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Tony Blair

Tony Blair

British politician and Prime Minister Tony Blair (born 1953) ushered a new generation into parliament, and refashioned the Labour Party along the way.

Great Britain's youngest prime minister of the twentieth century, Tony Blair, is leading the charge into the next century. He changed the Labour Party from a backward-looking leftist, socialist, labor-union based political party to a forward-thinking, centrist, free enterprise-friendly organization. He rebranded-a favorite word of "New Labour"-the old Labour Party and, under his leadership, Great Britain is getting a makeover as well. The government tourist agency now touts "Cool Britannia" instead of "Rule Britannia"-a place which is young, arty, technologically advanced, and fun.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 6, 1953, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair learned early on about politics and responsibility. His father, Leo, a successful lawyer and law lecturer, chose to run for parliament as a Tory (conservative) in 1963. He suffered a stroke just before the election, leaving him unable to speak for three years. The three children, Bill the oldest, Tony, and Sarah, the youngest, had to learn to become self-reliant, to be able to cope with the family's financial and emotional stress. His father subsequently transferred his political ambition to his children; and, as Blair said in an interview with Martin Jacques for the London Sunday Times magazine, "It imposed a certain discipline. I felt I couldn't let him down."

But there was another part of the family tree whose genes influenced the young Blair. His natural grandparents (his father was adopted) had been actors and dancers, and Blair followed in their footsteps during his student days. He got rave reviews for his performances at Fettes College, organized gigs for rock groups, and later as a student at St. John's College at Oxford University, he was the lead singer for Ugly Rumors, a rock band playing the music of such groups as Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, and the Doobie Brothers.

In time, however, he followed his father's, not his grandfather's career, and studied law. Upon leaving Oxford, he got an internship with Queen's Counsel (QC) Alexander Irvine. His fellow intern was Cherie Booth, a top graduate of the London School of Economics, a laborite and daughter of actor Tony Booth. Although they were competitors professionally, personal attraction won, and they were married on March 29, 1980. They have three children: Euan, Nicholas, and Kathryn.

Irvine remembered Blair in the New Yorker as being able to absorb difficult issues: "One of his principal skills was absorbing enormously complicated material. Make your best points on the issues-he was very good at that." Blair successfully worked on employment law and commercial cases. This talent to communicate well proved very useful as Blair became involved in local politics.

A Quick Rise Up the Ranks

While Blair's father had been a Tory, Blair joined the Labour Party. In the university days he had read Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky, and even then was exploring how to change the Labour Party. An article in New York Review of Books also claimed, "it is inconceivable that Blair was left untouched" by witnessing the power of the local miners where he grew up. (The Blair family had moved to the industrial city of Durham in northern England after spending several years in Australia.) Nationally, the miners were the main strength of the Labour Party, and the Durham miners were an important political force. In fact, Durham City and County Durham voted labour; only the cathedral, castle and university were Tory.

In 1983 Blair was elected to parliament along with 208 other Labour M.P.s (Members of Parliament), the smallest number since 1935. The Labour Party was in crisis. The crippling public-sector strikes by several unions in the winter of 1978 had contributed to the widespread Tory victory in 1979 because the general populace saw the Labour Party as being controlled by the unions. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's re-election in 1983 was seen as a resounding defeat for the left wing of the Labour Party, and so in October of 1983, Neil Kinnock became the new leader of the party.

Kinnock promoted Blair to opposition spokesperson on treasury and economic affairs (1984-1987), and opposition spokesperson on trade and industry (1987). Blair was then appointed deputy to Bryan Gould, the shadow trade and industry secretary, where he investigated the causes of the October, 1987, stock market crash. In 1988 he made it to the shadow cabinet itself, first as shadow energy secretary, then as shadow employment secretary (1989-1991). After the 1992 election, which brought the Tory John Major to power, Kinnock had to resign, and John Smith, another moderate succeeded him. He appointed Blair shadow home secretary. After Smith's death in 1994, Blair was elected as leader of the Labour Party.

Government and Individual Responsibility

If Labour was going to win the 1997 election, it was going to have to refashion its message. Blair combined the traditional emphasis of Labour on the responsibility of the community with the Conservative's emphasis on the individual. As he said during an interview in January of 1993 on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, a Labour government would be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime." Blair also called for a nation "where people succeed on the basis of what they give to their country," as noted in Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service.

This philosophy had evolved during his early years. During university he was confirmed in the Church of England and had become committed to social change using Christian values. Family and community values were to be reintroduced into liberal rhetoric, and it was government's job to create the condition in which families could prosper. There was to be social accountability for the community and government as well as the individual. Blair also saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union and knew that the Labour Party could not hope to appeal to voters just using the old ideas of the welfare state with its emphasis on nationalized industry, union privileges, and social entitlements.

