Tony Blair: A You Ask The Questions Special

A unique discussion between the Prime Minister and readers of the <i>Independent</i>
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Do you remember what you dreamt about on the night after your general election victory in May 1997? If not, what was the last dream you remember? Ross Moutell, by e-mail I don't remember getting much sleep at all that night. We were up late, travelling back from Sedgefield and then at the Festival Hall in London. After a couple of hours' sleep, we were up early to prepare for going to Buckingham Palace. As for dreams, I've not had much chance for sleep over the past few days, let alone dreams.

Do you remember what you dreamt about on the night after your general election victory in May 1997? If not, what was the last dream you remember? Ross Moutell, by e-mail I don't remember getting much sleep at all that night. We were up late, travelling back from Sedgefield and then at the Festival Hall in London. After a couple of hours' sleep, we were up early to prepare for going to Buckingham Palace. As for dreams, I've not had much chance for sleep over the past few days, let alone dreams.

What's the perfect evening for Tony Blair? Steve Gibson, London I suppose a relaxing time watching a good video with the children, time with Cherie and perhaps old friends as well. We also go to the theatre as often as we can, and a good play followed by a good meal is a great way to spend an evening.

Would you encourage your children to go into politics? Rita Shukla, Croydon Yes, I would, if that's what they want to do. It's a very worthwhile job, although, of course, there are a lot safer careers. The vast majority of people who go into politics, at whatever level and in whatever party, do so with the intention of improving things. The cynicism about politics and the motives of politicians is one of the more depressing features of modern life. There's rightly, for instance, a great deal of attention paid to fantastic initiatives such as Live Aid, but far less to the everyday work of the Department for International Development, which spends many times more every year helping some of the poorest countries and poorest people in the world.

What do you regard as the present Labour government's greatest achievement so far? And what is its greatest failure? Ian Elliott, Reigate There's our part in the progress toward peace in Northern Ireland and also in giving Britain a strong voice again in Europe. But I think, perhaps, it would be showing that a Labour government can manage the economy well and do it in a way that is enabling us to deliver on the fairness agenda, because that's what New Labour was always about. I'm also proud of the fact that the New Deal has helped to reduce youth unemployment by 70 per cent and that, thanks to our reforms, extra investment and the hard work of teachers, pupils and parents, we have the best-ever results for 11-year-olds. But I also recognise that in public-service delivery, progress has been slow. That can be very frustrating, but I believe that we are moving in the right direction.

I have had quite a crush on you since you were shadow Home Secretary. Have you ever thought of yourself as a pin-up? Michelle Keill, Harlow Er, no. What is it about the post of shadow Home Secretary that you find glamorous?

Why did you choose the name Euan for your eldest son? Grace Davidson, Bath It was the name of an old and close friend.

What would you say to English or Welsh voters who complained that, under New Labour, the UK has been taken over in a Scottish coup? Gail Carr, Berkshire I very much doubt whether this really figures in anyone's list of serious complaints. I think people want the best person for the job, wherever they were born. And that's what I believe we have. We are the UK government, and that includes people from all over Britain.

When you cease to be Prime Minister, you will still have decades of active life ahead of you. What do you think you will do? Nigel Porter, Clifton, Bristol Something completely different.

What difference has Leo made to your life? Laura Garley, Worcester Obviously, his birth changed the practicalities of our daily lives. There have been a few sleepless nights, but he's a joy to be with. I certainly think he's brought us even closer together as a family.

What are you going to do to the transport system in the country? Arthur Stuart, Cambridge First, we are playing our part in sorting out the chaos that many rail travellers are having to endure. In the longer term, we are determined to give this country the first-class transport system it deserves and that it has lacked for a long time. I know that that seems a distant prospect at the moment, and it will take time to tackle decades of under-investment. But the 10-year plan drawn up by John Prescott is a route map that will bring about improvements year on year. Over the next decade, we will see £180bn of invest- ment going into our roads, railways and public transport.

