Tony Blair

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The Right Honourable Anthony Charles Lynton Blair MP (born 6 May 1953 in Edinburgh, Scotland) is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service. He has led the Labour Party since July 1994, (following the death of John Smith in May of that year) and brought Labour into power with a landslide victory in the 1997 general election, replacing John Major as Prime Minister and ending 18 years of Conservative government. He is now the Labour Party's longest-serving Prime Minister, and the only person to have led the party to three consecutive general election victories.

Blair moved the Labour Party towards the centre of British politics, using the term "New Labour" to distinguish his policies of support for the market economy from the party's previous rigid adherence to nationalisation. He has referred to his policy as "modern social democracy" and "the third way". Critics on the left feel that he has compromised the principles of the founders of the Labour party, and that the Blair government has moved too far to the right, placing insufficient emphasis on traditional Labour priorities such as the redistribution of wealth.

Since the advent of the War on Terror, a significant part of Blair's political agenda has been dominated by foreign affairs, particularly those concerning Iraq. He has supported many aspects of George W. Bush's foreign policy, sending British forces to participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent peacekeeping operations and is known as one of the strongest foreign allies of the United States. In October 2004 Blair declared his intention to seek a third term but not a fourth.

The Labour party won a third term in government at the 2005 general election for the first time in its history, although its majority in the House of Commons was reduced to 66. While the government is not in danger of losing a vote of no confidence, the fall in the Labour vote renewed speculation as to how long his leadership will continue. It is widely predicted that he will be succeeded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown at some point before the next General Election (which will occur at the latest in 2010).

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Family background

Blair was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the second son of Leo Blair and Hazel Corscadden whose family were Protestant descendants of Scottish settlers from County Donegal, Ireland. Blair's father Leo, the illegitimate son of two English actors, Charles Parsons (known as Jimmy Lynton), and Mary Augusta Ridgway Bridson was given up for adoption to a Scottish shiprigger, James Blair.

His father studied law, becoming a barrister and later a law lecturer who, despite having been a communist in his youth, became active in the Conservative Party.Leo Blair had had ambitions to stand for Parliament in Durham, which were thwarted when he had a stroke when his son was 11, an event which affected Tony Blair deeply. He spent most of his childhood years in Durham. Tony Blair spent the early years of his childhood living in Adelaide, Australia, where his father, Leo was a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Adelaide.[1] During this time the Blairs lived close by to the university in the inner-eastern Adelaide suburb of Dulwich.

After attending the Durham's Choristers School, Blair was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh (sometimes called the "Eton of Scotland"), where he met Charlie Falconer whom he would later appoint as Lord Chancellor. Blair's biographer John Rentoul reported that "All the teachers I spoke to ... said he was a complete pain in the backside, and they were very glad to see the back of him." After Fettes, he read law at St John's College, Oxford. During his college years he also played guitar and sang for a rock band called Ugly Rumours. After graduating from Oxford with a second class degree, Blair enrolled as a pupil barrister and met his future wife, Cherie Booth, at the Chambers of Derry Irvine, also a future Lord Chancellor.

Blair married Cherie Booth, a practising Roman Catholic (and future Queen's Counsel), on March 29, 1980. They have three sons (Euan, Nicky, and Leo) and one daughter (Kathryn). Leo holds the distinction of being the first child officially born to a sitting Prime Minister in 150 years, since Francis Russell was born to Lord John Russell on July 11, 1849. As is usual in what Roman Catholics would term a 'mixed marriage', the Blair children are being brought up in the Catholic faith. Blair himself has attended Mass with his family every Sunday, and has been seen attending Mass at Westminster Cathedral alone. The late Basil Cardinal Hume was forced to let him know that as an Anglican, Blair should not take communion. Blair has the closest ties of a British Prime Minister to the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation.

Leo Blair, the youngest Blair child, was the centre of a debate over the MMR vaccine when Tony Blair refused to say whether or not his son had received the controversial treatment. It subsequently emerged that he had not, he had received the separate injections not available on the NHS.

Euan and Nicky attended the London Oratory School in Fulham where they could be educated in accordance with the Catholic faith of their mother. When this decision was announced, Tony Blair was criticised for rejecting schools in Islington, where he then lived. Euan Blair received widespread publicity after police found him "drunk and incapable" in Leicester Square, London, while out celebrating the end of his GCSE exams in July 2000, shortly after his father had proposed on-the-spot fines for drunken and yobbish behaviour. While the Blairs have stated that they wish to shield their children from the media, they have not always been able, or willing, to do so. Blair has twice lodged complaints about press stories concerning his children. However, the fact that the family have occasionally held photo calls together has led some to accuse him of exploitation, and such photographs have been used on Private Eye covers. After leaving university Euan obtained a position as an intern for the House Committee on Rules under David Dreier, a Republican congressman.