Blair was able to push through his ideas because the Labour Party had changed how it elected its leaders. In the past, officials had been elected by a system of block votes, which were divided among special interest groups and leaders-trade unions and M.P.s, for example-rather than by one vote per person. Blair had tried to institute "one person, one vote" at his local party branch in 1980, but failed. However, the system had just been changed with a compromise version of one vote per person when Blair ran for the party leadership in 1994. This worked to his advantage because the new voting method used his skills. According to biographer John Rentoul's Tony Blair, "Blair is a mass politician rather than a club operator. His straightforward, clear-speaking style, combined with his openness to the media, are qualities now needed for both kinds of contest."

A New Party Platform

In another move to reform British politics, Blair succeeded in persuading members to have the party's charter rewritten. He specifically targeted the 1918 Clause Four which called for the redistribution of wealth-a "communist equality"-through "common ownership of the means of distribution, production, and exchange." This section was rewritten to reflect modern social democratic aims. A major stumbling block had now been removed as the party could no longer be labeled just the party of the working class. Blair also eliminated planks on full employment, the welfare state, and unilateral nuclear disarmament. New Labour supported European integration and free enterprise while downsizing budget deficits and resisting inflation. It worked. Blair, with no union roots, won the national election in May of 1997, with Labour winning a majority of 179 seats out of 659 in the House of Commons, Labour's biggest majority ever.

That summer, Blair's popularity stood at 82 percent. "His youthful enthusiasm and energy add to his popularity," noted Barry Hillenbrand in Time. Britons liked his style, and as Adam Gopnik put it in his July 7, 1997, article for the New Yorker, they liked New Labour's "desire to end the deference culture." No more looking towards the upper classes, the past, or the nation's history; this was the new generation. As reported in the New Yorker, Blair told the October 1994 Labour Party conference, "I want us to be a young country again. Not resting on past glories. Not fighting old battles…. Not saying, 'This was a great country.' But 'Britain can and will be a great country again."' Blair, with his focus on the future, was able to "make optimism fashionable," according to Gopnik.

"Modernization is the young Prime Minister's mantra," noted Hillenbrand. Blair's proposed reforms to welfare spending and programs were generally well-received. "Blair thinks the government does have a role to play in helping people and assuring social justice," declared Hillenbrand. Blair's $4.33 billion training program for young welfare recipients provided education to expand employment opportunities. He also ended steps to privatize the British National Health Service, thus ensuring that all British citizens had access to health care. One of his more unpopular proposals-decreasing benefits to single parents on welfare-still passed by a large majority in the House of Commons. While Blair has made no move to change the previous administration's anti-union laws, he has managed to lessen the class divisions that separate the nation. If, as some argued, Blair had taken the "labour" out of the party, no one was listening.

Blair has also taken a high profile position on British-Irish relations. In the 30-year war in Northern Ireland between the Catholic minority and the Protestant, British-favoring majority, he has broken with the previous administration's position that all sides must lay down arms before sitting down to talk. Instead, "parallel decommissioning" calls for both sides to gradually lay down arms while talking. Although not handicapped as were his predecessors by a reliance on Northern Ireland's Protestant voters, Blair has been aware of trying to look even handed. In a series of peace talks between the warring factions, Blair has supported a peaceful Northern Ireland. He continually negotiated to keep all the political parties at the table, even those with paramilitary links. In April of 1998, the leaders in Northern Ireland reached agreement, ending three decades of warfare. According to the terms of the agreement, a new Northern Ireland Assembly would be created, giving the Irish Republic (the Southern portion of the island) a say in the affairs of the North. In return, the Irish Republic would cease efforts to reclaim the North. A British-Irish Council would also be created to link Northern Ireland with Wales, Scotland, and England. Blair has received much credit for his diplomatic skills in seeing this peace achieved.

A Euro-star

In Europe, Blair has taken a more traditional stand. While his popularity has crossed borders and he has become a well-known and respected politician, he is definitely aware of the resistance to integration at home. While portraying Britain as "a leading player" in Europe, the country is still keeping its right to "opt-out." In his first major meeting with European leaders, he voted to block an enhanced defense role for the European Union, keep passport controls at the borders, and sided with Germany when France's socialist government tried to ease the economic rigor agreed upon to establish a single currency.

