Many serious questions were discussed in Tony Blair’s conference yesterday. The keywords in the source code of the full transcript give a flavour: “reshuffle, Beslan, Olympics, School, Siege, Milburn, Smith, Andrew”.
They are not comprehensive as, for example, the thorny subjects of the IRA and of hunting came up. With regard to hunting, we had the following exchange – as recorded in the official transcript:
You have said you want to tell Parliament first about your plans for hunting, but on the other hand we are reliably informed that you are going to allow your own instincts for a compromise to be overruled by your back-benchers who want it banned. That doesn’t sound very much in character with you, but let that pass. At the same time as you are being intolerant on hunting, you are being wildly permissive about boozing and gambling, you are moving towards legislation which would allow round the clock drinking, a huge extension of gambling in this country. Many people are worried about that as a priority for government, especially for a Labour government. What is it all about?
Well on the first I am afraid you are just going to have to wait. On the second, I don’t agree that is what we are doing, but we are liberalising …
… the small print.
I have studied the small print, I haven’t quite figured you out, but never mind. But actually that is not what we are doing. In respect of licensing, we are going to extend licensing hours, but why shouldn’t we? Over the rest of Europe people are perfectly able to have extended licensing hours without it leading to all these terrible things. And in respect of gambling, actually we are trying to make sense of up-dating what is an out-dated legal framework. It is not a question of saying there is going to be boozing and gambling encouraged by government, it is getting a sensible legislative framework, and I think if you actually look at the details of it you will find that that is right. I am not persuading you, am I Mike?
You are trying to stop us drinking more. John Reid, how does he square with this policy? You ask why we are doing it, we are puzzled Prime Minister.
Well let me try and remove the puzzlement. In the end it is your decision, right, as to how much you drink. We can tell you what the health difficulties may be if people drink too much, I think they probably know that. But why on earth should we, virtually alone of any European country I know, have extremely restrictive licensing laws when actually surely we should be telling people about the need to drink sensibly, not to abuse alcohol, but actually allowing them the greater freedom. That is what I think.
Well, what interests me is: since when has Mr Blair used the argument that we should fall in line with our European partners? It was not immediately obvious in his stance on the war in Iraq. And, indeed, whatever one thinks of the individual issue, since when has following like a sheep what our peers do ever been a valid argument for any action.
More beguiling, though, than that is the very last word: “INAUDIBLE”. Fortunately my days of being a conspiracy theorist are far gone. Twenty, or even, ten years ago I would have been trying to find any way I could to discover what the words were that were conveniently replaced by ‘inaudible’ in the official transcript.
I would be searching for journos who attended, in particular, ‘Mike’. I would be on to the news broadcasters for access to their feed. But, nowadays, I prefer merely to wonder.
Wonder not so much what was inaudible, but more why. The Prime Minister is normally a clear speaker. It is the only point at which he wasn’t heard. Was he tentative? Unsure of what he was saying? Or, was it simply that the stenographer or typist couln’t make sense of what he seemed to say and rather than commit the Prime Minister to some absurd gobbledegook, preferred to leave it simply aside?
I presume that it was only a few words – a sentence at most. Maybe, it was just that Mr Blair’s words were muffled by the sound of ‘Mike’ huffing and puffing as he stormed out.