Early political career

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Front of Tony Blair's election address for Sedgefield in the 1983 general election

Shortly after graduation in 1975, Blair joined the Labour Party. During the early 1980s, he was involved in the Labour Party in Hackney South and Shoreditch, where he aligned himself with the "soft left" who appeared to be taking control of the party. However, his attempt to secure selection as a candidate for Hackney Borough Council was unsuccessful. Through his father-in-law he contacted Tom Pendry, a Labour MP, to ask for help in how to start his Parliamentary career; Pendry gave him a tour of the House of Commons and advised him to run for selection in a by-election due to be held in the safe Conservative seat of Beaconsfield in 1982, where Pendry knew a senior member of the local party. Blair was chosen as the candidate; he won only 10% of the vote and lost his deposit, but impressed the then Labour Party leader Michael Foot and got his name noticed within the party. At the time Blair was closely associated with the soft left current in the party centred on the Labour Co-ordinating Committee and espoused conventional (for the time) leftist positions.

In 1983, Blair found that the newly created seat of Sedgefield, near where he had grown up in Durham, had no Labour candidate. Several sitting MPs displaced by boundary changes were interested. He found a branch which had not made a nomination and arranged to visit them; coincidentally, the European Cup Winners Cup final involving Aberdeen FC was happening that night and so Blair settled down to watch it with five senior members of the local party before discussing his potential candidacy. With the crucial support of John Burton he won their endorsement; at the last minute he was added to the shortlist and won the selection over displaced sitting MP Les Huckfield. John Burton later became his agent and one of his most trusted and long-standing allies.

Blair's election literature stressed the Labour Party's policies which included opposition to British membership of the EEC, despite having told the selection conference that he personally favoured continuing membership. He also, more enthusiastically, supported unilateral nuclear disarmament, being a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the time. The seat was safely Labour despite the party's collapse in the 1983 UK general election; Blair was helped on the campaign trail by soap actress Patricia Phoenix, the girlfriend of his father-in-law Anthony Booth.

In opposition

Once elected to Parliament, Blair's ascent was rapid, receiving his first shadow position in 1984 as assistant Treasury spokesman. He demanded an inquiry into the Bank of England's decision to rescue the collapsed Johnson Matthey Bank in October 1985 and embarrassed the government by finding an EEC report critical of British economic policy which had been countersigned by a member of the Conservative government. Blair was firmly aligned with the reforming tendencies in the party, headed by leader Neil Kinnock and was promoted after the 1987 election to the Trade and Industry team as spokesman on the City of London. He laid down a marker for the future by running for the Shadow Cabinet in 1987, obtaining 71 votes. This was considered a good showing for a newcomer.

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As Shadow Employment Secretary, Blair announces that the Labour Party no longer supports the 'closed shop' (December 18, 1989)

The stock market crash of October 1987 raised the prominence of Blair who inveighed against the 'morally dubious' City whiz-kids as being incompetent. He signalled his modernising by protesting against the third-class service for small investors at the London Stock Exchange. Blair first entered the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Energy in 1988, and the next year became Shadow Employment Secretary. In this post he realised that the Labour Party's support for the emerging European 'Social Charter' policies on employment law meant dropping the party's traditional support for closed shop arrangements whereby employers required all their employees to be members of the same trade union. He announced this change in December 1989, outraging the left-wing of the Labour Party but making it more difficult for the Conservatives to attack.

As a young and telegenic Shadow Cabinet member, Blair was given prominence by the party's Director of Communications Peter Mandelson. However his first major platform speech at the Labour Party conference was a disastrous embarrassment in October 1990 when he spoke too fast and lost his place in his notes. He worked to produce a more moderate and electable party in the run-up to the 1992 general election, in which he had responsibility for developing the minimum wage policy which was expected to be strongly attacked by the Conservatives. During the election campaign Blair had a notable confrontation with the owner of a children's nursery who was adamant that the policy would cost jobs.

When Kinnock resigned after defeat by John Major in the 1992 UK general election, Blair became Shadow Home Secretary under John Smith. Blair defined his policy (in a phrase that had actually been coined by his current Chancellor Gordon Brown) as "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". This had been an area in which the Labour Party had been weak and Blair moved to strengthen its image. He accepted that the prison population might have to rise, and bemoaned the loss of a sense of community which he was prepared to blame (at least partly) on '1960s liberalism'. However, Blair spoke in support of equalisation of the age of consent for gay sex and opposed capital punishment.

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Tony Blair arrives for John Smith's funeral, May 20, 1994

Smith died suddenly in 1994 of a heart attack. Both Blair and Gordon Brown had been considered as possible leadership contenders and had always agreed that they would not fight each other. Brown had previously been thought the most senior and understood this to mean that Blair would give way to him; however, it soon became apparent that Blair now had greater support. A MORI opinion poll published in the Sunday Times on 15 May found that among the general public, Blair had the support of 32%, John Prescott, 19%, Margaret Beckett 14%, Gordon Brown 9%, and Robin Cook 5%. At the Granita restaurant in Islington on 31 May, Brown agreed to give way. There is no conclusive evidence of the terms of any wider "Granita Pact" but supporters of Brown maintain that Blair undertook to resign as Prime Minister after a set period in favour of Brown. The Labour Party Electoral College elected Tony Blair as Party Leader on 21 July 1994. The other candidates were John Prescott and Margaret Beckett.

