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Tony Blair at Third Way Magazine (an interwiev on 1993)
di Roy Mc Cloughry


Since 1993, Third Way has been talking in depth to men and women who help to shape our society or set the tone of our culture. We spoke to Tony Blair on the 14th September 1993, before the spin doctors closed around him, when he was still shadow Home Secretary and had a full head of hair.

The interviewer was Roy McCloughry.

 How did you become a Christian? I was brought up as one, but I was not in any real sense a practising Christian until I went to Oxford. There was an Australian priest at the same college as me who got me interested again. In a sense, it was a rediscovery of religion as something living, that was about the world around me rather than some sort of special one-to-one relationship with a remote Being on high. Suddenly I began to see its social relevance. I began to make sense of the world.
Is your Christianity then a commitment to a philosophy rather than a personal thing?
No, it's both.
Is there a place for personal prayer?
Yes, very much so.
What are the central tenets of Christianity which for you demand a commitment to socialism?
Where my political and personal beliefs completely coincide is the notion that people are members of the community. You are what you are in part because of others, and you cannot divorce the individual from the surrounding society. That idea is to me the distinguishing philosophical feature of the Christian religion.But the notion of the individual within a community is not a substitute for individual responsibility. In the end, you have to live your own life and take responsibility for the decisions you make. Christianity is a very tough religion, and there are certain imperatives of individual conduct that it is very, very strong on. It is not a religion that makes easy excuses for people. My reinterpretation of the socialist message is that social responsibility is important to reinforce personal responsibility, not as a substitute for it.
How do you square the pragmatism of current politics with such a conscience-based approach?
People use the word ‘pragmatic' in two senses. One means that, for simple reasons of expediency, you don't take a course which you believe to be right; but the other meaning is just that politics is the art of the possible, and you have to try to take people with you. You have to make sure that your policy does not create problems that are worse than the ones you were trying to cure. Now, that is pragmatism in a perfectly decent sense, and provided you keep that distinction in mind you don't go far wrong.Politicians have been very bad at educating the public – and being honest with them – about some of the difficult decisions they face. Partly because of the nature of our politics, there is a tendency for those in government not to tell the truth and for those in opposition always to pretend that life could be made so much better so very easily.In fact, of course, it can't. In the end, if politicians spend their time lying to the public, that just devalues politics – and then you've got a problem.
Labour always used to talk of equality, rarely of freedom. Is your new emphasis on freedom a necessary accommodation of market capitalism, or is it a matter of principle?
I think it's entirely principled, because in the end that is what equality is about – the belief that if people were not more equal, then they were less free, they were less able to develop.People on the left have made far too little of the fact that the nature of capitalism and market economies has changed dramatically this century as a result of the things our type of government has done. We are way, way behind in our analysis of capitalism as a market. People have thought that the choice is between a 19th-century capitalism and Marxism, and it's not.
If freedom and equality go hand in glove, doesn't that mean that a principled approach to freedom should mean higher taxes?
Well, it may do. I don't say that the Labour Party should never raise taxes, but if we are to, or to spend more money, we have got to demonstrate to the public the purposes to which it is to be put. The problem for Labour in the past has been that people thought we would raise tax just for the sake of it.Bill Clinton's Democrats stopped talking about taxes and started talking about investing and growing. It may come to the same thing, but you start with the proposition that you are not going to tax people just because you are anti wealth. That is an important part of repositioning Labour.
You have brought a new sense to the Labour front bench of the relationship between social roots and personal responsibility…

It's a major theme throughout my belief about what...

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