Former prime minister Tony Blair said he was “a little too undiplomatic” after he called unvaccinated people “idiots” during an interview yesterday.
The former Labour leader appeared to row back on remarks he had made in an interview with Times Radio on Wednesday morning, as he spoke about encouraging vaccine take-up.
The interviews follow current prime minister Boris Johnson ruling out restrictions in England before Christmas. It also comes after the news that the self-isolation period for fully vaccinated people who catch the virus will be cut from ten days to seven if they receive negative lateral flow results on day six and day seven of their self-isolation period.
Asked about the remark on BBC Radio 4’s last night, he said: “Possibly I was a little too undiplomatic in my use of language.”
Blair, who since being in power has founded the non-governmental Tony Blair Institute, added: “We have got a piece of work out in the field at the moment as an institute, and I think the government should do the same – just investigating what is the profile, what are the reasons why people are not getting vaccinated.
“You have, as a government, got to go out and try individually to persuade these people. If this goes on for some time this will be a big problem for us.”
The “idiot” remark was made when he spoke to Matt Chorley on Times Radio about what we could do now to ward against uncertainty in the future.
He had a number of recommendations, including vaccinating those under 12s, putting more of an emphasis on anti-virals, ensuring we have the best possible resources for testing, focusing on getting more vaccines to developing countries, and of course - targeting the unvaccinated.
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He said: “Frankly, if you’re not vaccinated at the moment and you’re eligible and you’ve got no health reason to not be vaccinated, you’re not just irresponsible, you’re an idiot.
“I’m sorry… truthfully, you are. Because this Omicron variant is so contagious if you’re unvaccinated and you’re in circulation you’re going to get it and that is going to put a lot of strain on the health service.”
We shouldn’t target the unvaccinated in a “heavy-handed way”, he said, but we should trying to persuade them.
He added that although there may be “all sort of reasons” why some people have yet to get jabbed, it is in their own interest as well as the public interest.
Some agreed with Blair’s comments:
The time to treat those putting us all at risk for no good reason with kid gloves is over. https://t.co/r0WMDnWN1g— Benjamin Butterworth (@Benjamin Butterworth) 1640169431
@PoliticsForAlI @TimesRadio I agree! More people in power need to be as honest and truthful as this.— Dave (@Dave) 1640171845
@PoliticsForAlI @TimesRadio First time I’ve ever agreed with Tony Blair haha— matt (@matt) 1640169594
Blair is quite right. The idea of further restrictions to save irresponsible idiots from themselves is politically… https://t.co/x1q0iKXKHC— James Webber (@James Webber) 1640172215
He's not wrong. https://t.co/XMCc4HcI9C— William French (@William French) 1640171660
Spot on. https://t.co/hjAdLPeQeW— James Crisp (@James Crisp) 1640169980
Others were of the view that Blair’s blunt comment isn’t going to help win people over:
“I wasn’t gonna get vaccinated but then Tony Blair called me an idiot so I did” - said absolutely nobody ever. https://t.co/iWKPe98dDC— Dylan (@Dylan) 1640172192
@PoliticsForAlI @TimesRadio Not sure calling unvaccinated individuals idiots is particularly helpful. A dedicated t… https://t.co/iXYFV3nAQb— Mark (@Mark) 1640172031
Ah yes, that will encourage people https://t.co/XOndaFD3tm— Ava-Santina (@Ava-Santina) 1640171525
Some however disagreed with the comments entirely, or simply didn’t care what he has to say:
@PoliticsForAlI @TimesRadio He’s wrong, as usual— Matt Edwards (@Matt Edwards) 1640172713
@PoliticsForAlI @TimesRadio Obviously, but let people make that decision— Tom (@Tom) 1640169841
@PoliticsForAlI @TimesRadio https://t.co/BeLpi3Dbae— Cam (@Cam) 1640169571
@PoliticsForAlI @TimesRadio Pot kettle black— Matt Taylor (@Matt Taylor) 1640172145
During the interview Blair also said if he was in Downing Street he wouldn’t be introducing restrictions, but said we should be “frank” with people about why that would be the case.
He cited the “pain” of going into a full lockdown, and said things are further complicated given the different categories people now fall into.
Providing an example of what he means, he said someone who has had both jabs plus a booster would be in a different category to someone who hasn’t yet had the booster, or previously had the disease, or isn’t vaccinated at all.
“If you look at this in purely public health terms and I’ve spoken to many public health professionals… they’re pretty much of one view,” he said.
“If you were taking a purely precautionary view of this you would impose further restrictions, probably pretty draconian restrictions, but I think ‘a’ the public has just been through too much, and ‘b’ you’ve got too many different categories of people for the blunt instrument of a lockdown really to work in the way that you want.”
He also spoke of the “collateral damage” of lockdowns, including the impact on mental health, those suffering from other illnesses such as cancer, and the economy.
Catch up on the full interview on Times Radio.