Leader of the Labour Party

Shortly after his election as Leader, Blair announced at the conclusion of his 1994 conference speech that he intended to propose a new statement of aims and values for the Labour Party to replace the charter originally drawn up in 1918. This involved the complete replacement of Clause IV which had committed the party to 'the common ownership of the means of production' (widely interpreted as wholesale nationalisation). A special conference of the party approved the change in March 1995.

While in opposition, Blair also revised party policy in a manner which enhanced the image of Labour as competent and modern. He used the term "New Labour" to distinguish the party under his leadership from what had gone before. Although the transformation aroused much criticism (its alleged superficiality drawing fire both from political opponents and traditionalists within the "rank and file" of his own party), it was nevertheless successful in changing public perception. At the 1996 Labour party conference, Blair stated that his three top priorities on coming to office were "education, education and education".

Aided by disaffection with the Conservative government (who were dogged by allegations of corruption, and long running divisions over Europe), "New Labour" achieved a landslide victory over John Major in the 1997 UK general election. At age 43, Blair became Britain's youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812.

First term 1997 to 2001

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Blair embraces like-minded U.S. President Bill Clinton, a fellow leader of the "Third Way" in politics.

Establishment of the Third Way

Immediately after taking office, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown gave the Bank of England the power to set the base rate of interest autonomously. The traditional tendency of governments to manipulate interest rates around the time of General Elections for political gain is thought to have been deleterious to the UK economy and helped reinforce a cyclical pattern of boom and bust, for which Blair frequently criticises previous governments. Brown's decision was popular with the City, which the Labour Party had been courting since the early 1990s. Together with the government's avowed determination to remain within projected Conservative spending limits for the first two years of its period of office, it helped to reassure sceptics of the Labour Party's new-found fiscal "prudence". Brown, who had his own following within the Labour Party, was a powerful and independent Chancellor who was given exceptional freedom to act by Blair, although later reports by Downing Street insiders have said that Blair grew to regret this as he was cut out of important fiscal decisions.

Control over House of Commons

Blair has encouraged reforms to Parliamentary procedures. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to replace the two weekly 15 minute sessions of Prime Minister's Questions, held on a Tuesday and Thursday, with a single 30 minute session on a Wednesday. This reform was said to be more efficient, but critics point out that it is easier to prepare for one long set of questions than two shorter interrogations. There has been a perception that Blair has avoided attending debate and voting in Parliament, although his vote is seldom needed given Labour's large majorities in the House of Commons. Moreover, Blair has introduced rules governing the sitting time of parliament, reducing their ability to effectively scrutinise legislation.

Further reforms include the prominence given to the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, who became known as the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (though the current PMOS is not the press secretary). This role was filled by Alastair Campbell from May 1997 to 8 June 2001. Campbell had been an important cog in the New Labour election machine for the 1997 general election, working with Peter Mandelson to co-ordinate Labour's campaign. In the early years of his first term, Blair relied for his political advice on a close circle of his own staff, amongst whom Campbell was seen as particularly influential: he was given the authority to direct civil servants, who previously had taken instructions only from ministers. Unlike some of his predecessors, Campbell was a political appointment and had not come through the Civil Service. Campbell was replaced by Godric Smith and Tom Kelly when he moved to become the Prime Minister's Director of Communications and Strategy immediately after Blair's election success on 7 June 2001. Campbell ultimately resigned on August 29, 2003.

Domestic policies

A significant achievement of Blair's first term was the completion of negotiations of the Belfast Agreement, commonly called the Good Friday Agreement, in which the British and Irish Governments and most Northern Irish political parties established an "exclusively peaceful and democratic" framework for power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Negotiations had begun under the previous Prime Minister, John Major but collapsed after the end of the IRA ceasefire. The agreement was finally signed on 10 April 1998, and on 26 November 1998 Blair became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to address the Republic of Ireland's parliament.

Blair's first term saw an extensive programme of constitutional alteration. A Human Rights Act was introduced in 1998; a Welsh Assembly and a Scottish Parliament were both set up; and most hereditary peers were removed from the House of Lords in 1999; the Greater London Authority was established in 2000; and the Freedom of Information Act was passed later that year, with its provisions coming into effect over the next decade. This latter proposal disappointed campaigners whose hopes had been raised by a White Paper of 1998 which promised a more robust Act. No significant further progress has been made in reforming the House of Lords since 1999: the debate remains open whether the reformed chamber should be fully elected, fully appointed, or part elected and part appointed.

In 1999, Blair designed and presided over the declaration of the Kosovo War. The Labour Party in opposition had criticised the Conservative government for weakness over Bosnia, and Blair was one of those urging a strong line by NATO against Slobodan Milošević. He persuaded the US Clinton administration to support the use of ground troops should aerial bombardment fail to win the war, although in the event they were not needed. His speech setting out the Blair Doctrine of the International Community was made one month into the war, in Chicago on April 22, 1999 (transcript). The same year he was awarded the Charlemagne Award by the German city of Aachen, for his contributions to the European idea and to European peace.

In the 2001 UK general election, Blair campaigned the election on improvements to public service, including the National Health Service. The Conservatives largely ignored the issue of public services in favour of opposing British membership of European Monetary Union, which proved to do little to win over floating voters: the Labour Party preserved its majority, and Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister to win a full second term. However the election was notable for a large fall in voter turnout. The leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague, resigned the following morning.