Whether or not Great Britain eventually joins the European Union, Blair hopes to turn the country into a leading force. His efforts to modernize both his political party and his country have not gone unnoticed. Hillenbrand noted that contemporary European politicians are imitating his policies, from Gerhard Schroeder in Germany to Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok. As Blair declared in his address to the October 1994 Labour Party conference: "I didn't come into politics to change the Labour Party. I came into politics to change the country."

Further Reading

Rentoul, John, Tony Blair, Warner Books, 1996.

Economist, May 31, 1979, p. 47-48; June 14, 1997, p. 16; June 21, 1997.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 1, 1994; October 7, 1995.

New Statesman, June 20, 1997; June 27, 1997, p. 15.

Newsweek, April 20, 1998, p. 34.

New Yorker, August 22, 1994, p. 66; February 5, 1996, p. 39; July 7, 1997.

New York Review of Books, June 12, 1997, p. 10-11.

Time, May 18, 1998, pp. 60-62.

U.S. News & World Report, May 12, 1997, p. 39.

Village Voice, June 3, 1997, p. 26.

Tony Blair interview with Nick Clarke, The World This Weekend, BBC Radio 4, January 10, 1993.

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Blair, Tony

Tony Blair

Born: May 6, 1953
Edinburgh, Scotland

Scottish-born prime minister of Great Britain

British politician and Prime Minister Tony Blair represented a new era in Parliament and made major changes to the Labour Party along the way.

Father's influence

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 6, 1953. His father, Leo, a successful lawyer, chose to run for Parliament in 1963. He suffered a stroke just before the election, leaving him unable to speak for three years. His three children had to learn to take care of themselves to be able to cope with the family's stress. His father also encouraged the children to achieve in politics what he himself could not, and as Blair said in an interview with Martin Jacques for the London Sunday Times, "I felt I couldn't let him down."

But there was another part of the family tree whose genes influenced the young Blair. His natural grandparents (his father was adopted) had been actors and dancers, and Blair followed in their footsteps during his student days. He received rave reviews for his performances at Fettes College, organized gigs for rock groups, and later, as a student at St. John's College at Oxford University, was the lead singer for Ugly Rumors, a rock band that played the music of such bands as Fleet-wood Mac, the Rolling Stones, and the Doobie Brothers.

In time, however, Blair followed his father's career and received a law degree from Oxford University in Oxford, England, in 1975. He then worked as an intern (a student working under the guidance of an experienced person) with Queen's Counsel (QC) Alexander Irvine. Irvine remembered Blair in the New Yorker as being able to absorb difficult issues: "One of his principal skills was absorbing enormously complicated material. Make your best points on the issueshe was very good at that." Blair worked on employment law cases. His ability to communicate well proved very useful as he became involved in local politics. Blair married Cherie Booth, another intern and a top graduate of the London School of Economics, in March 1980. They had four children.

Rising up the ranks

Blair's father had belonged to the Tory Party (also known as the Conservatives, who preferred to maintain traditions and avoid change). Having witnessed the power of the local miners where he grew up, Blair joined the Labour Party. The miners were the main strength of the Labour Party in England, which at this time was in crisis. Strikes by several unions in the winter of 1978 had contributed to a large Tory victory in 1979, because the people viewed the Labour Party as being controlled by the unions. In 1983 Blair was elected to Parliament along with 208 other Labour Party MPs (Members of Parliament), the smallest number since 1935.

After Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's (1925) reelection in 1983, Neil Kinnock became the new leader of the opposition Labour Party. Kinnock promoted Blair to several posts, including spokesperson on treasury and economic affairs from 1984 to 1987, and spokesperson on trade and industry in 1987. Blair also spent time investigating the causes of the October 1987 stock market crash. After the 1992 election, which brought the Tory John Major (1943) to power, Kinnock had to resign and John Smith replaced him. After Smith's death in 1994, Blair was elected as leader of the Labour Party.

Government and individual responsibility

Blair realized that the Labour Party had to change its message; it could not win over voters using the old ideas of the welfare state and its emphasis on national industry and union privileges. He supported policies to decrease crime, lower taxes, improve trade, and give more power to local and regional governments. Blair also called for a nation "where people succeed on the basis of what they give to their country," as noted in Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. There would be an increasing emphasis on family and community values, and it would be the government's job to create conditions under which families could prosper.

Blair was able to push through his ideas because the Labour Party had changed how it elected its leaders. In the past officials had been elected by a system of block votes, which were divided among special interest groups and leaderstrade unions and MPs, for examplerather than by one vote per person. Blair had tried to institute "one person, one vote" at his local party branch in 1980, but failed. However, the system had just been changed to a version of one vote per person when Blair ran for the party leadership in 1994. This worked to his advantage because the new voting method had the most benefit for a skilled politician such as him.

