Simon Schama: Interviews Tony Blair





TV historian Simon Schama came to Number 10 for the latest in a series of podcast conversations with Tony Blair.

He and the PM enjoyed a fascinating discussion about history, a subject Mr Blair says he wishes he had studied at university, rather than law.

This year sees several notable anniversaries - 300 years since the Act of Union between England and Scotland, 200 years since the abolition of slavery, 50 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, and 25 years since the Falklands conflict.

Asked by Simon Schama what he would have done had he been PM in 1982, the PM says he has no doubt that the British military operation to re-take the Falklands was the right thing to do - not just for reasons of sovereignty but because there was a principle at stake which needed defending.

The pair reflect on the links between past and current affairs as Mr Blair reveals his own interests in history, and his taste in historical reading - including Roy Jenkins' biographies and the writings of Macauley.

Reflecting on the issues surrounding the anniversary of the Act of Union, Mr Blair also draws parallels between the strength of the United Kingdom and debates about the future of Europe, when he says:

"If you split apart in the Union, or you split Britain apart from Europe, you just weaken your collective strength, or the strength you get from being part of that bigger collective."

EXCERPT FROM INTERVIEW

Simon Schama:

Hello, I am Simon Schama and I am lucky enough to be sitting in the White Room of 10 Downing Street talking to the Prime Minister about, guess what, history, why it matters now, past, present, how they are mixed up and how they shape the way we think of ourselves as being British.

So I did just want to start with a slightly general question about, you know, how history might be seen by kids as boring old stuff and by a lot of other people as a luxury, rather than a necessity. And I have spent a lot of my life persuading people that if you want to understand about now, say being British, you need to understand about then, and I wonder what you thought about that?

Prime Minister:

Yes, I totally agree and history was always, along with English, my favourite subject at school so I always really enjoyed it, yes, and always wished I had read history rather than law at university. And I think it is fascinating, provided you can teach history in the right way though, I think sometimes when, I mean you obviously have to know when all the Kings and Queens came, and I can't remember now.

Simon Schama:

No, not at all. I think you can drop the occasional Egbert actually ... some of them ...

Prime Minister:

But you know you had to learn that, and I did. But actually what is far more interesting is to look at the economic and social and political trends over time, and also then to study particularly, I mean I didn't actually study this history at school, but I am particularly interested in 20th century history, late 19th century history, the build-up to the First World War, between the wars, afterwards.

Simon Schama:

Have you been to Gladstone's house?

Prime Minister:

I haven't, I have been past it on many occasions.

Simon Schama:

You have got to go, of all the places that breathe the soul.

Prime Minister:

Really?

Simon Schama:

You know because he, like you, talked a lot about ethics and religion and how you could do that. It is utterly wonderful. But ask for, I think they will give it to you, ten minutes alone in the library. The books are still arranged on the shelves the way he arranged them and they tell a story. It is quite wonderful.

Prime Minister:

I mean he used to sit down when he was Prime Minister, they tell me, in Downing Street, and, I mean, my authority for this I think is probably Roy Jenkins biography, but would spend a couple of hours reading a book on theology or something.

Simon Schama:

Yes. You look amazed ... does this never happen to you, Prime Minister?

Prime Minister:

I think... yeah ...


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