Second term 2001 to 2005

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Blair welcomes President George W. Bush to Chequers, the Prime Minister's countryside retreat.

Following the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, Blair was very quick to align the UK with the US, engaging in a round of shuttle diplomacy to help form and maintain a coalition prior to their attack on Afghanistan (in which British troops participated). He maintains this role to this day, showing a willingness to visit countries on diplomatic missions that other world leaders might consider too dangerous to visit. In 2003 he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress for being "a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States of America." [2] although media attention has been drawn to the fact that Blair has yet to attend the ceremony to receive his medal; some commentators point to the unpopularity of support for the US as explaining the delay.

Iraq war

Blair was a strong supporter of U.S. President George W. Bush's controversial plan to invade Iraq and overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein. Blair soon became the face of international support for the war, often clashing with French President Jacques Chirac, who became the face of international opposition. Regarded by many as a more persuasive orator than Bush, Blair gave many speeches arguing for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the days leading up to war.

Blair made a case for war against Saddam based on Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction and breach of UN resolutions, but was wary of making a direct appeal for regime change as international law does not recognize that as a legal ground for invasion. A memorandum from a July 2002 meeting which was leaked in April 2005 to The Sunday Times showed that Blair believed that the British public would support regime change in the right political context; however the memo states that legal grounds for such action were weak. On Tuesday 24 September 2002 Downing Street published a dossier based on intelligence agencies' assessments of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Among the items in the dossier was a recently received intelligence report that "the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so". (A briefing paper in February 2003 entitled 'Iraq - its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation' was also issued to journalists; this document was discovered to have taken a large part of its text without attribution from a PhD thesis available on the World Wide Web. Where the thesis hypothesized about possible WMD, the Downing Street version presented the ideas as fact and it was thus subsequently referred to as the 'Dodgy Dossier').

Forty-six thousand British troops, one third of the total strength of the UK army (land forces), were deployed to assist with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When after the war it was established that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction, Blair's pre-war statements became a major domestic controversy. Many members of the Labour Party, not only those who were opposed to the Iraq war, were among those critical; among opponents of the war, accusations that Blair had deliberately exaggerated the threat were made. Successive inquiries (including those by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, Lord Hutton and Lord Butler of Brockwell) have found that Blair honestly stated what he believed to be true at the time. These findings have not prevented frequent accusations that Blair lied, most notably during the 2005 election campaign from Conservative leader Michael Howard.

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Blair shakes hands with President Bush on 28 June 2004, on the day Iyad Allawi became Interim Prime Minister of Iraq

Several anti-war pressure groups want to try Blair for war crimes in Iraq at the International Criminal Court (Bush cannot be tried because the USA is not a signatory to the treaty). The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, stated in September 2004 that the invasion was "illegal" but did not state the legal basis for this accusation.

United Kingdom armed forces were active in southern Iraq to stabilise the country in the run-up to the elections of January 2005. In October 2004 the UK government agreed to a request from US forces to send a battalion of the Black Watch regiment to the American sector to free up US troops for an assault on Fallujah. At present, British forces remain in Iraq. After the US election, Blair tried to use his relationship with President Bush to bring pressure on the US administration on Israel and Palestine. He has supported the Israeli government's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

On May 1, 2005, The Sunday Times printed a leaked 'Downing Street memo' which appeared to be the minutes of a discussion of Iraq held in July 2002. The memo created a stir particularly among critics of the war by stating "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action ... But the case was thin." In the following weeks Blair was compelled to repeatedly reiterate his rationale for taking the UK to war, the basic tenets of which he has steadfastly maintained to this day.

Furthermore, on the BBC 2005 election special edition of Question Time where Blair took questions from the British public one audience member accused him of only caring about America and not his own country, an accusation Blair strongly denied.

Domestic politics

After fighting the 2001 election on the theme of improving public services, Blair's government raised taxes to increase spending on education and health in 2002. Blair insisted that the increased funding must be matched by internal reforms. The government introduced a scheme to allow local NHS hospitals financial freedom, (the Foundation Hospitals scheme) although the eventual shape of the proposals allowed somewhat less freedom than Blair would have liked after an internal struggle. The peace process in Northern Ireland hit a series of problems and eventually on October 15, 2002 the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended and direct rule returned; attempts to get the Provisional Irish Republican Army to decommisson its weapons were unsuccessful and in the second set of elections to the Assembly in November 2003 the Ulster Unionists lost the battle for largest Unionist party to the Democratic Unionists of Ian Paisley, making restarting devolution more difficult. At the same time Sinn Féin became clearly the largest nationalist party.

In the first term, the government had introduced an annual fixed tuition fee of around £1,000 for higher education students (rejecting requests from universities to be allowed to vary the fee), and replaced the remaining student grant with a loan to be repaid once the student was in work. Despite a manifesto pledge in 2001 not to introduce variable (or "top-up") tuition fees in universities, Blair announced that such a scheme would eventually be brought in with the maximum fee limited to £3,000 per year, while simultaneously delaying the repayment of student loans until a graduate income was much higher and reintroducing some grants for students from poorer backgrounds.

