Murnaghan 22.07.12 Interview with Tony Blair on the Olympics, the economy and Syria
ANY QUOTES USED MUST BE ATTRIBUTED TO MURNAGHAN, SKY NEWS
DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Well as we all know, the Olympics are back in Britain and so is Tony Blair, the man who played a crucial role in bringing the Games to London of course and hopes that Britain can pull off the greatest show in history. Let’s say a very good morning to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, good to see you, are you here to remind people, okay we’ve seen Boris Johnson on this programme, Jeremy Hunt, talking about the Olympics and their role in it but hey, I was the guy who helped win it for you.
TONY BLAIR: I think I am here because you asked me on.
DM: But I was there in 2005, there was a lot of hard lobbying went on there, it was hard work.
TB: Yes, it was really hard work, it was an amazing collective effort because when we started the Olympic bid frankly I didn’t think we would win. Paris were the hot favourites and then you had very strong bids from Madrid and New York so it was a huge collective effort by everyone who was involved at the time and Seb Coe and Tessa Jowell and people who led the bid, Ken Livingstone obviously was the Mayor at the time, and it was one of these interesting things where everyone put all the politics aside and just knuckled down and got on with it, it was great.
DM: You said in your autobiography that you were initially sceptical, you had in the back of your mind what had happened with the Millennium Dome and the amount of time and effort that had taken up and I don't think it was entirely a damp squib but it wasn’t the hit you thought it might be.
TB: Sure. The Millennium Dome funnily enough now as the O2 Centre has done extremely well so there was a reluctance but there was also a reluctance because a bid like this takes a lot of time and energy and effort and it did look as if we were starting way behind but we caught up fast. We did it partly I think also because we had a concept for the bid that was very important. Nowadays with these big events, whether Olympics or World Cup, most countries can get the physical infrastructure in place, in the old day with the Olympics that was the question, could you build the stadiums and so on and so forth. Nowadays most people assume you can do that but the question is what additional extra do you add? We very deliberately wanted to present London and Britain as a mixture of tradition and modernity so we had London obviously with its fantastic history and so on but London is also today a place where people come from different races and nations and faiths and join together in a common goal so there was very much a concept at the heart of the Olympic bid that I think was important to us winning it.
DH: Was there also a professionalism in terms of the campaign, you won three general elections for goodness sake, you knew how to work the delegates, work the people who would make the right decisions.
TB: Well it is the strangest electorate that I ever had to deal with, it’s about 120 people and essentially, and strangely my wife played a very big part in this really because of the 120 some were the great and the good, members of Royal families and our own Princess Anne and so on, people were very well known and then you had others who for various reasons worked in sports administration in their countries and they were also on the committee and people tended to make a big fuss of all the big names but everyone had the same vote and my wife was very, very good at going and visiting different countries and seeing people before the Games who were the less significant, if you like, people and by the time we got to Singapore we actually knew those people, I had met them and was talking to them and all of these things helped I think. Plus the fact that Seb Coe and David Beckham came and helped and there was a great sense of energy and when I left Singapore I left for the first time thinking maybe there was a bit of hope here.
DH: You mentioned David Beckham, I saw him and he was very prominent during that campaign in the hotels, do you think he should have been given a place in the GB football team just to say thank you. He may be getting on a bit but everyone loves him.
TB: That would have been good. I always say to people I know what it’s like when you are supposed to be handling something like the Team GB and Stuart Pearce is doing it so I tend to say just leave them to make the decisions.
DM: Okay and what do you think the legacy is going to be? Could one of the legacies be an economic boost for a Conservative led government?
TB: I think it really crosses politics this but I think there will be a big legacy out of the Games for sure. I mean you have got fantastic facilities, regeneration of a significant part of East London with big possibilities for further regeneration to come by the way. This is the global sporting event, the reason why people compete so hotly to get it is because of what it does for a country, it allows you to showcase your country, to tell people what’s happening, to present the country to the world and some of the estimates, all of these things are pretty rough frankly but some of the estimates of the amount of money and investment that will flow in over the years are very large. By the way when I was in China recently it was interesting, they get more visitors now to the Olympic site in Beijing still, four years on, than they do to the Forbidden City for example.
DM: And the key to that is having a successful Olympics where the world looks on and says hey, London looks like a well organised and nice place to go and see. Do you think any of the fuss that has gone on beforehand about immigration, about security, about getting around London, do you think any of that will tarnish it or do you think it will all be forgotten pretty soon?
TB: I think it will be forgotten the moment the Games get underway. The one thing that you learn with any of these events is that you win the bid and then you have years of worry about budgets, worry about whether you are prepared right and then all this stuff about security. Look, in the end we’ll put on a great Games and the moment it starts then all the focus shifts and these stories in the run up to the Games, you can never tell what the story is going to be but the one thing you can absolutely predict from the history of these types of sporting events is that there will be such stories.
DM: Okay, part of what you are doing now for the Labour party is talking about legacy, is that enough for a three time election winner, a former Labour leader?
TB: It’s not all I’m going to do!
DM: Well tell us more about what you are going to do.
TB: Look, I’ve been out of office now for five years and I’ve spent a long time building up what I do today because I’m obviously involved in the Middle East peace process, I’ve got two major global foundations, I’ve got a sporting foundation in the north-east of England, I do business stuff and employ about 160 people today so I’ve spent a long time building this and now I feel I have got something to contribute to the debates that are going on in the country and I want to do that. We have got an extraordinarily uncertain and unpredictable situation today, I think we are living through an era of almost uniquely low predictability, economically and politically. We’ve got the eurozone crisis which is one big issue, we’ve got what’s happening in the Middle East which is another and I’ve got things to say and if people want to listen that’s great, if they don’t fine.