A new party platform

Blair also succeeded in convincing Labour Party members to rewrite Clause Four of the party charter. The clause called for the redistribution of wealth through "common ownership of the means of distribution, production, and exchange," which is basically a definition of socialism. With the change the party could no longer be labeled just the party of the working class. This "New Labour" supported free enterprise while working to lower budget deficits (the amount by which spending exceeds income) and control inflation (a general increase in prices). Although some argued that the Labour Party now seemed very similar to the Conservatives, Blair won the national election in May 1997, with Labour winning a majority of 179 seats out of 659 in the House of Commons.

Blair believed that the government had a duty to help people, and his proposed reforms to welfare spending and social programs were well received. He established a training program for welfare recipients to provide education and increase employment opportunities. He also came up with a plan to improve the British National Health Service, making sure that all British citizens had access to health care. Blair also won praise for ending the thirty-year war in Northern Ireland between the Catholic minority and the Protestant, British-favoring majority. In April 1998 the leaders in Northern Ireland reached an agreement to create a new Northern Ireland Assembly, giving the Irish Republic (the Southern portion of the island) a say in the affairs of the North. In return, the Irish Republic agreed to cease efforts to reclaim the North. A British-Irish Council was also created to link Northern Ireland with Wales, Scotland, and England.

A Euro-star

In Europe Blair took a more traditional stand. He was aware that many within the country disapproved of too much British involvement with other European countries. The country maintained its right to "opt-out" of certain provisions agreed to by other members of the European Union. It chose not to participate in the European Monetary Union at its creation in 1998. (That group was created to gradually phase in a new common currency that all of its members would use.) Other European politicians began to imitate Blair's policies, including Gerhard Schroeder (1944) in Germany and Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok.

On May 20, 2000, Blair's wife, Cherie, gave birth to the couple's fourth child, Leo. The boy was the first child born to a serving British prime minister in 152 years. In the June 2001 elections Blair and the Labour Party won easily, marking the first time in the party's history that it won a second full term. Blair took on new duties after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. He offered full support to the United States and its President, George W. Bush (1946). Blair visited the leaders of more than seventy countries to seek their support in the war on terrorism, and he met often with President Bush to discuss the results of those meetings.

For More Information

Abse, Leo. Tony Blair. New York: Robson Books/Parkwest, 2002.

Hinman, Bonnie. Tony Blair. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

Rentoul, John. Tony Blair. London: Warner Books, 1996.

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Blair, Tony

Tony Blair (Anthony Charles Lynton Blair), 1953–, British politician, b. Edinburgh. An Oxford-educated lawyer, he was first elected to Parliament in 1983 as the Labour party candidate from a district in N England. Articulate and telegenic, Blair rose quickly in the party organization. He was chosen as Labour's leader after the death (1994) of John Smith, even though he, unlike previous leaders, had no roots in the labor movement and rejected socialist doctrine. (His principal opponent for the post, Gordon Brown, stepped aside in deal that led to Brown's becoming chancellor of the exchequer in 1997.) As leader, he endeavored to reposition the party as a moderate center-left alternative to the Conservatives.

In 1997, when Blair led Labour to power for the first time since 1979, he became the youngest prime minister since the early 1800s. He moved quickly to implement a "third way" program, reducing Labour's traditional reliance on state action to address social problems; to establish elected representative bodies in Scotland and Wales; to negotiate peace in Northern Ireland; and to cooperate politically with the third-party Liberal Democrats. Internationally, Blair worked improve ties with other European Union nations while moving slowly, due in part to public and political resistance, on monetary union and adoption of the euro; in his first term, he also was an outspoken proponent of the use of NATO forces in the Kosovo crisis. Blair's critics, however, charged that he was more style than substance. Despite a lack of enthusiasm for Blair's leadership style, which many regarded as arrogant, voters again gave him and Labour a resounding victory at the polls in 2001, making him the first Labour prime minister to win to consecutive terms in office.

Following the Sept., 2001, attacks by terrorists in the United States, Blair gave America highly visible support, including the use of British military forces, in its retaliation against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. He also strongly supported the Bush administration in its insistence that Iraq readmit UN weapons inspectors and disarm or face military action and, despite opposition from the British public and in the Labour party to war with Iraq, he committed British troops to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. After the invasion, when biological and chemical weapons were not readily found in Iraq, he and his government were criticized for having exaggerated the threat that Iraq represented.