On August 1, 2003, Blair became the longest continuously serving Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, surpassing Harold Wilson's 1964–1970 term. However, because of the crisis over the suicide of Dr David Kelly, a government scientist who had spoken to a BBC journalist precipitating a major fight between the BBC and the government, there were no celebrations. Blair set up an inquiry under the senior Law Lord Lord Hutton.

The second reading vote on the Higher Education Bill bringing in top-up fees was held on January 27, 2004, and saw the government scrape a majority of 5 due to a Labour rebellion. A first House of Commons defeat had been possible but averted when a small number of Gordon Brown's backbench allies switched sides at the last minute. The next day the Hutton Inquiry reported on the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly. The Inquiry was widely expected to criticise Blair and his government. In the event, Hutton absolved Blair and his government of deliberately inserting false intelligence into its dossier, but criticised the BBC editorial process which had allowed unfounded allegations to be broadcast. The report did not satisfy opponents of Blair and of the Iraq war.

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The term "Tony Bliar" is commonly used in anti-war demonstrations against the 2003 Iraq War

Although the Hutton Inquiry had vindicated Blair, evidence to the inquiry raised questions over the use of intelligence in the run up to the war in Iraq. Hutton was the subject of criticism for strictly interpreting his remit; after a similar decision by President Bush, Blair initiated another inquiry (the Butler Review) into the accuracy and presentation of pre-war intelligence. Opponents of the war, especially the Liberal Democrats, refused to participate as it did not meet their demands for a public inquiry into whether the war was justified.

In April 2004, Blair announced that a referendum would be held on the ratification of the EU Constitution. This represents a significant change in British politics, where only one nationwide referendum has been held (this was the 1975 referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EEC). It was a dramatic U-turn for Blair, who had previously dismissed calls for a referendum unless the constitution fundamentally altered Britain's relationship with the EU; Michael Howard eagerly seized on the "EU-turn", reminding Blair of his 2003 conference oration that "I can only go one way. I haven't got a reverse gear". The referendum was expected to be held in early 2006; however since the French and Dutch rejections of the treaty, the Blair government have announced that they are putting plans for a referendum on hold for the foreseeable future.

During his second term Blair was increasingly the target for protests. On May 19, 2004, he was hit by two condoms filled with purple flour in the House of Commons, thrown by Fathers 4 Justice. His speech to the 2004 Labour Party conference was interrupted both by a protester against the Iraq war and then by a group who opposed the government's decision to allow the House of Commons to ban fox hunting. Usually, however, Blair uses an armoured motorcade driven on closed roads and very rarily comes into contact with ordinary citizens.

On September 15, 2004, Tony Blair delivered a speech on the environment and the 'urgent issue' of climate change. In unusually direct language he concluded that If what the science tells us about climate change is correct, then unabated it will result in catastrophic consequences for our world... The science, almost certainly, is correct. The action he proposed to take appeared to be based on business and investment rather than any tax or legislative attempts to reduce CO2 emissions: ...it is possible to combine reducing emissions with economic growth... investment in science and technology and in the businesses associated with it... The G8 next year, and the EU presidency provide a great opportunity to push this debate to a new and better level that, after the discord over Kyoto, offers the prospect of agreement and action. [3].

On February 6, 2005, Blair became the longest-serving Labour prime minister: his 2838th day in office moved him past the combined length of 7 years 9 months that comprised Harold Wilson's four terms during 1964 to 1966, 1966 to 1970, February to October 1974 and October 1974 to March 1976.

Attempted impeachment

On August 25, 2004, Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price announced that he would attempt to impeach Blair [4]. The measure was supported by Plaid Cymru and the SNP, as well as by RESPECT's George Galloway and Independent MP Richard Taylor, but failed to get more than a few signatures from the MPs of the major parties. No impeachment has been attempted for 150 years, and no impeachment resolution has been passed since 1806; the last two impeachment trials resulted in acquittals. Many legal authorities consider impeachment to be obsolete (see, e.g., Halsbury).

Health problems

On October 19, 2003, it emerged that Blair had received treatment for an irregular heartbeat. Having felt ill the previous day, he went to hospital [5] and was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia. This was treated by cardioversion and he returned home that night. He took the following day (October 20) a little more gently than usual and returned to a full schedule on October 21. Downing Street aides later suggested that the palpitations had been brought on by Blair drinking lots of strong coffee at an EU summit and then working out vigorously in the gym. However, former Armed Forces minister Lewis Moonie, a doctor, said that the treatment was more serious than Number 10 had admitted: "Anaesthetising somebody and giving their heart electric shocks is not something you just do in the routine run of medical practice", he claimed.

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Tony Blair making his 2004 Labour Party conference speech, three days before his catheter ablation

Family problems in the spring of 2004 fuelled speculation that Blair was on the brink of stepping down. Lord Bragg, a close friend of the Blair family, admitted that Blair was "under colossal strain", that "considerations of his family became very pressing" and that Blair had thought "things over very carefully." This led to a surge in speculation that Blair would resign. Several Cabinet ministers urged Blair to continue.