DM: Do you recognise this Labour party as the one you helped to reshape? Does it still have that strong, quote unquote, ‘Blairite streak’?
TB: Well it’s different because the times are different and you’d expect it to be different but no, it is absolutely the party I recognise and what is important is I think traditionally what’s often happened with Labour is you lose power and you end up losing it for a long period of time. I think it’s possible in these circumstances to rewrite that traditional script and I know the people who are leading the Labour party at the moment are desperate to do their best for the country and as I say, this is a situation where the answers are very, very difficult, particularly in terms of the economy today. I think the only … for my generation of politicians and younger, we’ve been brought up in a situation where you had periodic economic crises that kind of resolved themselves. I think this is more akin to the 1930s in this sense, this is not a situation that is going to right itself unless you take decisions that will change the reality around us and not just manage it.
DB: You talk about those echoes of history, I mean within the current Labour party, and for people of a certain age we’ll all remember Clause Four, Clause Four was one of the big turning points in your leadership of the party when you got rid of it, what was it, 16 or 17 years ago, nationalising the commanding heights of the economy. There are voices within the Labour party which are saying things not very different from that, who are saying we really have to clamp down on big business, we have to bash the bankers, we have to tax them properly. Is that a kind of rhetoric that you could live with?
TB: Well first of all there are real issues to do with the financial architecture we need for today’s world, we’ve got to learn the lessons of the financial crisis so not everything that people are saying about this are wrong or extreme but those voices that want us to go back to the past, they were always there during my time but the important thing is that the leadership shouldn’t listen to them and should strike out from the centre ground and I think that’s basically where Ed Miliband will want to be.
DM: So on predatory capitalism, that’s about right? There are predators out there and if they are not policed properly they will try and make profit whichever way it comes?
TB: I think post the financial crisis it would frankly be bizarre if we weren’t thinking about how do you create a situation in which the financial services sector better serves the economy and there are changes that need to be made there. Now I also believe, by the way, the financial services sector is a very important part of our economy, we want it to be vibrant and energetic and innovative but the questions today about how you reshape the role of the state and welfare and public services, how you get a modern industrial policy for the country today, these are big questions and it’s not surprising that the context, if you like, in which those questions are being debated is very different from my time. I mean I came into power in 1997 and we had strong economic growth, high levels of employment, low levels of unemployment but these times are different today.
DM: But do you take on board any of the responsibility that has been thrown back at your administrations about failure to regulate the financial sector and other things, your attitude to immigration, you were too lax on that?
TB: Well actually I always tell people we fought an election in 2005 on the question of immigration as one of the major issues and I think there were answers to that that certainly we had when we were in office but I think in respect of the economy, yes of course, everybody who was in power in that period bears a certain responsibility but on the other hand I think that what happened – and I think this is really important for people to understand – is that this global financial crisis was the product of a whole new way that the financial and banking sector has been working in this past 20 or 30 years where you have got a deep integration of the global economy and where you have a lot of financial instruments that were created whose impact people didn’t properly understand.
DM: But you didn’t fully understand it you’re saying when you were in power?
TB: No, we didn’t and I think that’s why it is perfectly natural now to say how do we make sense of this today. The only thing I would say is that a vibrant financial sector is also a very important part of our future.
DM: So don’t bash the bankers?
TB: Well take the necessary steps but realise that a thriving and healthy banking system is a major part of the modern British economy and will always be so.
DM: Now a lot of what is being said by Labour is also being said by the Liberal Democrats. We’ve got Nick Clegg writing in the People newspaper today saying post the next general election there may well have to be coalition discussions taking place again and they could be between Labour and the Lib Dems, do you think that’s something that Mr Miliband ought to countenance?
TB: Look, who knows what’s going to happen at the next election? Once the results come through you obviously decide what you are going to do but I think, I’m always a bit of a sceptic about coalitions frankly. Sometimes you’ve got to do them and if the election results end up with a coalition that’s where they end up but I think it’s really important to distinguish between a coalition that is a marriage of conviction and a coalition that is a marriage of convenience and there’s no point in having a coalition with people that you don’t really agree with so it depends what policies people are going to come out with and I think you start from policy and build out from there. I think the risk is if you just look at it as a piece of arithmetic, how you put together sufficient MPs to form a majority, you end up with let’s say some of the problems the present government has.
DM: So no conviction in this coalition. I know you have spoken to Mr Cameron, have you told him that?
TB: No, it’s not for me to give him advice, he is perfectly capable of running his own show.
DM: Okay. We’re nearly out of time but we must touch on the issue of Syria. It is often said but it does seem as if there is an end game in play there, certainly a civil war, what looks like a civil war there. Is there any way that Assad can be removed as peacefully as possible from Syria without a wider conflagration in your view?
TB: It’s very difficult now because what’s happening there is horrible and the fact is, had we been able to create a situation in which there was a sort of evolution rather than a revolution, in which he could have been persuaded to have left and bring in a new constitution and so on, that would have been easily the best thing. The worry I have not just in respect of Syria but the whole of the region, I spend a lot of time out there, I have just come back from I think my 85th visit since leaving office, is you have got such deep forces now at work there, it is very necessarily for us to focus on the aftermath of what happens in Syria now because these societies need enormous help with their economy, they need to understand that democracy is not just the rule of the majority, it is actually a concept that is about a way of thinking as much as a way of voting and all over the region, whether we like it or not and we’ve got the economy to worry about back home, what happens in this region I think will dramatically impact our security so it’s very important we stay engaged and I think a lot of focus now should go on what does the post-Assad regime really look like and how do we help them manage its politics and its economy.
DM: Mr Blair, thank you very much indeed for your time, very good to see you and here’s to a successful Olympics.