Tony Blair talks about life as “a Trot” and pressing the nuclear button

The former PM discussed his deal with Gordon Brown and the Middle East. 

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A prime minister would find it hard to know "what the right thing to do is" in the event of a nuclear war, Tony Blair has suggested in a wide-ranging interview. 

Talking on BBC Radio 4 to the historian Peter Hennessy, the former Labour prime minister also talked about his youthful interest in Leon Trotsky, and the pact he made with Gordon Brown before running for leader. He also advocated an alliance with modernising forces in Islam. 

Pressed on his decision to back the invasion of Iraq, Blair said he was hardest on himself for “not understanding the depth of the problem within the world of Islam and the Middle East”. 

He added: “Bizarrely, given everything that’s happening there I think there are real signs that in the region there is a coming together of the modernising forces within Islam, who in the end will be the people with us in alliance… who will sort this out.”

He also described the "surreal" experience of signing last resort letters and setting out instructions for retaliation in the event of a nuclear war. "How on earth do you know what the right thing to do is in those circumstances?" he told Hennessy. 

Blair said he could understand the argument for dropping Trident, but only on the basis of accepting direct American protection: "That’s the alternative – you wouldn’t get rid of Trident and then have no form of protection."

Blair’s interest in politics was sparked while at university, when he came across the Isaac Deutscher biography of Trotsky. Asked if he was briefly “a Trot” by Hennessy, Blair replied: “In that sense I was.”

Joining the Labour Party in the Seventies, he added, was considered "an act of betrayal in itself" by those on the far left. However, Blair was influenced by his wife Cherie, who had "contempt" for the far left based on her experience of growing up in Liverpool. 

He also discussed the so-called “Granita Pact”, named after an Islington restaurant, but which actually took place in an Edinburgh home, the city to which both Blair and Brown had ties. The two men's rivalry would ultimately split the party into "Blairite" and "Brownite" factions.

Blair said that “more or less” he told Brown he had the best chance of winning; “He accepted that in the end, and it was extremely difficult for him.”

He added: “We were so close. We would speak to each other several times a day. So this was a very close political relationship, personal relationship.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.