Blair underwent a catheter ablation to correct his irregular heartbeat on 1 October, 2004, having announced the procedure the day before in a series of interviews in which he also declared that he would seek a third term but not a fourth. The planned procedure was carried out at London's Hammersmith hospital. At the same time it was disclosed that the Blairs had purchased a house at No.29 Connaught Square, London, for a reported £3.5 million.[6] Some have speculated that part of No.29 is to be converted into offices for a future Blair Foundation. The purchase also fuelled speculation that Blair was preparing for life after government.

On May 19, 2005 (a fortnight after polling day in the 2005 general election), Blair was treated with an anti-inflammatory drug to control a slipped disc which had caused him back pain.

Third term 2005 to present

The Labour Party won the 2005 General Election and a third consecutive term in office. The next day, Blair was invited to form a Government by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The reduction in the Labour majority and the low share of the popular vote (35%) led to some Labour MPs calling for Blair to leave office sooner rather than later; among them Frank Dobson who had served in Blair's Cabinet during his first term. However, dissenting voices quickly vanished as Blair entered into June 2005 and took on European leaders over the future direction of the European Union.

G8 and EU presidencies

The rejection of the treaty to establish a constitution for the European Union by France and the Netherlands presented Blair with an opportunity to postpone the doubtful UK referendum on the constitution without taking the blame for failing the EU. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that the Parliamentary Bill to enact a referendum was suspended indefinitely. It had previously been agreed that ratification would continue unless the treaty had been rejected by at least five of the 25 European Union member states who must all ratify it.

Chirac held several meetings with Schröder and the pair pressed for Britain to give up its rebate, famously won by Lady Thatcher in 1984. After verbal conflict across several weeks, Blair, along with the leaders of all 25 member states, descended on Brussels for the EU Summit of the 18th June 2005 to attempt to finalise the EU budget for 2007-2013. Blair refused to renegotiate the rebate unless the proposals included a compensating overhaul of EU spending, particularly on the Common Agricultural Policy which takes 40% of the EU budget. After intense arguments inside closed doors, talks broke down late at night and the leaders emerged, all blaming each other. It is widely accepted that Blair came out on top, making allies in the Netherlands and Sweden and potentially (and crucially) several of the Eastern European accession countries. It now falls onto Blair himself to broker a deal, as he assumes the 6-month rotating EU presidency on the 1st July. International opinion, particularly in the French press, suggests that Blair holds a very strong position at present, and with the assumption of the EU presidency the UK will simultaneously preside over the EU and the G8.

2012 Summer Olympics

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Tony Blair calling the winning Olympic Bid "London's legacy to the Olympic Movement" after hearing the win at the G8 summit

On July 6, 2005, it was formally announced that the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Games of the XXX Olympiad, were awarded to London as host city, as announced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during the 117th IOC session in Singapore. The last minute surprise win by London over frontrunner Paris was said to have been decided by the presence of Tony Blair at the IOC session, even down to Irish IOC member Patrick Hickey saying "This is down to Tony Blair. If he hadn't come here I'd say that six to eight votes would have been lost and London would not be sitting here today winners". [7]

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Tony Blair reads a joint statement by the leaders attending the G8 summit, condemning the July 7, 2005 London bombings. To the right is French president Jacques Chirac, to the left is American president George W. Bush and South African president Thabo Mbeki.

2005 London bombings

On Thursday July 7, 2005, a series of four bomb explosions struck London's public transport system during the morning rush hour. At 08:50, three bombs exploded within one minute on three London Underground trains. A fourth bomb exploded on a bus at 09:47 in Tavistock Square. All four incidents are believed to have been suicide bombings. 56 people were confirmed dead, with 700 injured. The incident was the deadliest single act of terrorism in the United Kingdom since 270 died in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and it was the deadliest bombing in London since World War II.

Blair made a statement about that day's London bombings, saying that he believed it was "reasonably clear" that it was an act of terror, and that he hoped that the people of Britain could demonstrate that their will to overcome the events is greater than the terrorists' wish to cause destruction. He also said that his determination to "defend" the British way of life outweighed "extremist determination" to destroy it.

On July 21, 2005, a second series of explosions were reported in London, two weeks and some hours after the 7 July 2005 London bombings. Four controlled explosions, of devices considerably less advanced than those of the previous attacks, were carried out at Shepherd's Bush, Warren Street and Oval underground stations, and on a bus in Shoreditch. Even though the attacks on the 21st were less severe than those on the 7th, Blair was reported to have said that the bombings in London today were intended "to scare people and to frighten them, to make them anxious and worried". He went on to say how the "police have done their very best, and the security services too, in the situation, and I think we have just got to react calmly and continue with our business as much as possible as normal". However, despite repeated calls, there will be no forensic inquest into the bombings.

Concerns about terror attacks led to 10 Downing Street requesting media organizations not to identify the location of Blair's 2005 summer holiday. After Blair attended a public function it was acknowledged that the holiday was in Barbados, as a guest of the singer Cliff Richard (with whom Blair has stayed before).