Iraq hurt Blair and Labour politically and led to a diminished margin of victory in the 2005 parliamentary elections, but Blair nonetheless secured a record third consecutive term for a Labour government. Under pressure from many in his party, Blair announced (2006) that he would resign as party leader and prime minister, and he did so in June, 2007. His terms as prime minister were marked by sustained economic growth, in part due to the policies of Gordon Brown, and by steady, if sometimes fitful, progress toward peace in Northern Ireland, but in other areas, such as education and health, improvements were minor at best, and the reform of the House of Lords was largely incomplete. Brown succeeded Blair as party leader and prime minister, and Blair subsequently resigned from Parliament. After Blair stepped down he became (2007–15) special envoy for the quartet (the European Union, Russia, the United States, and the United Nations) seeking to negotiate a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. A convert (2007) to Roman Catholicism, he established (2008) a foundation to promote interfaith understanding.

See his memoirs (2010); biography by P. Stephens (2004); C. Coughlin, American Ally: Tony Blair and the War on Terror (2005).

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Blair, Tony

Blair, Tony 1953-

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Born on May 6, 1953, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Tony Blair was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Sedgefield in 1983. He became leader of the Labour Party in 1994, and prime minister of the United Kingdom (UK) in 1997. He played a key role in resetting Labour Party policy in the early 1990s, a resetting designed to address three things: Labours inability to win general elections; the impact of Prime Minister Margaret Thatchers neoliberal policies on UK politics and society; and the need to reposition the United Kingdom in the new global age. Blair responded to four election defeats in a row by reaching out to median floating voters, and by making real and symbolic breaks with Labours previous policy stance. He responded to Margaret Thatchers powerful legacy by linking her passion for markets to Labours traditional commitment to social justice. He actively welcomed globalization as a trigger to UK economic competitiveness and as an arena in which a Labour government could play a more active and ethical role.

Blair led the Labour Party to three election victories in a row, the first two (1997, 2001) with huge majorities (179 and 167 seats in the House of Commons, respectively). The 1997 victory came after a relabeling of the Labour Party as New Labour, and the rejection of what had hitherto been many of Labours defining policies. Out went public ownership, tax and spend welfare policies, unilateral nuclear disarmament, and withdrawal from the European Union. In came private funds for public investment, a freeze on direct taxation, a welfare-to-work program, and a new pro-European ethical foreign policy.

Over time, New Labor under Blair traded increased spending on health and education for public service agreements linking resources to the achievement of rising performance targets. His government made extensive use of private funds for capital projects in the public sector, and increased the degree of market competition allowed between public service providers. Blair governments also developed social policies that traded rights for responsibilities, tackling social exclusion and child poverty while simultaneously toughening the criminal code, restricting immigration, and even punishing parents for the truancy of their children.

New Labour under Blairs leadership played a crucial leadership role in the European response to the crisis in the Balkans, in the wake of which Blair spoke regularly of the need for the international community to be proactive to avoid crimes against humanity. Accordingly, he was the key architect of the broad coalition of support for the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and, more controversially, he remained President George W. Bushs main ally in the subsequent invasion of Iraq.

Blairs final years in office were blighted by growing uneasein party circles and the wider electoratewith the consequences of privatization in the welfare sector and of his close alliance with the United States in Iraq. That unease was compounded by tensions with his chancellor of the exchequer over a deal, struck in 1994, that Blair would eventually cede the premiership to him. Relationships soured over time between the factions formed around each man, eventually forcing Blair reluctantly to announce that he would resign office in 2007.

SEE ALSO Iraq-U.S. War; Labour Party (Britain); Parliament, United Kingdom; Social Exclusion; Thatcher, Margaret

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Coates, David. 2005. Prolonged Labour: The Slow Birth of New Labour Britain. Houndmills, U.K.: Palgrave.

Coates, David, and Joel Krieger. 2004. Blairs War, Cambridge, U.K.: Polity.

David Coates

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Blair, Tony

Blair, Tony ( Anthony Charles Lynton) (1953– ) British statesman, prime minister (1997– ). He entered Parliament in 1983. Blair became leader of the Labour Party after the death (1994) of John Smith. His support for reform of the party's structure and constitution (‘new Labour’) helped defeat John Major's Conservative government in the 1997 general election. He was re-elected in 2001. Blair undertook constitutional reforms such as devolution for Scotland and Wales, and reform of the House of Lords. Aided by a buoyant economy, he sought to improve health and education provision, while keeping a tight grip on public expenditure. In foreign affairs, he devoted much energy to solving the crises in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Critics accused him of introducing a more presedential style of government. In 2003 Blair and US president George W. Bush sent troops to Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his regime. He faced widespread criticism of his decision to go to war in Iraq. See also Brown; Cook; Straw

http://www.number-10.gov.uk

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