The full transcript of Blair’s press conference today is online at the Number Ten site and it is well worth reading in full.
Its clear from reading the questions from the reporters that ‘the pack’ had one aim – to try and get Blair to ‘admit an Iraq link’ to the London bombings. It was fairly obvious what trap was being set for him and Wednesday’s Guardian and Independent would certainly have played up such an ‘admission’ and then moved on to Blair therefore ‘taking part of the blame’ and by Thursday they would have been trotting out, yet again, their old demand for an apology for removing Saddam.
Blair got it absolutely right about Iraq though. He didn’t pretend there was no ‘Iraq factor’ involved in Jihadist activity at the moment but said:
Let us just take this issue of Iraq and expose it for a moment. Frankly the obscenity of these people saying it is concern for Iraq that drives them to terrorism. If it is concern for Iraq, why are they driving a car bomb into the middle of a group of children and killing them? Why are they every day in Iraq trying to kill people whose only desire is for their country to become a democracy? Why are they trying to kill people in Afghanistan? Why are they trying, every time Israel and Palestine look as if they could come together in some sort of settlement, they go and wreck it? Why are they killing people in Turkey? What is their excuse there, or in Egypt, or in Saudi Arabia? They will always have a reason and I am not saying that any of these things don’t affect their warped reasoning and warped logic as to what they do, or that they don’t use these things to try and recruit people. But I do say we shouldn’t compromise with it. I am not saying anyone says any of these things justify it, but we shouldn’t even allow them the vestige of an excuse for what they do. That is my answer to that.
Then he went on to deal with the ‘we are as bad as they are’ line:
Until we get rid of this frankly complete nonsense in trying to build some equivalence between what we are doing helping Iraqis and Afghans get their democracy and these people going in deliberately killing wholly innocent people for the sake of it, until we eliminate that we are not going to confront this ideology in the way it needs to be confronted and my point to you is this, it is time we stopped saying OK we abhor their methods, but we kind of see something in their ideas or maybe they have got a sliver of excuse or justification. They have got no justification for it.
And one other thing I want to say whilst I am on this subject if I might, neither have they any justification for killing people in Israel either. Let us just get that out of the way as well. There is no justification for suicide bombing whether in Palestine, in Iraq, in London, in Egypt, in Turkey, anywhere, in the United States of America. There is no justification for it period and we will start to beat this when we stand up and confront the ideology of this evil. Not just the methods but the ideas. When we actually have people going into the communities here in this country and elsewhere and saying I am sorry, we are not having any of this nonsense about it is to do with what the British are doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, or support for Israel, or support for America, or any of the rest of it. It is nonsense, and we have got to confront it as that. And when we confront it as that, then we will start to beat it.
If you’ve seen the television coverage of that section you’ll surely have noticed the passion with which Blair delivered those lines. I remember the days when I cringed at Blair’s attempts to be ‘all things to all people’ and his all-too transparent attempts to tap in to what he saw as a popular mood or to make sure he was ‘covering’ this or that angle for a particular focus-group generated ‘segment’. Yet today Blair spoke with real belief and conviction, at times bordering on anger.
There were questions that could be asked however. For example, who exactly is going to go into communities (I’m presuming he means Muslim communities) and take up the battle of ideas?
But the reporter with the next question wasn’t interested in that and tried to turn the conference back to what ‘the pack’ wanted as ‘their story’:
I am going to return to Iraq, I am afraid, simply as a fact, rightly or wrongly, do you accept the possibility that Britain’s involvement in Iraq has increased the danger of terrorism in this country?
I don’t think I am going to answer that in different terms than I have already answered I am afraid, which is to say that these people will use it. But I honestly think this, and it is up to you whether you agree with it or not, that the roots of this go a lot deeper. You come back to 11 September and 11 September happened before Iraq or Afghanistan.
Would you accept the possibility?
I know what you are trying to do.
Blair did later get a chance to talk about how he wanted to fight ideologically against the Islamists however:
Again this is very difficult to say, but I want to say it to you nonetheless, people have got to be prepared to go into the Muslim community and say, what you are saying about America is rubbish. Now that is difficult because look, there are lots of people, there are people who write things in this country saying America has an evil foreign policy and all the rest of it, look leave aside whether it is right or wrong, American foreign policy or not, or British foreign policy, America is not acting to suppress Islam. People who are Muslims in America, or Muslims in this country, are entitled to worship.
We have got to confront this in a more fundamental way, otherwise what happens is, and as I say I know this is a difficult thing to say but it has to be said I think otherwise you don’t get to grips with this properly, we have got to be prepared to confront the ideas of these people as well as their means, their ends as well as their means. If you don’t do that, you never get to the heart of this, because what will always happen is that there will be people there who, if it is accepted as a matter of course, yes of course Israel shouldn’t exist, yes American foreign policy is evil, yes what happened in Iraq or Afghanistan was designed to suppress Islam, if people accept those as ideas it is far less of a step into the extremism of terrorism.
If you challenge the ideas, you challenge it at its roots, and if you want to deal with the root causes of this you have got to do that, as well as as I say the other things like the Middle East peace process, like showing that we care and are compassionate about people less fortunate than ourselves. In other words what I have tried to say since September 11 is that you need a whole approach to this, you need to put it altogether and then go after it with far greater vigour, I have to say, than I think the world has been prepared to do so far.
He was asked by a reporter about Britain’s supposed support for dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and said:
I believe our ultimate protection lies in the spread of democracy and human rights, because I don’t think this is western, I think it is just human, I think people prefer to live in a democracy than either a secular dictatorship or the dictatorship of some religious fanatic. But I go back therefore to the importance, what would be good, wouldn’t it, would be to have a country in the Arab world that had come from a secular dictatorship and became a democracy, and that is why I would say to you that whatever people thought of the original decision to enter into the conflict in Iraq, or toppling Saddam, what has been going on for the last two years has been a completely different order of battle.
It has to be said – when it comes to the big, crucial issues of our day we have a Prime Minister who really does understand the nature of the threat facing democrats globally. Few would have predicted it before September 11 but he is a politician who has the balls to stand up to the consensus in the media and in much of European and British political debate and say what needs to be said.
Today did mark a change in tone from Blair – the passion has been there before, as has the conviction that, like it or not, we are in a struggle that must be won but what struck me today as Blair dismissed arguments as “rubbish” is that this was probably the start of ‘final term Blair’ – now utterly uninterested in pleasing journalists or upsetting large chunks of the electorate and totally committed to arguing for what he clearly believes in.
It does beg the question will the Labour Party and Britain find another such a leader after Blair stands down?