Blair's Key To Success: 'Skills Of Persuasion'

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is out with a memoir called A Journey: My Political Life. Steve Inskeep asks him to relate one story about a quality Blair realized he had in common with the late Princess Diana — one that had a hand in his own political success.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has given much thought to public opinion in the Muslim world. He met with U.S. officials this week in Washington, as Mideast peace talks neared. He's also talking about a new memoir. And elsewhere today, we hear Blair's views about the West and the Muslim world. His memoir also reviews his political career, in which he won three national elections before losing popularity. He remembers the day he had to speak about the death of Princess Diana.

INSKEEP: You write something that reflects on her character, and also on your own. You write: We were both, in our ways, manipulative people, perceiving quickly the emotions of others and able instinctively to play with them.

What makes you think of yourself that way?

Mr. TONY BLAIR (Former Prime Minister, Great Britain): I think if you're a politician, you have to have an intuitive grasp of people, and politics is a business of constant persuasion. Now, I don't mean manipulative, I hope, in an unpleasant sense, but I think you need to be able to know how you can shape public opinion, as well as simply follow it.

INSKEEP: Now when you write this memoir, you're not just talking about shaping public opinion, but also dealing face-to-face with other politicians or leaders of other countries. And you write actually, in considerable detail about noticing someone's facial expression, a change in the timbre of someone's voice or what they don't say.

Mr. BLAIR: Yeah. Yeah. Now, these are really important things. I mean, I think one of the things people don't understand probably about politics is it depends enormously on being able to get into a situation of comfort and good faith with somebody. And, I mean, I always say this to any, you know, younger person who wants to take up a political career: Yes, it's about ideas. It's about programs. It's about manifestos. But above all else, it's about people. It's about what makes them tick, what makes them as they are. And if you don't understand that or don't enjoy actually trying to understand it, then don't go into politics.

INSKEEP: That's former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose new memoir is called "A Journey." Elsewhere in today's program, we asked why he still supports the war in Iraq.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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