Blair on London bombings

interviewed by James Naughtie

BBC Radio 4, Today, 9 July 2005


JN:This [G8] summit was disrupted in the most awful way, as we all know, by what happened in London.Have you always felt at the back of your mind that this was inevitable?


TB:It was inevitable.I think Iíve always said that these terrorists would try.I mean, theyíve tried in many different countries throughout the world, and they were always going to try in our country. Itís just tragic that they succeeded.


JN:What does it mean for all of us in this country?


TB:The British have a very great inner resilience and the response of people in London has been extraordinary.And several of the leaders at the summit commented to me on how remarkable the British people are, that theyíre simply not going to be terrorised by terror in this way, and I think that we will continue with our way of life.


I genuinely believe that.Even as we mourn the lives of those people killed so brutally and so unnecessarily, the sense I think and I hope within the country is to pull together and to make sure that people canít divide us.


JN:Youíve argued here at Gleneagles that this is an example of politics triumphing over adversity, that you carry on, that you issue your communiquťs, that that dialogue will go on, but thereís a philosophical point here, a point about how you practice politics, because on the one hand you say, weíre resilient, we carry on, thatís how you defeat terrorism, on the other hand ID cards, more control orders, questions about whether people should be arrested for preaching unhelpful sermons in mosques, more concrete blocks in the streets of London, the rhetoric goes one way, maybe the practice goes another, we become an illiberal society, and if thatís true, doesnít that mean that the terrorists have won?


TB:If we became an illiberal society, it would, but I donít think we are.All modern countries, all the countries around the table have had to take extra measures to protect themselves, and itís just a shame, itís a shame that that has to happen, but on the other hand itís like the wretched iron fence around the Gleneagles summit.Iím not suggesting that these people there are anything like the terrorists, donít understand me, but the fact is that people are prepared to behave in a, in an irresponsible way then democracyís got to protect itself.But, I think we stand today as a country that is in many ways a model of an open, liberal, multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural society.I think weíre rather proud of it.


JN:Do you accept that there is a danger when governments are under pressure and there is security advice, and there is a scare and youíre given information about what may be about to happen, that you slip into a kind of authoritarianism .. authoritarianism by stealth, and that that is a real danger for any government that still says it doesnít want an illiberal society?


TB:Youíve got to be very cautious about it, which is why Ė I wonít go through all the details of the legislation we proposed Ė but I mean theyíre hedged about with an enormous amount of restrictions on government power, and proper systems and due processes, and so on.And of course, there is the human rights legislation that we introduced which allows people to challenge government, challenge its legislation.The reason we had to change our legislation before the last election was precisely because the House of Lords said this is incompatible with human rights.Now, even if I may have disagreed with that, none the less we accepted the verdict, and thatís what a democratic societyís about.


JN:You have to accept, for example, on the question of ID cards, part of the argument for which was terrorism, ID cards were very, very unlikely to have made any difference to what has happened in London?


TB:The argument about ID cards Ė and again itís probably not sensible to go into all the details now, or even appropriate to do that Ė the argument is a far longer term one about how you make your borders secure, and how you are able, fully consistent with peopleís proper civil liberties, to keep a check on who is coming in and out of your country, and circulating within it.


But, probably with this type of terrorism, the solution cannot only be security measures, and Iíve never really doubted that myself.And, youíve got as a government to do everything you can to protect your people, but if people are prepared to go on to a tube or a bus and blow up wholly innocent people at random, to do the maximum death and destruction, without any thought for their human rights or human life, thereís no .. you could have all the surveillance in the world and you couldnít stop that happening, and thatís why ultimately, although we have to take the measures necessary, and we do, because thatís an important part of protecting ourselves, the underlying issues have to be dealt with too in terms of trying to get rid of this dreadful perversion of the true faith of Islam, in terms ofpeople within the Muslim community, as they are doing, and I really welcome it, standing up and saying that this is .. we abhor these acts of terrorism and violence, there wholly inconsistent with the proper teaching of Islam, and also creating a more just and a more fair world.