A Guardian/ICM poll conducted after the first wave of attacks found that 64% of the British population believed that Blair's decision to wage war in Iraq had led indirectly to the terrorist attacks on London. [8] The public did however indicate approval of Blair's handling of the attacks, with his approval rating moving into positive territory for the first time in five years. [9]

Proposed laws to cope with the threat of terrorism proved extrememly controversial. An amendment to require that glorifying terrorism be deliberate in order to be an offence was rejected in the House of Commons by just three votes (a result initially announced as a one vote margin due to a miscount). The proposal to allow terrorist suspects to be held for questioning for up to 90 days was defeated on November 9 by a margin of 31 [10] with 49 Labour MPs voting against the government. Instead, MPs supported an amendment to allow questioning for 28 days proposed by veteran backbencher David Winnick. This was Blair's first defeat in Parliament since he became Prime Minister in 1997, and most commentators saw this as seriously undermining his authority [11].

Departure

After Labour's 2004 conference, Blair announced via a BBC interview [12] that he would not fight a fourth general election, an unusual announcement in Britain, as there is no limit on the time someone may serve as Prime Minister. He also announced he would like to serve a "full third term".

In the months following the election, there was frequent speculation over the anticipated date of his departure has been frequent. The Westminster consensus expected him to go after the proposed UK referendum on the European Union Constitution, but its collapse eliminated this juncture. The July 2005 terror attacks also appear to have strengthened his position. But while bookmakers take bets on his staying, [13] Blair's election agent John Burton said[14] that he will quit the House of Commons at the next election. The official line from the Downing Street press office on this was that it was the "last thing on [Blair's] mind," but there has been no firm denial.

If he remains in office until November 26, 2008 Blair will beat Margaret Thatcher's record for longest continuous service as Prime Minister since Lord Liverpool, 1812-27.

Common criticisms of Blair

'Spin'

Blair's use of modern presentation techniques to put across his message, an approach he and his advisers largely learnt from Bill Clinton's successful 1992 election, was initially regarded by some as a positive development which showed the party was serious in aiming to win power. However, after winning the election, the same techniques were largely continued while in government. Critics frequently pointed to the influence of advisers such as Alastair Campbell as leading Blair's thinking rather than his assessment of the best policy. After initially calling for a televised debate with John Major in the 1997 election, Blair's office backed off and set conditions unlikely ever to be acceptable; in both the 2001 and 2005 elections, Blair's office ultimately refused all proposals for such a debate.

Authoritarianism

Blair had made himself the leading candidate for the Labour leadership by his actions as Shadow Home Secretary in turning around Labour's image as "soft on crime", and support for the police and increasing their powers has always been characteristic of the Labour Party under his leadership. While initially these moves attracted a consensus, especially since the September 11 attacks the government's approach has been regarded as authoritarian. Even before the attacks, the Terrorism Act 2000 forced disclosure of information believed to be of assistance in preventing a terrorist act, or apprehending those involved in such acts [15].

This Act gave the police powers against a wide range of activities, with reported instances of the Act being used against peaceful protestors (including an 11-year-old girl at a Peace camp outside an RAF base [16]). After September 11, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was passed, allowing foreign nationals to be detained without charge for an indefinite period (subject to appeal to a special tribunal) if they were suspected international terrorists but had committed no offence under United Kingdom law. This provision was later struck down as incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. At the 2005 Labour Party conference, the 82-year-old veteran pacifist Walter Wolfgang was removed from the conference hall after heckling Jack Straw. When he attempted to return without his conference pass, Wolfgang was briefly detained for questioning under section 44 of the Terrorism Act.

Later in 2005, Blair gave personal strong backing to proposals to allow terrorism suspects to be held for questioning for up to 90 days, and dissuaded other Ministers from offering a compromise which might prove more acceptable; the insistence resulted in the first defeat of the Blair Government on the floor of the House of Commons in November 2005.

The flagship anti-crime policy introduced in Blair's first term, Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), have been criticised as excessively punitive and as a way of criminalising non-criminal conduct: an ASBO may be imposed preventing conduct which is entirely legal, but breach of the ASBO is a criminal offence. Examples are on record of ASBOs preventing their subjects from being sarcastic, using the word "grass", or attending a drug clinic which was treating them for their addiction, though opinion polling has shown that ASBOs remain popular with the public.

Relationship with USA

Due to Blair's close co-operation with the USA on the war in Iraq, where the UK was one of very few countries to offer military support to the US-led invasion, he has been called "Bush's poodle" and "Governor of the 51st state". On BBC TV's Newsnight on February 6, 2003 a member of the audience said he "agreed with something the Right Honourable Member for Texas North said a few minutes ago" (transcript), a reference to the protocol of the United Kingdom House of Commons of referring to Members by the constituency they represent and to George W. Bush's Texas home. The alliance between the two men is somewhat upsetting to many supporters of his party, which traditionally allies itself with the Democrats.

A 2005 book by the former United Kindom Ambassador to the USA, Sir Christopher Meyer, went along with these criticisms, accusing Blair of being a hawk, and insufficiently cautious about the war [17] [18]. Meyer expressed his opinion that Blair could have stopped the war had he acted at an opportune time in the summer of 2002.

