MANDELSON HOPES THE SOCIALIST PARTY IN SPAIN CAN LEARN FROM NEW LABOURBy Humphrey Carter
PETER Mandelson, talking to the Bulletin in Majorca yesterday, backed Tony Blair's determined stance on Iraq saying that giving in to Saddam would leave him as the victor and send a message of weakness from the West to all the tyrants, dictators and rogue leaders in the world. Mandelson, the architect of New Labour, political and social change in the United Kingdom, was in Palma yesterday attending a conference on Social Change and the Political Agenda organised by the Fundación Alternativa, a Madrid-based think tank associated with the socialists, the opposition.
I am here to give them the benefit of our experience, our thinking and our electoral success in Britain and to try and spread those lessons to our sister party in Spain.
Is this perhaps a poignant time, with the local elections looming in Spain and then the year-long run in to the general election?
Yes, this is a key time, you see growing confidence in the ranks of the Socialists, they have a strong and effective leader in Zapatero, who has met our Prime Minister and they have established a good working relationship. They are developing, I think, sensible and modern policies that are relevant to the Spanish situation.
Having suffered electoral defeat for the last seven years, I feel they're more in their stride than I have detected during previous visits to Spain, so we obviously want them to benefit from our experience, our advice, although of course, government to government we need to maintain close relations with those in office and that is done by ministers in Britain and in Spain.
As the architect of social and political change in the UK, how has New Labour's plan panned out since 1997 and what is the situation now? How do you look at things at present?
I think that the key thing that Tony Blair and New Labour achieved was to create a national appeal, beyond class, beyond geographical boundary, beyond vested interest, we recruited people to share our values as modern social democrats, people who have a modern and relevant outlook. People who understood and interpreted the changes that were going on in the world economy, technology, the huge impact these were having on people´s jobs, their lives, the economic insecurity that was generating and the demand for greater opportunity and greater social mobility. People no longer wanted to live in boxes, they no longer wanted to be held back. They no longer felt that their whole lives would be governed by where they were born, what schools they went to. There was a thirst for progress, personal advance as well as progress in the country as a whole and that was the appeal that Mr Blair created and I think we have sustained that. I think people do see us still as a relevant, modern party with a national appeal.
There were fears when we were first elected that we would go back to being a class-based party or a trade union dominated party or a left-wing dominated party. Those fears have been extinguished and I think that is why we won our second victory in 2001. In 1997 we held out the promise that we would be elected as New Labour and would govern as New Labour. Four years later people concluded that their trust had been fulfilled. Now, at the same time, we're coping with huge expectations of what two landslide victories could deliver.
In a sense we were victims of our own ambition and I think that, to an extent, what we said we wanted to do and the very strong ambition that we had, got out of sync with the pace of delivery on the ground. But I would rather be ambitious and then work harder to deliver, than be so modest and then perform to low expectations. But it has created some sense in the country that we held out huge promise and then have not changed things sufficiently. You have always got to be conscious of that.
So, perhaps, amidst the current accusations that the Labour Party has failed to deliver, on crime etc, has the party been the victim of its own ambition, thinking too far ahead?
Before we came to office, we had an explosion in crime in Britain, crime doubled over the decade before we came into power and the rate of increase in crime has slowed. In many areas crime is less, police numbers are more, crime detection is greater, but still people look around and feel a physical insecurity because whatever progress we've made, crime is still too extensive, so we have to make further progress. Take the National Health Service, like the education system and other public services, we are now investing in hospitals, NHS staff, technology, new buildings on a scale the NHS has never seen in its entire history. Our investment programme in public service is unprecedented in post-war years, but we knew it was never going to be enough just spending more money. That money had to be coupled with modernisation, resources and reforms had to go hand in hand. That takes longer. We're doing it, but if you take the example of the National Health Service, you'll never double the output of the health service in the way that we want, by maintaining it as a top-down monolithic, centrally planned and organised service. There has to be greater decentralisation, localisation of management and delivery so that, amongst others things, as is the case of all our public services, they are tailored more to the needs of the individual. Now, these changes take time but I believe that the direction in which we're progressing on the economy, public services and the education system are the right directions and are supported by the country. There will be difficult choices still to come, I give for an example the funding of higher eduction.
Everyone wants, in an ideal world, to maintain access to a higher education based on grants and low fees, but I'm afraid in today´s world, there is no such thing as a free lunch and, if we're going to maintain standards in our higher education and increase access to those who are qualified to go into higher eduction, maintain, scope, breadth and calibre of the offer of higher education, then we have to put more money into the system. When we came into office, there was a £4 billion gap in funding of our higher education institutions. You're either going to reduce that gap by saying that everyone has to pay the equivalent of 4p on the basic rate of tax, or say that those who are going to benefit and take out of higher education, have an obligation to put something back into it in future years, when they can afford to do so. Now that's a hard decision and then there are other similar difficult choices to be made, but we're not going to shy away from them.
