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Coalition could blunt Whitehall reform, Tony Blair tells Queen Mary’s Mile End Group

PUBLISHED: 18:27 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 18:28 29 October 2013

Tony Blair in the hot seat at Queen Mary's

Tony Blair in the hot seat at Queen Mary's

Jonathan Cole Photography Ltd

Tony Blair on a flying visit to London’s East End has warned about the Coalition government in danger of blunting reforms needed to modernise Whitehall.

Blair quizzed on stage by John RentoulBlair quizzed on stage by John Rentoul

Labour’s former Prime Minister spoke of the need for governments to modernise and adapt to a rapidly changing world, when he addressed members of the Mile End Group political forum at the London University’s Queen Mary college yesterday.

“If it’s a ‘coalition of conviction’ then I’m for it,” he told his audience.

“But if it’s a ‘coalition of convenience’ it can blunt the impact of government change.”

Blair, who was at 10 Downing Street from 1997 to 2008, was answering questions from an audience of academics, graduates and political pundits, including two former Cabinet secretaries.

He spoke of today’s “more assertive” electorate view that the political system was old-fashioned.

More politicians needed to have experience of the wider world before going into politics, he suggested.

Blair admitted he had moved towards “a more conventional style” of cabinet government when he was at No 10. The Freedom of Information Act left him pondering.

“Where was Sir Humphrey when you needed him?” he joked, referring to TV’s ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ sitcom from the 1990s.

But hot topic was British military intervention, with Iraq and Syria on the political horizon.

“It’s very difficult,” he admitted. “You intervene when the consequences of non-intervention are worse.”

It was Blair’s controversial decision in 2003 to send British troops into Iraq with US forces in search of the illusive chemical weapons of mass destruction, which brought down Saddam Hassain’s dictatorship.

Blair’s guest appearance last night was the 100th meeting of the Mile End Group in its 10th anniversary year. The group, set up in 2003 by Queen Mary’s Dr Jon Davis and his team of postgraduates, promotes understanding for students and the public on how government works.


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