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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

'Finger jabbing' won't change US gun laws, Tony Blair tells survivors of Florida school massacre

Pupils from a high school where 17 died questioned the former leader while attending the education forum in Dubai

Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister and George Osborne addresses survivors of the Florida school massacre at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. Satish Kumar for The National
Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister and George Osborne addresses survivors of the Florida school massacre at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. Satish Kumar for The National

Survivors of the Florida school massacre have been given advice in their campaign to tighten America’s gun laws by an international statesman who tried to bring peace to the Middle East.

Three pupils at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were attending the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai when they met with Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and Middle East peace envoy.

Lewis Mizen, who is originally from Coventry in England, explained to Mr Blair that they were finding it difficult to get their more moderate voice heard after the Valentines Day attack that left 17 of his fellow pupils dead.

He told Mr Blair: “One of the things we noticed is that the more radical members of our school were able gain much more attention by the media.

“That made it much especially difficult to make change and get people to agree with us, because politics in America is already deeply divided,” the 17-year-old said.

Mr Blair, who set up the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change in 2016, encouraged the pupils to stick with their chosen approach, telling them to avoid “finger jabbing which simply polarises. You get a round of applause at a meeting much easier by going heavy, but if you want to try and achieve an outcome, you've got to persuade some of those people. You’ve got to bring over those who are persuadable.

“My advice would be keep going with what you are doing, and try to find some of those people who may be at moment are opposed to what you are advocating but are persuadable."

Mr Blair, whose centrist views won three elections in the UK, but is controversial for his support of the Iraq war and President George W Bush, said it was “really difficult… sometimes you have got to be prepared to speak up against those people who frankly are more interested in getting their face on the TV than actually achieving the objective.

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“Ultimately my experience of political change is that it comes about when you’ve got a good cause well pursued; that history is littered with great causes badly pursued that didn’t achieve a result.”

He advocated a “sensitive and thoughtful” approach to winning round opponents, saying: "There many examples I can remember from the time when I was prime minister, when…the manner in which the people wanting to make change asked for it was an important component of allowing you to make change.”

He advocated a “sensitive and thoughtful” approach to winning round opponents.

Earlier Mr Blair, whose audience included the former US vice president Al Gore, appealed for young people to keep their faith in politics despite polarising events of recent years like the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

“Right now, what we've got on the politics of left and right is a politics that’s essentially pessimistic. Neither is really dealing with the challenges.”

Mr Blair said he recognised that to many people politics can be “a dreary, dreadful business”, with “corruption and intrigue that is deeply unpleasant,” he insisted that “nothing changes without politics.”

“If you look back in history, the cynics will tell you nothing changes, but in fact the cynics never change anything,” Mr Blair said.

“Only if people are prepared to get involved and create the process for political change, do things change, and change for the better.”=

“It's important for young people to get involved. If you have a belief and you want to change the world, then no matter how hard it looks, how difficult, and how challenging you’ve got to get on with it.”

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