Tony Blair has perhaps made the biggest decision of his career, even gambling his future along with that of New Labour on the present international crisis. With the likes of Cook, Short and various private secretaries threatening to resign, is the situation as bad as we are led to believe in Number 10 and is Tony Blair determined to stick to his guns?
Tony Blair has one over-riding duty and that is to use the intelligence available to him, his knowledge and his best judgement to do what he believes is necessary for Britain's national interests, and he'll do it. It will give him a bumpy ride, yes there may be some people who get lost along the way, but I just say to you, war is obviously not an attractive solution, but the worst solution is to leave in place a brutal dictator who butchers his own people and, whilst I appreciate the dilemma that is presented to the people of acting with or without the second mandate of the United Nations, given already that we have the first mandate the former resolution 1441, some people want a belt and braces resolution, to some it will present a dilemma to take action without the belt and the braces. But I would ask you though to consider what people would say of Tony Blair if, in the face of French intransigence and unreasonableness, he was simply to show weakness at the last moment and back down leaving Saddam Hussein armed, with weight to throw around in every direction in the Middle East, what sort of region would we be creating in the Middle East with Saddam Hussein the victor? It's a terrible prospect and also what signal would we be sending to people like Saddam Hussein, the tinpot dictators, international terrorists, people running rogue states, proliferating weapons of mass destruction whether they be of a nuclear, chemical or biological kind? These are massive threats to global security which affect us in Europe as they do in trouble spots in the East or South Asia or wherever, and if we turn away and pretend these threats are not happening, put our heads in the sand, we will wake up one day and rue the day we failed to take action many years before.
The stakes are very high, will we see any changes in Britain after the Iraq crisis?
I don't think you'll see a post-Iraq Britain, I think in retrospect, as people look back, assuming the war happens if Saddam Hussein does not comply with the United Nations, and it's the will and the authority of the United Nations that is at stake here, we're not doing this for the United States, we're doing this for the United Nations, if you aspire as we do, as the Prime Minister does, to create an international system, governed by international law where the UN's authority is respected, where its will is enforced, then we have to create a situation, we have to act in a way that where the UN expresses its will clearly but people like Saddam Hussein defies that will, and the UN does nothing, we will face a much less safe world in the future, one in which the international community is paralysed in the case of modern threats and danger, where we can not combine and act together in order to see off those who want to destroy life or property. Now that's what is at stake, much more than is at stake for Mr Blair's standing in Britain or whether this parliamentary aide or that junior minister resigns from the administration. We're talking about the future of world security and the future of the world system and what conditions we want to create to provide for a safer world for our children and our grandchildren.
France and Germany's response must have left Number 10 rather perplexed?
I think that for France to say that they will veto any action by the United Nations come what may, whatever the circumstances we will veto it, is a dereliction of duty by France. Under the charter of the United Nations all of us have an obligation to uphold the resolutions of the Security Council.
What France is saying to Saddam Hussein is forget what the UN said in its resolution 1441, you can disarm voluntarily.
In other words, do it if you want to.
Well, the French may be doing that for their dislike of the United States, but what it is, is a betrayel of the United Nations.
Where will all this leave Europe once this settles down?
It will leave Europe having to repair its relationships, its relations, pick up the pieces of the disagreement and try and forge a renewed cohesion and unity because the core of the international system is provided by America and Europe. That trans-Atlantic alliance which has seen off Communism and the Soviet threat, which has brought liberation and democracy to the countries of central and Eastern Europe, is also indispensable to bringing shared values of prosperity and stability to the rest of the world. America needs the co-operation of other countries, its chief allies, in order to be effective in the world, just as we in Europe need America as the ultimate guarantor of our security. We need each other as much as we've always done and in Europe our responsibility is to knit together to try and find a common outlook and common policies which will enable us not to go it alone and try to isolate America as if we can provide some alternative hold or counter weight to America, but to work with America closely, I hope in a less unequal relationship than we had before, but the primary responsibility for that rests with the Euroepans. We've got to get our act together, we've got to assess these dangers and threats to the world and face up to them as realistically as America is doing following September 11 and if we fail to do that, then we will be abdicating our own responsibility to our own European citizens as well as letting down our ally America.
Will Britain join the Euro to speed up repairing the damage the situation is causing?
If Britain was in the Euro, then we would end the half-in, half-out state of Britain's relationship within the European Union.
It would greatly enhance our influence, enable us much better to shape the future direction of the European Union, including revitalising and cementing Europe's relations with America which I believe is very importnat.
So is joining the Euro next on Tony Blair's agenda once this is all over with?
He wants to join, but as he's always said, economic conditions need to be right and there may be a difference of opinion on what the right economic conditions are, but that's a debate they need to have in government and they'll be doing that in the next few months.
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