Criticisms by the left

While the Blair government has introduced some social policies seen by the left of the Labour Party as progressive, especially the minimum wage, on economic and management issues he is seen as being to the right of the party. The 2005 announcement of more independent Trust Schools [19], was likened to the Major government's Grant Maintained Schools policy which Labour criticised while in opposition. and was criticised by teachers' unions (traditionally left wing), as well as by the left within the party.

The use of private finance to fund public projects has also been criticised by Labour left-wingers as both an economic bad deal and as privatising public service [20]. The Private Finance Initiative, under which public services are built by private companies and then leased back to the state, began under the Major government and was expanded significantly under Blair.

Satire

Blair has avoided the traditional pigeonholes of British political leaders. He has often (particularly after the invasion of Iraq) been labelled as insincere ("King of Spin", "Phoney Tony"), and has been accused of cronyism due to his perceived penchant for promoting his friends to top jobs. In his early years, Blair was often criticised as an unscrupulous opportunist who was solely interested in doing anything that would get him elected, that was a focus group politician. More recently, his unpopular policy supporting the US over Iraq has demonstrated a politician with more commitment to his own policies despite public opposition. His name has been deliberately mis-spelled 'Tony Bliar' (sometimes 'B. Liar') or 'Tory Blur' by critics of his actions and his policies (particularly his stance on Iraq).

Since Blair became Prime Minister, Private Eye has run a regular feature called the St Albion Parish News based on the Blair government. In this series, the parish incumbent ('Rev. A.R.P. Blair MA (Oxon)') combines a relentless trendiness with a tendency to moralise and to exclude all those who criticise him. The series highlights Blair's perceived penchant for spin and his zealous enthusiasms in relation to recent political events.

In his first term of office, Blair was the subject of a satirical comic strip Dan Blair in The Times. This strip spoofed the comic book hero Dan Dare and his nemesis, the Mekon, who represented William Hague in the strip, portrayed with a very large forehead. He has also been parodied in the comic 2000 AD in the series B.L.A.I.R. 1 (a spoof of the old-fashioned strip M.A.C.H.1 written by David Bishop) where he acts as a futuristic crime fighter controlled by an artificial intelligence known as "Doctor Spin".

In opposition under John Smith, the ITV satirical puppet show Spitting Image depicted Blair within the Shadow Cabinet as a schoolboy with a high-pitched voice and bottle-green uniform, complete with cap. The first show after Smith's death featured Blair singing "I'm going to be the leader! I'm going to be the leader!" over and over. Once settled in as leader, the programme (which was in its last years) changed its caricature of Blair to have a small face with an outsized toothy grin. The show ended before Labour gained power.

See also

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References

Further reading

  • Seldon, Anthony (2004). Blair Free Press, ISBN 0743232119
  • Short, Clare (2004). An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power Free Press, ISBN 0743263928
  • Naughtie, James (2004). The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency Macmillan, ISBN 1405050012
  • Riddell, Peter (2004). The Unfulfilled Prime Minister: Tony Blair and the End of Optimism Politico's Publishing, ISBN 1842751131
  • Blair, Tony edited by Paul Richards (2004). Tony Blair: In His Own Words, Politico's Publishing, ISBN 1842750895
  • Abse, Leo (2003). Tony Blair: The Man Who Lost His Smile Robson Books, ISBN 1861056982
  • Naughtie, James (2001). The Rivals: The Intimate Story of a Political Marriage Fourth Estate ISBN 1841154733
  • Rentoul, John (2001). Tony Blair Prime Minister Little Brown, ISBN 0316854964
  • Abse, Leo (2001). Tony Blair: The Man Behind the Smile Robson Books, ISBN 1861053649
  • Rawnsley, Andrew (2000). Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour Hamish Hamilton ISBN 0241140293
    • Revised edition (2001), Penguin Books ISBN 0140278508
  • Gould, Philip (1999). The Unfinished Revolution: How the Modernisers Saved the Labour Party Abacus, ISBN 0349111774
  • Blair, Tony, edited by Iain Dale (1998). The Blair Necessities: Tony Blair Book of Quotations Robson Books, ISBN 1861051395

Works

  • Blair, Tony (2003). Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government Diane Publishing, ISBN 075673102X
  • Blair, Tony (2002). The Courage of Our Convictions Fabian Society, ISBN 0716306034
  • Blair, Tony (2000). Superpower: Not Superstate? (Federal Trust European Essays) Federal Trust for Education & Research, ISBN 1903403251
  • Blair, Tony (1998). The Third Way: New Politics for the New Century Fabian Society, ISBN 0716305887
  • Blair, Tony (1998). Leading the Way: New Vision for Local Government Institute for Public Policy Research, ISBN 1860300758
  • Blair, Tony (1997). New Britain: My Vision of a Young Country Basic Books, ISBN 0813333385
  • Blair, Tony (1995). Let Us Face the Future Fabian Society, ISBN 0716305712
  • Blair, Tony (1994). What Price Safe Society? Fabian Society, ISBN 0716305623
  • Blair, Tony (1994). Socialism Fabian Society, ISBN 0716305658

External links

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