Examination of Witness (Questions 120-123)
RT HON MR TONY BLAIR, MP
TUESDAY 16 JULY 2002
(Mr Blair) 49 per cent and there are issues to do with voter turnout in recent elections in other places, as well. I think that is what has got to happen. I do believe it is important also that collectively we get across the notion that politics is a good and noble part of public service, which it is. I believe that whether politicians are Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, whatever they are, that most of them come in with a genuine desire and belief in public service.
121. Are you suggesting that some of the public cynicism derives also from the way that politics is reported, in that it is reported as froth?
(Mr Blair) I have talked about this before. I guess as well that if you go back to Dickensian times you could probably find a bit of that going on at that time as well. I suppose it is not entirely new. I think it is all about how we go out and reach people in different ways for public debate today, recognising the reality. That is the important thing that I think we have got to recognise. There is no point in us sitting back and thinking we can wind the clock back. You read these fantastic accounts of how Gladstone would go out and address 200,000 people. Most of us when we are addressing rallies nowadays they are usually rallies of the converted. We would probably all say that. If they are notand I have been to a few of those too
122. The WI!
(Mr Blair) I can recall a few, I think, but it is completely different. Gladstone would speak for 45 minutes or an hour and go through a lot of detailed policy. I remember when I did my very first interview for Look North for the North East just after I had become a Member of Parliament on some great issue of the day, the journalist asked me the question and I said, "There are really ten points I would like to make on this." He said, "You have got about 15 seconds," and that is the reality and we are not going to be able to change that. What people will watch on the news is 15 or 20 seconds. We have spent two and a half hours today. For those people who watched live that is fine but whatever appears on the news will be a tiny little segment. We have got to find ways of using new technology and reaching the people in different ways and at least having underneath the headlines a genuine policy debate. I think that would be in the interests of Government and Parliament alike.
123. Prime Minister, if you stood on many polling stations at last year's Election you could have toasted the arrival of each voter under 25 with a glass of champagne and still have been sober at the end of the day. How far do you think the Government needs to go to get people interested through things like the Internet and new technology and to what extent do you have concerns that it is a) something the Government cannot entirely control and b) to put it delicately, that senior ministers including the Prime Minister may not find time in their busy schedules to master personally?
(Mr Blair) I suppose there will always be a sense in which young people can be less committed to politics than older people. We all came to politics at different stages but I was probably about 20 before I first got into politics. Sometimes you meet people at the age of 12 or 14 who are fascinated by politics and you are not sure whether to be pleased or worried. There will always be an element of that, I think, but there is a way of reaching out into schools, into universities, and into the new technology that is important and can make a difference. I would like to see all of us as political parties be far more active there. That comes back to the point Jean was talking about raising the general esteem of politics. In the end it is important that people want to go into politics. It is important that young people, when they are slightly older, are interested and fascinated and that they want to go in it. I sometimes worry when you meet some of the bright young people in their late twenties and they say, "I am not sure I really want to go into politics", when you are sure that 30 or 40 years ago those people would have been desperate to get in there. Again, it is a job we have all got to do because the one thing that is for sure is that in placid times for governing a country it may not make so much of a differencealthough it always makes a differenceif you have a moment of crisis then it is important that you have the quality of people who are committed to public service and committed to the country in politics. That is why I think this is something we should all look at as political parties. Maybe again we should be looking at this across the political parties together rather than thinking that we are just in the position of competition with one another for a limited number of highly politically conscious people.
Chairman: Thank you very much. First of all, may I apologise to those who did not get in but obviously they will be borne in mind next time. May I make the point to the press and to colleagues that as we have now cleared many of the questions relating to the role of the Prime Minister next time it will be possible to go into much more depth on individual issues. I think it has been a very wide ranging and very good natured exchange and it shows that you can disagree without acrimony. I thank you, Prime Minister. It has been an impressive performance. It has been a real marathon for you. I am sure the Committee have enjoyed it very much and look forward to the next session.