Britain a better country under Labour, claims Blair
Tony Blair has described himself as “pro-gay rights and tough on law and order” in a podcast interview with actor Stephen Fry.
The internet broadcast, which is available on the No 10 website, touched on a range of issues to do with identity and the perceived fracturing of British society.
Echoing many of the soundbites that have defined his decade in office, the Prime Minister said that he differed from previous Labour leaders.
“I think if you were looking for a more mature consensus about issues to do with liberty and freedom today, I think there is a particular type of political philosophy, and this is where I am, as it were,” the Prime Minister told Mr Fry.
“I would be very liberal on, say, gay rights, you know the equality agenda, ending discrimination against people for whatever reason, but probably less liberal than a previous Labour generation would have been on law and order issues, or antisocial behaviour, people who commit violent crime and so on.”
Mr Fry, an out gay man, thanked Mr Blair for pushing forward a liberal consensus in which concepts like gay marriage and equal rights for LGBT people have become a reality, but expressed his worry that not all of British society had changed attitudes.
“There has been a rise in the impatience and intolerance of churches in particular, their fight to regard themselves as a separate part of society,” said Mr Fry.
“You have the faith schools and their own views about stem cell research, about homosexuality, about divorce, about all kinds of other things.
“And so it is like fracturing, it is lots of little fracture lines, it is one earth but rather as global warming has done to the lakes, it has cracked it up.”
Mr Blair admitted that there was no longer the same broad consensus in British society that there once was.
He said that politicians had to learn to talk to different groups of voters about what interested them, whether that is climate change or jobs.
He said this had led to “stakeholder political parties.”
Mr Fry challenged the Prime Minister about the failure of multi-culturalism.
He said it was unacceptable that Britain had become so divided, and that we should be unashamed about compelling immigrants to learn English and integrate into British society.
Mr Blair responded that while integration is a “duty,” a balance was required with the right people have to live according to their religious faith.
He referred to the spirit of patriotism so prevalent in America, and claimed that:
“We have got something of the same spirit in Britain today and I think that is a good thing and it means that people are very comfortable, whether they are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, whatever their religious faith, also thinking that at a certain level the values of tolerance and respect for other people and the basic common articles of decency that make a society worthwhile.
“Those are things that people share in common and they are in the end I think the way that Britain as a country has developed. They are very specific and British values.”
The Prime Minister and Mr Fry also discussed the much-missed Mo Mowlam.
The late MP for Redcar was the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of the current Labour administration.
Talking about all the historic meetings that had taken place in the Cabinet room, Mr Blair said:
“I remember when Sinn Fein first came to see us there, and you know this was just after we began the peace process in Northern Ireland and of course they pointed out that this was the room in which Lloyd George had sat with the Irish politicians of the time and tried to broker the agreement that of course eventually led to the partition of Ireland, and they were sort of musing on the sense of history, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness.
“And Mo Mowlam, who was with me, said “Yes” she said, “and just behind you is the window where that mortar that you fired into John Major’s Cabinet came in through the window.””
Stephen Fry: “Yes, I was going to say someone should have said that. And if there was a thing to be said by someone at that time it would have been Mo Mowlam.”
Prime Minister: “Yes it was and everyone took it in reasonably good part.”
Mr Blair admitted that, like most people, he wants to be liked. He also said he does not use computers, he does not keep a diary and said reforming the rock group he played with as a young man, Ugly Rumours, would be:
“very bad news for music in general and popular music in particular.”
More from PinkNews
The Prime Minister has recorded a series of podcasts of late, with celebrities such as author Bill Bryson, broadcaster Chris Evans and comedian Eddie Izzard.
The most recent internet broadcast featured singer KT Tunstall, actor Josh Hartnett and Mr Blair at the launch of a new campaign to get one billion people to reduce their carbon emissions by one tonne a year.
Earlier this month, under pressure from Labour MPs and members of his own cabinet, Mr Blair refused to give Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies an exemption from new gay rights laws.
The Sexual Orientation Regulations are due to be laid before Parliament this month, and are expected to be published next week while MPs and peers are on holiday.
The church-run adoption agencies have secured a grace period, until the end of 2008, to comply with the regulations, which outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.
Since Labour came to power in 1997, they have equalised the age of consent, repealed Section 28, given new rights to transgender people, made gay discrimination in the workplace illegal, made it possible for gay and lesbian couples to enter into civil partnerships and granted gay people the right to adopt.