So I think that, you know, itís probably not the right moment now to go into these arguments about security and laws on terrorism, and identity cards and all the rest.We can have those debates at a later time.But, I think the one thing that all of us want to hold to is to the belief that the British way of life has something very special about its sense of fair play and democracy, and that our revulsion at terrorism is not just revulsion at loss of life and innocent bloodshed, itís also a revulsion at trying to create change by these barbaric methods of violence, and we will resist that, and we are resisting it as a country, and the spirit that people showed indicates that.


JN:Have you ever worried in the last two days, has it crossed your mind just as an individual that if you hadnít gone to war that we might have been spared this?


TB:Thatís a debate again that people will have.What was interesting, round the table was, if you take President Putin, who was passionately opposed to the war in Iraq, and yet suffered Beslan, if you think of Bali, and what happened there, if you think that even after the change of government in Madrid, the terrorists there were planning further terrorist acts before they were caught, fortunately for the people of Spain, and if you remember that September 11, that was the reason we went into Afghanistan,September 11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before any of these issues, and that was the worst terrorist atrocity of all.


And so, people will have their views about that, and theyíll have to make their judgement, but I think this type of terrorism is, is .. has very deep roots, and as well as dealing with the consequences of it, the terrible consequences of terrorism, trying to protect ourselves as much as any civilised society can, itís only when you start to pull it up by the roots that you will deal with it.


JN:And what does pulling it up by its roots mean?


TB:Creating the circumstances in which there is a proper understanding between people of different faiths, in which some of the critical issues in the Middle East are dealt with and sorted out, when people can see out there in the Middle East that there is a perfectly good path to democracy if people want to take it, and also, and I think that this is being done now by sensible moderate people within the Muslim faith, those people who are extremists and have perverted the faith of Islam Ė and the same way that you have crazy people who have perverted the faith of Christianity in the past, and some still do Ėthat they confront those extremists and defeat them.


JN:Itís been an extraordinary 72 hours for you Ė the Olympic decision, the hopes you had for this summit, the horrors in London, the end of this summit Ė the simple question, but I think people probably want to know the answer to, whatís it been like?


TB:Itís been an extraordinary ..


JN:Have you ever known the gamut of emotions?


TB:No, I havenít.I havenít, because obviously, you cannot compare the winning of the Olympics with the terrible deaths by terrorism, of course, you canít.The truth is that on Wednesday, people felt exhilarated and uplifted, and then on Thursday it felt an awful sense of tragedy and despair at the mindless killing of innocent people.And then, the subjects for the summit are important, and theyíre important even with the acts of terrorism, even with the Olympics or not, any of these issues.


What Iím left with is once again the reflection of the extraordinary interdependence of todayís world.What is interesting is that those five countries that came to discuss climate change in most of those, there have been direct acts of terrorism in all of them, theyíve felt the impact of it in the African nations, seven or eight of them that came today, most of them have felt the impact of terrorism, and thatís just Ė itís almost a clichť to say it Ė but thatís the reality of todayís world.


And the reason why itís so important that weíre able to come together and co-operate and try and tackle some of these major issues is because ultimately what we now know, if we didnít before, is that where there is extremism, fanaticism, or acute and appalling forms of poverty in one continent, the consequences no longer stay fixed in that continent, they spread to the rest of the world, which is why itís so important that the leaders of the world come together, with all the imperfections of any process like a summit, do their level best to send a signal out to people that politics can make a difference and that, for all the tricky compromises along the way, itís better to do business that way than through violence and bloodshed.


JN:A lot of people here were reflecting in the course of this week that youíd hoped that this might be one of your great moments, one of the moments you might enjoy, where you got an achievement that you believed was very important, and it turned into one of your worst.Is that true?


TB:When you find yourself looking at the death and destruction, thereís just nothing more awful, and not just because youíre the leader of a country and a prime minister, but also you think of all the families that are grieving and you think of all the peopleís lives that have been either ended or upturned forever as a result of it, and you then match that alongside the fact that we actually came to this summit to try to do something good.


There are lots of things we might disagree about, my government, some of the governments represented here, have done in the past few days, most people actually think that what we were trying to do on Africa and climate change was the right thing. So what do you do when you see alongside the action on Africa and climate change the despairing tragedy of terrorism.What youíve got to do, the only way you can make sense of it in the end as a human being, never mind as a leader, is to contrast the two and to say there are two ways that this world can go forward, one is the way of a fanatic and the other is the way of a democrat.