastly destabilizing for the whole of the Middle East if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon.
PM: WELL YOU SEEM TO LAYING DOWN THE GAUNTLET, THAT THEY MUST BE PREVENTED FROM THAT.
TB: I think if they acquire a nuclear weapon, I think if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, it will change the whole balance of power in the Middle East and hugely destabilize the region. So yes. Now I hope it can be done diplomatically.
PM: THE EXPERTS CLAIM, AND YOU KNOW, AS WE KNOW, EXPERTS HAVE BEEN WRONG BEFORE, BUT THAT THEY’RE, THEY ARE LITERALLY THAT CLOSE. THEY’RE ALL BUT PUTTING THE HEAVY WATER IN OR WHATEVER IT IS THEY NEED TO DO.
TB: There’s, there’s a sort of range of opinions about this. But yes, I mean you’re right. It’s, that’s why I say this is a live and relevant question. And the point about, the point, from the point of view of a political leader and the decision making is this, and this is always what hung over me when it came to the Iraq decision. The thing in politics is that, believe it or not, most politicians, are always looking for a way of trying to sort of not exactly get out of the difficult decision, but try and evolve it into something a little easier to handle. The trouble with these security questions in today’s world is they come in a really binary way. You know, you’re there, or you’re there. I was a great searcher for the third way in politics between Labour and Conservative sometimes. But, in these types of decisions, there is no third way. And the thing that hung over me in respect of Iraq, and it’s the same for decision making over Iran, is what happens if the worst happens and you haven’t acted? In other words, what would have happened if you’d left Saddam alone? If you’d lifted the sanctions and you had actually ended up competing with Iran in the region, on nuclear weapon capability and chemical weapons capability, as the Iraq survey group indeed finds was his intention.
You know, you can talk about the judgment of history. History might have been looking back at you and saying, what were you doing? How could you have taken that risk? Now, that’s the difficult thing. And so with Iran, you can say look, this is, you know, even to contemplate military action is crazy and how can you possibly think such a thing? You’ll do nothing but unit people behind the regime. Think of the terrible consequences etc., and all of that absolutely true. But what happens if they get a nuclear weapon in the hands of that regime that after all is, you see what they’ve just been doing recently in relation to that poor woman who, the one they want to stone to death. I mean these are not people who operate according to our value system. Supposing there’s leakage from that regime? Supposing some of that technology gets exported into the wrong hands? We know Iran is supporting terrorism right round the Middle East at the moment. Now, I have no reason to believe that that’s what they want to do. But supposing they did, and that’s the problem. It’s one of these things that you’d love to be able to say well let’s kind of put that in the in tray but leave it for a time. You may not be able to do that and you may be faced with a situation in the not too distant future when it’s another generation of leaders or different leaders are going to have to decide, do you do it or do you not?
PM: I’M QUICKLY RUNNING OUT OF TIME. THIS IS FABULOUS AND I’M GOING TO BEG FOR A COUPLE OF MINUTES EXTRA. LET ME JUST CLOSE THE KNOT ON THOSE TWO COUNTRIES, ON AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ. THROUGHOUT THE DISCUSSION YOU HAVE, AND THIS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE BOOK AS WELL, YOU KEEP BRINGING IN THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION. IT KEEPS COMING UP, EVEN WHEN YOU WERE TRYING TO RESOLVE THOSE. THERE ARE MEETINGS THIS WEEK, OF WHICH YOU’RE A PART OF, IS THIS CLOSE TO BEING RESOLVED? CAN THIS BE RESOLVED BY THE CURRENT CAST OF CHARACTERS?
TB: The Israeli-Palestinian issue can be resolved because both countries, both peoples actually want peace. It can only be resolved on the basis of a two-state solution and resolving it is possibly the single most important thing that would bring about a different atmosphere, a different context, a different climate of political possibility in the Middle East. And we actually have a huge opportunity because, in fact, this American president has decided he wants to settle this and has started at the beginning of his term. The Arab nations surrounding Israel and Palestine, they want it settled, this dispute. They’ve got other things, particularly the issue to do with Iran, that are worrying them and the two peoples have no alternative. You could fit Israel and Palestine into a tiny slice of Canada, of one province of Canada; they’ve got no option but to live together.
PM: AND THE ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER?
TB: The Israeli prime minister I have talked to many times over the last few months, in detail, in depth, and I have absolutely no doubt at all he is prepared to make peace.