Sanctions don't harm Saddam Hussein but they do harm Iraqi children. How can you justify that? Fay Dowker, London There is only one person responsible for the plight of Iraqi children and that's Saddam himself. There is no need for a single Iraqi child to be denied food and medical care. The international community has drawn up the sanctions so that Saddam can use oil revenues to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. This year, $16bn is available. He doesn't do this. His priority is doing what he can to look after his regime and bolster his military capability. And we should not forget that the only reason the sanctions are there in the first place is that Saddam refuses to keep his word about not developing weapons of mass destruction and continues to threaten neighbouring countries such as Kuwait.

Do you see yourself ever resigning as Prime Minister? Cliff Mackie, Sutton, Surrey As I said when I started out in this job, the British people are the boss. They have hire-and-fire powers. It's my job now to convince them that this government should continue the work it's started in building a modern, prosperous and fairer country.

I read somewhere that you had been reading the biography of General Charles de Gaulle and that you admired him. What do you admire about him? What biography are you reading now? Anna Cooke, Leicestershire I did read a superb biography of De Gaulle. He was a huge political figure who had a clear vision for his country and fought for it through good times and bad. I have just finished a biography of Wilberforce.

Do you wear designer suits? If so, whose? Stephen Edwards, Winchester I've got a mixture of made-to-measure and off-the-peg suits.

How many hours' sleep a night do you get? What do you do to relax? Mrs P Ashmore, York Not as much as I would like, but I can manage on very little as long as I get a chance to catch up. As for relaxing, we enjoy doing the same things as any family - playing with the children, meeting friends, watching football on television, going to the theatre...

In the years that you have been Prime Minister, you have very visibly aged. Does this bother you? Are you doing anything to combat it? Robert Mathew, by e-mail Thanks. You obviously don't see me as a pin-up. There's no point in pretending it's not a stressful job, but I don't feel any older.

How do you go about finding a good nanny these days? Patrick Jarratt, Swansea We've already got one.

When will Islington's schools be good enough to send your kids to? Tom Howitt, north London The Government is putting a lot of effort and resources into improving standards in schools in our inner cities through the Excellence in Cities programme. And the primary school results published this month show that progress was fastest in these areas. But we have to do more and we will. And by the way, since our eldest was 13, we haven't lived in Islington. Our three eldest children all went right through the state primary school system in Islington. What is sometimes forgotten is that Kathryn continued at primary school in Islington long after we came to Downing Street.

What do you like least about being Prime Minister? Alex Traylin, Brighton Personally, it's much more difficult to do something at the drop of a hat because of the security that surrounds all prime ministers nowadays. Professionally, it's never easy to say no to people you know have a good case and put it well. But this job is about making tough choices, and that means saying no as well as yes.

What business is it of the Government if adults want to take soft drugs? What would you need to hear to persuade you to legalise cannabis? Peter Hills, by e-mail I believe it would send out the wrong signal. The evidence increasingly shows serious harmful effects of regular use of soft drugs such as cannabis. However, we are investigating whether derivatives of cannabis should be prescribed as medicines for those with certain health problems.

Did you have a good time last New Year's Eve, and what are you and Cherie planning for this year? Grace Davenport, Amersham I suspect somehow you know that we were at the Dome last New Year. And, yes, we did have a good night. I'm not sure yet what we are doing this New Year. I'm sure Cherie and the kids will let me know.

What can you or will you do to get the trains to run on time? Robert Hamilton, by e-mail I've already said that, following the dreadful accident at Hatfield, travelling by train is very difficult. But safety is vital. What's important now is that everyone involved in railways is working flat out, first, to make sure that the trains that do run are on time, second, to get services back to where they were before Hatfield and, third, to begin to bring about the step change we need in our railway system. And the investment is now going in to bring this about.

Why aren't there more female cabinet ministers? Tara Doyle, Doncaster There are five women in the Cabinet, which is more than there have ever been before - just as we have many more women MPs than ever before. There are other women ministers doing a very good job. But I agree with you that we need far more women in the top jobs.

Do you get that elbow in the ribs in bed when the baby cries, and 'It's your turn'? Do you go? Juliet Barry, by fax What do you mean, it's my turn? It's pretty well impossible to wake Cherie when she's asleep. So the night-time tends to be my shift, but I'm glad to say Leo's a pretty good sleeper, except that now, he's teething.

