Q&A Jonathan Powell

We ask Tony Blair's ex-chief of staff about life at Number 10, the former prime minister, the Northe

Other than the success of NI, what were the highpoints of your decade in Number 10?

Getting to the finishing line with the egg still in the spoon and leaving No 10 on our own terms, which doesn't happen often in British politics! The achievements of the Blair government of which I am proudest are the reforms of health and education, the full benefit of which will not be felt for a decade or so yet.

And the lowpoints?

Wasting huge amounts of time dealing with ersatz scandals. I am firmly of the view we should keep the police out of politics in Britain or we risk going the way of American politics where the Whitewater investigation lasted virtually the whole of the two terms of the Clinton administration but turned up nothing.

You talk about the lessons of Blair's experience in NI being applied in the Middle East, but isn't Blair damaged goods because of Iraq?

No, on the contrary, when I talk to people in the region they are interested in what Tony has to say because of his practical experience in foreign policy and in conflict and because he is listened to in the US and by leaders in Europe and Israel; in other words he is not stuck in a purely declaratory foreign policy as so many other leaders are but can make a practical difference to their lives.

Other than a united Ireland, can anything be done to appease the remaining militants in NI?

You should never appease terrorists. The mistake made by critics of the 'talking to your enemy' approach is to equate talking with appeasing. Chamberlain's error was not in talking to Hitler - that was a good idea - but in thinking he could be bought off with chunks of Czechoslovakia. The British Government talked to the IRA for decades but it never gave in to its demand for a united Ireland at the end of the barrel of a gun. The current dissident groups in NI have no coherent political demands. They want a united Ireland, but unlike Sinn Fein, they have no political strategy for getting there.

Can you imagine a time where there'll be a united Ireland?

I think it is very unlikely in my lifetime, but I think the border will matter much less as the EU develops.I remember Ian Paisley coming to see us in No 10 at the height of the Foot and Mouth crisis arguing that NI livestock should be exempt from the restrictions on movement in the UK and saying 'our people may be British but our cows are Irish'.

Do you think it's a desirable idea?

It should depend absolutely on the will of the people of NI

Do you think Labour will win the next election?

I sincerely hope so given the alternative, but it is always hard for governments to win a fourth term, so it will be an uphill battle.

When Gordon Brown decides to go, who should replace him? Someone who keeps the ideas of New Labour going, appropriately updated.

Are you planning any more writing projects in the wake of "Great Hatred, Little Room"?

I am writing a modern version of Machiavelli's 'The Prince' based on examples from the Blair, Bush and Clinton administrations rather than 15th Century Florence, which tries to illustrate where power really lies in Britain rather than where constitutional theorists suggest it should lie theoretically - a justification of sofa government!

Don't miss Jonathan Powell's article on Northern Ireland and the prospects for peace in the Middle East