PM: QUICK AND DRASTIC CHANGE OF PACE. TWELVE, THIRTEEN, YEARS AGO NOW, THE WORLD WAS CONSUMED BY THE DIANA STORY, HER DEATH. THE FIRST COMMENTS YOU MADE AFTER HER DEATH APPEAR IN YOUR BOOK, "THOSE FEW WORDS SCRIBBLED ON THE BACK OF AN ENVELOPE PROBALBY HAD AS MUCH COVERAGE AS ANYTHING I EVER DID," AND BOY, YOU DID A LOT AFTER THAT. WHAT HAPPENED THERE? WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT, THAT STORY? BECAUSE IT DID CONSUME THE WORLD. YOU TALK ELSEWHERE IN THE BOOK ABOUT HOW THE VERY FUTURE OF THE WAY THE UNITED KINGDOM WOULD BE LOOKED AT INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY RODE ON THAT WEEK.
TB: Well Diana was an extraordinary iconic figure, worldwide. And that was for many reasons to do with her beauty, her personality and so on. But she also just came at a certain moment in time when she symbolized for many people a modernity that seemed sometimes at odds with the traditional nature of monarchy, of institutions that were very familiar to us in Britain, but also familiar to people outside Britain as well. So this was an issue whose impact and force was felt far beyond Britain. For me it was very difficult because I’d only literally just become prime minister, so I didn’t know the Queen that well at all at the time and although I actually knew Diana quite well, it was obviously a huge moment for the country. We were going, in a sense, to be judged internally and externally by how we handled it. What I wanted to do was to pay tribute to her, to recognize her unique contribution to Britain. And at the same time to try and lead people back to respect and affection for the monarchy that I think was always there, but was, you know, discomfited by the Diana issue.
PM: WE ONLY HAVE TIME FOR ONE MORE QUESTION. THERE ARE A LOT OF POINTS IN YOUR BOOK, A LOT OF THE ANECDOTES YOU TELL THAT ARE QUITE REVEALING, NOT ONLY OF THE TIMES, BUT OF YOU. AND THE ONE I’VE GOT TO TELL YOU THAT STRUCK ME THE MOST WAS ONE OR YOUR LAST CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR MOTHER. YOU TALKED TO HER AND YOU ASKED HER ABOUT WHETHER SHE COULD, OR WHETHER SHE WANTED TO, KIND OF RELIVE PART OF HER LIFE. HER ANSWER WAS AMAZING, BUT I WANT YOU TO TELL THE STORY AND WHAT THAT PERHAPS SAYS ABOUT YOU AND WHETHER YOU AGREE WITH WHAT YOUR MOTHER SAID.
TB: It was a very strange conversation because my mother was in her early 50’s, but she was dying of cancer. And so when I asked her whether she would like to be young again and live her life over, I kind of expected her to say "yes, of course, I’m extremely ill, so of course," but she didn’t. She said something that just stayed with me. And I kind of know what she means now. I mean she just said "no, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t - I wouldn’t like to go back over it all again, too much pain." And now I’m actually a very optimistic and generally upbeat person, and I certainly want to go on living. Don’t misunderstand me, but I think you reach a certain point in your life where you realize that no life is exciting and full of hope at one level; it’s a lot of striving. There are so many dashed ambitions and disappointments and dawns that never appear. So I sort of understand how she felt.
PM: NO REGRETS SO FAR?
TB: I think regret is the wrong word but when you look back at your own life, I think actually my main feeling is one of gratitude. I mean I’ve been truly blessed with lots of opportunity. You know I always think, and I used to think right at the worst time as prime minister, when everyone would be clattering down on you, beating up on you and people would be shouting at you and calling you a liar and a fraud and a cheat and all the rest of it. I used to go home sometimes in the flat in Downing Street, because you live above the shop in Downing Street. And you know, I’d sit down at the kitchen table and I’d get a little bit moody or whingey with my wife, you know, the kind of feelings that are unfair. I’m trying to do my best can’t you see? And my wife would always say "stop moaning, it’s a privilege to do the job, and it’s voluntary. So just pick yourself up and dust yourself off and start all over again," which is more or less what I did.
PM: PRIME MINISTER, THANKS VERY MUCH. I REALLY ENJOYED THIS.
TB: Thank you.