Looking over your first three years as PM, what one thing would you go back and do differently now, and why? Alison Gibbs, London I prefer to look forward, but I suppose we should have made more effort to explain to people at the beginning that change would not happen overnight. I understand why there was so much euphoria immediately after the election and I don't think we could be accused of raising expectations too high. But we perhaps should have done more to set out the deep-seated problems we faced - in the economy and in our public services - and that it would take time to get the foundations of the economy right so that we could get the investment needed into our public services.

What do you regard as the best qualities of the leader of the Opposition, William Hague? John Sherress, Kent He can be a witty Commons performer and has stuck at the difficult task of trying to lead a party that is pretty much un-leadable at the moment.

Do you understand the sense of despair felt in Ireland and Scandinavia as the UK continues to pollute the Irish Sea with radioactive waste? Steve James Maric, by e-mail I understand the concerns that people have about radioactive waste and share the view that we need to reduce discharges to a minimum. That's why major investment has led to enormous reductions in the level of radioactive discharges into the environment from Sellafield. They have been cut by 98 per cent since 1975, and we set out this year how we are going to reduce them much further in future. All such discharges are strictly regulated by the Environment Agency to ensure that the resultant doses are well within internationally accepted limits. The impact of discharges on the environment is carefully monitored both in the UK by the EA and the Food Standards Agency, and also in Ireland by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. The most recent reports, published earlier this year, confirm that additional radioactive doses received by people as a result of discharges from Sellafield are minute in comparison with the doses received from naturally occurring radiation. We are also working hard to cut down all forms of pollution from this country and are leading the way in, for instance, reducing the greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

If you could be the political leader of another EU country, which would you choose and why? Dr Geoff Allen, Derby Trick question, I'm afraid. I can just imagine the headlines. I'm British and proud of it.

Which members of the current Tory front bench would you like to have in your Cabinet? Why? Chris, Bury St Edmunds I can honestly say that I wouldn't swap anyone in my Cabinet for anyone in William Hague's team. Would you? There are talented people on the Tory benches, but they are not in the Shadow Cabinet.

Do you have any objection, in principle, to the idea of gay marriages? Simon Thompson, Manchester I have no objection to people making a lifelong commitment to each other, as many gay couples do. But it isn't policy to change the law.

What would your advice be to children who drink too much? Joanna Dyer, Hampshire Young people rightly want to have a good time, but I do try to spell out to the children the dangers of excessive drinking.

I voted for Ken Livingstone. Am I forgiven? Roger Hewell, London You can vote for who you want! That's your right and I'm glad it was this Labour government that gave the people of London this right. London got the Mayor it wanted and that's fine. We are working closely with the Mayor and will continue to do so.

If you could have met one prime minister from the past, now dead, who would it have been? Why? David Horne, Basingstoke, Hants I can think of several former prime ministers whom I'd like to meet, including Churchill and Attlee. I'd like to chat, for example, to Gladstone, among others, about how we can ensure the peace process in Northern Ireland keeps moving forward. And among politicians who never became prime minister, Ernie Bevin. He was a great man.

Do you believe that an unelected House of Lords can act as a legitimate check on an elected House of Commons? If so, how do you justify over-riding the will of the House of Lords with the will of the House of Commons on so many occasions? If not, what are you going to do about it? Pete Callaghan, by e-mail I think you are confused here. The Lords can act as a legitimate check on the Commons in both senses of the word. It has a role in checking proposed legislation, scrutinising it and improving it. It also has a role in acting as a check by, if necessary, delaying legislation to give the Commons time to think again if it wants. But what it does not have is the constitutional right in the end to block the will of the elected Commons. We have started to modernise the Upper Chamber by ending the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the Lords. What I don't favour is a House of Lords that is a competing second chamber to the House of Commons or a replica of its membership. Far better not to have a second chamber of full-time politicians who have spent all their lives in politics.

What did you think of the last Oasis album? N Fisk, Cardiff I think Oasis have produced some of the best music of the past few years, but I'm no expert. And nowadays, I have to queue behind the children for the CD player.